Cedar Rapids’ restaurant history is rather infamous. Prohibition began there five years before the rest of America. On the outskirts of town, supper clubs like the Lighthouse Inn and Ced-Rel flirted with the likes of Al Capone and John Dillinger.
Cobble Hill came to fruition in 2013, when Carrie and Andy Schumacher took over the lease on an old Woolworth’s building in downtown Cedar Rapids. The couple embraced its history, knocking down cinder block to reveal old brick walls. Floors were restored with wood salvaged from a barn in Center Point. The Schumachers and a construction-savvy neighbor built tables out of floor joists from the oldest house in Asbury, Iowa. They found ceiling fans that could pass in an early 20th century Woolworth’s and art on the walls displays vintage kitchen tools.
In the restaurant’s kitchen, serious innovation takes place. Schumacher and chef de cuisine Matt Melone work with local farmers to craft a menu that changes regularly, using the best ingredients available.
Both chefs have credentials that could take them anywhere. Schumacher was working in New York City restaurants when he caught the eye of Food Network producers. He made a five week run on the second season of The Next Food Network Star, losing to Guy Fieri. Melone worked at Paul Kahan’s renowned Blackbird in Chicago.
Melone and Schumacher found their way to the Lincoln Café in Mount Vernon where they forged close relationships with area farmers, distillers, brewers and artisans. “We found that the people who supply us with such beautiful foods do it with the same labor of love that we believe in,” Schumacher said.
During a recent visit to Cobble Hill, a blackboard near the entrance announced local ingredients from eight different farms on that day’s menu, including fresh produce, meats and dairy from Echollective Farm, Heritage Berkshire, Indian Creek Nature Center, Destiny’s Garden, Kalona Organics and Salt Fork Farms. In the kitchen, all breads, charcuterie, sauces and pasta are made from scratch.
The bar features products that the Schumacher’s believe in. The four rotating tap beers that day were from Cedar Rapids’ Lion Bridge Brewing, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery and Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery. Cocktails inspired by Prohibition-era recipes are made with freshly squeezed juices and, instead of large-production liquor brands, feature small-batch liquors from craft distilleries. “We’re about educating people, getting them out of their comfort zone to try something new,” explained Schumacher.
An amuse-bouche of lamb terrine and several pickled vegetables was served with the first course. A chilled asparagus soup from the appetizer menu was poured tableside over hard boiled egg yolk, yuzu (an Asian citrus hybrid), chives and shaved asparagus. A generous serving of duck liver mousse was well-matched with rhubarb chutney, foraged watercress, pickled ramps and toast points. Shrimp and grits came with nduja (a non-fermented Calabrese sausage), with grits, kale and popcorn. Fresh salads featured greens, peas, a soft poached egg, fava beans, olives and asparagus. A second amuse bouche was served with littleneck clams matched with pork belly and basil puree.
From the entrée list, crisply grilled chicken breast laid atop a bed of of white beans, piquillo pepper sauce, baby kale, mandarin oranges and red onions. Roast lamb loin, cooked perfectly rare, was matched with green hummus, green garlic, peas, watercress and mole, with pea crackers on top.
While the restaurant has only been open for about a year and a half, they are already making their mark on the Cedar Rapids restaurant scene. Cobble Hill finds inspiration from the past in its decor and drinks, but the fresh ingredients and focus on all things local give it a modern twist that diners are sure to appreciate.
Freelancer Jim Duncan has been the art and food critic for Cityview Des Moines for 20 years.