Coralville’s new American grill, 30hop (900 East 2nd Ave., Coralville), is enormous, with two stories and a rooftop patio that’s open in warmer months. The boards above the bar—lumber salvaged from an old barn—add to the restaurant’s spacious feeling.
I found myself juggling 30hop’s conflicting aesthetics: It presents an unresolved conversation between old and new, cosmopolitan and provincial, haute cuisine and a local steakhouse feel. I appreciated the nods to downhome Midwestern decor—the overturned milk-pail lamps, the dark wooden booths with vinyl cushions—but pop tunes from the Top 40 station challenged conversation, neon lettering flashed happy hour specials from across the room and nondescript media flickered from two unnecessarily large flat-screen televisions. At times, it seems the owners are trying to cater to too many audiences, which can only ever leave all parties partly satisfied.
The menu offers many American comfort classics, but the influence of various Asian cuisines is notable. Mac and cheese is served with panko bread crumbs and cherry tomatoes; the “chee burger” refers to the kimchi on top; and sisig—a Filipino staple with pork belly, egg and rice—while lacking in the vinegary acidity that makes most Filipino food so piquant, is still authentic and exciting to find included on the menu. There are several other enticing options on the menu, and I take it as a good sign when I’m torn between ordering a dozen equally mouth-watering sounding dishes.
I can never resist sweet potato fries, because for me they act as a barometer for basic quality. 30hop passed the fry test with points for crunch, seasoning and shape.
On the other hand, the crispy skin salmon with green papaya, coconut and lime was underseasoned and lackluster. While I was pleased with the crinkly and fat-lined texture of the fish’s skin, I would have appreciated more than just a garnish of the papaya salad. Luckily the robust tartness and satisfying thickness of the tomato and lemongrass soup made up for the salmon’s flaws.
Brussels sprouts with walnuts, sweet Chinese sausage and the anchovy vinaigrette were drowning in dressing, and the kale caesar, while tasty, contained more romaine than kale, but the portions were reasonable and the basic flavors were there. There’s clearly potential; since the restaurant has only been open a few months, I’m eager to see how they work out these kinks.
The service at 30hop, while occasionally mechanical, can be impressive. On one visit, my server was extremely accommodating and answered my questions without pause. I had to ask, for example, what the little “63” indicated next to the word “egg” on the menu. She explained that these eggs are prepared for 63 minutes sous-vide, a cooking method that involves vacuum sealing food and then submerging it in water. I was delighted by this blend of modern culinary innovation and traditional fare.
The restaurant emphasizes beer, as evidenced by the expansive drink menu. There are 60 beers available, with a total of 90 taps between 30hop’s two bars. Many of the beers are from local and regional craft breweries, and happy hour features beers from Backpocket, Millstream and Confluence in Des Moines. There is also a small selection of wine and cocktails.
Soon I will have to return to 30hop to try the “firecracker wings” served with sesame, cilantro and blue cheese, and to order some of the dozen beers that caught my eye on the cleverly organized brew list. As for the restaurant’s rooftop bar, I will have to hold tight, hibernate with a pint and wait until Iowa City thaws.
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