By Glenn ‘Sonnie’ Wooden Jr.
The Dandy Lion is one of the newest restaurants in Iowa City, sitting across the Pedestrian Mall from Buzz Salon, where the Forbidden Planet once stood. Despite its being extremely new, the Dandy Lion is quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurants in Iowa City. As soon as I stepped inside, there was a sense of ease and accessibility. And speaking with one of the partners, Lindsay Chastain, showed me the care and honesty behind the restaurant.
My first time dining at the Dandy Lion, it was almost 9 p.m., very close to the end of operating hours. I walked in and immediately noticed the booth seating, the bar, and the exposed brick wall on the left. The restaurant felt warm, gentle, and cared for. Chastain was closing up, but she let me and a group of friends sit at the bar and chat. As the conversation flowed, she and I began chatting about Waffle House, Bojangles chicken biscuit, and Sean Brock’s restaurant, Husk.
Chastain is from South Carolina near Clemson University. She heard about Iowa City through friends who described the place as a utopia. Politically, it was the opposite of the South. There is an art scene here that is supportive and provides a good sense of community. Iowa was the first place she lived not in the South. Among other things, Iowa made Chastain realize what four seasons were like.
The Dandy Lion serves food that is influenced by the South. Chastain said, “A lot of the ideas are from the all-day cafe movement. The movement started in Australia and took off on the East and West Coasts. The focus is on accessibility and inclusion. Good food, a community space; a place to work and eat; a place for brunch, or even a booze brunch on the weekend.”
This approach gives the customers a more intimate and approachable environment, allowing customers to relax and enjoy the food and atmosphere.
Chastain expanded the menu and the kitchen equipment. The Dandy Lion has no fryer in the back of house, but it does have an air fryer.
“The air fryer is a good restriction,” she said. “It keeps the food innovative and gives you ways to expand on the classics. You can update them and customize them, but at the end of the day, it is still accessible.”
One of the greatest parts of the Dandy Lion is its ability to be accessible to everyone. “There are standards that will not alienate anyone,” Chastain said. “There’s something for everyone — vegetarian option for the biscuits and gravy. The Dandy Lion tries to find a way for everyone to get involved.”
The restaurant even has a lunch-box service. “The lunch box service is self-contained and quick,” she said. “If you are on the go, you can just grab it and go. There is a pre-made menu for breakfast and lunch. You go to the website and fill out a form that gives the restaurant a notification. The customer can then come in and pick it up. If you are close, we will even deliver.”
The Dandy Lion is dedicated and committed to the customer.
During my time there, I have tried the Chicken Biscuit, Pancakes with coconut curry, and the charcuterie sandwich. The prices are modest, the food is excellent, and the service is some of the best I have experienced. The establishment needs to be visited whenever you have a spare minute. It should be the first restaurant mentioned when someone asks you, “What do you want to do for dinner?” The Dandy Lion is here to stay.