I’ve tasted a lot of bar food lately.
With old places turning out new menus or changing faces, I was accumulating quite a list of places to try.
And, try I did.
I tasted the olive-heavy bruschetta and Italian-dressing soaked beans (akin to Cowboy Caviar) at River City Pub — the former Muddy Waters, turned DC’s, turned Fieldhouse location on First Street SE, Cedar Rapids, next to Dublin City.
I sampled the new menu at Stadium Lounge, 957 Rockford Rd. SW, Cedar Rapids, and wished I would’ve stuck to its famous broasted chicken.
I traveled to Mustang Sally’s in Springville for a taste of the Mustang Sally burger, topped with pepperjack cheese, jalapenos and slathered in sweet chili sauce, and washed down with the club-style salad bar.
I even hit up the Thirsty Turtle Tavern (once the Eastside Maid-Rite across from Coe College in Cedar Rapids) lured in by its promise of Blue Moon batter, which created a funnel-cake-like taste and consistency on mozzarella sticks and onion rings.
Other than a breath of fresh — or was it dusty and beer-stale — air from lunch at the Hilltop Tavern in Iowa City, my mission to find bar food that well, raised the bar, was disappointing.
At the Hilltop, with homemade chocolate chip cookies in hand, my lunch mates and I pondered why a classic like Hilltop Tavern gets it while many of the newer places seem to miss. As we finished our meal — fish with orzo and a Reuben and cookies — I leaned back in my creaking chair and wished I would find another gem like the Hilltop.
A trip to the newly opened Emil’s Hideaway was an answer to my stomach’s prayers.
The newest Emil’s is a combination of the classic deli food the orignal Emil’s (115 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids) is known for in a cool, new setting. Literally hidden away, tucked behind Taco Johns just off First Avenue, Emil’s is the type of place you could duck into at lunch time and lose the entire day.
Get sucked in by the dark, ambient lighting when you step inside. Lounge in black leather chairs while you wait for your table and slink into one of the side booths illuminated with pendant lights, or choose a table by the fish tank and admire the pony-keg-meets-beer-bottle-chandeliers.
Dining with nine men, we ordered just about every item on the menu — including the Shrimp Bacon Club, Spicy Chicken Rangoons, Meatloaf Sandwich and the Hawkeye. I got the chicken rangoons.
The table fell silent as everyone received their meals. I only heard mumbles of things like “I have to bring my wife here,” and “What did you get? Mine is great.”
I’ll be back. There are more things on the menu I want to try and specialty drinks — like the Moscow Mules — I want guzzle. And anytime designers get creative with glowing bar sparkles, kegs and chandeliers, I get a little giddy.
I think a new place, or old place with a new face, opened up that I want to go back to.