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From the Strib's archives: The beginnings of Murray's

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: March 19, 2015 - 11:56 AM

There were just a pair of marigold colored envelopes labeled “Murray’s Restaurant” in the Star Tribune’s basement clip morgue. Between the two of them, they contained about two dozen yellowing, fragile articles.

I was expecting to encounter more, but the morgue is a hit-and-miss kind of place (nothing on the New French Cafe, for example). Besides, what I unearthed was as prime as the steaks that have been a hallmark of this 69-year-old, family-owned landmark. The oldest article dates to Jan. 7, 1946, and it lays out the very beginning of what grew into one of the city's most enduring dining-and-drinking establishments.

The headline: “Cafe Man Buys Loop Building: Murray to Open New Restaurant.”

“Purchase of a three-story building at 24-26 Sixth St. S., by Murray’s, Inc., Arthur J. Murray, secretary-treasurer, and Mrs. Murray, president, was disclosed Sunday.

"The building was purchased from Minneapolis Shareholders Co. for a reported $75,000 [that’s $920,000 in 2015 dollars].

"Present tenants of the building, Delaney’s bar, at 24 Sixth St. S, and Weil’s toy shop at 26 Sixth St. S., have been ordered to vacate by March 15, when extensive remodeling and air conditioning of the building will begin, Murray said.

"Murray, who formerly operated the Red Feather Cafe, 18 Fourth St. S. [present-day site of the Minneapolis Central Library], said he would open a restaurant at the Sixth St. address after the remodeling has been completed.”

Murray’s opened for business on Aug. 5, 1946.

Curious about the origins of the restaurant’s famed Silver Butter Knife Steak? Here’s a story -- byline unknown, but my guess is that it's the work of man-about-town columnist Will Jones -- from Feb. 1, 1956:

“In the pro-steak end of the eating business, there was a to-do this week at Murray’s. A man named Maurice Dreicer, who set himself up a few years ago as a traveling steak expert, awarded Murray’s a gold butter knife.

He’s the same man who awarded them a silver butter knife in 1951."

That's Art Murray on the right (pictured, above), being presented his golden butter knife award by Maurice Dreicer on Jan. 31, 1956. "The award is testimony to the fact that certain steaks served in the restaurant can be cut by a butterknife," reads the photo's caption. "The golden butterknife also marks an addition to the cutlery available at the restaurant since Murray previously was awarded a silver butterknife by Dreicer."

Back to the story: "Dreicer said he gives his expensive butter knives only to restaurateurs who serve worthy steaks. Besides being cutable with a butter knife, a Dreicer-approved steak has to be served on time, be big enough and be the right temperature (120 degrees).

"He carries an alarm wrist watch, a scale and a thermometer to do his checking. What it all means is that Murray’s is now going to serve a gold butter knife steak – a four-pound porterhouse for two – at $15 [that would be $132 today].

"The place will continue to offer its silver butter knife steak, a double sirloin, at $9.50 [$84 in today's dollars; the current menu's 28-oz. double strip sirloin, still known as the Silver Butter Knife steak for two, carved tableside, is $99]. Menus will list the $15 steaks “when available.”

“‘'We can only cut one steak from a 50-pound loin,’ said Art Murray. ‘On a day when we use six loins, for instance, it means we’ll have six of the gold butter knife steaks to serve, and that’s all.’

"I sampled a gold butter knife steak at an introductory lunch for newspaper, radio and TV people. I must confess that my appreciation for steaks stops at the silver butter knife level. Murray’s has been doing well enough with the silver butter knife steak all these years, and I couldn’t detect any improvement in the new offering. I asked Dreicer to explain the difference.

‘Prime beef,’ he snapped. ‘More flavor.’”

Steak isn’t the only signature item on the Murray’s tradition-laden menu. The kitchen’s garlic toast has been famous for more than half a century. Here’s a tidbit from June 13, 1957:

“Art Murray’s restaurant makes news again, this time on a national scale. Murray’s happens to be one of the largest users of butter in the Upper Midwest. Art bought the golden stuff to the tune of 30,000 pounds last year. Now a Minnesota Dairy Industry ad featured Princess Kay of the Milky Way enjoying one of Art’s butter-soaked steak dinners will hit newspapers not only all over the Upper Midwest but also on a national basis. You may be familiar with that butter-garlic toast featured at Murray’s. That specialty takes 30 pounds of butter a day just to prepare.” 

This was how red-hot Murray’s was in 1958 (specifically, Feb. 21, 1958):

“Art Murray, the restaurateur, received an accolade that he perhaps doesn’t even know about. An advertising agency conducted a survey among restaurant and night club owners this week and among the questions asked was this: ‘If you could own one restaurant or cafe in the city of Minneapolis, which one would it be?’ Twenty-seven owners were asked the question and every one of the 27 contacted answered ‘Murray’s.’”

Murray’s reputation was outpaced by the restaurant’s revenues. This item dates to May 13, 1958:

“Art and Marie Murray, the Sixth Street restaurateurs, have received another national award. This time they both have elected to American Restaurant magazine’s Hall of Fame, one of the top honors in the nation in the food business. Announcement of the award also revealed the rather startling information that Murray’s restaurant does a $1 million annual gross. And Art, himself, says he has felt no recession – March and April volume has been up 6 percent over the same months last year.”

By the way: One million dollars in sales? That’s $8.3 million in 2015 dollars.

A final fun fact, from Oct. 30, 1954: Art Murray tried to open a drive-in restaurant at E. Lake Street and 39th Avenue S. in Minneapolis. Neighborhood opposition led Murray to withdraw his proposal. 

From the Strib's archives: Tempest in a liquor license

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: March 17, 2015 - 8:08 AM

The following reader commentary, published in the Minneapolis Star on Feb. 13, 1968, is perhaps my favorite restaurant-related Letter to the Editor of all time.

The subject? A liquor license application for the 12th-floor restaurants at Dayton's in downtown Minneapolis – the Oak Grill (pictured, above, in a 2007 Star Tribune file photo) and the Skyroom -- and the ire it created among the members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Ironically, it's Dayton's, the city's No. 1 department store, that's following Donaldson's, the perennial also-ran, in the chardonnay-at-lunch trend.

The letter was written by Vera Cole of St. Louis Park, secretary of the union’s 5th District.

"We the women of the 5th District of the WCTU numbering 700 members strong protest the granting of the license allowing the serving of alcoholic beverages in Dayton’s Sky Room and Oak Room [sic]. Our organization is banded together for the protection of the home, and the triumph of Christ’s golden rule in custom and law. A liquor establishment is bad enough by itself, but Dayton’s is a family store where entire families go to shop, and must have this influence set before them. Donaldson’s has set the precedent; now Dayton’s, and if other stores follow, what is left for the many fine families who do not care to subject their young people to such an atmosphere?"

Can you imagine what Ms. Cole would have made of Sunday retail liquor sales?

Brunch coming to Zentral, Spoon and Stable

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: March 16, 2015 - 3:34 PM

Easter is in less than three weeks, and brunch reservations are filling up, fast.

Just in time for the holiday, two top-performing Minneapolis restaurants are dipping into Sunday brunch for the first time: Brasserie Zentral (pictured, above) and Spoon and Stable. Both will begin Sunday-only service on March 22.

“We figured, hey, it’s starting to get nice out, so let’s give up our Sundays and start doing brunch,” said Zentral chef/co-owner Russell Klein with a laugh.

Along with omelets and Benedicts, Klein is promising yeasted Belgian waffles.

“They’re light and crispy and they’re just delicious,” he said. “I’m a waffle guy, and I’ve never done them in a restaurant before, because they’re such a pain. But they’re delicious.”

Don’t believe him? Take a weekday morning taste-test. The waffles are getting a preview at Cafe Zentral, the restaurant’s skyway-level breakfast-lunch counter.

Other items include a Dutch baby-style pancake with apples, hot out of the cast-iron pan, and schnitzel with a fried egg and caper butter.

Also, pastries. “Our pastry chef, LaShaw Castellano, is doing all sorts of breakfast pastries, and we’ll have them on a cart that we wheel around the dining room,” said Klein.

Zentral brunch is served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “We may add Saturday brunch in the fall,” said Klein.

Meanwhile, at Spoon and Stable, chef/owner Gavin Kaysen is offering a hash brown spin on the Juicy Lucy, red wine-poached eggs with wild mushrooms, dill-cured salmon with a bagel-style flat bread, cottage cheese and horseradish, and other a la carte items, all falling in the $8-to-$19 range.

Pastry chef Diane Yang will be preparing seasonal sweets, and bartender Robb Jones has crafted a number of $8 brunch cocktails. Spoon and Stable brunch is served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Reservations are highly recommended at both restaurants.  

From the Strib's archives: Twiggy causes a sensation

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Minnesota newsmakers Updated: March 16, 2015 - 8:03 AM

When British fashion sensation Leslie Hornby – known to the world by her nickname, Twiggy – made her first visit to the United States in late April 1967, she dropped in on two American cities: New York, and Minneapolis. (Five-foot-six Twiggy weighed all of 89 pounds). 

Yes, Minneapolis, thanks to Dayton’s. The trend-savvy department store was one of the first in the country to import London’s Mod look, and sales were brisk.

Twiggymania was evident in a pre-visit story on April 12. Minneapolis Tribune staff writer Marg Storhoff followed four local girls as Dayton’s beauty salon performed Twiggy-inspired hair-and-makeup transformations. It reads: 

The hair, styled by Erik of Norway, was tapered and cut wet with a razor. The hair is quite long in the front so it can be swept behind the ears and is very short in back. Erik set the hair on two beer cans and then combed the rest into shape.

“It’s terrific for summer,” said Erik. “Short hair looks so fresh. It’s important for girls to try to change their looks. Long, straggly hair is out.”

The makeup focuses on the eyes with the most important feature being the ‘twigs.’ The twigs, an original Twiggy idea, are eyelashes drawn under the eye with eye liner. ‘Twiggy-izing’ makeup is accenting the crease about the eye with brown blush-on shadow and powdered eyeliner, explained Susan Wilson, who applied the makeup.

White, brush-on highlighter is used from lashes to brows. A thin line of black liner is applied close to the lashes and then several pairs of false eyelashes (‘three or four pairs’ according to Miss Wilson) are attached.

The makeup base is a neutral shade and the powder is a brush-on translucent type.

‘The whole look takes a young face,’ said Miss Wilson, ‘and it takes practice to do it right. It looks ridiculous if the makeup is applied incorrectly.’

The Twiggy-like girls will model Twiggy clothes at Dayton’s when the real Twiggy is in Minneapolis on April 22 [the show is pictured, above]. 

Flash-forward to coverage after the April 22nd event. From a Minneapolis Star story by Marilyn Hoegemeyer on April 23, 1967, we learned the following: 

Twiggy appeared before a crowd of 1,500 adoring fans – mostly teenage girls -- in the 8th-floor auditorium at Dayton’s in downtown Minneapolis (pictured, above), at a fashion show with live music by the local band The Hot Half Dozen. (“There weren’t many men in the audience, a few employees from Dayton’s and some policemen who looked as if they had to be there,” reported Hoegemeyer.) Other revelations: Twiggy required about an hour to get her makeup applied to her satisfaction.

She responded to written questions, collected from the audience. For example: What do you like best about your job: “The money.”

Do you like being popular: “Yes.”

What do you eat: "Anything" and "everything."

Who’s your favorite American actress: “God, I can’t think of anybody. Pass that.”

What she likes least about her job: The long hours. “They’re tiring and I get hungry and then in the winter when you must model bathing costumes in the park. . .” she said, "in her broad cockney accent," noted Hoegemeyer. "She’s been modeling since for a year, wearing makeup since she was 15. She gets her hair cut every three weeks, 'or it gets a bit tatty.' She wore only one pair of false eyelashes yesterday. Sometimes she wears as many as five."

Her manager, Justin de Villenueve [pictured, above, with Twiggy], appeared in a brown suit, a bright orange shirt and matching pocket hankerchief. “He used to tease me – call me ‘Stick.’ Twiggy just stuck,” she said, holding Justin’s hand.

A few days later, Minneapolis Star staff writer Kristin Serum found a different angle to the Twiggy tale. The headline? Girls Bluff Way In To Talk With Twiggy. Here’s the tale:

Three local teen-agers, flashing red cards that said “Press,” bluffed their way into a carefully restricted press conference for Twiggy Friday.

Cheryl Halverson, 18, Kathy Frommer, 17, and Carol Croonquist, 17, editors of Bloomington Lincoln High School “Mah-Que,” breezed right in, through a mob of screaming teen-agers, along with reporters from Life, the Milwaukee Journal and the local media.

The Cockney mini-model’s visit to the Twin Cities is her only scheduled appearance outside of New York, and yesterday’s press conference at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport was the only opportunity for the press to meet Twiggy.

The three girls said their only real problem was finding the press room at the airport.

At one point, a representative from Dayton’s, sponsoring Twiggy’s appearance here, asked the girls who had authorized their presence.

They answered “Dayton’s” and the reply was accepted.

[For the image above, Minneapolis Star photographer William Seaman wrote, "Unidentified Girl in Crowd Glimpsed Twiggy. Some teen-agers screamed, some wept. Twiggy, the Cockney model with the walking-stick figure, caused a kaleidoscope of reactions at the Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport Friday. About 300 preteens staged a closely supervised mass hysteria. Girls sobbed, stampeded and waved signs behind a tight ring of policemen aided by Twiggy's bodyguard, 'The Monk.'"].

Their reactions to the press conference and to Twiggy were mixed.

Kathy thought Twiggy was bored, “probably because people ask her the same old questions all the time. It seemed as if she’d been drilled in what to say.”

Carol objected to public relations people from Dayton’s monopolizing the press conference. “Press conferences aren’t very organized and the people are too rude,” she said.

Cheryl, who later commented that Twiggy’s legs “look like spaghetti,” asked Twiggy how she keeps so thin.

Twiggy said it’s easy. She said she had already eaten two lunches yesterday, one at the New York airport and the other on the plane. “Oi don’t like planes though, Twiggy said.

Carol said Twiggy was “cute from the front, but not from the back.” She said she might wear some Twiggy clothes, but didn’t like the turquoise cotton velour mini-jumpsuit with matching tights that Twiggy was wearing at the press conference.

Cheryl said Twiggy’s “face is pretty, but her body doesn’t go with her face, and her false eyelashes are so heavy it’s no wonder she looked tired.”

Kathy thought the hysteria of the crowed that greeted Twiggy was “ridiculous. People are so stupid to idolize an ordinary, everyday teenager just like us. If I were her, I’d wonder how people can be so taken in.”

Twiggy called her reception in Minneapolis “fantastic. Oi’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

She said fans in the United States send her “lots of stuffed animals” but “no marriage proposals so far.”

Justin de Villeneuve, Twiggy’s boyfriend and manager, warded off a question about Twiggy’s sex life. “Ask more sensible questions or we’re wasting our time,” he said.

He also refused to answer questions concerning the amount of money the pair has collected in the United States. “Ask my lawyer,” he said. The lawyer is in London.

The three girls squeezed through the crowd of reporters and cameras to collect Twiggy’s autograph, a squiggly signature followed by several “xxx’s.”

Twiggy told them she thinks American girls dress very well, “very much like London, really.”

Friday Fish Fry: Five ideas

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant Bargains, Restaurant news Updated: March 13, 2015 - 9:51 AM

With Easter looming on the calendar, Burger Friday is taking a step away from the beef and diving headlong into variations on the traditional Friday fish fry (pictured, above: A fireside fish fry, from a 1959 Star Tribune file photo). Here are five suggestions: 

Each Friday evening at Sapor Cafe and Bar, chef Tanya Siebenaler offers a different take on the classic fish fry formula, with one exception: it’s not an all-you-can-eat situation. Last week, Siebenaler was consumed with catfish, remoulade and potato salad. This week, she’s channeling St. Patrick’s Day with beer-battered cod and hand-cut fries served with malt vinegar tartar sauce ($18). Pair it up with a pint or two of Fair State Brewing Cooperative’s oat-ey brown malt stout, brewed in northeast Minneapolis.

On Friday after 6 p.m., Cafe Maude embraces the season with a fish fry, minus the all-you-can-eat pile-on, and cooks the heck out of it. The fish is tempura-battered cod, served with sauce gribiche, a tartar-like sauce made with hard-cooked eggs, capers, pickles and dill. The russets skip the fryer and instead go the twice-blanched-then-baked route before getting a dusting of seasoning. Oh, and there’s a cabbage-carrot coleslaw, dressed with aioli. Cost: $16.50. 

True to its northern Wisconsin roots, Red Stag Supperclub puts out a doozy of a Friday fish fry, and people, there are options: single ($12) and double ($17) servings of cod, and single ($13) and double ($18) servings of walleye, all paired with potato chips, coleslaw and a divine sweet-onion tartar sauce. Don’t miss a drop of the house-made smoked ketchup when you splurge on a cone of the kitchen’s famous smelt fries ($8).

At the new North Loop iteration of Red Cow, fish-fryers can opt for a straight-up single serving ($12) or indulge in the all-you-can-eat ($15) version. It's a familiar formula: beer-batted white fish, house-cut fries.

One of the Twin Cities' great fish fries is served all day (11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) at historic Gluek’s Restaurant & Bar. Get this: Cajun-style catfish, red beans and rice, hush puppies and coleslaw, for $13.95. The kitchen's beer-battered walleye, served with a mountain of crisp fries, slaw and caper-dill tartar sauce ($10.95, a single serving), is another option.

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