It is always fun when I find a talented chef making fabulous cuisine in an unexpected place! On a recent road trip through Iowa, I stopped in Cedar Rapids and booked a reservation at Cobble Hill Eatery & Dispensary. Chef Andy Schumacher and his wife Carrie opened the restaurant after moving from the Cobble Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, a place dear to their hearts. The Schumachers’ philosophy is, “You don’t have to leave Iowa to eat like you are in New York City.”
The Early Days
Chef Andy never meant to become a chef. He intended to go to medical school, but after earning a BS in Biology from the University of Iowa, he began dabbling in the food industry. Realizing he was more interested in the culinary world than medicine, he and his wife Carrie headed to New York City, where he attended the French Culinary Institute. In New York, Chef Andy worked for several restaurants learning the ins and outs of the industry, and then launched his own catering company.
Chef Andy’s first step into the limelight occurred when he starred in the second season of the TV show The Next Food Network Star. He didn’t win but he became good friends with Guy Fieri, who did win the competition. While Andy worked on his new career in New York, Carrie interned with a fashion designer. Then, to make ends meet, she bartended and waited tables and eventually moved into management at Mexica Radio restaurant.
The Move Back Home
After a few years in the industry in New York, both Andy and Carrie visualized opening a high-end restaurant back home in Iowa; so to get the ball rolling, they packed up their belongings and their little girl and headed back home. Chef Andy scored a job at the Lincoln Café, and for five years he worked on his culinary skills. Carrie spent several years working in the industry. She learned the nuances of managing the front and back of the house and simultaneously worked on raising three children.
Chef Andy and Carrie opened Cobble Hill restaurant in 2013. Chef Andy runs the kitchen, and Carrie manages the front of the house. The Schumachers restored the brick walls and used floor joists from an old home to fabricate tables. The couple is doing something very right. In 2015, after being open for only two years, their upscale fine dining restaurant Cobble Hill earned a semifinalist award for excellence from the James Beard Foundation and was labeled one of the “Most Romantic Restaurants in Iowa.”
During my visit, Chef Andy was serving a new international-themed dinner menu each month to build local enthusiasm during the hardship of Covid-19. Every month he chose a different foreign country. When I visited German food was the specialty. I asked Chef Andy how he came up with his recipes. He said, “I feel like I’m a very inquisitive person. I do my research. I am fairly objective. When I taste good things, I ask what makes them good. Developing a recipe is about seasonality and technique, and then I create something new from things I’ve been drawn to and have eaten in the past.”
The Dining Experience
My dinner began with one of Cobble Hill’s signature cocktails, the French Oak Old Fashioned. The bartender used Old Forester Kentucky Bourbon, demerara, orange blossom water, and house bitters to create this delicious libation. It was smooth and tasty.
The staff at Cobble Hill is well trained and presented each dish with warm professional air and provided excellent descriptions of each plate. My first course consisted of meatballs made with pork and beef drizzled with curry ketchup. Almost everything at the restaurant is made in-house. Throughout the evening, I was impressed with the ingredients selected to make the flavorful and unique sauces.
Next came the sausage and house-made pretzel. The link was mildly spiced, and the casing had a gentle snap. The pretzel was tender and perfectly salted. House-made fresh sauerkraut and delectable stoneground mustard mixed with pickled sunchoke made excellent accompaniments. The mustard took the dish over the top!
The following course was a pan-seared arctic char finished in the oven and perched on top of Rösti potato. The Rösti is made from shaved potato dried and rehydrated to make something like an intense hash brown. The fish was paired with dill yogurt and roasted beets.
The last savory dish was my favorite, short rib sauerbraten. Chef Andy marinated the ribs in red wine, bay leaves, and vinegar for 48 hours. Then he made a sauce, thickened it with raisins, and served the meat with roasted Brussels sprouts and decadent dumplings.
I enjoyed two desserts, and both were scrumptious. First was a tiered black forest cherry cake. On the bottom was a butter cookie and then a cake soaked in cherry brandy topped with chocolate mousse and dark chocolate powder. The cake was garnished with brandied cherries and edible gold leaf. It was served with Morello cherry sorbet. The second was a cinnamon-sugar-coated donut filled with plum seed oil and prunes. It came with a lightly sweetened Chantilly cream. Yum.
I loved the food at Cobble Hill. Every dish was well balanced, refined, and yet familiar. Chef Andy uses professional culinary techniques, high-quality local ingredients, and great instincts to prepare and present exceptional cuisine at Cobble Hill.
The Schumachers have expanded their efforts and recently opened an urban taco joint serving rustic-style Mexican fare specializing in fresh salsa and handmade tacos. The new place, Caucho, boasts an exciting cocktail menu, customizable gourmet Mexican food, and a hip vibe.
On your next visit to Cedar Rapids, make time to dine at both restaurants so that you can experience Chef Andy’s vast array of culinary creations.