Eight months after announcing that he was taking on the former La Belle Vie space at the landmark 510 Groveland building in Minneapolis, Kenwood chef/owner Don Saunders quietly opened his 510 Lounge on Thursday.

The plan? The former La Belle Vie lounge is the open-to-the-public centerpiece, a seven-days-a-week enterprise featuring cocktails, wines and a roster of shareable foods that range from oysters, caviar and cheeses to black rice croquettes, mussels in a pistou broth and smoked duck ham with pickled cherries. There's a major dessert program, too. The former La Belle Vie dining room – which was also home to 510 Groveland in the 1980s and 1990s – will be reserved for private events. Saunders took a few moments out of his busy schedule to discuss some details.

Here he is on . . .

The lounge’s low-key opening: “We’re doing a little friends-and-family event on Wednesday night. Then, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we’ll be open to the public. After that, we’re going to give everyone a break for four days. Then, on Thursday, July 6, we’ll open for good. We’re calling the next few days a preview weekend, and we’re not promoting it, because, strange as this might sound, I don’t want to open crazy-busy. I’m obviously not trying to keep it a secret, and I’m all for anyone talking about it. We’ll get the word out on social media, too. I do feel like there’s buzz about the place, but you never really know until you actually open. What we’re doing -- opening for three days, and then closing for four -- is probably confusing. But I see this preview weekend as an opportunity to get our feet wet, and work out some kinks. And then hopefully the people who come in for this preview weekend will send out another wave of buzz for when we open for real on the 6th.”

The lounge’s renovated looks: “I’m very pleased. It’s super-cool, it all came together really nicely. There’s a lot of color, and pattern, and because some of the chairs are temporary – the ones we ordered didn’t get manufactured on time – there’s eventually going to be even more color and pattern. All of the art is by local photographer Shelly Mosman, and I think it’s going to be a big talking point. ‘Shocking’ isn’t the word, it’s not way out there. But her work is pretty modern looking, there’s a lot of emotion to it. So, hopefully, everyone will dig being in there. On Monday, we had a Kenwood employee and former-employee night, and we got to see people in the room, eating, for the first time, and that was really great. It’s got a comfortable and chic vibe.”

Cooking in that vaunted kitchen: “To be honest, it’s really cool. To me, it’s kind of carrying on a legacy. With all that history, it feels really special to be cooking in that kitchen.” [That's Saunders, above, at his Kenwood restaurant, in a Star Tribune file photo].

The differences between opening the 510 Lounge vs. the Kenwood and its predecessor, In Season: “This has definitely been a bigger and more involved project than the others, with a lot more moving parts and different stresses. But at the same time, I have a larger team of people that I’m working with, and that has been great. At In Season and the Kenwood, I was doing everything. I was writing the wine list, I was training servers, I was experimenting with dishes. This time I’ve had more of a delegating role, and more of a planning role. I’ve got a really good team, and everyone has been doing a fantastic job.”

Hosting private events in the former La Belle Vie dining room: “They’ll come along a little bit later. We purposely planned to get the lounge running for a good solid month before we took on any private events. Our first ones are in August, and even then, we’re limiting them to probably one a week, to get our feet wet. It’s a big space, and that can be a good thing, because it gives you lots of room to work with. But it’s also a challenge in that you’re running food for what seems like miles. At the Kenwood, I can walk 10 feet and be in the middle of the dining room. We’ve got a few [wedding] rehearsal dinners in the fall, and a number of small weddings, and a few corporate events closer to the holidays. There’s a bar mitzvah in the mix. And the Super Bowl will be another whole animal. We’ve already had some interest with that, and are talking back and forth with a few clients."

Menu favorites: “Taking in the history of this place, I did a few dishes that were inspired by the past two restaurants, La Belle Vie, and 510 Groveland. And a dish from the Kenwood. They’re three tips of the hat. Glazed salmon is an explicit, original recipe from the 510. I got it from Kathleen Craig, the restaurant’s former GM. And every time I talked to a La Belle Vie lounge regular, they would all ask, ‘Are you bringing back the lamb sliders?’ At first, I was totally against doing that. I wanted to go in a completely different direction. That’s not us, you know? But then I realized that a hamburger belongs in this lounge, and we’ll make our own. Our version, it’s completely different, but it’s a lamb burger, and that’s the tip of the hat. At the preview last night, the smoked Steelhead trout tartine was a huge hit, so was the Wagyu beef. I like the hamachi crudo with watermelon and Serrano chiles. I love the simplicity of it, you have this sweet-fat-salty-spicy bit all in one.”

Selecting sausages and smoked meats from Indiana-based Smoking Goose:Great Ciao [the Minneapolis-based fancy foods purveyor] found them. We did a tasting with a bunch of high-end Spanish, French, Italian and domestic stuff. Two really stuck out. Anything from Smoking Goose was ridiculous, you can’t go wrong with anything they produce. We’re opening with their fennel-garlic sausage. And I’m super-excited about that Bayonne ham [from France]. I’m a big prosciutto fan, as is most anyone with any common sense, but this Bayonne ham, it’s like prosciutto, but it’s sweeter, and it’s got a kind of a fermented taste. It’s amazing. The whole left side of the menu – caviar, oysters, cheese, charcuterie – is to highlight what we think is the best out there. We’ll be constantly updating it, to keep it fresh, and to keep people wondering what we’ll find next.”

Sweets: “I’m really excited about the desserts. We have a mutual win-win situation with a pastry chef that crossed paths with us. She and her boyfriend were moving back to Minneapolis from Cincinnati – they had moved there, to try something different, but they missed Minneapolis, and decided to come back. She’s Jo Garrison [a Rye Deli, Heyday and La Belle Vie veteran] and she reached out to us when she saw that we were doing the project. She’s so talented. Her desserts are 100 times better than if I was doing them, and she’s also a joy to work with. She’s a big-time bread baker, too, but with the logistics and timing in our kitchen, we’ll be outsourcing our breads, primarily from Steve Horton at Baker’s Field. Oh, that’s another way our lamb burger took shape. It was the bun. Steve does this version of a hamburger bun that’s super-hearty, it has a little sweetness to it, and a lot of sourdough tang. We tried it with a beef Cheddar burger, and the bun just stole the show, it was too much. But with lamb? It’s insane. Lamb was meant for that bun.

The lounge’s hours: “We’ll open at 4:30 every day. We close a bit earlier on Sunday nights, but every other night we’re open to 1 a.m., and we serve food until midnight. We’re going to try and hopefully get a later-night rush. I loved it when the 112 opened, and so many people in the industry crowd came in after work. They really got the buzz going, that was such a smart way to open. I’m following that lead a little bit.”

Parking: “We’ll  have valet parking, seven days a week.”

510 Lounge is located at 510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-315-5841.

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