Taste of Iowa City showcases local variety, cuisines

Taste of Iowa City provides local cuisine a night to shine each fall.


Jared Krauss

The Iowa City Downtown District’s Taste of Iowa City drew locals and visitors from a little further afield on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018. Eventgoers consumed small dishes from all the participating restaurants, getting a ‘taste’ of the local food scene. Kyle Barnes lets his wife, Sarah Barnes, try some of his bao bun from Dumpling Darling. Sarah said she’s wanted to come for a few years, but has always been working the 2nd shift, but this year she made sure to switch to the first shift today.

Naomi Hofferber, Arts Editor

Sweet and savory scents soared on the August breeze on the evening of Aug. 22 as local restaurants, coffeehouses, and bakeries presented the best of their best for Iowa City residents to indulge in.

Taste of Iowa City each year provides individuals new to the area and long-term residents the opportunity to taste local cuisine offerings, get familiar with downtown and the North Side, and fill their stomachs with a variety of foods ranging from spicy wings from Quinton’s to sweet and delicate mini-cupcakes from Molly’s Cupcakes to the rich curries of Masala.

For some, the event provides an opportunity to present variety. Jordan Buettner, a manager at Java House, said that establishment tries to offer options that take into account both flavor and dietary restrictions, always offering in house either a vegan or vegetarian option.

“Right now, we’re doing two of our soups, a cheeseburger chowder and a red pepper bisque, which is one of our vegan soup options,” he said. “We also have our classic java cooler and our summerberry peach tea. It just gives them a little taste, literally a little taste, and sample of what Iowa City has to offer and what Java has to offer.”

Buettner said what the Java House showcases at Taste of Iowa City tends to be something in season that the staff can do really well.

Matt Nitchals, the director of operations for Z’Mariks, said the decision on what to prepare always has an easy answer: Mac ’n’ Cheese.

“We’ve always done our Mac ’n’ Cheese; it’s kind of our top seller in the restaurant,” he said. “We do want everyone to try it. [The sauce] is handmade every day. It’s what we feel is the best and how it should be.”

Nitchals said that such events as Taste of Iowa City don’t take off elsewhere quite like they do in the local community.

For such restaurants as Pullman, events such as this allow the staff to showcase something unique; in Pullman’s case, a savory smoked salmon tartare.

“We’ve been doing our smoked salmon tartare since we’ve opened,” said Nathan Woody, the Pullman chef de cuisine. “This year, we wanted to get away from a fried option; we wanted to do something a little different. After taking a look at what we already offer here on the menu, we thought this was the perfect thing. It’s just a great summer bite.”

Woody said it is the thoughtfulness in preparation that makes the difference.

“It’s the love and care that we put into what we’re doing; we’re pounding potatoes to make French fries in-house,” he said. “We’re making as much as we can right now.”

The Pullman menu changes seasonally to coincide with what local farmers can offer. Woody said around 75 percent of Pullman’s food is sourced in Iowa. The menu can also gain a new item through creative collaboration.

“A lot of the times I get together — it’s always a collaborative effort — with my sous chef, Matthew, and we put our heads together along with the rest of our kitchen, managers, staff, and we just kind of spitball and freestyle,” he said. “It’s kind of like throwing paint at the wall and seeing what sticks. From there, we’ll mock up dishes, and if it’s awesome, great, and if it’s not quite what we’re looking for, we’ll take it from there.”