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An intimate gastropub

BY BEN VERHILLE | NOVEMBER 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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“Looking for a classy pub to shoot back some classy drinks and enjoy great food while talking with friends?

Moonrakers is part of a trio of restaurants that also includes One Twenty Six and Hearth.

One Twenty Six specializes on French-American cuisine, and Hearth features the homey meals that a warm fire can make.

Moonrakers is proud to call itself Iowa City’s first gastropub. This restaurant is very small, fitting a limited crowd. Luckily, the atmosphere is warm and friendly enough, I really didn’t mind the intimacy.

My first impression of Moonrakers came when I was with a couple brothers, looking for a classy drink after a long meeting.

The random suggestion came, and although we were unsure, followed through to give it a try.

Walking in during happy hour just made me that much happier. The cocktail menu was large and varied with specialties that few other bars could serve. Whether through lack of imagination or otherwise, Moonrakers definitely stands out in that regard.

It wasn’t hard to persuade me to try the pub fare after bribing me with the happy-hour drinks — clever play, guys.

During this first visit, I tried out the wood-fired pizza, a delicious choice, but I didn’t have nearly the response of my friends and their tortas.

So I thought I would make sure to come back and see what the emphatic response to their plate was all about.

Before I go into the food, the personality of the servers will probably turn you into a regular.

Between the bar staff behaving as the pub owners of old, serving their brand of medicine of drinks and conversation, and the wait staff that makes time for each table, I didn’t need any convincing to come back.

So once I ordered the torta, I realized there were two options.

The pulled-pork or free-range chicken — both were featured with guacamole, jalapeño, and mozzarella.

I went with the chicken torta, because I’m so health-conscious.

But the healthiness is not why I enjoyed this plate.

The baked loaf that the sandwich was served on had a slight exterior crisp, it wasn’t browned or toasted excessively, just made crispy.

The chicken was cut into tender bites that had a jalapeño with every bite. I’m not a complete wimp when it comes to spice, but the constant presence of it may have been a little excessive.

It wasn’t for my peers who ordered the tortas as well. Maybe the spicy peppers are just my kryptonite.

The mozzarella cheese was a surprising addition in my opinion, especially with the guacamole as the spread, but the flavor was a solid complement to the spicy sandwich.

If you want a side dish, choose their house chips — kettle-cooked and mildly salted, definitely a good pick.

Aside from the tortas, the Moonrakers people are very proud of their healthy and in-house patty process on the burgers. Maybe I’ll give that a shot for the next round.


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