Bike-friendly Tin Roost restaurant opens this month in North Liberty

Workers landscape the new Tin Roost restaurant in North Liberty. Monday, July 31, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

North Liberty’s newest eatery is designed to suit bikers, businessmen and burger fans alike, with private dining spaces, an all-American menu and 160-seat patio with a bike repair station.

Tin Roost is the first North Liberty restaurant from the partners behind Blackstone and 30hop. The business’s opening day is yet to be determined, but will be in late August.

Located on Penn Street between Liberty Way and Community Drive, Tin Roost’s expansive patio looks out upon the Liberty Centre Park pond and is easily accessible from the park’s bike trail. On the inside, around 250 seats are distributed around handmade wooden tables in open dining areas, as well as glassed-off rooms suited for eight-person business meetings or private events.

“From the outside it looks like this big, monstrous restaurant but when you come in it’s really, really well designed,” said Joe Selix, managing partner. “It flows nice and we have a big kitchen to make sure we can accommodate food for this many people.”

This is the first venture for Selix, who was one of Blackstone’s first employees when it opened in 2007, working for five years in the bar and upper-house management. He was living in Denver, Colorado two years ago when he got a call from partners Erik Shewmaker (Tin Roost’s owner), Brandon Pratt and Brian Flynn about opening a Southern-style, family-friendly restaurant in North Liberty. Selix jumped at the offer.

“North Liberty is a super growing community and it’s bustling,” Selix, now a North Liberty resident, said. “We’re just trying to build on the reputation we have around town and bring something special to North Liberty … We hope they’re excited for us.”

Unlike 30hop’s rooftop, from which guests can order drinks but not food, Tin Rooster (as it was known early on, before the partners discovered the name was already being used by a restaurant in Texas) would have a patio designed to facilitate food and drink orders. While the patio has three fire pits, the largest one in the center will be a focal point, surrounded by a custom-made bench designed for guests to lounge comfortably for hours, Selix said.

“Iowa does have some terrible winters so when summer rolls around, people want to be outside and have a spot where they can,” Selix said. “We wanted to bring that big-city energy and vibe to North Liberty.”

Part of that mission was hiring chef Jeff Sills, former executive chef at Taste on Melrose in University Heights. Sills crafted a menu focused on “prominent American food with a Southern twist.”

As Tin Roost’s logo suggests, chicken will be the star of the show. State-of-the-art kitchen equipment allow Sills to offer a broad chicken palate — roasted, braised, poached, grilled, fried — including a pulled chicken sandwich that bursts from its bun.

Some of Sills’ favorite offerings include the fried green tomatoes, chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits and Tin Roost’s two signature burgers.

Having spent the last 10 years in Chicago as a chef de cuisine at Sprout and pastry chef at Quince restaurants, Sills says he’s happy to be back in a land of growers.

“Chicago [is] one of the best food cities in the world, but we can’t grow anything there,” Sills said. “Here, we have an environment of farmers and gardeners, and we can apply those [Chicago] techniques to what they bring to the table.”

Some dishes on Sills’ menu will be seasonal, incorporating the freshest produce from each particular time of year. And while Tin Roost isn’t currently acquiring all their food from local growers, Selix and Sills said that is one of their biggest goals going forward. Their cheddar cheese is sourced from Milton Creamery in Milton, Iowa; beers from Iowa breweries will be on tap; and Sills said he is currently in talks with local kale, mushroom and corn farmers.

“We have some tricks up our sleeves,” he teased, eager but unwilling to reveal their upcoming produce plans. Sills is also keeping Tin Roost’s dessert menu a secret until the grand opening, though he did mention their new ice cream machine.

For now, his focus is on training his kitchen staff — Tin Roost will hire around 100 employees — and cultivating a “straight experience” for guests, from food to atmosphere to service.

“Our big focus is getting our doors open and doing it right from the beginning,” Selix added. “We want to give people a really good taste in their mouth right off the bat. We really want to be a staple in this community.”

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