Burch, the long-awaited project from Isaac Becker, Nancy St. Pierre and Ryan Burnet, is inching closer to its Feb. 19th opening date. (That's Becker, front, and Burnet, in the restaurant's main dining room, with the kitchen behind them).
In case you’re one of the three Twin Cities diners unaware of the goings-on at Hennepin and Franklin in Minneapolis, the restaurant occupies the ground floor and lower level of a three-story brick building that has been undergoing a dramatic, months-long rejuvenation.
It’s actually two restaurants: A steak-centric dining room and bar sprawls across the main floor, and a casual pizza-focused café occupies much of the limestone-lined basement..
Anyone with a memory of the cramped maze that was Burch Pharmacy, the previous tenant, will not recognize the space, which has been gutted and thoroughly re-imagined.
Beyond the Colfax Avenue lobby, the square footage is divided into roughly two spaces of equal size. Walk ahead into a dining room fronted by an open kitchen (featuring a showy wood-burning grill), or turn to the right and enter a second dining room, anchored by the restaurant’s bar. Total seating: 170 people.
Julie Snow Architects of Minneapolis has kept to a simple -- but not simplistic -- materials palette: dark grey stone, pale blond wood, white subway tile and glass, along with expanses of the 100-year-old building’s rough-hewn stone and brick. Even minus its furnishings and finishing touches, and with construction crews working feverishly in every corner of the building, it's easy to see that Burch is a knockout.
In the dining room-bar (above), a large portion of the floor is covered in vintage tile, discovered after peeling up untold layers of linoleum and carpet. Wouldn’t you know it? The floor’s best-preserved portions are behind the bar, where few diners will ever see it.
That wood-burning grill (above) – which throws a nose-teasing scent into the air -- will be fueled by red oak, with small amounts of cherry. It’s the delivery vehicle for the menu’s centerpiece: Steak.
The kitchen crew, including chef Danny Del Prado, have been on the premises for roughly 48 hours, breaking in the equipment and stocking up on ingredients.
“We got our first delivery from Niman Ranch yesterday,” said Becker, referring to the network of American family farms specializing in specific breeds raised in all-natural environments. “It’s so nice. I’ve never tasted better beef. I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop trying to figure out how I’m going to pay for it.”
Expect to encounter three grades of beef: grass-fed, prime and choice (the latter two being corn-fed), across a half-dozen cuts. The kitchen will also cater to diners with appetites beyond beef. One example: An array of European-style dumplings.
“I’m pretty excited about the pretzel dumplings,” Becker said.
Downstairs, a similar exhibition-style kitchen wraps itself against two walls in the mostly-square room, with a wood-burning pizza oven (above) as its centerpiece.
“We just got the crust figured out,” said Becker with a laugh. “That’s a victory for us.”
Wood booths line the other walls in the cozy 75-seat room. Antiques scavenger hunts yielded an eclectic selection of wood chairs (above). Just off the dining room, facing a busy prep kitchen, is an intentionally raw space that's slated to become a private dining room.
“We might even go an hour later,” said Becker, winner of the 2011 Best Chef: Midwest award from the James Beard Foundation. “When I would come through the neighborhood last summer, it was teeming with people. It might have more of a late-night scene than downtown.”