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Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern

After decades of vacancy, the corner brings new life to the neighborhood with few dining options

Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
Former Cedar Rapids church, disco becomes first full-service restaurant in Oak Hill Jackson with Sacred Cow Tavern
The Great Poutine-y appetizer at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The shrimp boil at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The Floyd Pepper burger served with dill pickle soup at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The “Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil” cow portraits at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The bar area at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
A stuffed animal cow is displayed in the ceiling at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids on Nov. 1. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
A gin soaked boozy pickle served in a Bloody Mary mix shot at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The Moo-Tai cocktail at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Customers dine in during opening day at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids Nov. 1. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
The Pied Russian cocktail at Sacred Cow Tavern in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Go ahead, have a cow. At Sacred Cow Tavern, they await diners at every corner.

They’re on the wall under halos in a parody of the three proverbial wise monkeys who “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” One greets you from the floor mat before your eyes turn to the opposite wall’s neon sign inviting diners to “kiss our grass.” Another has taken up residence in the rafters, in between upside-down lamps, in the form of what appears to be a mascot-type costume.

If you’ve been to Cliff’s Dive Bar, LP Street Food or the hip-stir in Marion, you probably won’t be surprised by who owns the new restaurant. With a theme that takes that fast-food chicken sandwich chain’s shtick to a new level, the Fun Not Fancy restaurant group has stamped its signature for cheeky interior design in a new neighborhood.

After sitting mostly vacant since 1987, Sacred Cow Tavern has helped the building at 1000 Seventh St. SE turn a corner as Oak Hill Jackson neighborhood’s only full-service restaurant — and possibly its first. The neighborhood, historically one of Cedar Rapids’ most diverse areas, is adjacent to New Bohemia and the Med Quarter in southeast Cedar Rapids.

“I think there is a push to change things here. This corner is going to be a catalyst to help push the narrative here,” said Tim Kindl, co-owner of the new restaurant which opened Oct. 31. “The people who live here love living here. They’re very passionate about the neighborhood.”

If you go

What: Sacred Cow Tavern

Where: 1000 Seventh St. SE, Cedar Rapids

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Website: Find Sacred Cow Tavern on Facebook

Details: A wide variety of sandwiches, salads and burgers and range from about $9 to $28, with most sandwiches averaging around $12. Standouts include a shrimp boil, chicken gyros, poutine and pickle-oriented dishes. Canned beer starts at $5 and cocktails start at $10.

Dine-in and carryout currently available. Delivery service may be offered later.

Here’s their beef

Soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers build out the base of Sacred Cow’s menu with a friendly neighborhood bar and grill vibe. Most dishes weave the warmth of familiarity with the stretch of novel twists that Fun Not Fancy tries to incorporate into all of its menus.

“We just wanted it to be fun, casual, inviting — put a little twist and flair on food we know people enjoy,” said Tim Oathout, the co-owner in the new restaurant who helped formulate the menu.

The Floyd Pepper burger, for example, resembles the “animal style” offerings served at California-based burger chain In-N-Out, with caramelized onions and thousand island sauce. Riffing off the name of “Animal,” the frenzied drummer from the band on the Muppets, this burger is named after the bass player in the same band — the sarcastic one with a wispy, red mustache.

Though the restaurant group’s other holdings offer traditional red-meat gyros, Sacred Cow will go beyond beef by offering chicken gyros, another standout on the menu. Chicken will be sliced fresh off the cone, the way gyro meat is traditionally cooked.

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“It’s marinated, pressed chicken thighs that are stacked on top of each other,” Oathout said.

Appetizers feature tried-and-true favorites with unique twists. Their sidewinder fries, for example — a cross between thick steak fries and curly fries — are used in The Great Poutine-y to hold up to the moisture of gravy and cheese without getting soggy.

One salad dressing option includes the feta cheese Ranch, exemplifying a philosophy at Sacred Cow.

“Two ingredients that people are familiar with, but then you put them together and it’s like ‘wow, I’ve never had that before,’” co-owner Justin Zehr said. “It’s tasty.”

And sauce options ooze different flavors from many dishes.

“We sauce things as much as possible,” Oathout said. “Messy food is delicious food.”

Higher end options include a well-seasoned shrimp boil served in traditional Louisiana style, pork ribs and a grilled Angus rib-eye.

The menu, both food and drink, relishes pickles. On the food menu, there’s a creamy dill pickle soup and Parmesan pickle fries.

Dive on in

If you’d prefer to drink your pickle, try the Pickle Red Snapper made with pickle gin, their house dill pickle soup and Bloody Mary mix.

If you want to take it a step further, a gin-soaked pickle served in a shot of Bloody Mary mix tempts the adventurous for $1.69. The boozy pickle delivers the equivalent of a shot.

From the founders of Cliff’s Dive Bar, which brought downtown Cedar Rapids the spirit of dive in a campy format, Sacred Cow’s cocktail menu in the former house of worship is in some ways a reincarnation.

“The drink menu is dive craft. Our cocktail menu is based off some dive bar classics, except done more in a craft cocktail style,” said Oathout.

The beer menu — all cans, no kegs — is a result of the 99-seat restaurant’s unusually small space.

Previously a church, disco and more

The building’s recorded history dates back to 1941, when Horak and Mrech Grocery opened. The building remained a grocery store through three other iterations until Koury’s Food Market closed in 1970.

Two different antique stores took over the space from 1971 to 1977.

In 1978, the building started a new chapter as Bethlehem Temple, which was there less than a year before a game room, after-hours club and disco used the space for short stints. In 1986, Good Ground Full Gospel Fellowship Church moved in for less than a year.

But as the last tenant, the church’s influence remains both in the restaurant’s new name and in its decor. Church pews left in the building, mostly vacant for the last 25 years, have been repurposed into booth seating. An artistic steeple adorns another wall toward the back of the restaurant.

Sacred Cow is the first restaurant to occupy the space, which required some creativity with a lack of storage and restaurant infrastructure. It’s the reason the bar and grill serves all beer in cans, though the aesthetic of canned beer fits the atmosphere they’re going for.

“Neighbors are talking about how they’re excited to have it be part of the neighborhood,” Zehr said. “They’re just happy to see the growth of the neighborhood, something different happening here since this has been sitting for a while.”

Comments: (319) 398-8340; elijah.decious@thegazette.com