A former breakfast and brunch cafe in Northside Iowa City reopened this year with a new menu that embraces seasonality through an ever-changing menu.
Goosetown Cafe’s transformation began in January, when owners Peter and Kathy Kessler reopened after a short closure and hired a new chef. Although the restaurant’s original concept was always based on local cuisine, the concept was not finished cooking under its operation as a cafe primarily for breakfast and brunch, with cocktails and other meals afterwards.
“We accomplished a lot of that, but not completely,” Peter Kessler said. “What we are doing now is what we wanted to do from the start. It took three to four years to put things back in place and understand.
When the Kesslers reopened, the experience of Executive Chef Chris Grebner was the shape they needed to get the vision off the ground.
What: Goosetown Cafe
Or: 203 N. Linn St., Iowa City
Hours: Wednesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Call: (319) 351-1924
Details: The menu changes weekly with seasonal changes in produce and food availability. Live music will complement the terrace service on the first and third Thursday of each month this summer, starting in June.
Although the transition from breakfast and brunch to lunch and dinner was a response to customer demand, the transformation of the menu was carried out organically by the product coming from local farmers, the vast majority of which is located less than 20 miles from Iowa City.
Salads and sandwiches have become items meant to be shared, and the menu changes weekly, with two to four items added and removed each week as the seasons change.
“We know that when we go out we like to have a good variety on the menu and that’s recommended,” Kathy said. “We wanted people to be able to do it here.
Ingredients aside, Grebner said the menu is shaped by the seasons and influenced by the feelings of dining out with people you care about. The result is an eclectic menu featuring everything from calamari and potatoes to pappardelle, pork shoulder and burgers.
With a mix of European influences ranging from the classic French formation of Grebner to Midwestern comfort food served in a country-style container, even simple plates offer a more refined take on Goosetown. The generous use of crème fraiche and options that elevate even simple dishes — like chermoula and burnt onion sour cream with roasted carrots — take local ingredients one step further.
With many ingredients not listed on the menu as a convenience-lack of space-farm-to-table comes alive in Goosetown without becoming a self-promotional measure.
What the menu sets out to accomplish through its renewed commitment to sustainable, seasonal sourcing is not a menu that can call any country home, but an experience that restores the value of dining to a hobby that is not limited to food.
The style of cooking that Grebner takes to heart is one where produce takes center stage, rather than a formula of meat, vegetables and starch on every plate.
Originally from Webster City, Grebner moved to Iowa City in 2011 from Oregon, where he attended culinary school. He knew he wanted to start something, he just didn’t know what it was. After a winter of talking to local farmers, he launched The Farmer’s Table and produced onsite meals with farmers every month for six years.
He later helped open Walker’s Homestead west of Iowa City in 2018.
The goal, to bring consumers and producers together, became the foundation for the eventual resumption of his restaurant career.
“For a very long time I thought I was running away from work at the restaurant,” he said. “I felt like I had my time.”
But with the sting of commercial food service removed from the routine of the restaurant kitchen, he’s able to focus on his joy of letting the earth’s bounty speak for itself. And if a customer asks for a substitution with an out-of-season product, the chef accustomed to making consumers aware of seasonal food takes a certain pleasure in refusing the substitution.
“I get great joy out of it,” he said with a laugh.
Although many have acknowledged that their relationship with food is broken, seasonal eating is a way to adjust expectations. But moreover, keeping in touch with the natural cycle of products makes things interesting, even if sometimes difficult.
“The dish that embodies us the most is next week’s. That’s what’s coming,” Grebner said. “That’s what excites me the most, week after week.”
“It’s not a dish. This is the style in which we serve this food,” said Peter Kessler. “Tasty dishes that are made to be served.”
Comments: (319) 398-8340; [email protected]
RCR skirt steak served with herbed fresh cream and baby gem lettuce dressed in chimichurri at the Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. The beef is sourced from Rapid Creek Ranch in Oxford, Iowa . (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The Ruby Cocktail at Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Sous chef Greg Hauck prepares oyster mushrooms at Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Kale Caesar salad with ricotta salata and focaccia crumbs at Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Roasted carrots with burnt onion sour cream and a shared dish of chermoula at Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The full bar offers a variety of cocktails, wines and craft beers at Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Unique lighting features give the restaurant a warm and inviting environment at Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa, Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Bartender Jakob Barten pours a craft beer at Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Goosetown Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, May 12, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)