Andrew Zimmern is getting back into the restaurant business.
Not that he’s ever far from it. The Twin Cities-based star of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” “Bizarre Foods America” and “Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World” is familiar to Target Field and US Bank Stadium ticketholders via his popular AZ Canteen outlets.
But this time around, Zimmern is diving head-first into restaurant and bar territory. His Passport Hospitality is partnering with local restaurateur Michael McDermott (Rojo Mexican Grill, Randle’s, Tavern23) to launch Lucky Cricket. The contemporary Chinese restaurant is going into the former Bonefish Grill (1607 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park) in the Shops at West End.
“I’m obsessed with Chinese food and culture,” said Zimmern. “It’s food that I adore above all others.”
In describing his new venture, the well-traveled Zimmern invoked a Twin Cities name that’s synonymous with Chinese food.
“When I arrived in the Twin Cities, the Nankin had already closed,” he said. “All I ever heard was what a wonderful space it was to eat Chinese food. I don’t think that I’ve talked to a person over 50 who doesn’t reference the Nankin. I think people in Minnesota sort of long for that great Chinese food headquarters that the Nankin represented. We’re not duplicating the Nankin, but we’re going to bring fun, authentic Chinese food into a modernized restaurant format.”
When the restaurant opens in October, Zimmern is promising to feature an extensive array of house-made dumplings and noodles, plus Chinese barbecue.
“We’re not going to focus on chow mein, or sweet-and-sour chicken, or the typical stir fry stuff that you can get at other places,” he said. “It’s going to be shareable small plates, because Chinese food is designed to be shared. It’s going to give people an opportunity to explore my favorite food.”
The look of the 120-seat dining room and adjacent 80-seat tiki bar is the work of Shea Design of Minneapolis. That tiki bar — inspired by Zimmern’s memories of his New York City family’s visits to the atmospheric Trader Vic’s — will showcase the work of Dean Hurst, the cocktail guru behind R&D Hospitality of Tampa, Fla.
The restaurant will also feature an extensive to-go operation, and will also manage its own delivery service. From the sound of it, this first Lucky Cricket won’t be the last.
“Growth is part of the business model,” said Zimmern. “This won’t be a one-off. But we won’t be making the mistake of putting growth above getting the concept to work. We’ll get Lucky Cricket locked in as well as we can, and then we’ll take the concept where we think that it’s appropriate. There are plenty of cities in the Midwest — and elsewhere — that would be fabulous for this concept.”
Zimmern, a famous face thanks to his years of acclaimed television work (he’s a four-time James Beard award winner), hasn’t steered a Twin Cities restaurant since the 1990s. Local diners with long memories will recall his skilled tenure at the former Cafe Un Deux Trois in the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis, where he staged occasional — and very popular — Chinese dinners.
“People love Chinese food, so this project is going to be a blast,” he said. “Now I have to worry about not screwing it up. These are sort of risky steps to take for someone in the TV business, because you wind up being an easy target. Especially when you’re opening a restaurant in your hometown for the first time in a long time. But I’m really excited by the challenge of it, and I can’t wait to see how people respond to it.”