REVIEW: A transplanted Vermont chef sets up a great-looking shop in south Minneapolis. Are there more chefs like him?
The Twin Cities area has more than its share of local-chefs-made-good stories, but the culinary scene has also prospered from the fresh perspectives and enviable skills brought here by gifted out-of-towners.
Including Peter Ireland. The Vermont native cooked for big-name chefs in Chicago, New York and France — then ran his own acclaimed restaurant, Carpenter & Main, in his hometown of Norwich, Vt. — before relocating to Minneapolis (where his wife, Rebecca, was enrolled in law school) and opening the Lynn on Bryant.
The name is a reference to the surrounding Lynnhurst neighborhood. That only seems right, since the Lynn is billed as a neighborhood restaurant, and its breakfast-lunch-dinner format bears that out. But with Ireland at the helm, it’s also so much more.
Man, this guy can cook. The menu is tightly focused. At dinner, it’s just six appetizers and as many entrees, which could feel limited, but doesn’t. What makes the Lynn such a remarkable dining experience is Ireland’s intrinsic ability to subtly manipulate and balance outcomes up and down the continuums of flavor and texture: bitter-sweet, tangy-mellow, crispy-silky; all masterfully exploited.
Pan-seared chicken — seriously, I’m stifling a yawn as I type those words because the results are often so forgettable — becomes, in Ireland’s astute hands, a must-order dish. He starts with a well-raised bird (from all-natural Kadejan in Glenwood, Minn.), brining it in honey and salt, then nurturing it on the stove until the meat is sublimely juicy and the skin is scrupulously crisp, with each bite revealing the aromatic qualities of a meticulous butter-garlic-thyme baste. Bacon lays on additional salty-savory tones, and pearl onions absorb pan juices until they melt like an ice cube on your tongue.
Or how about pork tenderloin? Ireland coaxes out qualities rarely revealed in this unexciting cut, roasting it to fork-tender perfection. Apricot and butternut squash gently dial up the heritage breed’s inherent sweetness, which is in turn offset by the nuanced bitterness of braised endive. More bacon spreads its smoky goodness via tiny, colorful Brussels sprouts. Truly, what a spectacular dish.
When he’s not conjuring up ways to insert bacon into, well, nearly everything, Ireland has a keen sense for pleasing vegetarians. Kañiwa, a nutty, quinoa-like South American grain-like seed, is simmered in a garlic broth and wrapped in chard to become the centerpiece of an ingenious and artful array of salsify, sunchokes, radishes and carrots, each prepared and presented differently. Talk about a thousand moving parts; each order has to initiate a tremendously complicated series of tasks, yet, like so much that comes out of this kitchen, it looks — and tastes — effortless.
That Ireland is no solo act is evident when whirling through other painstakingly prepared dinner highlights, including a coarse pork liver mousse/poached chicken pâté, garlicky escargots, trout and wild rice unconventionally (and winningly) paired with prunes, and a supremely flaky crust encasing creamy potatoes and finely chopped mushrooms.
After one particularly enjoyable meal, my imagination went into overdrive. Just think how the local dining landscape will prosper when the Lynn’s kitchen crew inevitably strikes out on their own, passing along the craft they picked up from Ireland, just as he is channeling the education he received from his mentors. It’s a phenomenon that has been slowly but surely happening in restaurants all over the Twin Cities, and it’s one reason why our eating-and-drinking scene is earning national acclaim.
Drop in, dine well
Meanwhile, the everyday side of the restaurant is similarly appealing in its simplicity. Cod, cured for 10 days and then poached in milk, is blended with potatoes, formed into cakes and fried until the crisp outer shell collapses into sigh-inducing creaminess. The French fries are similarly first-rate.
A lower-priced option to that chicken is a fantastic duck leg confit, so rich and mellow and delicious. I’m semi-addicted to the burger, a sterling example of All-American excess and served on a terrific house-baked English muffin. Those who want to be schooled in the proper way to prepare a croque monsieur or croque madame need only get themselves to 50th and Bryant.
In the not-just-for-vegetarians department, there’s a plate of pillowy gnocchi, bathed in a luxurious Gruyère sauce. Soups receive the attention they deserve. A lunchtime stew of carrots and lentils, cast with a slight vinegar perfume, shares a plate with feathery frisée, a runny poached egg and — what else? — bacon. It’s the personification of cold-weather comfort food, minus the heaviness.
Pastry chef Abby Boone embraces her boss’ knack for reinvigorating the familiar. In her hands, the done-to-death warm chocolate cake becomes a revelation, its intense bite tempered by the lusciousness of a butterscotch ice cream. Premium components elevate a vanilla ice cream sundae from GED to Ph.D., and the offbeat sorbets (celery root!) transport taste buds to exciting destinations. Even Boone’s cookie plate, that trendiest of on-trend desserts, is cast anew, with its still-warm madeleines, beautifully executed Florentines and sablés and bitter, cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles.
As for the crisply contemporary setting, designer Molly Reichert of Peterssen/Keller in Minneapolis follows Ireland’s example and does a lot with a little. The Lynn is housed in a year-old building (its predecessor was destroyed in a 2010 fire), yet in scale and appearance it barely resembles its formulaic new-construction counterparts.
The kitchen bisects a skinny storefront, carving up space for two intimate, conversation-friendly spaces: a sunny, casual cafe up front and a more formal, let’s-make-a-reservation dining room in the back. Concrete floors, pale oak furnishings and white walls contrast with well-placed pops of vivid color (for paint chip enthusiasts, the cherry is Benjamin Moore’s “Red”) and weathered barn planks, repurposed from southern Minnesota farms.
Another clever touch is the modern/vintage art installation that masquerades as a light source for the windowless rear dining room. It’s fabricated with backlit plexiglass, wood slats and colorful, hive-shaped glass cones; turns out they’re antique utility pole insulators, found on Craigslist. It’s Reichert’s first restaurant, and here’s hoping that it’s far from her last.