Iowa City: Motley Cow Café
Two months after a move from their small, rustic space on Market Street in Iowa City, the Motley Cow Café appears to be doing well in their swanky new digs.
The relocated restaurant is nestled in between two local businesses, T-Spoons and R.S.V.P., at 150 North Linn Street. Owner David Weiseneck did an honorable job of designing the new space, not to mention that he incorporated a number of environmentally responsible touches. Dining tables are made from recycled sunflower hulls, and the bar is reclaimed slate from an old pool-table. The kitsch salt and pepper shakers still grace each table.
As a nod to the Market Street space, the open-air kitchen serves an honest welcome. The dining room is vastly larger than the 26-seater from before, and aside from the tables, is quite sparse. The palate is earthy-industrial with shades of charcoal, lichen and cement.
The new Cow features a full bar with fairly priced, quality cocktails. Their wine list offers a range of full and half bottles, as well as a short selection by the glass. For the bargain wine drinker, try the house glass for $5 - you can't go wrong for that price.
Now for the food: it's still mostly local, still mostly organic.
My favorite dish is the kale salad. This starter is dressed with olive oil, dried cherries, walnuts and red onion. The leaves are soft yet lend a hearty base to the sweet trimmings.
The lamb sausage pizza with fresh mozzarella, fontina and topped with greens is light but full of flavor.
The roasted trout with chickpeas and beet-mushroom vinaigrette was disappointing. The fish was cooked to a perfect texture, but the whole plate tasted like it looked: beige, upon beige.
The Cow brought their famous key lime pie to their new spot, and thank God they did. It's true that we don't grow many key limes in Iowa, but if you're going to cheat in the "local" category, this is the place to do it. The crust is gritty and sweet, and the filling is tangy and tart. Quite perfect really.
Though not as intimate as before, the Motley Cow Café still delivers humble food with a touch of elegance.
I've only eaten at the new location once and it broke my heart. Sometimes the food there has been a little. . .subtle, but this time it had passed completely into bland. I had a carrot soup that was dilute baby food with some ginger sprinkled in. And some overcooked fish, or really more like a low density fiberboard. And a $75 bill for the two of us, starters and main course, but no wine or dessert. Yikes. The best plates of food I've ever had in my life have come from this place, so I'm not giving up. I hear the pizzas and the weekend brunch really rock.