Last week I visited my older daughter, Katie Ives, in Iowa City where she recently completed an MFA at the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. This was my third visit and I have been pleased to discover this town. It has a nice college town feel with a mix of intellectuals (many from the 60s), refugees from the surrounding countryside, an active gay culture, and organic farmers. Frequently, these people retain many of the traditional values of the heartland along with their newer practices, like meditation and yoga. It is known as a place for anyone in Iowa who feels different. The presence of the Writer’s Workshop also attracts many writers and those who want to become one. Taxi drivers will often have a novel manuscript ready to discuss with the right passenger or be working on their doctoral thesis. There are a number of good places to eat which are described below.
Devotay is an excellent Spanish place and my favorite place in town and stands above the others I have tried. Local Harvest says that, “It has a strong commitment to local and sustainable agriculture, buying all the ingredients possible from local farmers and artisans. The owners, Kim & Kurt Friese, are also directors of the local Convivium of Slow Food, and Kurt serves on the Slow Food USA Board of Governors.” They organize a culinary walk every fall. We had several tapas and shared paella. Devotay is located at 117 North Linn Street 319-354-1001.
Atlas World Grill has good American food with extra touches. We shared a nice shrimp starter with a spicy “New Orleans” brown sauce over toast. I had the braised short ribs with sage dumplings. There was also a lamb sausage dish with rosemary and goat cheese ravioli, toasted pine nuts and tomatoes that looked good. It is located at 127 Iowa Ave. Iowa City. 319-341-7700.
One Twenty Six has an excellent creamy rich chocolate cake that is half sauce and half cake. The menu offers American food with Italian and French influences. The parings of ingredients looked good but we did not get a chance to sample the execution. Sample included: smoked duck breast with potato pave, Napa slaw and Bing cherry vinaigrette and grilled pork loin with whipped potatoes, spinach gratin, roast apples and port reduction. There was a duck confit with roast pears and onion tart starter that looked good, as well as a crabcake with ancho pepper-grilled shrimp and sweet garlic sauce. It is located at 126 E. Washington, Iowa City. 319-887-1909.
Red Avocado provides organic vegetarian food in a 60s environment. Iowa City has many who still hold primary allegiance to this era which is a good thing. I had a great coconut corn soup with a salad tossed with quinoa, a high protein South American grain and a sweet soy lime dressing. Katie had their veggie burger topped with roasted red pepper and tomato. It is located at 521 E. Washington, Iowa City 319-351-6088.
Prairie Lights Bookstore is very famous for its coverage of literary works and its readings. It attracts well known writers as they past through the Midwest. There is also a nice café with good coffee and pastries. It is located at 15 South Dubuque, Iowa City 319 337-2681.
The Java House is an excellent and popular wi-fi coffee house. It won the Iowa City Press-Citizen award for best coffee in town trumping the local Starbucks. “We try really hard at everything we do,” owner Tara Cronbaugh said.. Like Prairie Lights, it is a favorite of local writers. We went to the one located at 211 E. Washington and there are other locations. Iowa City 319 341-0012
The Thai Spice provides the best Asian take out in the area. Some of the others are apparently bad beyond the powers of description. We had an excellent green curry, a spiced eggplant special, fried squid with a sweet Thai dipping sauce and a good version of Pad Thai. It is located at 1210 South Gilbert Street, Iowa City 319 351-2581.
We also went to Mount Vernon Iowa, about twenty miles North from Iowa City on Route One, and had a nice breakfast at Allie’s a new “country food” place. I had the biscuit with sausage gravy, country ham, and eggs, not your light fare. 319-895-8400.
There is also the Lincoln Café that has been around longer. It has a great reputation and Katie has been there before but the line at mid-day Sunday was too long this time. Lincoln Café is located in downtown Mt. Vernon, Iowa 319-895-4041.
Then we stopped at Wilson’s Orchard on the way back to pick apples. They were all picked out for the season but had fresh apple turnovers and homemade jams from the orchard so we stocked up. The orchard is located at 2924 Orchard Lane, NE off Dingleberry Road off Route One North of Iowa City a few miles. 319-354-5651.