A small group of restaurateurs are teaming up to bring a unique take on barbecue to Iowa City’s North side.
The new restaurant — dubbed Pop’s Old and New Barbecue — will open in the space formerly occupied by The Pit Smokehouse (130 N Dubuque St.) and is currently undergoing massive renovations in a bid to open by the end of April.
“We pretty much gutted the entire kitchen,” said Doug Knepp, the restaurant’s general manager, noting that much of the building’s raw interior will remain intact. “They put in great beam-work — The Pit — and the brickwork is excellent. We’re trying to showcase what the building was already set up with, which is just a great aesthetic.”
The new restaurant’s owners include Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon owners Randy Lee, Joe Burnett and Kevin Grimm. Knepp says that Pop’s will operate as a sister restaurant to the more “traditional” Wildwood Smokehouse, with an entirely different menu that will change about every six weeks, depending on what’s fresh and seasonal.
“We wanted to create something new, something fun, so we went through the process and came up with a whole new concept menu,” Knepp said. Those who prefer the traditional barbecue — dry meats with southern-style sides and sauces — will still be able to find the staples at Pop’s, Knepp added, but the similarities to Wildwood stop there.
“It’s not just baked beans, potato salad and corn bread,” said Knepp, who went on to describe an eclectic menu featuring items like shaved brussel sprouts with smoked pork belly, shaved Swiss chard over smoke brisket, pickled mustard seeds and Korean barbecue sauce.
“People who like barbecue can still get their barbecue [at Pop’s],” he added. “But for people who want to try barbecue with a little bit of an edge to it — we’re bringing that to the table.”
Given his extensive experience in the restaurant industry, it’s safe to say that Knepp is well-suited for the task at hand.
Born in Iowa City and raised in Solon, he cut his teeth at Atlas in Iowa City before studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Afterward, Knepp worked as a chef at both Zombie Burger and Django in Des Moines, where he developed a number of dishes, including his award-winning hand-cut french fries. He also accrued dessert experience while working at Sweet Binney’s in Clive, Iowa.
In addition to renovating the restaurant’t kitchen and interior, staff are also installing an outdoor patio along the restaurant’s North side, with seating for 20-25 customers. Knepp says the restaurant plans to take an active role in outdoor community events, including the Northside Oktoberfest.
Menu prices aren’t settled yet, Knepp says, though the restaurant is aiming for a fast and casual dining experience, and will cater to the University of Iowa student population. Service will also include takeout and free delivery, with some exceptions.
For beverages, the restaurant has partnered with the Millstream Brewery Company in Amana, Iowa, and may even collaborate with the brewery on a Pop’s-exclusive brew, Knepp added.
When it comes to food, however, Knepp is simply excited about the idea of offering a new twist on the classic barbecue concept. Barring the occasional speed bump, everything is on track to have Pop’s Old and New Barbecue open by the end of April, he says.