Until recently, Katie Goering didn’t plan to go into the restaurant business. But as she developed the idea for an events center at Wilson’s Orchard, her family’s you-pick apple and pumpkin farm in rural Iowa City, offering food quickly became part of the plan.
“We’ve always gotten requests for weddings at the orchard, but we never had an indoor space to accommodate them,” she said. “We also wanted a place to promote our hard ciders and the meat from the heritage hogs and sheep Dad started raising.”
The livestock is fed on apple mash left over from cider production, and their meat is on the menu of Rapid Creek Cidery. Featuring a restaurant and hard cider tap room on the second level and a private events center for weddings and other gatherings on the first level, the Cidery opened April 19.
Goering’s father Paul Rasch has been salvaging barns for years, so there was plenty of barn wood to build the new facility. Though newly constructed, the 10,000-square-foot building has a barn-style feel, with a lofted ceiling in the airy dining room, which looks out over the orchard.
Goering brought on Chef Matt Steigerwald to run the kitchen. The three-time James Beard semifinalist previously owned Lincoln Cafe and Lincoln Wine Bar in Mount Vernon and more recently helped open the deli at the New Pioneer Co-Op Cedar Rapids location. He was looking for a new challenge when he heard about the plans for the cidery, and he gave Goering and Rasch a call.
With the new restaurant, he said he wants to focus on high quality but approachable food.
“I love cooking. I’ve done restaurants for 30 years, and my focus has always been kind of high-end, structured food. There are aspects to that fine dining style that I wasn’t enjoying as much,” he said. “I really love the way food brings people together. Here, we’re de-emphasizing the fussiness and trying to emphasize the community aspect of the dinner with shareable food.”
The menu includes appetizers and side dishes, as well as sandwiches, toasts and dinner entrees, some designed for two people. Several vegetarian options take center stage, which Steigerwald said wasn’t necessarily by design, but a reflection of the great flavor profiles of Iowa vegetables. The lineup of dishes is designed to easily change and shift with the seasons, and a specials board announces features based on local produce.
True to its name, the Cidery also features a full slate of Wilson’s Orchard hard ciders and cider-based cocktails designed by front-of-house manager Maggie Harris, along with Iowa beers on tap. For now, the restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday, with plans to add weekend brunch in the future.
Some of the more popular dishes have included the Great Lakes smelt with tartar appetizer; avocado toast on bread by the Local Crumb in Mount Vernon, topped with Aleppo chile, radish and olive oil; whole roasted cauliflower with sauce Mornay and Calabrian chilies; and the lamb neck dinner for two with barbecue field peas and grits.
“We tried to get to the idea of a dinner party,” Steigerwald said. “We send things out as they’re ready — if you want to order five or six things for a table, small plates, we send the food out and have people start enjoying it.”
In that community spirit, alongside more conventionally-sized tables, the dining room has a few long tables, set up for either large parties or several small parties to share.
“We’d like people to make friends at that table,” Steigerwald said.
The communal nature of food is part of what first drew him to cooking, after all. His parents were founders of a “gourmet club” and hosted frequent dinner parties at their home.
“I was raised in a house where the kitchen was the center of everything,” he said. “I really feel at home in a kitchen, and I really enjoy seeing people enjoy food.”
WHERE: 4823 Dingleberry Road NE, Iowa City
WHEN: 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday
DETAILS: (319) 643-4159, rapidcreekcidery.com