Some of my best friends are carving out such wonderful, worldly existences this year — in places like South Korea, Luxembourg, Los Angeles, and of course home in New York — that I often entertain myself with the thought that they have struck out on such fantastically foreign paths just to make me jealous. Here in Iowa City, I will flutter from unpaid museum volunteering to paying double for organic at the co-op, and when I tire of such flitting I will . . . well, they will have won (this is usually where my suspicions grind to a halt).
But this weekend, we went One Twenty Six for lunch for the second time, and I realized that I’d stumbled upon a spot charming and delicious enough to make my world-traveling, coast-inhabiting buds very jealous.
For starters, and most obviously: old hardwood floors, rustic French doors, and brick walls! It reaches homey and cozy, without any detours past “musty,” “stuffy,” or “eighteenth century French farmhouse.” The exposed brick may be a prewar throwback, but the glass — and overall effect — is all modern. There’s also a small, two-tiered outdoor terrace for warmer months than these. Sadly, no heat lamps, aka the Greatest Invention of Our Time, were in evidence last Sunday afternoon — perhaps feet of Iowa snow will damper even my enthusiasm for noshing en plein air year round, but I doubt it.
The food was ideal luchtime fare, the perfect (and tricky) combination of light and healthy with filling and hearty. The seared tuna salad with julienne vegetables and a ginger dressing was enough to make me imagine Iowa had temporarily broken free of its land lock. Impeccably fresh and delicately cooked, dressed just enough for decency’s sake. I also tried their cream of mushroom soup, and though Billy laughed when I proclaimed it “very mushroomy,” it was, a powerfully rich distillation of shiitake and chanterelles in an innocent little cup.
The crabcake sandwich arrived open-faced, with a smear of chipotle sour cream on the bread and a plated wee salad along for the ride. The crab here came proclaiming its proud, Maryland heritage, which has become a sort of rite-of-passage for all would-be crabcakes — but delicious nonetheless. While we’re on sandwiches, it’s worth noting that the bread here is fantastic, all crusty and flavorful, AND from the Bread Basket (“Gucci Market”) across the Ped Mall.
So take that, far-flung friends! You live two blocks from a subway station or around the corner from a hundred-year old pastry shop, but you don’t have One Twenty Six. This comfortable yet classy restaurant would become your favorite and stay mine even in New York.