NORTH LIBERTY— Nothing could be finer than breakfast in the diner, or “café” in this case. Following the success of Iowa City’s Bluebird Diner, now fine feathered friends in North Liberty can also partake of the cuisine and atmosphere of the Bluebird Café. Lacey Willis, one of the three owners, said she has been considering the new café since construction began in Liberty Centre’s Stonebridge Promenade.
“I saw the plaza being built and thought the market for breakfast wasn’t being met in North Liberty.” She said, “(The city) needed a spot for breakfast and another option for good food.”
Willis, along with Jon Wilson and Tommy Connolly, started discussions with the realtor in January 2011 about the site along Hwy. 965 and W. Cherry St.
After setbacks due to construction delays, the doors opened on April 16 at 2 p.m. without any advertising. “We wanted to get the core concept down first,” she explained.
Customers quickly flew in, and business has been brisk.
“We’ve gotten lots of support from the community,” said Lucas Koltis, one of the self-described “coordinators of chaos,” as well as head chef and kitchen manager. But, he added, “We’re not real big on titles around here.” What the Bluebird Café is big on is feeding people and having a good time doing it. “We’re passionate people who love what we do.”
What they do involves transforming locally produced ingredients into specialties, such as their Huevos Koltinos (homemade red pepper chili served over Parmesan polenta and over-easy eggs); Bluebird BQ (bacon cheeseburger piled high with fried onions and a splash of Koltis’ own BBQ sauce); the Bluebird Reuben (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and sweet mustard sauce on marble rye); and their buttermilk pancakes. Ruzicka’s Meat in Solon provides the meat for the Bluebird’s grill while a corps of local farmers brings in fresh produce. Koltis said they have trucks coming in several times during the week to keep the kitchen stocked. “Nothing is in here more than two, three days at the most.”
Freshness and quality of the local goods only add to the advantages of doing business locally.
“We’re keeping the dollars as close to home as possible,” Koltis said. “As much as possible, we will work with local farmers, and we are lucky to have quite a few local farms that do great work.” As for Ruzicka’s meat, Koltis calls it amazing. At the Bluebird, the ground beef is delivered, made into patties and served.
“That’s how I’ve learned to cook. That’s how I love to cook. That’s what our customers deserve,” Koltis said. A renaissance man of the kitchen, he has worked every job in every part of a restaurant’s kitchen, learning his trade solely through on-the-job training. He’s worked in popular Iowa City venues such as Sam’s and The Mill. Koltis also spent time working in Washington and Omaha, Neb., “completely engulfing myself in food,” calling it his passion.
While Koltis has had some opportunity to unleash his creative side (Bluebird’s Huevos Koltinos is named as such due to his unique twist on the eggs, and it’s his carefully crafted BBQ sauce which is made in-house), his culinary artistry will be on full display as weekly dinner specials appear on the menu. Koltis says they will be a couple of steps above the usual fare and run roughly $14-$21 per plate.
In general, the Bluebird’s menu features, as he put it, “good, strong, solid flavors not going over the top and catering to everybody’s tastes with non-intimidating menu items. Everybody can find something they love.”
Willis and Koltis agree the Bluebird Café is the kind of place appropriate for the family, but also for a dinner date or a business lunch with a client. Although beer, wine and mixed drinks are served, they stress the family-friendly nature of the eatery. Menu offerings (under “food for fledglings”) include chicken strips, the “Lil’ Elvis” (griddled peanut butter and banana sandwich), Mac and Cheese (an adult portion is a Bluebird favorite as well), the classic PB&J, and a “Kiddies Grilly Cheese” sandwich.
While the Bluebird Diner in Iowa City is more of a traditional diner, Willis said, the Café is a laid-back, fun-filled place for a quick bite or a serious meal. “We’re not a cookie-cutter restaurant. Both have their own identity with slightly different menus.” Even the décor differs from the Iowa City location as Willis and fiancé Luke Meyne (general manager, jack-of-all-trades, and a little bit of everything else) decided they did not want to duplicate it.
Opening a new restaurant is always a gut-check as they are among the toughest businesses to succeed. Willis called it, “a constant battle to ensure we’re doing the right thing.”
The crowds say Willis and her crew are winning that battle. Waiting for a table is expected on Saturdays and Sundays; reservations are accepted, but not on weekends. A patio will provide additional seating, but Willis said there is a good breakfast crowd weekend mornings.
The Bluebird Café is open 7 a.m.- 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on Sundays.
“We’re open, it’s good, and we’re all in this together,” Willis said.