What's Cooking in the LPN Kitchen?

By Susan Thompson

Andrew Labath took over the Lake Panorama National kitchen last summer. As executive chef, he’s responsible for feeding the hungry at The Links Restaurant and Lounge, plus at a multitude of meetings, banquets and receptions throughout the year. In this month’s Q&A, Labath talks about old favorites, new offerings and overall goals.

Q: Tell us about your first few months at the LPN?

A. It’s been busy! I started at the LPN the beginning of June. My wife Taylor and I got married June 25. And on June 24 of this year, we are expecting a baby boy or girl.

I really enjoy the atmosphere at Lake Panorama National. Everyone works hard, and works together. There is so much room to continue to grow and show people around this area, but also across Iowa and beyond, that this is a really great place to visit….and to eat!

Q: Breakfast is served each Saturday and Sunday at The Links, beginning at 8 a.m., but your Sunday offerings go beyond the regular menu. Tell us what’s available.

A. I started Sunday buffets last fall to give people the chance to try out a variety of foods that are hot and ready as soon as they get settled at a table. The first three Sundays of each month we offer a regular Sunday breakfast buffet. Items vary weekly, and include such things as scrambled eggs with cheese, sausage, bacon, biscuits and gravy, breakfast potatoes, fresh fruit, Danishes and desserts.

The last Sunday of each month, we add some extra items and do a brunch buffet with expanded hours. We still have all of the regular breakfast items, but we add mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, fried chicken, roast beef, a salad bar, a waffle station with fresh berries and cream, as well as a wider variety of desserts and pastries.

For big holidays like Easter and Mother’s Day, we will be doing a larger buffet with different stations — breakfast, lunch, salads, meat carving, waffles, desserts.

Q. Tell us about the regular menus…what’s new?

A. We recently updated our breakfast and lunch/dinner menus. For breakfast we now offer some new favorites such as biscuits and gravy, chocolate chip pancakes, strawberry and crème cheese stuffed French toast, and chicken and waffles. We’ve also added some great new breakfast sandwiches served on either a biscuit or croissant. The popular Grand Slams – at birdie, eagle or double eagle levels – still are on the menu, as are made-to-order omelettes, which now can be ordered as a burrito.

On the lunch/dinner menu, we kept all the favorites – burgers, pork tenderloins, plus lots of other sandwich options, a wide variety of flatbread pizzas, wraps, appetizers and salads. We brought back the gyro sandwich and gyro salad, and a Philly cheese steak pizza was added to the menu. Also new to the menu is a locally grown Iowa pork chop with an apple bourbon glaze.

Q. What sorts of specials can patrons expect to find at The Links?

A. For daily lunch specials, I like to switch it up every day. Sometimes I’ll offer a new sandwich or salad that isn’t on the regular menu. Or sometimes it’s a regular menu item offered at a discounted price. I like to make fresh soup. I make it daily or every other day, so there’s always a different soup available.

For the winter months, we’re offering something different every evening to give our guests some greater variety than just what’s on the menu. On Tuesdays, we’re doing some down home cooking, offering things such as fried chicken, meatloaf and chicken fried steak. On Wednesdays, we have a different Mexican-themed special each week, and on Thursdays we offer an Italian-themed special. On Fridays, we have a buffet with that features fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese, vegetables, and rolls. Beginning March 3, we’ll switch to fried fish on the Friday night buffet, and run that until Easter. 

Q. The LPN kitchen went through an extensive renovation last spring. Anything new this year?

A. The kitchen is spacious, and offers a lot of prep area that is well organized. For now the equipment is all up to date and in good working order. We did recently add a new large fryer, a new cook-and-hold oven and a new convection oven, and we’re putting all of these to great use.

With the new fryer, we plan to start offering fried chicken “to go.” This would be a large offering of to-go fried chicken, family style. So people can come pick up an 8, 16, or 20-piece bucket of chicken. We also have new to-go pizza boxes that help keep our pizza at top quality when transported.

Q. You’re fast approaching the busy wedding reception and golf tournament banquet season. What’s it like to manage an event that serves from 200 to 450 people? 

A. I love cooking for large groups of people. The difficulty lies in making sure to prepare enough food to feed everyone, but not making too much so food is wasted. I am in the process of updating the wedding and large party menu, and putting my own touch to it.

Q. We know you’re not doing this all alone. What support do you have in the kitchen?

A. Richard Holbrook is a veteran here, and has always been a big player in The Links. He helps anywhere he’s needed, cooking in the kitchen with me, helping out in the bar. T.J. Gliem also plays a big part. He is a very reliable, hard working, fun guy to have in the kitchen. Mitchell Wagler is always here to help me with breakfast on Saturday and Sunday. Aaron Irving and Victor Barroso also have been a big help in caterings and buffets, and are always willing to learn more and help out where needed.  

Q. What are some of your goals for the LPN kitchen? 

A. My overall goal for the LPN kitchen is to be able to serve people good, consistent food. I also want to give people the option to try something new that they might not try otherwise. I really do want to hear from our customers about what they like, and how we can better serve them. If something is not on the menu, but you want it, if I have the ingredients for it, then I want to make it for you. Just ask!

Current hours at The Links are Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Links is closed on Monday.