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Where to dine this weekend: Clinton Street Social Club

BY BEN VERHILLE | JANUARY 31, 2013 5:00 AM

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A typewriter sits beneath “Murderers’ Row,” a 16-year-old bourbon of AH Hirsch is locked in a birdcage, and an Old Fashioned rests on a solid ash bar top. This is the scene of a classic speakeasy or Iowa City’s very own, the Clinton Street Social Club, 18.5 S. Clinton St.

This young venue, open since September 2012, boasts a powerful menu dressing up traditional pub plates, intended to match the ambiance of a Prohibition-era restaurant.

After tasting chef Jacob Huth’s “buttermilk dressing” or his special stout-beer-infused pub mustard, or his upcoming creation of special house ketchup, I found that no taste buds are left out of this party of flavors. Not hungry? The Social Club’s bar is as far as one needs to go, the staff being full of beverage connoisseurs, happy to converse about the drinks, the establishment, or whatever you please.

The Drink — an Old Fashioned

Bartender: Matt Skinner

Original recipes only, the Old Fashioned comes from a Prohibition-era recipe, just as the Manhattans.

This house specialty — bourbon on the rocks — is served with a maraschino cherry, a sugar cube, and a fiery orange rind. Skinner and the other barkeeps will burn your orange before matching it with your bourbon to caramelize the oils and bring out the true essence of the orange. Try this for an authentic 1920s experience.

The Atmosphere

The main level of the establishment has an ash bar, a billiards room, as well as a dartboard, with blues music to remind you that you are no longer in 2013. The open restaurant style is on this floor, and the mysteries extend to the upper level. The jazz on the upper floor is a throwback to the ’20s style. Owner Brian Vogel may even make an appearance, exemplifying the outgoing nature that every employee exhibits.

Meeting the other patrons, servers, or anyone else at the Social Club is effortless.
Live music takes place Fridays and Saturdays, bringing more than just records to the authenticity of the “social club.” The chefs take delight in preparing special meals for holidays, and they are preparing for Valentine’s Day. Reservations are available for special events or weekends.

The Plates

Executive Chef: Jacob Huth

I was brought to Clinton Street Social Club by a friend who suggested I should try its corn dogs.

Although I am an Iowan, I have never enjoyed a corn dog, no matter where it’s been from. Then I tried it at Clinton Street. This recipe originally included duck sausage, but that has recently been changed to Iowa pork sausage.

A golden exterior invites you to try its surprisingly soft bite, paired with a stout-beer pub mustard to offer a kick that makes this much more than just a corn dog. Even the pickle served with each dog is loaded in flavor, a “quick pickle” in an apple-cider vinegar. The pork is from  Bud’s Meats, a local producer, and it is expertly highlighted by Huth and his staff.

I emphasize the corn dog, but there are many more treasures to be found. The Green Eggs & Ham is another recent menu addition. These deviled eggs include spinach, proscuitto, mustard, and lemon to provide a delightful adventure. Another delicious version of this sampling include flavors of apple, bacon, and chives. Indulgence would be all too easy with these plates by themselves, but why cut the experience short?

The house Hush Puppies host a variety of flavors, none too overpowering. This old recipe has a new spin, with a crispy exterior and fluffy interior. Why are they called hush puppies? Huth said these cakes were “fed to the dogs” to keep them quiet, and the American Heritage Dictionary concurs, with the qualifier “perhaps.” Served with the spicy Creole aioli sauce and made with flour, cornmeal, eggs, finely diced onions, and corn, you won’t be able to shut up about how good these treats taste.

Available as part of the Poutine plate, the cheese curds have their exquisite flavor augmented by an in-house beer batter, made fresh daily. They are served with hand-cut potato fries, made fresh daily (get the trend?), including a Creole aioli sauce for a spicy excursion or the “buttermilk dressing” for a creamy and rich vacation.

Last of this feast of delicacies are the Brussels sprouts, served with shallots and apple and covered in a warm bacon vinaigrette. This bold combination realizes the potential of apples and Brussels sprouts with a bacon flavoring … need I say more? A must-try.

If spirits and provisions don’t satisfy your needs, there is live jazz or blues performances on Fridays and Saturdays.

Still not content? Then there is no pleasing you.


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