116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
NORTH LIBERTY — After several months of being closed during the pandemic, one restaurant has reopened with confidence that the COVID-19 vaccine will bring families and diners together again.
And like many family dining rooms, Table, 575 Cameron Way, revolves around quality food.
Where: 575 Cameron Way, North Liberty
Hours: 4 to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday; closed Monday.
Phone: (319) 665-2777
Details: Available for dine-in and carryout
“We wanted it to feel like when you went to a family Christmas party and you were a guest there and how it felt to be in their house,” said Rob Sitka, general manager of Table, which reopened March 23 after a hibernation that started before Thanksgiving. “It wasn’t just like one person took care of you, the whole family took care of you. It’s a communal atmosphere.”
The upscale concept was open for about five months in 2020 before cold weather made outdoor patio dining intolerable and one team member’s quarantine disrupted staffing. During its closure, Table management took the opportunity to regroup and revamp its menu.
“We saw how quickly that (disruption) could happen,” said co-owner Ryan Bell after a kitchen manager was exposed to the virus outside of the restaurant, putting that person out of commission for two weeks. “We didn’t want to be responsible for being a spreader type place.”
With clean lines in an upscale modern farmhouse look, the restaurant’s co-owners and management are hoping patrons will soon feel comfortable to enjoy focal points like their long, communal dining table as much as they have enjoyed new, elevated menu options -- from crabcakes and quality burgers to Reubens and roasted cauliflower,
As the new general manager, Sitka has brought 15 years of executive chef experience from large chains like The Cheesecake Factory to a local venture. And like vaccinated people rediscovering intimate gatherings with family after months of separation, Sitka is rediscovering the power of food in a warmer, less corporate setting.
“ (Chain restaurants) taught me how to run a kitchen, but they made it feel cold and uninviting,” he said. “There was no feeling behind it.”
The chef and general manager set out to recreate Table’s new menu with a variety of flavors and textures that could please everyone in the family, but in an elevated way — think creamy Jarlsberg instead of Swiss cheese on a Reuben or a Czech family sauerkraut recipe instead of cabbage on a flat top.
High-end ingredients like crab are incorporated into a variety of dishes to ensure a high rate of turnover that keeps it fresh. But being upscale doesn’t have to mean being complicated.
One of the restaurant’s bestsellers, a skirt steak, features Mexican street corn, chimichurri and street steak.
“It’s nothing crazy, it’s just really, really good,” Sitka said. “I don’t have a lot of ingredients on the plates. I really let the food speak for itself — a little bit of salt and pepper and sauce that makes it taste better.”
Though the menu revamp may not have been a dramatic change in the dishes themselves, Bell said that a better price point, more efficiency in ingredient use and more approachable dishes, like trust-instilling quality wings and burgers, have improved Table’s outlook.
Items like regular meatloaf were elevated with bison meat. Vegan items like cauliflower were made appetizing enough to earn raves from meat eaters thanks to skillful use of caramelization, roasted garlic oil, herbs, Mediterranean couscous and peppers.
“You have a little stepped up version (of dishes), and it’s different from what most people are used to eating,” said Sitka.
Other popular items are the short ribs and the Killer Club Sandwich, though he said the entire menu tends to sell well.
“I’m fortunate the entire menu is being embraced by the community and everyone is trying things and seems to be enjoying it,” he said.
Sitka said he came from Chicago to North Liberty to rediscover his passion that he missed working in corporate chain settings.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said of the chance to run a restaurant without the corporate minutiae that puts business micromanagement over culinary freedom.
In other words: too many cooks in the kitchen.
As promising weather opens the patio, the figurative warmth of families dining together will soon be paired with warm weather and the backdrop of live entertainment. Small acts with guitars and microphones, like The Voice’s James Hudson scheduled for May 5, will grace the stage on Wednesday nights throughout the summer.
Currently open for dinner service only, Table soon plans to expand with brunch and lunch as staffing levels increase. Like many restaurants, the North Liberty establishment has experienced challenges in hiring as a side effect of the pandemic.
But with over 45 percent of Johnson County and 40 percent of Linn County residents over 16 now vaccinated, they see brighter, more confident meals ahead.
“Maybe not immediately when we open the doors, but in the near future the vast majority of people are going to feel comfortable going out and dining like they did way back in 2019,” said Bell. “Back in the old days.”
Comments: (319) 398-8340; email@example.com