The Takeaway: Mosley’s is for barbecue lovers, from the ribs to the sides

Mosley’s has two locations, one in Iowa City (525 S Gilbert St) and North Liberty (125 E Zeller St). — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

I was raised by a father whose love of barbecue was such that he’d bring home ribs from a different restaurant almost every Friday as part of a long-running project to determine which ones were the best. I only vaguely remember the criteria: tenderness, something about the quantity and flavor of the sauce — I was always most excited about the cornbread anyway, but I always looked forward to those meals and my dad’s animated rundown of where each restaurant ranked. To this day, I associate ribs and cornbread and the mess of eating it all with my father’s ringing laugh and Friday night dinners at my parents’ house.

My parents moved out of Iowa last year and the pandemic has prevented us from seeing each other, so those Friday dinners are a thing of the past, but eating food that we often used to share makes it feel a little like they’re still here. So last week when I was trying to decide what to eat, I thought of my dad and ordered ribs.

True to form, I’m still a little more interested in the sides that come with barbecue than the main dish. I chose Mosley’s based in great part on the fact that they had hush puppies; I love them and they are hard to find. In addition to those, we ordered corn bread, potato salad and a full rack of ribs. The food arrived at the door of our apartment in less than an hour, even though the weather wasn’t great. (Let me take this opportunity to encourage everyone to always tip your drivers well. They’re doing the Lord’s work in this pandemic).

I like a light touch when it comes to condiments and Mike has very specific condiment rituals, so we ordered the ribs dry. This was something of a misnomer, as they were well-seasoned and tender, with a light coating of some kind of sauce. They had the perfect smoky, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, mildly hot-but-not-too-hot flavor. In my opinion, they were already just right as they were and didn’t require any sauce. But for those who like sauce, they came with all four house-made options on the side: the red rib sauce, which is a vinegar and pepper-based sauce with just a touch of sweetness; the hot red rib sauce which is a kickier version of its namesake; the gold standard, a mustard-based sauce that was the sweetest of the four; and the vinegar sauce which had a nice acidity and a moderate amount of sweetness. The vinegar sauce was my favorite — I didn’t put it on my ribs, but I stirred a bit into my potato salad.

As for the potato salad, I have spoken before of my appreciation for simple things done well. Potato salad often seems to fall prey to a more is more philosophy: too much mayo, weird additions like raisins, sweetness for some reason. This potato salad was not that. It was deliciously creamy without being overdressed, a bit of celery and onion for crunch and a vinegary sauce. It was perfect. The slices of cornbread were generous, glazed with honey and so moist and sweet that they verged on being a dessert, which is exactly how I like it. The hush puppies were crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside and came with a delicious, tangy dipping sauce.

Mosley’s wasn’t around at the height of my dad’s barbecue obsession, but I think this meal would have ranked high in his bracket. And in my rankings where the most important categories are flavor and comforting nostalgia, Mosley’s was a clear winner.