The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City restaurants show the ‘love’ of the season through a special Valentine’s menu

Local chefs dish out the details of creating this year’s Valentine’s Day menu specials.
Isabella Tisdale
Customers order Valentines Day themed desserts at Deluxe Cakes and Pastries in Iowa City on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024. Deluxe, along with other Iowa City restaurants, implemented an exclusive Valentines Day menu in early February.

The mirrors on the walls of DeLuxe Cakes and Pastries are now adorned with pink satin bows, its ceiling decorated with hanging hearts as the smell of desserts wafts through the air — it’s undeniably sweetheart season in Iowa City.

While couples fight for reservations at restaurants across town during the week of Valentine’s Day, their chefs have been preparing for the season of love by carefully planning the perfect dishes for their Valentine-themed menus.

For DeLuxe, owner Jamie Powers said they have crafted an array of pastries and treats to fit any morning Valentine’s plans. The menu features a plethora of heart-decorated treats to choose from, including their four-inch layered “Sweetheart Cakes” for two and the popular “Conversation Heart Cookies.”

The cookies are decorated differently each year, but the bakery made the designs a community collaboration this year. Customers have the opportunity to request custom PG, R-rated, or X-rated messages piped onto their treats.

“We get help from the whole community on X-rated cookies; straight community, LGBTQ+ community, you name it. The whole community weighs in on the triple X,” Powers said. “I cater to anyone who walks in.”

Last year, the bakery sold 4,500 pastries during the Valentine’s season. This year, Powers said they are on track to match that amount.

Dinner-time Iowa City restaurants like St. Burch Tavern and Basta Pizzeria are no strangers to this busy season, however. To stand out, Justin Parrish, the chef de cuisine at St. Burch, said they have to think outside of the box.

“We always like to have specials — exciting ones. It’s an opportunity to flex our muscles and get creative,” Parrish said. “With Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking about what couples want to eat — usually it’s things like chocolate.”

Parrish has chosen specials made for two, including the “Strawberry Mascarpone Crostata,” a dessert that includes strawberries, passionfruit, and a brown sugar banana ice cream.

“We like to get creative with things like desserts that are shareable,” Parrish said.

Known for its oyster selection, Parrish said the wide variety and quality of the oysters the restaurant offers isn’t available elsewhere in Iowa City. Further, the oysters are shucked and served tableside, creating a fun and unique experience for the special night out.

“I relish the opportunity to create a memory for someone,” Parrish said. “Being a chef, you get to create something and get instant gratification because that person gets to enjoy it, and then talk to you about it.”

At Basta Pizzeria Ristorante, managing partner Ryan Harbaugh said its focus on Italian food, a largely traditional cuisine on Valentine’s Day, makes the holiday a “spirit at
Basta Pizzaria.”

Cameron Jones, the chef de cuisine at Basta, said when creating his Valentine’s specials, his goal is to give guests an elevated experience. This year, Jones executed this by compiling dishes he deems special — ones that patrons would only find on occasion.

Seafood has been one of the main focuses on this year’s special menu. One featured item, the lobster Fra diavolo, is an Italian pasta dish that consists of a house-made fettuccine with spicy tomato sauce, veggies, and a lobster claw and tail.

The restaurant makes dough, bread, pasta, and cheese by hand every day, Harbaugh said, with anything not crafted in-house flown in from Italy.

“We focus on fresh, local, and made with love,” Harbaugh said.

Whether staying in or going out for a romantic evening, the Iowa City food scene will surely not disappoint a festive foodie.

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About the Contributor
Isabella Tisdale
Isabella Tisdale, Photojournalist
Isabella Tisdale is a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan and is a senior at West High school. In her free time, she stage manages for the theater program at West High. She plans to double major in political science and journalism.