Blue Plate expanding to the North Loop

To reinforce the notion that Minneapolis’ North Loop is Restaurant Real Estate Central, the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. has signed a lease at 701 Washington Av. N.

The company, which operates the Longfellow Grill and the Lowry in Minneapolis, Scusi in St. Paul and 3 Squares in Maple Grove, among other popular restaurants, plans to open a 220-plus seat breakfast-lunch-dinner-brewpub.

Yes, brewpub.

“The demand is there,” said Blue Plate co-owner Stephanie Shimp. “We sit here in this wonderful area with all of these great breweries, but I look at our market compared to Denver, or Portland, and we’re really underrepresented.”

The plan is to start with three or four brews, growing up to 10. From there, Shimp said they hope to increase capacity, to sell growlers and supply some of the company’s other properties. Shimp and business partner Dave Burley are close to selecting a brewmaster.

Long lead times for high-demand brewing equipment are pushing the restaurant’s opening date into early fall.

Shimp is promising the same kind of eclectic, modern-diner menu found at the Lowry.

“A lot of other brewpubs do food as an afterthought,” she said “We’re going to be food-forward.”

The restaurant will occupy the first-floor annex of the historic Loose-Wiles building, which was most recently occupied by the architecture firm HGA and was once a commercial bakery, the home of Sunshine Biscuits.

The Minneapolis office of Gensler is designing the project, which Shimp describes as “industrial yet luxurious.” An outdoor area, complete with mature Imperial honeylocust trees (a lovely holdover from the building’s HGA days), “pretty much screams ‘patio,’” said Shimp. Another bonus: Parking, a neighborhood rarity.

As for the North Loop, “it’s our demographic,” said Shimp. “It’s a cool, hip place to be. I love the mix. You’ve got Bunker’s across the street from Bar La Grassa, and the area is really filling in with housing. And aside from Moose & Sadie’s — which is counter service and I love, it’s yummy — there’s really no breakfast in the neighborhood.”

No name yet, but it will be Blue Plate’s eighth restaurant. Its first, the Highland Grill (771 Cleveland Av. S., St. Paul,, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a Summit Beer happy hour — meet brewery founder Mark Stutrud — from 3 to 5 p.m. on March 14.

Freebie alert

Don Saunders, chef/owner of In Season and the Kenwood, will step in the spotlight at Thursday’s chef-in-residence event at Gather (1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., at the Walker Art Center. From 5 to 9 p.m., enjoy free samples of Saunders’ mussels steamed in a pistou broth and raw hamachi garnished with pineapple and yuzu. Another bonus: the happy hour (5 to 7 p.m.) menu of $5 cocktails and small plates. Admission to the museum is also free on Thursday evenings.

Planning ahead

It’s not too early to make Easter brunch reservations. Here’s an idea: Five Scandinavian-inspired courses by chef Ryan Stechschulte at the Nicollet Island Inn (95 Merriam St., Mpls., Reservations $38, call 612-331-1800.