Restaurant Spotlight - Bistro on the River

Article by Jane Claspy Nesmith
Photography by Justin Fox

Ever since it opened in the historic brick Hach Brothers’ Building on First Street SE in downtown Cedar Rapids, I’ve wanted to have a meal at Bistro on the River. The beautiful old building intrigued me, as did the promise of made-from-scratch food offerings on the menu.

I finally got my chance the other day - both the ambiance and the food were delightful. As we walked in the front door, we could see right away why Executive Chef and Owner Brittany Hannah chose this location for her Bistro: the hardwood floors, brick walls, and vintage railings give the place a sophisticated urban vibe. It looked like the perfect place to enjoy a meal with friends.

There are many meals you can enjoy here. Bistro on the River started out serving breakfast and lunch; they’re known for their extensive coffee offerings, breakfast bowls, and fresh-baked pastries--including homemade donuts every Wednesday. They are now open Monday from 6:30am to 3pm, Tuesday – Thursday from 6:30am to 8pm, Friday from 6:30am to 9pm, and Saturday from 5:30pm to 9pm.

We started our late afternoon meal with some appetizers. First, we had a plate of beautiful star-shaped Asian chicken wontons. Inside the crisp-fried wrappers was a chicken filling seasoned with Asian-style spices. The peanut dipping sauce had a bit of a zing to it.

For something more traditionally American, we had to try the homemade tater tots. Not your everyday bar food, these little nuggets are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, like little mashed potato fritters. They were perfect with the Sriracha-spiked ketchup, however they are also offered with cheese and bacon.

With our appetizers, we decided to try something from the bar: a whiskey sour. This one was made completely from scratch--no bottled “sour mix” here. It had the traditional addition of an egg white shaken in to give the drink a smoother flavor and texture. Bistro on the River also serves a wide range of craft beers on tap. Their wine preservation system means lots of choice for anyone who wants to order by the glass.

For a sandwich, we tried the signature Barbeque Bistro Burger: a house-ground lamb and beef patty topped with bacon, Wisconsin cheese curds, barbeque sauce, and fried onion straws. Oh, and it’s served on a house-made bun. The combination of meats gave the burger great flavor, and the toppings were just the right blend of savory and crunchy.

Another sandwich, the Spinach Dip Melt, had begun as a special, but made its way onto the regular menu. Who doesn’t love spinach dip? Here, it was used as a spread on a sliced chicken sandwich with tomato, caramelized onions, and balsamic vinegar on sourdough bread. Grilled as a panini, this sandwich was warm and tasty.

More traditional entrées are available from 4:30 until close--we tried a couple of those, too. First, there were the Braised Short Ribs, which were served atop creamy Gouda polenta with brown butter sauce. The short ribs are boneless and tender, and the polenta was smooth and warming.

We also had the Bacon Bourbon Turkey; little medallions of turkey wrapped in bacon and served on a bed of arugula. The meat was tender and moist from the bourbon marinade, and tangy cranberries in the sauce added a bit of zip.

Wanting to end the meal with something sweet, we tried some coffee drinks. Toasted Marshmallow Latté reminded us of sitting around a campfire, while the Nutella Mocha was more sophisticated, however not as sweet; both went with the huge homemade cookies we tried: chocolate chip, Oatmeal raisin, and Nutella-stuffed brown butter cookies. Chef Hannah has a degree in baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America, after all, so we did not want to miss any baked items.

Before we left, we peeked into the back room where there’s a gathering room for catered events and private parties--the restaurant has been busy holding rehearsal dinners, company gatherings, and wine tastings.

With its downtown location, wide-ranging menu, and fresh-made food, it’s no wonder Bistro on the River has become the talk of the town. I’ll be back soon.

Bistro on the River
411 1st St SE, CR
(319) 363-0500
www.bistroontheriver.com

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