Cobble Hill (2) – Cedar Rapids, IA
Cobble Hill was the restaurant that started my blogging journey. I'll never forget when I found Cobble Hill. Mom moved to Cedar Rapids and my snobby brain was like "UGH is there going to be ANY good food in this wasteland?" Turns out I was woefully misguided––even when I moved back to a big city, Charlotte, I find myself missing the culinary environment of Cedar Rapids! Who would have known??
In retrospect, it makes sense. Iowa is second only to California in the percentage of America's food that is grown within its borders––nearly 10 percent (!). The local food co-op in Cedar Rapids sells beautiful seasonal produce from local farms, chicken from a pasture-raised organic farm just 40 miles away, and milk from a local organic dairy. The Cedar Rapids farmers market is an icon of incredible produce, meat, and dairy (don't even get me started on the Iowa City farmers market). I have found little that compares to Iowa in Charlotte, despite my love affair with Fair Share Farm, which does a formidable job. I love to hate on Iowa, but as a foodie, it's a far better place to inhabit than I'd say even 90% of the other "big" cities in the U.S., including my current environs (as much as I do love Charlotte, and I do!).
Cobble Hill was my "wake-up call" in Iowa. When I first went, my elitist, Los Angeles-resident brain didn't think it was possible for a world-class restaurant to exist in a town like Cedar Rapids (a town, by the way, that I publicly enjoy shitting on, but secretly really enjoy visiting––at least in the greener summer!). I will never forget my first visit, armed with a tremendous amount of pre-emptive disdain, convinced I would find little "worthy" of my experienced palate.
Man, was I wrong.
I've dined at Cobble Hill a bit south of a dozen times. I have never had an even remotely disappointing meal, or even a disappointing dish! To put that in perspective, one of my favorite places in Salt Lake City, Log Haven, has produced at least three meals that were overwhelmingly disappointing. Mélisse, my favorite haunt in Los Angeles, decorated with two Michelin stars, has been responsible for several "miss" dishes. Even Stone Barns, my current bae, had several misses in my first meal with them! Yet, this little storefront in downtown Cedar Rapids has never produced a bite (or a sip) that is short of absolutely delicious.
Cobble Hill was also the restaurant that was the last place I visited pre-pandemic. In early March, mom took me for my birthday, for what I think was my favorite Cobble Hill meal ever, though I decided not to blog about it because of the pandemic. How fitting, then, that when I finally got to come back to Iowa to see Mama (and the critters!) after we were both vaccinated that she would suggest a very belated birthday dinner at Cobble Hill to celebrate.
Cobble Hill has opted for a "snapshots of world cuisine" model since the pandemic started. On this spring evening, they were celebrating their last night of their German-inspired menu, a cuisine I rarely get the chance to explore. German food has a particularly special place in this corner of Iowa, too, given that German immigrants founded the Amana Colonies, a historic site just south of Cedar Rapids (and the home of my former employer!)
To begin, I had a take on a Negroni, "German style," with Monkey 47 gin and German bitter liqueur. Another reason to love Cobble Hill––there is nowhere in the country you can enjoy a cocktail made from Monkey 47, an insanely expensive German gin, for just $10. Delicious. Mom got their classic Jungle Bird, paying a stupidly cheap $6 for an otherwise craft cocktail during happy hour. This thing would cost three times that much in New York or San Francisco.
The German menu was tight but looked great. We ordered two appetizers to share––a Weisswurst (pork and veal sausage) with pretzel, house-made Sauerkraut, and sunchoke mustard, and a goat cheese spätzle with Butterkäse, dill, and fried shallot. Both were great, but the most mind-blowing bites came from the house-made Sauerkraut, and also from dipping the pretzel in the cheesy leftovers of spätzle (pret-ZULL in shpet-ZULL!). We paired our appetizer courses with two glasses of Stein Riesling from the Mosel in Germany, which was dry and absolutely sang with food-friendly near-effervescence! So great! Only complaint is I wish the pretzel had been served warm!
The main courses also looked really great, though the selections were a shade limited. Mom opted for the short rib, which was slow-cooked and served with Brussels sprouts and German potato dumplings. I don't often order pork, since, like chicken, I find it can be dry and overcooked, but this version was incredible––grilled pork loin with Fuji apple and shallot purée and rosemary pork jus, served with a pinwheel-style German pasta stuffed with bacon, Sauerkraut, and shallot. The apple and shallot purée was next-level good, and the smoky grilled pork was perfectly tender and juicy. I just wish there'd been a vegetable!
We both paired this with the German red on offer––Spätburgunder, the German word for my favorite grape, pinot noir, from Weingut Knass. I can't say I'd ever had a pinot noir from Germany, but it was delicious, despite being served at room temp, my number one complaint about Cobble Hill, since the room tends to be just too warm for red wine, and the flavor gets lost.
The real gem of our meal, though, was dessert. A fried donut-style German pastry made from brioche dough, stuffed with cassis cream, was served with an incredible Chantilly cream and a German honey liqueur. Though I am rather certain the dish comes with just one donut, we got two, and the candle alongside meant to commemorate my birthday was one of those that didn't blow out, making me think none of my wishes would come true! Still, I loved the dessert, and accompanied by the honey liqueur and cup of local French press coffee, it was the perfect conclusion to the meal.
I love Cobble Hill and it's always a high point of my time in Cedar Rapids. Can't wait to come back!