One of my wife's favorite places to eat in Iowa City is The Bluebird Diner. We spent the night in Iowa City after the wedding of our friend's daughter and before we headed back to the Quad Cities, we stopped in to have breakfast. It had been probably close to four and a half years since I was last in the place, but my wife probably eats in there three or four times a year.
The Bluebird Diner is owned by restaurateurs Jon Wilson and Thomas Connelly. The two opened the Bluebird Diner in 2008 serving what they like to call "Midwestern Soul Food", taking down-home favorites and adding an urban twist to them. Their food is all housemade and, when they can, they use locally sourced food products. They have alcohol at the Bluebird Diner and they feature a number of Iowa craft brews. The Bluebird Diner is open from 7 a.m. when they serve breakfast to 11 a.m. (1 p.m. on the weekends), then they serve their lunch items from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (1 p.m. to close on weekends), and their dinner entrees are served from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily. In the summer of 2012, Wilson, Connelly and Iowa City Bluebird manager, Lacie Willis, opened a second Bluebird Diner location in nearby North Liberty.
The Bluebird Diner sits at an iconic intersection in Iowa City - Gilbert and Market streets. (see map) It is caddy-cornered from the infamous John's Grocery Store (click here to see my entry on John's Grocery) and across the street from the venerable Dave's Fox Head Tavern. The Bluebird Diner is in what used to be the old Gilpin Paint and Glass. A friend of mine is a member of the Gilpin family and it's still rather strange walking into the building remembering the times I'd go in there to see him 25 years ago. The Riverside Theater is housed in the back portion of the building.
Cindy knows the routine well and she suggested that we get to The Bluebird Diner early, especially on the weekend. We pulled in around 8 a.m. and the place was already about 3/4's full at that time. We were seated at a table and given menus. Our server, Devon, came by to great us and to pour some coffee for Cindy. The atmosphere at The Bluebird Diner is decidedly retro in its feel and appearance. Old diner style tables and chairs are used in the restaurant and they have an old style counter with swiveling seats. Within 30 minutes after we arrived, there was a crowd of people waiting for tables to open.
The breakfast menu features a number of egg-based entrees as well as a number of interesting omelets. Waffles, pancakes and French toast are also available as well as a breakfast croissant and good ol' biscuits and gravy. One of the more interesting egg dishes is the Ouefs Louis XIV - three scrambled eggs with truffles, served with what they call a "rustic root hash". It's not cheap - $18 bucks - but eggs with truffles is an interesting twist to breakfast.
I was thinking about getting an omelet - the Rajun Cajun was the one that caught my eye. It features a mixture of housemade andouille sausage, smoked ham, the Cajun holy trinity of onions, celery and bell peppers, and a lemon-herb cream cheese. It's finally topped with smoked cheese. That's a lot of stuff going on with an omelet.
Then this thing reached and grabbed me - the Huevos Epsteinos. The make their own chili verde with smoked pork at The Bluebird Diner, then they pour it over parmesan polenta and eggs over easy with hash browns. Oh man! I love a good green chili and I had to give that a try.
Cindy has had a lot of things on the menu thanks to her many visits to the diner. This time she settled on the Eggs Benedict with crab cakes. Sliced tomatoes and their housemade hollandaise sauce came with the Eggs Benedict.
Our food showed up and Cindy was sort of taken aback by the towering spectacle on her plate. It featured fluffy poached eggs sitting on top of thick cakes of crab meat. The crab meat patties were placed upon a sliced tomato and an English muffin. Liberal amounts of hollandaise sauce topped the towering concoction. She was like, "How am I gonna eat this without making a mess?"
My Huevos Epsteinos were an interesting presentation, to say the least. The chili verde was covering the two eggs and the polenta. The hash browns were off to the side, but it didn't matter. Nearly every bite I was going to take was going to have some of the chili verde with it.
The chili verde at The Bluebird Diner was delicious. It had a bit of a spicy bite and a smoky taste, thanks to the chunks of smoked pork. Because the chili verde was so present in each bite, it was really tough to taste anything else on the plate. But if the chili verde would have been ladled over raw brussels sprouts, I would have still eaten them. It was very good. I would have been happy just having a bowl of the chili verde for breakfast. Even though I wasn't hungover, I thought that it would be the ultimate in a hangover cure.
Cindy thoroughly enjoyed her Eggs Benedict with the crab cakes. But they were very rich and she was having trouble finishing even one of the two stacks. She did offer me a bite of the combination of the poached egg, crab cake and hollandaise. I'll have to say that the combination was very good. I'm not usually big on seafood at breakfast, but the crab cake was very tasty. What I didn't eat of the second stack of poached egg and crab cake, she made a dent in it before she declared herself as full.
Although there are some reasonably priced items on the breakfast menu, we went a little toward the high end of the scale. With our food, drinks and a nice tip for Devon for his stellar service, our breakfast bill was over 30 bucks. But for the food and the service we got, I couldn't complain about the price. I thought my breakfast was excellent and we could have easily split Cindy's breakfast and it would have probably filled up both of us. I've had breakfast and lunch at The Bluebird Diner and one of these days I'll have to come back for dinner. The housemade meat loaf they have on the menu sounds like it would be killer.