Let's talk food, from restaurants and recipes to farmers markets, food issues and wine. Lee Svitak Dean, Rick Nelson, Kim Ode and Bill Ward will start the conversation.

Now open: Bogart's Doughnut Co.

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Openings + closings, Restaurant news Updated: May 29, 2014 - 2:52 PM

I’m not sure how long the doors had been open, but when I arrived at Bogart’s Doughnut Co. at 7:02 this morning, there were five people in line ahead of me, and six drool-worthy varieties of doughnuts were filling the cases stretching under an elegant white marble counter.

Owner Anne Rucker appeared from around the corner, a tray lined with vanilla bean cream-filled doughnuts in her arms. The woman in front of me recognized her and said what we were all thinking.

“I’ve been driving by every day this week, hoping to see that you were open,” she said with a laugh. She had her Walker residence employee name badge hanging around her neck – it’s located a few blocks to the south – and she told Rucker, “Welcome to the neighborhood. We’ll all be coming over. A lot.”

Shoppers at the Kingfield Farmers Market will recognize Rucker, an attorney who has followed her passion for baking, first with a popular market stand she calls Bogart Loves (from her middle name, and her grandmother’s maiden name) and now this tiny, gleaming white doughnuts-and-coffee shop at 36th and Bryant in south Minneapolis.

Like all great doughnut shops, I smelled the goodness long before I walked in the door. Rucker’s trademark brioche doughnuts, glistening with sugar and the very definition of fried-dough perfection, were filled with Nutella or a vanilla bean cream, or smeared in glazes, either brown butter or vanilla bean. Cake doughnuts were either lavender-scented or done up in rich chocolate. Prices run $2 (for the cake doughnuts and the glazed brioche doughnuts) and $3 (for the filled brioche doughnuts).

Rucker is trying to open quietly – a near-impossibility in today’s social media world – with a grand opening scheduled for Friday. Doors stay open, “until we run out,” she said. That was around noon on Wednesday, her first unofficial day of business.

Bake this cookie!

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Baking, Recipes Updated: May 30, 2014 - 2:40 PM

People, bake these cookies. Today.

Armed with the knowledge of my interest in cookie-baking, my colleague Kim Ode appeared at my desk, tempting me with "something I thought you would find interesting," she said. And how.

She handed me a catalogue-sized teaser from publisher Simon & Schuster, a promotion piece for the upcoming cookbook by the inventor of the Cronut, Dominique Ansel.

It's unclear if the recipe for the nation's most talked-about pastry (a kind of doughnut-croissant smash-up) will be included in "Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes." While the publisher's sneak peak includes the book's table of contents, and a subhead under Chapter 3 reads "The Real Cronut Lesson," my guess is that it doesn't reveal trade secrets. After all, the Cronut portion of Ansel's bakery's website is peppered with words like "proprietary" and "registered trademark." 

Not that this home baker is particularly interested. The prospect of deep-frying laminated dough in my kitchen triggers the kind of anxiety I normally associate with watching Shelley Duvall cope with Jack Nicholson in "The Shining," so I'll leave that daunting task to the professionals, and enjoy -- from afar -- the ritual where fanatics queue up for hours outside Ansel's New York City bakery for a crack at the Cronut. 

No, we didn't discuss the scalpers' market that has mushroomed in the wake of such insane demand. As former New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams would famously say, "Only in New York, kids, only in New York."

Instead, Kim directed my attention to the flyer's last two inside pages, which feature a recipe for a flourless chocolate cookie with pecans. Cronut, schmonut; one glance and I knew that I'd be first in line to buy Ansel's book upon its October release.

The pictures certainly captured my attention -- truly, they epitomize hard-core food porn -- but the clincher was the author's comment at the top of the recipe, which reads, "I love making this recipe. . .because of its forgiving nature and utterly addictive results."

Yeah: Easy. Fabulous. And chocolate. Three of the best motivators for composing a shopping list. 

I don't recall the last time that a rookie whirl through a recipe went so well, with so little effort. No electric mixer required, just a whisk. Sure, you'll need a double-boiler, but a rudimentary one suffices (I used a mixing bowl and a saucepan). As for the formula, it's the drop cookie at its most fundamental.

And wow, what results. I was bowled over by the cookie's intensely chocolate-ey flavor, which starts as a heavy perfume before it gets near your taste buds. Its gooey texture comes as close to voluptuous as a cookie can get. In contrast to all that melty chocolate is the barest, faintest trace of a crispy exterior. The way it collapses in your mouth is almost meringue-like.

Ansel -- who won the James Beard Foundation's coveted Outstanding Pastry Chef award earlier this month -- wisely suggests serving the cookies warm. “A glass of milk helps,” he writes.

But eating them in their not-warm state isn't exactly shabby. It's a fairly perishible cookie, lasting about two days when stored at room temperature. Not that I can imagine a batch of them hanging around that long.

I was also immediately drawn into the essay that preceded the recipe. Ansel, a Frenchman, was baffled by this country's affection for the cookie. "I had never been to America, and I had yet to taste a cookie I actually liked," he wrote, describing how, at the neighborhood bakery of his youth, his peers preferred croissants or eclairs over cookies.

"Yet somehow an ocean away, there was an entire nation that shared a genuine and unanimous love for this one triumphant product," he wrote. "No single pastry in France unites the people in the same way."

He goes on to describe his cookie-related lightbulb moment, which came from polling his American customers on their cookie habits. He concluded that everyone's favorite cookies weren't the ones that they purchased, but the ones they've baked themselves.

"For many of these people, cookies were the very first things they'd baked as children," he wrote. "These people were no longer merely tasting the flavors; they were tasting a moment in time."

Nice, right? He concludes by describing the first cookies he baked in the United States; they sound quite a bit like these flourless chocolate lovelies. Not only can the guy bake, he's also a compelling storyteller.

As for baking tips, Ansel offers a few. The dough can be refrigerated for up to three days, or frozen for up to a week. For the latter, defrost the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking.

Pay close attention during the chocolate-melting step. “If even a drop of water gets into the chocolate, it seizes and turns grainy," Ansel wrote. "Double-check that all equipment is dry, and the bowl sits well above the rim of the pot to avoid the steam.”

There are two reasons why this is a prepare-the-day-before recipe. Initially, the dough feels more like a batter, so much so that you'll wonder, this is going to turn into cookies? Fear not. An overnight firming-up period in the refrigerator takes care of the problem.

But there's a second textural issue, one that comes into play once the cookies come out of the oven. "It’s great to make sure your ingredients are mixed well, but too much mixing overworks the dough and causes it to become tough," Ansel writes. "That’s why many great recipes call for a period for the dough to rest.”

I have a few suggestions. Next time I make these cookies (which will probably roll around in the next few days because, yes, they ranked that high on the Delicious-O-Meter), I'm going to toast the pecans. (Here's how: Place pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat and cook, shaking the pan often, until the nuts begin to release their fragrance, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.)

The recipe's directions call for forming balls from roughly 3 1/2 tablespoons of dough. That's a big cookie. Even when they're completely cooled, these cookies don't hold together terribly well, and I'm guessing that reducing their heft will make them easier to handle. Which is why next time, rather than using a 3-tablespoon scoop. I'm going to reach for the 2 tablespoon scoop.

You'll need roughly 15 ounces of dark chocolate. I bought two 10-ounce bags of Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking chips at my neighborhood Lunds, at $3.99 per bag. I'll use the remaining five ounces for the next batch. But I'll probably test-drive the bittersweet chocolate chips that are sold in the bulk section at Seward Co-op.

Although Ansel doesn't mention this factoid anywhere in the recipe, this is a gluten-free cookie. Maybe the best gluten-free cookie I've ever made, although, let's face it, the competition isn't exactly Olympian. If gluten-free is an important characteristic, be sure you’re using the proper baking powder. Some baking powders contain flour, so note that the package is clearly labeled “gluten-free” before using. Corn starch is gluten-free.


Makes about 16 to 20 cookies.

Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. From pastry chef Dominique Ansel, a preview from his upcoming cookbook, “Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes” (Simon & Schuster).

2 c. dark chocolate chips (over 60 percent cocoa content), divided

3 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 c. sugar

3 tbsp. corn starch

3/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

3 eggs

4 tbsp. pecans, roughly chopped


Fill a saucepan with about 2 inches of water over medium heat and let it come to a simmer. Place a stainless steel bowl on top of the simmering water (making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water) and add 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips. Stir slowly with a spatula to ensure that chocolate chips are completely melted before turning off heat.

In a separate microwave-proof bowl, melt butter in microwave oven. Stir melted butter into melted chocolate. Keep mixture warm over double boiler with heat turned off.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, corn starch, baking powder and salt.

Add eggs and whisk until fully incorpoated and batter resembles the consistency of pancake batter, making sure you incorporate any dry ingredients that may have settled on the bottom or side of bowl, using a spatula or scraper if necessary.

Slowly whisk in melted chocolate and butter mixture (if chocolate-butter mixture cools and begins to solidify, gently reheat it over the double boiler before incorporating).

Using a spatula, gently fold remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips, as well as pecans, into the batter. 

Cover batter tightly with plastic wrap, pressing wrap to cover surface of batter. Refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using your hands or a scoop, break dough into pieces roughly the size of your palm (about 3 1/2 tablespoons). Roll dough into balls. Place balls at least 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using the palm of your hand, gently press the tops of the dough, forming it into a thick disk.

Bake in the oven’s middle rack until cookies are just beginning to crack on top but the dough is set on the edge and has a soft spot in the center (about the size of a quarter), about 8 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool on baking sheets until cookies further set, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve warm, or carefully slide parchment paper onto a wire rack and cool cookies completely.

Tim McKee opening Libertine in Uptown

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: May 27, 2014 - 2:27 PM

Big news: Tim McKee has another restaurant on the horizon. The very near horizon. Minnesota’s first James Beard award-winning chef is converting the former Uptown Cafeteria into Libertine.

Four-year-old Cafeteria – officially titled Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group -- served its last meal on Monday. Well, the street-level portion of the Calhoun Square property, anyway; its crazy-popular rooftop Sky Bar is remaining open during the transition.

And it’s a fast one: McKee has set July 16 as the re-opening date. McKee is directing the project in his capacity as a partner and vice president of culinary direction for Parasole Restaurant Holdings, Cafeteria’s parent company.

“It’s 100 percent my idea, as if I’m opening a restaurant, but with someone else’s money,” he said.

The concept? “I wanted a place that could function similar to a steakhouse,” said McKee. “Where people in their twenties and thirties can get a modern steakhouse experience for a reasonable price. This is not going to be Manny’s,” a reference to Parasole’s upscale beef palace in downtown Minneapolis.

The menu’s nucleus is a return to classic butcher cuts. “We’ll be serving cuts you can’t find anywhere else,” said McKee. “They have great flavor, you’re just going to have to chew a little more. I went to a restaurant in Dublin a year and a half ago, and they were treating off cuts like prime cuts, and I thought it was genius.”

In other words, forget about the filet. “I have no interest in the filet,” he said. “There’s no fat, there’s no flavor.”

Instead, the beef roster will feature such little-known cuts as the feather blade (from the cow’s shoulder blade), the onglet (a center-cut strip, resembling a filet), the point (a triangular cut from the rump) and the kitchen’s signature, a short rib that’s grilled at a super-high heat. McKee encountered it during a recent scouting trip to Argentina, where he discovered that it’s that beef-crazed country’s favorite cut.

“It has more chew, but it delivers on flavor,” he said. “It’s primal, it’s less refined. Let’s face it, you’re not going to go to a steakhouse and get a $17-to-$19 cut. This is easy on the budget.”

On the pork side of the equation, there will be ham steaks and a lightly smoked Berkshire pork chop, its generous fat cap still intact (“You forget that pork chops can taste that good,” he said), and on the lamb side there will be sausages, ribs and a deeply flavorful saddle chop (two side-by-side porterhouses, with the belly in between), which at $24 will be the menu’s most expensive item.

McKee said he had to turn to three separate sources to supply the menu’s various cuts. “Where do you find a great pork chop?” he said. “I’d say that you go to a butcher shop, but they’re aren’t any, and that’s the problem.”

Naturally, there’s going to be a house steak sauce, formulated with hints of plum, allspice, Worcestershire and garlic. “It’s our version of A.1., which is what any good steak sauce should be,” said McKee. There’s also a house-made Sriracha sauce.

There will be burgers, too (in beef, lamb or pork), along with a small seafood roster (grilled prawns, cedar-planked salmon) and fried chicken, along with oysters, imported from both coasts and served four ways: raw, in shots (the watermelon margarita and the cucumber-gin fizz both sound particularly intriguing), charbroiled and fried.

The rest of the menu will include a half-dozen salads and a handful of starters, including crispy pig’s ears with a fried egg, steak tartare with a quail egg and tuna poke tacos.

The street-level portion of the restaurant is undergoing a quick cosmetic renovation. “Nothing structural,” said McKee. “We’re going to give it much more of a bar feel. There’s a lot of shiny and bright in here right now, and it won’t be that. And yeah, it’s probably going to be loud.”

The existing dining room is going to shrink. A portion is being converted into overflow space – behind large iron doors -- that can double as a private dining area.

The restaurant’s wall of glass garage doors, which front Lake Street, aren’t going anywhere, but the homage-to-Howard-Johnson’s color scheme is history. Chrome will be replaced with steel, wood and a more timeless color palette.

In that out-with-the-old mode, there will be new furniture, too, primarily bench seating at picnic-style tables. “It’s going to be modern and comfortable,” he said.

Fans of the hallway lined in brightly colored plastic cafeteria trays are going to be disappointed to learn that they’re going away. “Do you want one?”  McKee said with a laugh.

The kitchen counter is disappearing, but the current bar configuration will continue. Its 20 taps are staying; four will feature ciders, and the remaining will be devoted to national craft beers (“the best we can find,” he said) and six to eight local labels.

(A little-known fact about Tim McKee: He likes his beer local, and iconic. “Everyone who knows me knows my favorite beer is Grain Belt Premium,” he said. “We want to sell great craft beers as well as a can of PBR for $3.”)

Cocktails are being devised by longtime McKee collaborator Johnny Michaels. The bar will also feature a variety of whiskeys, purchased by the barrel and sold in $3 shots.

The kitchen will be supervised on a daily basis by chef Steve Hesse, a veteran at Masu (another McKee  project) and its parent company, Sushi Avenue. His resume also includes stints at the St. Paul Grill and at Macy’s, where he opened restaurant concepts for the department store all over the country.

By his tally, Libertine marks the 10th restaurant concept that McKee has created in his career. “That’s if you count La Belle Vie twice,” he said, meaning the original from the late 1990s in Stillwater, and the current iteration in the 510 Groveland building in Minneapolis. “Which is fair, because they’re two very different restaurants.”

The last was Masu, and before that it was Sea Change. At Parasole, he’s constantly tweaking menus at the company’s properties, including the Good Earth, Chino Latino, Pittsburgh Blue, Salut Bar Americain, Mozza Mia, Muffuletta and Burger Jones. And of course he oversees his own properties: Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque in Stillwater, and La Belle Vie.

As for pulling the plug on Cafeteria, McKee takes a glass-half full approach.

“I wouldn’t say that the restaurant didn’t work,” he said. “Cafeteria did $3.5 million in sales last year, and that’s winning by all kinds of measures. But this is an expensive location, and maybe $3.5 million isn’t enough. We’re viewing this as an opportunity, to do something meaningful and special.”

Why Libertine? “I like the idea, and not in the Marquis de Sade kind of way,” he said with a laugh. “But in the do-as-you-like sense of the word.”

Burger Friday: Chef Shack Ranch

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: May 26, 2014 - 7:17 AM

The burger: Can we all take a moment and pay our respects to the demise of the phenomenal brioche hamburger bun -- a.k.a. the "milk-bread bun" -- from the Salty Tart? Michelle Gayer, the bakery’s James Beard-nominated owner, is getting out of the wholesale bun business, which may be the single most depressing news on the local dining front since chef Peter Ireland turned out the lights at the Lynn on Bryant.

It’s tough enough getting out of bed in the morning knowing that we live in a world without the Lynn on Bryant’s magnificent apple cider doughnuts; that those insanely buttery brioche buns will no longer be gracing burgers at select Twin Cities restaurants is almost too much for my psyche to absorb.

“It’s devastating,” said Chef Shack co-owner Lisa Carlson. She speaks from experience. Between her various food truck and restaurant operations, Chef Shack customers can consume 300 Salty Tart buns over the span of a week.

I was enjoying the bison burger at Carlson’s Chef Shack Ranch on Thursday night, and thanking my lucky stars that Carlson and co-Shack-er Carrie Summer now have a Minneapolis bricks-and-mortar setup to complement their mobile fleet. Gazing at that gleaming, absurdly golden bun was both joyous and heartbreaking. The former because, well, just look at it. And the latter because I knew that it was probably my last. Cue “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Carlson said that when she heard that Gayer was pulling the brioche plug, she ordered as many as she could get her hands on. “And I’m down to the last of them,” she said. Job one on her to-do list: Find a replacement, as if one exists. “I’m open to suggestions,” she said with a laugh.

At least I my last shot at the soft, rich-tasting, egg-washed goodness of the Salty Tart milk-bread bun came as a part of a tops-in-its-class burger.  

Carlson subs out bison – naturally lean and surprisingly juicy -- for beef, forming thick, knobbly-edged patties. The meat, super-seasoned, is taken to a just-right, flavorful char. What also makes this burger stand out is Carlson's gifted way with garnishes. For starters, there’s a cautiously fried egg, its near-creamy white a vivid contrast to an oozy yolk so vividly caution-sign yellow that it’s obvious it came from a lovingly-tended chicken.  

McDonald’s should recruit Carlson for a stint at the company’s Hamburger U, because she could teach the world’s largest burger operation a thing or two about refining ketchup, pickles and the kind of Thousand Island-inspired sauce that the Golden Arches has been using on its Big Macs for forever. Oh, and she could conduct a master class on the importance of crisp, ultra-fresh lettuce, as well as a tutorial on rooting out off-season tomatoes that still manage to form a semblance of their in-season counterparts.

Yes, the payoff is in the details, and this is one expertly detailed burger. Next up: Convincing Carlson and Summer to open their doors more than three nights a week. This is a burger that needs -- correction, demands -- a wider audience.

Price: $15, and worth it.

Fries: Included, and outstanding, another example of the goodness that happens when a skilled chef embraces a humble, all-American icon.  

Hope for the future: If you’re thinking that you’ll run to the Midtown Global Market and pick up a six-pack of Salty Tart milk-bread buns for your Memorial Day weekend burgers-on-the-grill-fest, lose that thought. Both wholesale and retail milk-bread bun sales are history.

“They’re gone for good,” said Gayer. “That is, until Michelle starts up her own burger concept. There’s a plan for the milk-bread bun, and it’s all mine.”

Their demise is primarily an operations issue. “We’re just not set up to be a production bakery,” said Gayer. But there's another factor at play.

“I don’t love making them,” she said. "And I’m not interested in doing anything I don’t love, not anymore.”

Breads will remain in the bakery’s rotation. “We’ll still have the baguette, the beer bread, all those breads that we do for the farmers market, and we’ll be making breads for our sandwiches,” Gayer said.

Meanwhile, goodbye milk-bread buns, and a big-old hello to fruit pies. At least at the Salty Tart’s new stand at the Tuesday and Saturday iterations of the Midtown Farmers Market. “I’m trying to build a pie culture,”  said Gayer. “Yeah, pie culture. Doesn’t that sound great?”

It sure does, especially when it also involves the word rhubarb, which is the theme of this Saturday’s market. Rhubarb is also the featured attraction at the bakery’s Saturday morning stand at the Mill City Farmers Market, in the form of galettes. Don’t miss them.

Back at the Ranch: Don’t feel like a burger? Consider Carlson’s “Big Boy Ranch Plate,” a comes-in-two-sizes platter ($15 for gigantic and $25 for a Fred Flintstone-like portion) weighed down by sublime pulled pork, slabs of smoky, fall-apart beef brisket, a zinger of a sausage and a parade of sides, including knobbly-on-the-oustide, beyond-tender-on-the-inside biscuits, and practically-perfect-in-every-way baked beans.

Address book: 3025 E. Franklin Av., Minneapolis, 612-354-2575. Open 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

Now Re-Opened: Birchwood Cafe

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: May 20, 2014 - 3:28 PM

Oh, happy day: The Birchwood Cafe is back in business.

The Seward neighborhood restaurant, a magnet for diners across the Twin Cities, has been closed since Feb. 22 while undergoing a facelift and much-needed expansion.

I arrived this morning shortly after the doors opened at 7 a.m.. After I ordered and took a seat, a customer – turns out, he’s been a Birchwood-er almost since the day the place debuted in 1995 – strolled in and took a look around.

General manager Rick Oknick greeted him like a long-lost friend with a gregarious “How are you?” “I’m a whole lot better,” said the customer, “now that I can have breakfast here again.”  

My feelings, exactly. I’ve been an obsessive social media gazer for the past several days, trying to discern when owner Tracy Singleton and her business partner Steve Davidson were going to finally open the doors. As each day passed, my hunger for a savory waffle (more on that in a moment) was beginning to know no bounds.

Other diners began to slowly trickle in, all obvious regulars who seemed relieved to recognize their old friend. “We didn’t want it to be too shiny,” said chef Marshall Paulsen. “We still wanted it to feel like the Birchwood. I think we’ve been successful.”

Indeed. It's lovely to see how the black-and-white photos of Cy and Del Bursch and the Birchwood Dairy delivery truck continue to enjoy their pride of place (the Bursch family was the 88-year-old building’s original tenants, a neighborhood grocery and dairy). And diners are greeted by the same Zen meal prayer, which articulates the restaurant’s locavore mindset: “Enumerable measures bring us this food, we should know how it comes to us.”

A few local outfits were tapped for eye-catching and environmentally friendly materials. Walls and counters are faced with reclaimed wood  from Wood from the Hood, and Rust Brothers used recycled glass to fashion the bright green countertops. Tables, built by a Twin Cities craftsman, boast honey-colored Douglas fir that was salvaged from a California lemon warehouse.

Despite a similar front-of-house footprint between the B’wood’s two iterations, Locus Architecture has somehow managed to make the new dining room feel roomier. It helps that the kitchen – the showiest part of it, anyway – is now open for all to see, and it’s fronted by a communal chef’s table.

Yes, a communal table – one of three, as it turns out -- in the personal space-conscious Gopher State. “If it will work anywhere, it will work in Seward,” said Davidson with a laugh.

A not-insignificant chunk of the building’s addition is dedicated to a much-needed overflow dining space/community room, separated from the main dining area by a sliding barn-style door.

One wall (lined in – what else? -- birch bark), will soon display the names of the nearly 1,000 contributors to the restaurant’s $112,126 Kickstarter campaign. The room also features a projection television and a large screen, "for the Tour de France,” said Singleton, reminding me that the restaurant is a magnet for bicyclists. On a beautiful summer's day, It’s not uncommon to see the sidewalk lined with enough racing bikes to stock a bicycle store's going-out-of-business sale.

The counter-service setup remains the same, although it feels easier to navigate. One restroom has blossomed into two. But the most significant changes won’t be seen by most customers, although they’ll probably sense them, because the Birchwood kitchen just got a whole lot more efficient. Think about trading up from a dorm-room toaster oven to two or three eight-burner, two-oven Viking ranges, and you’ll have a sense of the transformation's scale.

While I waited for my waffle, Singleton snuck me backstage. First stop: the dishwashing room. “It’s probably the same size as the old kitchen,” she said, and she’s not exaggerating. After producing breads and sweets offsite for several years, the bakers are back in the building, and the scent was killing me, in a very good way. A new walk-in cooler appears to be about as large as my living room (its much more diminuitive predecessor is now dedicated to beer storage) and a walk-in freezer will efficiently preserve the harvest from the nearly three-dozen farms that supply the kitchen with much of its inventory.

The renovation has also boosted the restaurant’s sustainability credentials. Outside, a muddy mess behind the restaurant will soon bloom into a rain garden, with space for cultivating herbs and vegetables. Solar panels are headed to the roof, and a grant from Hennepin County will finance the construction of an on-site recycling facility.  

As for my breakfast, it was astonishingly delicious. One of Paulsen’s specialties is his savory waffle, and he’s flexing the reborn restaurant's muscles with a real doozy. Quinoa and garden-fresh spring peas are folded into the batter, and when the beyond-tender results are released from the iron, out come the toppings:crunchy petipas, a tangy lemon compound butter, thick snips of smoky bacon and a finger-on-the-seasonal-pulse dollop of rhubarb marmalade.

A pepper-freckled fried egg, its runny yolk anxiously waiting to break out of its gently cooked white, was the crowning glory, and a small pitcher of fragrant maple syrup added the just-right finishing touch. Price? Twelve dollars. So worth it.

Would that all mornings could start this way. Imagine my happiness when I learned that, for the first time, it's being served all the live-long day, and not just at breakfast.

Hello, savory waffle. It has been far too long.


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