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Food: Restaurant Winners!

Devotay Sweeps Our 1st Annual Readers' Choice Regional Restaurant Contest

Devotay Staff
The staff at Devotay celebrates winning three categories, including Best Restaurant of the Region. Standing: Jill Kinkade, Morgan Weiss, Scott Krenz, Chef Emeritus Kurt Michael Friese, Chef de Cuisine Jered Dieter. Seated: General Manager Kim McWane Friese, Brian Morelli, Kristen Sessler, Lindsey Render, and Sous Chef Paige Haringa. Photograph by Mark Paul Petrick © 2005

Food, glorious food! After a month of compiling votes in our first annual Readers’ Choice Regional Restaurant Contest, and salivating over the comments by our cuisine-savvy readers, we wonder if we’ll ever bother to eat at home again.

We loved hearing about old favorites and enticing new eateries. And we’re reminded that Iowans embrace world cuisines as much as any cosmopolitan epicure. Readers swooned over Spanish tapas, Italian tiramisu, Japanese bento boxes, specially roasted coffees, soul food, tasty falafels, jambalaya wraps, French crepes, thick milkshakes, teriyaki burgers, tandoori chicken . . . mmmm . . . is it dinnertime yet?

Read on, savor the possibilities . . . then gather your dear ones together for a splendid meal at one of our region’s fine eating establishments.

Best of the Region: Devotay

Owners: Kurt & Kim Friese. Chef: Jered Dieter. Iowa City, (319) 354-1001

Family-owned Devotay serves smart soul food. Here’s their recipe. Start with farm-fresh and homegrown ingredients (from about 35 local food growers and producers). Combine with eclectic and tantalizing menu choices. Mix in a dash of whimsical decor and background music. Sprinkle friendly and attentive waitstaff on top. Shake and stir (with all your heart)!

The result is a restaurant that’s as colorful, elegant, and inviting as their signature Devotay Paella (saffron rice with chicken, sausage, and shellfish—vegetarian also available). Devotay boasts a wide assortment of hot and cold tapas, ranging from smoked salmon to grilled olives. They also have scrumptious entrées—like Crabcake Po’ boy Sandwich, Mediterranean Vegetable Stew, and New York strip—as well as crisp salads, from-scratch desserts, and a vast array fine wines and beverages. No wonder the restaurant has so many devotees!

Our Favorite Comments:

  • “Always new and adventuresome menus.”
  • “Great food, comfy ambiance, and a community conscience.”
  • “Devotay has a special, worldly ambiance without pretense or stuffiness. Their tapas and rioja are divine.”
  • “All the fish is from sustainable fisheries. Mussels and paella are to die for.”
  • “Make a reservation!.”

Other Finalists

Anzalyn’s Steak House, in Ottumwa, scored big points. Said one customer, “The food is awesome! The garlic bread and potatoes are the best I’ve ever had!” Iowa City’s Atlas World Grill was hailed for its “divine” molten brie and chocolate. Washington’s Café Dodici was popular for its “fantastic, flavorful food with amazing art and ambience,” and Iowa City’s Motley Cow won voters over with its “fresh, creative, local, inventive, delicious, and mostly organic” fare. Other big favorites were Takanami, IC; Regina’s; Fairfield; Revelations Bookstore and Café, Fairfield; Okoboji Grill, IC; Red Avocado; IC; Givanni’s, IC; and India Café, Fairfield. Strangely, a lot of readers voted for their own kitchens, or those of friends and family members! Tempting to publish those names and addresses…but foolish.

Best Cheap-But-Good Food:
Hamburg Inn & Thai Deli

Hamburg Inn - Owner: Dave Panther. Chef: Scott Kalla. Iowa City, (319) 337-5512

Thai Deli - Owner and chef: Sitti Charoenkul, Fairfield. (641) 472-3902

A tie! Classic American and exotic Thai came head-to-head as the winners of our Cheap-But-Good prize. The Hamburg Inn in Iowa City has been serving delicious burgers, shakes, malts, and unsurpassed home fries since 1948, when it was founded by the Panther family. A “50s time capsule of good eating,” the homey “Mom’s kitchen” serves daily specials, homemade soups, world-class omelettes, hearty breakfasts, and more—at extremely low prices.

For a bargain bite of Thai, stop by the Thai Deli in Fairfield and watch as the server heaps noodles, veggies, tofu, or meat a mile high on your plate. After a man-sized meal of veggie satay, cashew chicken, and cream-topped pie, you’ll leave with your belly—and your wallet—full.

Our Favorite Comments

Hamburg Inn:

  • “A throw-back, genuine diner; a community favorite (in this University town, many return to recreate fond memories at Hamburg Inn). Home fries to die for!”
  • “Great veggie burgers!”
  • “1950s hamburger heaven with great breakfasts.”

Thai Deli:

  • “Portions are hefty, so you can get a full meal for under $5.”
  • “Excellent taste, low cost, consistent food quality.”
  • “1950s hamburger heaven with great breakfasts.”

Other Finalists

Iowa City’s Bread Garden received due credit for their delicious and affordable soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts. Coralville’s Aladdin garnered praise for its “great falafels for a great price,” and IC’s Oasis was hailed for its “friendly service, authentic middle eastern food, and GREAT baba ganoujh.” Our salsa-loving readers cast their votes for Los Portales, Fairfield; Panchero’s, Iowa City; and El Ranchero, Iowa City. An effusive fan of Burlington’s Shamrock Tap wrote, “I like that deal where you can get sandwiches for half-price. And crickey! They are sandwiches with gosh-honest vegetables in them. Mother would be proud!” Other hotspots for penny-pinching epicurians: Taste of China, Baldy’s Wraps, and Z’mariks, Iowa City; Asian Deli, Fairfield.

Most Vegetarian Friendly: The Red Avocado

Co-owners and chefs: Dave Burt and Derek Roller. Iowa City, (319) 351-6088.

Eating at the Red Avocado is like being invited for a meal at your best friends’ place—your eco-aware, artistic, hip, and gourmet chef friends, that is. Since 1999, the unique eatery has been serving organic, vegan, and vegetarian fare with a flair. Fresh and local is the Red Avocado mantra. They bake bread daily, grow many of their own ingredients, and collaborate with as many area farmers and food producers as possible. They are well-known for their whimsically named and crafted entrées–whirlybird sandwich, salad organica, and thai coconut pesto–as well as their intimate and artsy decor.

Our Favorite Comments

  • “Locally grown vegetables; prize-winning salads, and creative presentation of dishes, reflecting the sincerity of the chefs.”
  • “The food is erotic, sensual, inventive, nourishing, and good. I can’t say enough about this place.”
  • “Dave and Derek are great supporters of the community.”

Other Finalists

Iowa City’s Masala was hailed for its savory East Indian cuisine, and Fairfield’s Mohan Delights was praised for “the highest quality, all-vegetarian food around.” The Motley Cow in Iowa City received kudos for having “good food and drink, and a cozy, romantic atmosphere.” Iowa City’s Thai Flavors had voters claiming, “They will satisfy any appetite with their delicious, non-meat dishes.” Other favorites were Guptas, Fairfield; Devotay, Iowa City; and Everybody’s in Fairfield.
Believe it or not, we also received nominations for Ottumwa’s Sirloin Stockade. Joke votes? Absolutely not! Apparently, the Stockade has a great salad bar and, said one voter, “They are the only people in the region who know how to make delicious and savory seitan. Our favorite is General Mock Chicken with a side of Szechuan String Beans. Yum!”

Best Pizza: Pagliai’s

Owner & Chef: Armond Pagliai. Iowa City (319) 351-5073.

Want a slice of heaven? Head to Pagliai’s! Their piping hot pizza pies have been regional favorites since 1962, when the restaurant first opened its doors. Voters loved the Mom ’n’ Pop feel of Pagliai’s, with its ’60s-era furnishings and friendly atmosphere. But it’s the hand-tossed crust, the authentic Italian sauce, and the fresh, generous toppings that keep customers coming back. One Alaska fan, who first savored slices in 1966, begs his Iowa City sister to FedEx him frozen pies when he goes into Paglia’s withdrawal. Now that’s pizza!

Our Favorite Comments

  • “A friend of mine comes from England once in a while to get it.”
  • “Classic thin crust, fresh ingredients, hand-tossed dough, all prepared by hand in front of diners. A family-owned restaurant that clearly cares about their faithful clientele.”
  • “A hidden gem in a town of pizza places.”

Other Finalists

Revelations Bookstore and Café in Fairfield came in as a close second for its wood-fired oven pizzas. Fans said, “It’s the real thing, baby!” praising their “light crusts and incredible toppings—feta, avocado, artichoke hearts…!” Iowa City’s The Wedge won many ballots as well, for their “great, fresh ingredients, wonderful crust, and imaginative varieties.” One customer enthused, “You can get a great vegan pizza there, and the crust is wonderful!” AJ’s Pizza in IC elicited “Best pizza, period.” Tomaso’s in Cedar Rapids also won fans, for their pizza-joint ambiance, complete with blues music, and “unbelievably good pizza.” Wrote one fan, “Who’d have thought teenagers could create something so gourmet?” Other favorites were Falbo’s and standbys Old Chicago and Pizza Hut, all of Iowa City.

Most Luscious Desserts: Café Dodici & Regina's

Café Dodici - Owner: Lorraine Williams; Chef: Aidan Wheat. Washington, (319) 653-4012.

Regina’s - Owner: Regina Woodrow; Chef: Noah Lobdell. Fairfield, (641) 472-1087.

Donuts on the go won’t do for our readers! Decadence and elegance are the qualities that won Café Dodici and Regina’s a tied score for our Most Luscious Desserts category. Delectable sweetness dished up in style—that’s what our winning sisters share. At Café Dodici, you can indulge in exquisite crème brulée and tiramisu, while reclining against cushions and admiring the regal decor. Regina’s in Fairfield has the rustic elegance of a factory-turned-dining hotspot—and mouthwatering desserts to savor by the spoonful. From tangy key lime pie to creamy bread pudding and chocolate silk, Regina’s sweet treats are ideal complements to her gourmet meals.

Our Favorite Comments

Café Dodici:

  • “Rich and delicious.”
  • • “The chef, Aidan Wheat, caters to all kinds of palettes and knows how to make both beautiful and decadent desserts.”
  • • “Their chocolate desserts are to die for!”

Regina’s:

  • “Oh my God! Fast for two days before and after partaking of brunch!”
  • “Warm crème brulée served in a tiny, heart-shaped dish—such a sweet and romantic treat!”

Other Finalists

Others had luscious desserts that certainly bear mentioning. The Agency Gallery Deli, tucked away in Agency, received acclaim for “fresh and fabulous homemade desserts.” Iowa City’s Atlas elicited this rave: “Their chocolate cake made my mother say loudly, ‘I’d trade this for sex any day!’ ” The city’s Bread Garden has “wonderful stuff to stare at” that has voters claiming, “Go look in their cases—you will drool.” Lincoln Café in Mt. Vernon is touted as being “eclectic and yummy,” and Fairfield’s Petit Paris inspired the simple, “Who can beat homemade French desserts?!” Other favorites were Jaarsma Bakery, Pella; Biaggi’s, Cedar Rapids; Croissant Du Jour, Cedar Rapids; and Iowa City’s Motley Cow Café.

Most Swanky: Linn Street Café

Owners: Frank and Abby Bowman; Executive Chef: Jason Rublacava. Iowa City, (319) 337-7370.

Linn St. Café is the kind of restaurant you want to wear your best heels to—or bring a date who’s wearing her best heels to. The café has an intimate, stylish ambiance, complete with white linen tablecloths, light jazz, candlelight, and fresh orchids on each table. The Bowmans offer hearty and scrumptious “New American” cuisine, with soups, salads, and entrées like their signature Iowa beef tenderloin, rack of lamb, and homemade vegetarian ravioli. Those wishing to nibble can enjoy finger foods such as smoked trout paté, baked brie, or Dungeness crab cakes. And let’s not forget the desserts—made from scratch every day—including flourless chocolate torte and all varieties of cheesecake.

Our Favorite Comments

  • “I love it. The people, the servers, the music, the art, and the food. Oh the food…!”
  • “It’s lovely and, thank goodness, also open for lunch.”
  • “We go there for most of our special occasions.”

Other Finalists

Iowa City’s One Twenty Six received many votes for being “swanky, but totally unpretentious.” One reader recommended, “Eat upstairs for swank and romance.” Not surprisingly, the city’s upscale dining lounge, The Siren, had locals writing, “The attitude is ALL THERE.” Café Dodici, in Washington, was also voted swank-worthy: “the ambiance is very warm, comfortable, and eclectic, with a cosmopolitan feel.” Iowa City’s Givanni’s was praised for being “very hip,” with “great wine selection and fabulous food”; the city’s minimalist Takanami received kudos for their stylin’ seafood and “great salt-water fish tank.” Those venturing further south hailed Burlington’s Martini’s as “million-dollar swank!”

Best Stick-To-Your-Ribs Food: Hamburg Inn

Owner: Dave Panther. Chef: Scott Kalla. Iowa City, (319) 337-5512.

Got a hollow leg to fill? Filler up at the Hamburg Inn #2! Try a hearty burger (veggie or meaty) with a malt and a side of their signature home fries—big chunks of potato fried until golden. If omelettes are more your style, you have over 60 to choose from. Local favorites include the “Iowa”–two eggs, ham, cheese, and hashbrowns; and the “Zadar”—two eggs, hamburger, cheese, and homefries. The latter was named after Zadar, Cow from Hell, a movie filmed at the Hamburg Inn. The restaurant offers food that’s quick, hearty, affordable, and delicious—from homemade hot cakes to crispy fried chicken. Mmmm!

Our Favorite Comments

  • “Three U.S. Presidents have eaten there. Their booths are marked with plaques.”
  • “Six-dollar burgers that do not cost six dollars!”
  • “Social gathering atmosphere. Interesting folk art murals on the walls. They serve the best Eggs Benedict this side of New Orleans.”

Other Finalists

One of our favorite comments in the entire contest came from a fan of Baxas Sutliff General Store between Lisbon and Solon: “Every time we go there, we get the Boca burger, fries, and haystack. We walk away feeling fat, fat, fat. The last time we were there, we saw two different couples eating a dessert the size of their head!” Other favorites were Mondo’s Tomato Pie, Coralville; Shamrock Inn, Ainsworth; Midtown Restaurant, Iowa City; Everybody’s Café, Fairfield; Colony Inn, Amana; Bonaparte Retreat, Bonaparte; Café Dodici, Washington; and Devotay, Iowa City.

Most Unique Ambiance: Devotay

Owners: Kurt & Kim Friese; Chef: Jared Dieter. Iowa City (319) 354-1001.

Readers loved the urban yet comfy atmosphere at Devotay. The popular nook is tastefully decked out in funky tables and mismatched chairs, colorful linens, wine bottles, pottery, and shelves crammed with enticing cookbooks. Large oil paintings hang from the walls, and the bustle of the kitchen mingles with soft dinner music. People-watchers will love the large windows that afford a view of Linn Street, especially at night. What’s more, nearly all of the plates, mugs, bowls, cups, etc., used at Devotay are individually handmade by Kim Friese in her home studio. So if you like the plate you ate off, they’ll wash it and you can buy it. Who says “you can’t take it with you”?

Our Favorite Comments

  • “Cozy, small, and eclectic. Low lighting, elegantly jumbled handmade pottery, excellent wine list.”
  • “Mismatched furniture and handmade pottery complement the varied and imaginative menu—lovely by candlelight, too!”
  • “Artsy, yet homey.

Other Finalists

This category unearthed a lot of treasures. The Bonaparte Retreat, in Bonaparte, for instance, was praised for having “Lots of interesting decorations, like a museum.” Fairfield’s Café Paradiso was hailed for its “wall-size replica of the Delphic Sybil from the Cistine Chapel,” as well as its killer coffee. Cedar Rapids’ Leonardo’s inspired one voter to claim “The upholstered red vinyl walls make you feel like you’re inside a mafia moll’s jewelry box.” Hamburg Inn in Iowa City had voters fascinated by the “off-the-wall décor and movie memorabilia,” and Café Dodici received kudos for its “local art, Egyptian art, Chinese art, Italian greats—amazing ambiance!” Iowa City’s Motley Cow won points for its “Low-key, eclectic décor, both unusual and unexpected. And David, the owner/chef, is a genius.” Other favorites were The Siren, Iowa City; Takanami, Iowa City; Revelations, Iowa City; Red Avocado, Iowa City; and Regina’s, Fairfield.

Most Delicious Ethnic: India Café

Owner and chef: Param Singh. Fairfield, (641) 472-1792

India Café has locations in Iowa City, Peoria, and Fairfield, but it was the latter venue that won over the votes—and tastebuds—of readers. The restaurant’s popular lunchtime buffet has patrons returning regularly for fresh dosas, rice and dahl, samosas, sag paneer, naan, korma, tandoori chicken, desserts, and much more! Guests can also order exciting and exotic menu items including lamb sagwala, shrimp vindaloo, tandoori tofu, and mango ice cream. The ambiance is elegant yet casual, complete with East Indian décor and piped in ethnic music. The Singhs also strive to include as many organic menu items as possible.

Our Favorite Comments

  • “Well-traveled and discriminating Indian culture fans eat here.”
  • “Four words: puffy little bread thingies.”
  • “Excellent buffet, student prices, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine.”

Other Finalists

Washington’s Café Dodici was lauded for its “great tortellini” and “fantastically authentic Italian cuisine.” Fans of Spanish tapas and slow cooking raved about Iowa City’s Devotay, and the city’s Indian food fans praised Masala’s delicious spread. Coralville’s Asian Mekong inspired one voter to write, “Truly a gem, with selections from different Asian cuisines. Plus, a great, family-run ambiance and friendly staff.” Those who like it raw cast their votes for Iowa City’s Sushi Popo. Takanami reeled in other sushi lovers, one of whom exclaimed, “They have the freshest fish! You are never disappointed. A must-try is the eel!” Iowa City’s Thai Flavors and Thai Spice were also big favorites. Fans of Mexican listed El Ranchero, IC; El Rancho Grande, Ottumwa; La Groceria, West Liberty; and Little Mexico, Mount Pleasant. La Reyna, of Columbus Junction, was given a big gracias for their “awesome salsa with big chunks of avocado.”

Best Pub: The Sanctuary

Owner: Daryl Woodson. Iowa City (319) 351-5692.

Any hepcat in the region knows The Sanctuary’s one of the hippest pubs for live music, great food, and enough beer to floor a draft horse. The bar features in-house jazz, blues, folk, and other genres of music, as well as readings and other performance events. Their extensive menu has something to satisfy every appetite—from artichoke crostini and black bean chili, to salads, pizza, and entrées ranging from Cajun to curry. And of course, let’s not forget the beer! Ale aficionados will find a sweeping selection of drafts, American beers, regional beers, and imports from Australia, Belgium, Jamaica, Ireland, Sweden, and many other countries. Bottoms up!

Our Favorite Comments

• “Hands down, the largest selection of brews in the area. Great, casual atmosphere that can be either fun, romantic, or relaxing, depending on your mood.”

• “Great music and incredible hors d'hoeuvres, out of which you can make a meal.”

Other Finalists

There are a lot of popular watering holes in the region, especially in university-town Iowa City. Patrons of Dublin Underground in Iowa City said “It’s the only one that deserves the name ‘pub.’” Mickey’s, also of IC, scored scads of votes for its “great, dark atmosphere,” its “great beer, eclectic crowds, and free popcorn,” and its hearty Sunday breakfasts. As if Irishmen were the only folks who know how to run pubs, votes came pouring in for The Irish Democrat, IC; Fitzpatrick’s, IC; and Mahoney’s, Cedar Rapids. Moving beyond the Blarney Stone, The Mill in IC was praised for “lots of beer selection, good food, and great live music, while Regina’s in Fairfield won praise for its “smoke-free, tasteful” ambiance. The Wig ’n’ Pen of Coralville moved one voter to sing praises of its “great thin-crust pizzas, fish and chips me mum would feel at home eating, and nice cold pints!”

Most Romantic: Devotay

Owners: Kurt & Kim Friese; Chef: Jared Dieter. Iowa City (319) 354-1001.

Devotay is a true labor of love—from the home-grown produce to the home-thrown pottery. Perhaps that’s why the restaurant has the cozy, romantic ambiance of a lovingly tended European café. Or maybe it’s the tapas (delectable nibbles), served by candlelight in an intimate setting. With scrumptious finger foods like marinated artichokes, roasted portobellos, and sherry-glazed chorizo, you’ll find it hard to keep your hands off your date’s plate. Linger over a sumptuous entrée like the Penne Putanesca and top it off with a dessert wine. Good food—like love—takes time and cultivation, as Slow Food aficionados Kim and Kurt Friese know well. Bring a date to Devotay, and you’ll satiate your appetite for romance.

Our Favorite Comments

  • “In the evening when the candles are glowing, the wine is poured, and the windows let in the natural glow of the city at night, it’s the most romantic place I have ever been.”
  • “Dimly lit with soft music…this restaurant is beautiful, elegant, and romantic. Their food makes you want to share it with others.”

Other Finalists

Washington’s Café Dodici had lovers wining, dining, and even getting engaged! “This is where my friend just received her engagement ring,” exclaimed one voter, “A perfect setting for an exciting evening!” One of the many Linn St. Café (Iowa City) enthusiasts stated, “It’s serious romance if you go to Linn Street for dinner.” Lovers of the Mighty Mississip’ cast their votes for Martini’s in Burlington, saying, “It’s excitingly romantic and beautiful looking out over the river.” Other favorites were Regina’s, Fairfield; Motley Cow, Iowa City; The Siren Club, Iowa City; Givanni’s, Iowa City; and Anzalyn’s, Ottumwa. Coralville’s Iowa River Power Company won the hearts of many, including one voter who offered this intriguing praise: “Gulls fly all over the place. If you’re in luck, you can see someone fly fishing below the dam. It’s the best place I have ever dined and told someone I loved them.” Pucker up!

Best Seafood: Takanami

Owners: Justyn Tran, Andy Diep, John Lieu. Chef: Eric McDowell. Iowa City (319) 351-5125.

Takanami serves an elegant fusion-inspired menu with an emphasis on sushi. In a spare and refined space, enlivened by a huge saltwater aquarium, 23-year-old chef Eric McDowell concocts dinner entrees like Hazelnut-encrusted Chilean sea bass and pan-roasted Tasmanian ocean trout, as well as beef, chicken, lamb, and vegetarian dishes. All are artfully prepared for texture, color, and visual impact. Popular at lunchtime are lacquered Bento boxes, filled with a delectable assortment of fresh sushi, plus mixed greens and steamed rice.

Our Favorite Comments

  • “We have a home in Maui, and Takanami has NEVER disappointed us . . . the chef is a specialist in creating seafood dishes that make your taste buds explode!!!”
  • “The best seafood and sushi I have had in the Midwest, and many coastal towns, for that matter.”
  • “You would think you are in New York or San Francisco when you eat at this restaurant.”

Other Finalists

“Good seafood? In Iowa???” Pointed comments aside, land-bound seafood lovers surfaced with starfish in their eyes for their favorite local restaurants. Fisherman’s Bay in Ottumwa, “owned by a hometown boy!”, got points for its “quite satisfying and delicious” seafood selection. A special mention goes to Louisiana Lagniappe in Marion for tasty take-out Cajun dishes. Find “the most delicious seared scallops” at One Twenty Six in Iowa City. Regina’s in Fairfield got a nod for its cedar-plank salmon. And national chain Red Lobster (Coralville, Cedar Rapids) won praise for seafood diversity and seasonal specials.

Best Sandwiches: New Pioneer Co-op

Chef: Mike Brannin. Iowa City/Coralville, (319) 338-0635, (319) 358-5513.

New Pioneer Co-op sandwiches are the greatest thing to happen since…well, sliced bread. Sandwich builders start with fresh, handmade hearth bread made from scratch at the Co-op’s Bakehouse ovens. Then, they layer on all-natural meats (hormone- and antibiotic-free) and/or fresh salmon, Wisconsin cheeses, organic tofu, tempeh, and veggie burger patties. Finally, they heap on fresh produce and flavorful toppings—all of which are free of artificial ingredients and additives. The result? One of 35 signature sandwiches sure to please vegetarian, vegan, and meat-eating palates alike. Brie Beast, Weinberg’s Wise Guy Reuben, La Dolce Vita, and Brad’s Potent Pesto Tofuwich—just a few of our favorites!

Our Favorite Comments

  • “Nobody has more options, bigger sandwiches, better ingredients, and on the area’s best bread!!! What more could you ask for?”
  • “Once I walked in and ordered a roast beef sandwich on pumpernickel with red onion, avocado, lettuce, and mayo, and I bought it at a decent price!”
  • “Best sandwiches for vegetarians!”

Other Finalists

Iowa City’s Bread Garden was a close competitor, with its “fresh breads of any description and wonderful fillings of fresh and grilled vegetables.” Fairfield’s Revelations Bookstore and Café was also high in the rankings, for its “great wraps and paninis,” and its “eclectic menu and atmosphere.” Cedar Rapids’ Blue Strawberry won hearts with its “great grilled sandwiches, great value, and great service.” The Cottage Bakery and Deli scored points for its portobella mushroom sandwiches and unique pesto mayonnaise, while Fairfield’s Entrée Café was praised for its “quick, delicious, build-your-own sandwiches.” Naturally, Iowa’s Subways, Brueggers, and Blimpie’s were voters’ heroes, too.

Best Coffee: The Java House

Owner: Tara Cronbaugh. 90 employees at 5 locations, (319) 341-0012.

Our caffeine-addled voters picked The Java House in Iowa City for the best brew in the region—“always strong and fresh,” said one. Nine different coffees are available daily, and each cup is brewed on order. Big comfy chairs and sofas, original artworks, free wireless, complementary newspapers and magazines, and a whole slew of caffeinated (and decaf) beverages add joy to the daily java ritual. Cinnamon rolls, pastries, and other coffee-friendly sweets baked daily in-house provide satisfying noshes. Owner Tara Cronbaugh opened the first Java House at Prairie Lights in 1994, when she was a mere 21-year-old living in a UI sorority. Five locations and an ocean of coffee later, Tara and her crew still work hard to keep the java—and the Java House—fresh.

Our Favorite Comments

  • “Great atmosphere to sit and enjoy the coffee!”
  • “Totally the best espresso, best steamed soy milk, and such great flavor combinations!”
  • “They are friendly, the place itself is lovely and a very popular neighborhood spot.”

Other Finalists

Regional contest or not, coffee drinkers voted for their local hometown favorites. In Fairfield, Café Paradiso was a hands-down winner. Owner Steve Jacomini obsesses over providing the best coffee on earth: he handpicks the beans, roasts them himself, and finetunes the brewing to make sure it’s never bitter. “Nothing compares to this coffee,” wrote one self-professed connoisseur. Other finalists were Brewed Awakenings and Blue Strawberry (“conversations with owners an added feature”), both in Cedar Rapids, and Coffee Corner in Washington, a friendly place for young and old alike where Gina Richardson makes “the best cup of coffee in town.” Respondents also appreciated small, locally owned places, like Teaspoons and Uptown Bill’s in Iowa City.

Drawing Winners

  • Dinner for Two at Devotay: Emily Meyer, Cedar Rapids.
  • Two tickets to Nnenna Freelon, Hancher Auditorium: Mary Luedtke, North Liberty.
  • Two tickets to Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, The Siren Club: Shannon McBride, Iowa City.
  • $25 Brunch Certificate at Everybody’s Whole Foods: Doug Mackey, Fairfield.
  • $50 Gift Certificate, New Pioneer: Mark Isham, Iowa City.

And a very big thanks to all of you who voted and made our 1st Annual Regional Restaurant Contest such a success!

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