Local restaurateur Derek Perez’s new venture, Billy’s High Hat Diner, opened today, March 17 in the space formerly occupied by Augusta (630 Iowa Avenue).
Ryan Whiting, Perez’s right-hand man at Bandito’s, is a partner in the new restaurant, and Iowa City native Andrew Mennenga will also take on a leadership role.
Perez said the name came about because he thought the building looked like the instrument. “Billy” refers to Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann (Perez is a fan).
“The concept is to be affordable and good and community-oriented,” Perez said. “We’re just trying to go back to the basics.”
Billy’s serves both breakfast and lunch all day, and Iowa Citians can expect some familiar flavors, like the chilaquiles from Bandito’s. The menu is still evolving, and the kitchen is still perfecting a special house sauce. So far, it includes breakfast staples like waffles, pancakes, benedicts and hash, and lunch fare from soup and salad to shrimp and grits and pork Philly sandwiches. Homemade andouille sausage and doughnuts are also in the works. There will be plenty of vegetarian options, Perez said.
A coffee bar near the front door serves to-go drinks, eventually including espresso. Fresh orange juice will always be available, along with milkshakes with suggested liquor add-ins, like an horchata banana shake with dark rum.
Billy’s aims for affordability. Guests can expect low-cost American lagers on tap plus a few rotating selections, currently including Fat Tire and Lagunitas, which Perez said he picked because the companies are socially responsible. Perez said he hopes to keep entrees in the $5-15 range.
Mennenga earned his kitchen chops in Colorado, and hopes to bring an element of that dining scene back to his hometown. “Breakfast and brunch is a huge thing there,” he said, especially among the young-ish crowd, which he claimed is a substantial portion of Iowa City.
The restaurant will tentatively be open daily from 6 a.m.-9 p.m.