When the lights are shining, and it’s filled with diners, I am thankful for Orchard Green Lounge. On a recent evening, my dining partner and I nabbed a parking spot outside the back entrance of Orchard Green Restaurant (521 S. Gilbert St.). Upon entering, we were greeted by a host stationed at the desk at the bottom of the stairs that separates the less formal Lounge from the fancier main dining floor upstairs. The fireplace was crackling, which was very warm and inviting, and the friendly staff were in good spirits.
The Lounge opens daily at 3 p.m. and diners can order off the lounge menu, which features charcuterie boards and simple pub fare, or the upstairs menu, which features larger entrees. The restaurant’s full bar has a carefully selected wine list, as well as noteworthy Belgian and Bavarian-influenced beer available in bottles and on draft.
The cured fish and charcuterie boards are especially notable. Wooden boards (handmade by the chef and owner, according to a bartender) come piled, literally, with enough goodies to make a dinner for two, and both feature a regularly changing selection.
On our last visit, the charcuterie board included slices of salami and prosciutto, honeyed chutney with sliced almonds, discs of spicy chorizo and Varzi salami, a mound of crisp pickles, preserved cabbage, a quenelle of duck pâté, sun-dried tomato tapenade, cornichons and banana peppers. Altogether there were five meats; seven vegetable and fruit (including pomegranate seeds!) accoutrements; slices of crostini and fresh baguette; and Dijon and stone ground mustards.
The Lounge’s smoked fish board also stands out among Iowa City’s selection of pub fare. The spread, which also features a rotating selection, included slices of cold-smoked and spice-cured salmon; chunks of smoked whitefish and trout; a delicious, creamy salmon mousse; salted roe, preserved lemon, avocado and caper berries. Like the charcuterie board, the smoked fish came with vegetables that had been pickled in house: coriander-spiced sauerkraut and tangy red cabbage, crunchy pickled cucumber, carrot and onion. Paired with a bottle Petrus, of the Belgian sour ale, the Lounge’s smoked fish spread is my favorite dinner in town.
Also of note on the lounge menu are the fish ‘n’ chips: crispy, tempura-battered Atlantic cod served with steak-cut fries and a sweet mango rémoulade. The fish ‘n’ chips are good for a late lunch or simple dinner, and during happy hour—Mondays through Thursdays, from 4-6 p.m.—they are featured as a $6 “sandwich basket.”
Salads and soups from the upstairs dinner menu are fresh and tasty. Try the romaine hearts “Caesar” with delicious white anchovies, or the autumn salad, served with pears, endive and radish sprouts.
The artisan cheese board was underwhelming, featuring white cheddar, orange cheddar, slightly stale smoked gouda and a bit of what appeared to be double crème brie. The garnishes of fruit preserves, chutney and honeycomb were a nice touch, but I found the selection to be uninspired, especially considering the availability of more exciting cheeses made and aged in Iowa.
Although the duck pâté and most of the smoked fish offerings are made in house—and they’re lovely—according to a bartender, the other cured meats (Varzi, salami, prosciutto and chorizo) are purchased. While they were delicious, it would be exciting to see more from this kitchen in terms of house-made charcuterie.
The restaurant seems to close a little early on the weekends for my taste. Regardless, I’ll be recommending Orchard Green Lounge all winter long.
Love food? Kind of a chicken? Send restaurant review pitches to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in Little Village issue 169