NORTH LIBERTY– The Rustic Iron Bar & Grill is off the beaten path, in every good way.
Its location is set back off Highway 965 on the south edge of North Liberty, which allows for plenty of parking and easy access from the town’s major thoroughfare. The updated décor was personally crafted by the building’s new owners, giving it a unique atmosphere on the inside. The menu, created entirely by co-owner and chef Jeremy Rullman, is fresh and distinctive and designed to give patrons a lot of input on how dishes are prepared to their own individual tastes.
Co-owners Chuck Cathey and his wife, together with managing partner Rullman, opened the doors to Rustic Iron Bar & Grill in January in the location of the former Okoboji Grill at 1650 Jordan St. in North Liberty, after giving the restaurant a facelift.
“We wanted people to come in and see something different,” said Cathey. “We changed the colors to warm it up, make it richer. We enlarged the bar area and gave it separation, so that people with families aren’t going to come in and hear the bar noise and vice-versa.
“The idea is to have it casual enough to go and relax, but nice enough to bring someone in on a special occasion and feel good about it. And it works,” Cathey said.
But it’s the food that keeps people coming back to a restaurant, and Cathey and Rullman put their experience to work to cook up a menu full of classic favorites made special with Rullman’s one-of-a-kind style.
Cathey, originally from Fairfield, was working as dietary director at the University of Iowa hospitals, and Rullman was an assistant manager in the department. When the North Liberty restaurant became available, the two saw an excellent opportunity to introduce a place that brings all the best of a small-town dining experience to a larger, growing market. Rullman is a native of Eldon, Iowa, and so is Rustic Iron’s general manager, Bryan Burk.
“The menu is inspired by some of the places we grew up with,” said Burk. “It’s fine dining, but you get the flavors of food you can’t get anywhere else, like your favorite place back home.”
Therefore, the menu is not typical, added Cathey. “I didn’t want to be an Applebee’s or a Chili’s. We’re not a franchise, and we wanted to offer something different.”
Customers will find they can build their own burgers, choosing from a variety of buns, toppings and cheeses. Pasta truly comes your way, with individual choices for noodles– from penne to cracked black pepper and more– sauces, cheeses, meats and a variety of vegetables, including fried capers and sun dried tomatoes among more traditional selections. Even the oils used in the pasta dishes and dipping sauces, dressings and meat rubs are Rullman’s own unique recipes. They make his food so delectable that customers are always asking how they can take home the taste. He is currently working on marketing some of his rubs, oils and sauces for purchase; from the vodka sauce made with Iowa’s River Pilot Vodka and barbecue sauces like raspberry thai chili, honey whiskey, Jamaican jerk or roasted mango and red pepper, Rullman’s special flavorings won’t be found elsewhere.
Rustic Iron features several meat entrees, hand-cut on site and grilled to customers’ requests, like boneless butterfly chops, top sirloin, cowboy ribeyes, barbecued ribs or New York strip steaks that are purchased as locally as possible. Their feature salad is fresh spinach with dried cranberries, feta cheese and maple-glazed walnuts, with other salad selections from simple to sensational for every palate. The huge sandwich menu requires distinct descriptions of each offering, from the hand-sliced, double breaded tenderloin to the odds-on customer favorite, Rullman’s signature Smokey Bandit that starts with sliced beef brisket, honey pit ham, apple wood smoked bacon and mesquite grilled chicken. Seafood dishes, appetizers, and other main entrées are all made more interesting by Rullman’s culinary flair.
Specialty dishes will be brought out occasionally as featured menu items, and customers can be notified of those specials through Facebook and Twitter.
“We try to give them what they want, basically,” said Cathey. Even the bar’s cocktails are uncommon, using no low-end house liquors found in typical well drinks elsewhere. Draft and bottled beers range from domestics to craft brews, and happy hour features two-for-ones on all drinks, from 5 until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4 to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The staff will assist with pairing available wines with meals, more common in upscale supper clubs where customers are known by name.
“Jeremy does a nice job of getting the right combinations of different beers and drinks for a nice selection,” Burk said.
And everything is served with a smile, the expectation for all Rustic Iron Bar & Grill staff.
“Our service starts with our hostesses, because they are the first and last person customers will see, so we make sure we have good customer service,” said Burk.
And the co-owners believe in community service as well, so they plan to set aside one day a week when a percentage of gross sales will be donated to the North Liberty Food & Clothing Pantry, all year round.
“It’s something not everybody does, but it’s really good to do,” said Cathey.
Cathey, Rullman and Burk agree; at Rustic Iron Bar & Grill, it’s all good, as the saying goes. But there is nothing cliché about this restaurant.
“When I walk through the restaurant and someone I just met wants to stop me and tell me how good everything was, or they want to buy my sauce, it’s always nice to stop and talk with people,” said Rullman.
It’s Cathey and Rullman’s spiced-up version of a place where everybody knows your name, a fusion of small-town and upscale urban, made from local Iowa products with such singular flavors, it’s a taste you won’t find anywhere else.