New take on barbecue


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Each week, The Daily Iowan will provide an in-depth look at a local business.

Customers have been said to walk inside 130 S. Dubuque St. and order a deluxe “kickin’ chicken” sandwich, only to be surprised that it is not being served in this location any longer.

Instead, they are greeted with a Pop’s BBQ chalkboard menu with “old and new” options for sandwiches, ribs, sides, and drink selections.

The “old” options are traditional dry meat on a bun with sauce on the side. The “new” side to the restaurant’s menu offers custom-made sandwiches designed by owners and other employees at Pop’s, a barbecue restaurant that opened last week.

“This is 100 percent not the Pit,” general manager Doug Knepp said. “We’ve had several people come through who have thought we just changed the name, but we’re a completely different business.

“We’ve had people get mad that we don’t have certain things and say ‘Well, you used to have it.’ Well, we’ve been open for [a few] days.”

The inside consists of brick walls that have lasted through previous owners, with red-painted pipes and other decorations. In addition, black-and-white framed photos hang above wooden tables to play on the “old and new” factor.

Pop’s serves meat with cold barbecue sauce and in appropriate-sized portions, Knepp said. Meat is smoked “low and slow” to provide quality barbecue, and the brisket and pulled pork is smoked for at least 16 hours.

“Not wanting to get ahead of meat to pull and keeping it fresh, we have limited quantities on stuff so if we run out, we personally are all right with that,” Knepp said. “We try to keep enough in stock to serve everyone that comes through. That’s our ultimate goal — fresh, good, fast.”

Somewhat unique to a barbecue restaurant, sauce is not served on the table and instead delivered with the customer’s food order. To keep the sauces as fresh as possible, Knepp said, they make at least two batches a day.

“Not having sauce on the table is kind of our way of saying ‘This is made fresh, with fresh ingredients,’ ” he said.

Since the previous business closed in January, it took no longer than a month for owners and employees to start construction of the new restaurant.

Employee Ashley Serbousek has been working at Pop’s since opening day, mostly as a cashier. She also runs food and handles behind-the-counter obligations such as stirring sweet tea and busing tables.

Though Pop’s is order-at-the-counter style and she previously has worked as a waitress, she said she sees customers having positive reactions to the new restaurant at the counter.

“People have really liked it so far,” Serbousek said. “It does get busy in here, so it gets kind of hard to pay attention during the rush.”

Iowa City resident Cathy Wilcox, who had lunch at Pop’s on Wednesday, heard about the restaurant when it was under construction.

“I like barbecue, but we usually don’t go out a lot for [it],” she said. “It’s nice to have this close by, I can walk here. They seem to have a different kind of [options].”

She ordered a “new style” sandwich, the Genovese, a grilled vegetarian sandwich. It includes smoked eggplant, pickled pepper, Swiss chard, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, and pesto.

Knepp said the new restaurant offers a different option for locals.

“I just tried to do my own thing and bring something to Iowa City — or Iowa in general,” Knepp said. “With a little more fun and keep it under an affordable cost.”

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