Bourbon Creek Smokehouse latest venture by Butcher Block, Riley's group


CEDAR RAPIDS — Tom Carfrae is enjoying his second attempt at retirement. For him, that doesn’t mean hitting golf courses or fishing holes. It means spending his days smoking brisket and other meat for Bourbon Creek Smokehouse, a new restaurant in downtown Cedar Rapids.

He tried to retire from his career as a restraunteur two years ago. The founder and longtime owner of Tomaso’s Pizza, he had passed that business on to his children but soon found staying idle equaled boredom.

So in 2016 he opened EZ Fast BBQ, a drive through barbecue spot on Blairs Ferry Road. When the lease was up on that space and the opportunity to work at Bourbon Creek came up, he decided to close EZ Fast. He was ready to not be the boss anymore.

“This is my retirement gig,” he said. “It’s a lot more freeing and lot more peace of mind. I love the smoking part, but will somebody else please go make the sandwich?”


Bourbon Creek Smokehouse opened at the beginning of November is a riverfront space that previously housed Bistro on the River. That restaurant has since relocated to Marion as Bistro 319.

Bourbon Creek is owned by Phil Pankey, whose other restaurants include Butcher Block and Riley’s, and Matt Blake, who also owns Dublin City Pub in the space next door.

“The meat has a central-Texas flare to it. It’s salt and pepper on brisket and pork butts, so whatever sauce goes on it will be compatible,” Carfrae said.

Most of the meat — brisket, ribs and other pork — are smoked at Butcher Block, with chicken, turkey, burgers and hot dogs smoked at Bourbon Creek.

“I’ll throw anything in a smoker,” Carfrae said.

The menu features a variety of sandwiches, salads and other dishes that highlight their signature smoked meats.

“It’s not just meat on a bun — at the (EZ Fast) hut, I was doing just meat on a bun,” Carfrae said.

Instead, he pointed to items like the brisket salad with avocado and sweet corn and the pulled pork nachos.

“We want to be the Butcher Block of barbecue,” manager Joe VanDeVenter said. “We have a crafted menu.”


VanDeVenter got into the restaurant industry in part thanks to his grandfather, who owned VanDeVenter Steak House, a long time supper club in Vinton.

“It’s where I got my passion for food,” he said. “And growing up in the restaurant, being around people. I have a passion for people.”

He hopes that passion is evident in the restaurant, which the owner’s decorated with reclaimed barn wood and other details meant to impart a homey, country feel.

In the backroom, they set up a horseshoe cage, and in the front a carpet ball table offers a sort of mix between pool and shuffleboard.

“We want people to enjoy themselves,” VanDeVenter said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339;


If You Go

• What: Bourbon Creek Smokehouse

• Where: 411 First St. SE, Cedar Rapids

• Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday

• Details: (319) 775-3174,