COLUMBUS — Dusters Restaurant and the adjoining Gottberg Brew Pub have a reputation as the go-to place to take out-of-town guests, meet business clients for a sit-down lunch or get a “taste of the big city” without leaving Columbus.
“I think it gives people a destination,” Adam Roberts said of the restaurant and microbrewery at 2804 13th St. in downtown Columbus.
Roberts, the kitchen manager and brewmaster, has been with the business since it opened in October 1995 in a former auto dealership building restored by owner Gordon “Mac” Hull.
His goal since then has been to get local diners “out of their comfort zone” by offering a scratch-made menu full of items he likes to eat.
“We’re an independent (restaurant), so I can do whatever I want,” said Roberts, whose wife Eryn is the business’ general manager. “I don’t have all these restraints on calorie counting and stuff like that.”
The menu changes three to four times a year as Roberts mixes in seasonal items and experiments with new offerings to see if they tempt the local palate.
“We’re always looking and tweaking,” he said.
Recently added menu items include a Wagyu beef steak from cattle raised near Holdrege, mahi-mahi on a wheat Kaiser roll with blood orange aioli and black Hawaiian sea salt and a spring salad with couscous, green peas, golden raisins, sunflower seeds, red onion, homemade buttermilk herb dressing and grilled shrimp.
The seasonal section allows Roberts to get creative while keeping things fresh for customers. Some of the items, such as beer-battered zucchini, find their way onto the regular menu.
Roberts, who ran kitchens in Omaha before moving to Columbus, where he started as a prep cook at Dusters, said the focus has always been on putting out good food using high-quality ingredients.
The local restaurant smokes its own meat, breads the chicken strips and scratch-makes sauces, gravy and dressing, although Dorothy Lynch, which has its headquarters in the same building, is produced at a plant in Duncan. Roberts also recently started curing pork.
He does, however, draw the line at whipping up desserts. That’s too messy for the open kitchen, he said.
All of this may sound upscale, but Roberts said the business has worked hard over the years to shed the “fine dining” label.
Dusters offers a wide variety of items on its menu, including standard “meat and potatoes” dishes, in a casual environment that doesn’t require a suit and tie.
“We’re not trying to be fine dining,” Roberts said. “We’re not trying to be pretentious about our food or our product. What we’re trying to do is just put out a good, quality item.”
The prices reflect that.
“Instead of just raising prices, I’d rather kick something off the menu and try to find something better,” said Roberts, who introduced a popular “early bird” menu with $10.99 entrees from 5-7 p.m.
Although more competitors have entered the local restaurant scene over the past 20 years, Roberts said Dusters remains “as busy as ever.”
“We can seat close to 200 people, and sometimes we do,” he said.
A majority of the business’ sales — about 95 percent — come from the restaurant, but the microbrewery adds a unique aspect other local eateries can’t match.
Roberts took over as brewmaster about a year ago, bringing his creativity and open-mindedness to that side of the business.
“Beer’s been kind of fun,” he said.
Gottberg Brew Pub has six to nine beers on tap at once, with an American lager, German wheat beer, pale ale and stout always in the regular rotation.
Other beers vary by season, ingredient availability and the brewmaster’s mood.
The recipes include a wheat beer with orange, coriander and honey, Belgian tripel aged for a year and maibock that will be ready in early May.
Roberts also plans to offer a Mexican-style lager paired with a homemade michelada mix that turns the drink into a combination of a Bloody Mary and red beer.
“I’m always thinking of something else I can do,” he said.
The seasonal drink list includes standards for Oktoberfest, fruity beers for spring and summer and heavier stouts and porters during the winter.
Gottberg can brew up to 650 gallons of beer at a time before it’s sold by the pint, growler or keg.
The brewery also makes homemade root beer, red cream soda, ginger ale, green apple soda and grape soda.
“We sell a lot of root beer,” said Roberts, who turns 46 next month.
Dusters and Gottberg, which employ around 50 people, combine to offer that “destination” today’s diners are looking for, including those who are there every day.
“You know what the best part of this job is?” Roberts said. “I eat and drink better than anybody in town.”