Counter intelligence: Travail relocating in Robbinsdale

  • Article by: BY RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 21, 2012 - 6:41 AM

The popular restaurant is also experimenting with a version of reservations.

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Travail chef and co-owner Mike Brown.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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From the day it opened two years ago, reservations and Travail Kitchen and Amusements (4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131) have been two mutually exclusive entities.

No longer. The wildly popular restaurant started testing its version of a reservation system this week, setting aside a dozen seats during prime time for a Travail-style bacchanal, at $125 per person, plus gratuity.

The format is a mash-up of the current a la carte menu, eight-course tasting menu ($60-$70) and 15-course tasting menu ($115), with as many extra bells and whistles as desired, or not.

"We'll just cook for you, if that's what you want," said Mike Brown, co-chef/co-owner. "It's basically all you can eat, and all you can drink."

(One note: The restaurant will be closed for the holidays, from Sunday until Jan. 9).

Also, after months of planning, it's almost certain that Travail will be moving. Not far.

"I could literally hit it with a rock, it's that close," said Brown, referring to a now-dilapitated downtown Robbinsdale building three doors to the south of the restaurant's current location. Otogawa-Anschel of Minneapolis is handling the design work, and Brown hopes that the six-month construction project will start in the spring. If all goes as planned, the structure will be demolished and replaced with a new, eco-friendly facility, making use of salvaged materials and incorporating a rooftop garden.

Travail 2.0 will be roughly twice as large as its predecessor, with a central kitchen designed to serve the restaurant's uniquely collaborative and interactive cooking style. A 50-seat dining room -- slightly smaller than the current configuration -- will be supplemented by a new format: a casual (and still unnamed) 60-seat bar/lounge serving lunch, dinner, snacks and possibly weekend brunch, plus a full phalanx of artisanal cocktails.

"We want to get the neighborhood back," said Brown. "When we opened, this was Robbinsdale's hot spot, and the people living around here were our main support." Then the crowds descended, and a drop-in could mean a two-hour wait.

"I want the neighborhood to be able to be able to hang out and watch the game on TV over a burger and fries or our rendition of the Reuben," he said.

After being limited to serving beer and wine, a full liquor license is an exciting prospect.

"I'm so jealous of the people who get to make cocktails every day," said Brown. "Mixing a cocktail is just like cooking. I can't wait to start playing with this stuff, it's so cool."

North Loop newcomer

Two Travail alums -- Nick O'Leary and Tyler Shipton -- are the cooking team behind the soon-to-open Borough (730 Washington Av. N., Mpls.). In their 80-seat, dinner-only dining room, the young duo (O'Leary is 32, Shipton turns 29 in a few weeks) is promising small plates supplemented by a handful of entree-size options.

"I don't want to brand ourselves, but it will be contemporary American, and we'll change the menu seasonally," said O'Leary.

The restaurant's lower level will feature a lounge -- a new habitat for cocktail maestro Jesse Held -- and a snacks-and-dessert menu.

Having two chefs in the kitchen is definitely an asset, said Shipton. "It's kind of like a marriage," he said with a laugh. "But it's always better to have that second opinion on things." O'Leary concurs. "The days of the overlord chef are coming to an end," he said.

The restaurant opens Jan. 2.

RICK NELSON

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