The Nortons heading back to Red Wing

Five years after leaving the Staghead in Red Wing, Minn., to jump out on their own, Greg and Sarah Norton are returning to their roots. Sort of.

In 2003, the couple bought the former Lavender Rose and turned the off-the-beaten-path location -- about 5 miles east of downtown Red Wing -- into The Nortons' (W7171 135th St., Bay City, Wis.). Now, if all goes as planned, the Nortons will be re-creating their charming restaurant in downtown Red Wing, taking over a former 1950s-era JC Penney store on the city's Main Street, just around the corner from their former employer.

"It's 99 percent sure," said Greg Norton. "We've got a lot of paperwork ahead of us."

The restaurant will include a lounge and an off-sale wine shop, and lunch and dinner will be served six days a week. "We're leaning toward the 112 [Eatery] model," said Greg Norton, "half and full portions with lots of options, so people can have everything from an appetizer and a glass of wine to a full meal."

The reason for the switch is that tired-but-true real estate mantra: location, location, location. At the restaurant's current address, business rocks in the summer and fall, when tourists are following Hwy. 35 up and down the river, but it slows to a trickle come November. The couple plans to hold onto their Bay City property, possibly converting it to a banquet facility or a more seasonal operation. (Here's an excuse to visit: the restaurant's annual Fat Tuesday celebration Tuesday, which features an all-Creole/Cajun menu; for reservations, call 1-715-792-2464). The couple plans to launch the wine shop April 1, with the restaurant following two months later.

And while we're at it ...

Speaking of Mississippi River towns, there's change in the air at confluence (211 Broad St. N., Prescott, Wis.). Chef-owner Mark McGraw is handing over kitchen management to Dan Grilz, who has worked for Jim Kyndberg at Bayport Cookery and for Grant Achatz, back when the noted Chicago chef was running Trio. When he's not managing the confluence dining room and wine list, McGraw will be cooking for Steven Brown at his soon-to-open Porter & Frye (1115 2nd Av. S., Minneapolis). Grilz's first confluence menu will appear in March. "Two heads are better than one," said McGraw with a laugh. "Dan's a very talented guy, and it's tough doing this by myself."

As for the much-anticipated Porter & Frye, the opening date is up in the air. "That's the million-dollar question," said Brown. "I can't give a definite date, so there's no point in making prognostications." Will it be anywhere near the opening date set for the restaurant's host hostelry, the Hotel Ivy, which is Feb. 13? "It will be somewhere pretty close to that, but it won't be before then, let's put it that way."

Brown's opening cooking team also includes Josh Habiger (formerly of Auriga, Alinea in Chicago and Craft in New York City), Erik Andersen (Mission American Kitchen), Abraham Sanchez (112 Eatery) and pastry chef Juliette Lelchuk (Auriga).

In other hotel news, when the Westin Edina Galleria Hotel & Residences opens this fall, it will include the Twin Cities' second McCormick & Schmick's outlet.

Beer fans, take note: At Cafe Twenty Eight (2724 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis), chef Tatum Barile is hosting a six-course tasting menu Feb. 11 that will feature special-release brews from Surly Brewing Co. in Brooklyn Center. Reservations are $75; call 612-926-2800.

RICK NELSON