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Hopping into town

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | JULY 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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Dozens of red plastic tubes hang like oversized Twizzlers from the walls of 30hop’s walk-in cooler, some stretching as far as two stories up through the walls. Soon, these tubes will assist in a noble task: transporting beer from 60 kegs to taps throughout the new restaurant in the Iowa River Landing.

This fleet of tubes will be outfitted with corresponding kegs before 30hop, 900 E. Second Ave., opens in the first two weeks of August. The new “urban industrial” establishment — as described by its founders — is yet another addition to Coralville’s Iowa River Landing, which has seen the rise of Von Maur, WineStyles, and Scratch Cupcakery in the last year.

“We wanted to have the first rooftop patio in Johnson County and bring a big-city feel to the area,” said Dan Blum, a 30hop managing partner. “We wanted a high-caliber restaurant that you could find in Chicago.”

The team has met at least one of its ambitions: 30hop features a rooftop patio large enough to seat 130 guests and includes a bar with 30 craft beers on tap — which inspired the name of the restaurant. There are also infrared heaters placed throughout the roof space to “maximize” the time guests can hang outside comfortably, Blum said.

“There’s nothing better than throwing on a hoodie and going out for a beer in the fall,” he added.

Downstairs and indoors, 30hop’s main dining area includes simple wooden tables and a large bar, all custom-fabricated locally. Light fixtures adapted from black buckets will hang above the tables, while an arrangement of stylized piping hangs over the bar and its 60 taps. Exposed light bulbs hang near the stairs, which are made of metal.

Much of the walls are covered in recycled wood from an old barn from nearby — wood that was also used to craft a large, eye-grabbing American flag on the west wall. At the center is an angular 20,000-pound stone, the first piece put into place as construction began.

Erik Shewmaker, the director of operations at 30hop and Iowa City’s BlackStone Restaurant and Bar, said he and his partners at 30hop — including current or former BlackStone owners/operators Matthew Swift, Brian Flynn, and Blum — designed the style to set 30hop apart from other local food venues.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do something differently. We’re looking at a much more refined menu with a larger craft beer offering,” Shewmaker said. “… It’s a nice, clean, and classy product.”

At its surface, 30hop embodies a series of paradoxes: Its aesthetic is contemporary but rustic; the menu is refined, yet features classic comfort foods, such as cheeseburgers and fries; most of the food has an Asian influence, yet all is geared toward local tastes.

Blum said these apparent conflicts save 30hop from being too “trendy” and intimidating.

“It’s urban industrial, but the rustic touches soften the space and make it more comfortable, approachable, and relaxing,” Blum said. “It will stand the test of time and be popular for years to come.”

This balance between familiar and edgy is characterized in 30hop’s head chef Ryan Funk. Though Funk hails from Iowa City, he spent nine years in San Diego studying culinary arts and training with former “Top Chef” contestant and “The Taste” judge Brian Malarkey as well as the renowned Filipino chef Anthony Sinsay.

An Asian-food expert himself, Funk said Asian-inspired tastes and “beer-centric” recipes dominate the new menu. For example, the rarely seen Japanese black cod will be featured in a dish or two, and Funk is working on a bacon burger with a twist: Instead of acting as a condiment, the bacon will be ground up and cooked with the beef.

“It’s a menu Johnson County has never seen,” he said. “This area’s progressing as far as culinary goes, and we’re a big part of that.”

Funk said some entrées may cost as high as $30 or $40, but even the priciest items are available in smaller portions to be tasted with different beers or shared with friends. The short menu descriptions are also designed to promote curiosity about the food.

“There’s lots of room for freedom to venture out,” he said. “You have to be willing to try different things. Come into 30hop with an open mind.”

With at least 30 different beers on tap on any given night, 30hop’s concept encourages an open mind. One thing Blum said the business will never encourage is competition, even with another beer-drinking establishment, Backpocket Brewery, located so nearby.

“We’re not really competitive so much as cooperative," Blum said. "We work together to really make the Iowa River Landing more of a destination."

Neither restaurant wars nor big city ambitions have apparently distracted the 30hop team from its three-year goal of putting out a restaurant with the distinction of 30 Rockefeller Center and the comfort of a good-tasting beer.

“You have to have the food to back up the ambiance, and our food speaks for itself,” Funk said.


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