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Continued: Ghosts of restaurants past

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 9, 2014 - 10:29 AM

Few restaurants can claim to be the training ground for an entire generation of Twin Cities area chefs. But during its 22-year run (October 1987 to June 2009), D’Amico Cucina, owned by brothers Larry and Richard D’Amico, saw a veritable constellation of star chefs light up its payroll, including Tim McKee (La Belle Vie), Isaac Becker (112 Eatery, Bar La Grassa, Burch) Doug Flicker (Piccolo and Sandcastle), Josh Thoma (Smack Shack) and John Occhiato (Cosmos).

“So many people have come through those doors and went on to do great things,” said Richard D’Amico at the time of the restaurant’s closing in 2009. “It makes you feel good. It’s like watching your kids succeeding.”

The highly polished Italian restaurant, located in the lower level of historic Butler Square (its predecessor was another high-end groundbreaker, La Tortue), was synonymous with pampered, expense-account dining, and it flourished, for years, attracting a bold-face-name clientele and a special-occasion aura.

But tastes changed. Casual dining became more popular, and the fine-dining segment shrank. When he pulled the plug, co-owner Richard D’Amico didn’t pull any punches: “Restaurants like these are dinosaurs,” he said.

The space, within shouting distance of Target Field, remains empty.

Today’s version: Occhiato, last chef at the restaurant everyone shorthanded to “Cucina,” is now cooking a block away at the luxury-loving Cosmos (601 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-677-1100, www.cosmosrestaurant.com).

 

Forum

If there’s a room crying out for another lease on life, it’s the Forum.

One of the country’s great Art Deco wonders, it has gone through more iterations than Elizabeth Taylor had husbands. It also survived being painstakingly dismantled — to make way for City Center — and then re­assembled in that soul-sucking complex, where a parade of tenants have occupied its mint-green-and-mirrors majesty, most notably Goodfellow’s (1996-2005) and the recent Forum (2010-11).

Each passing month its glitzy chandeliers remain unilluminated seems to further cement the Forum’s reputation as a food-and-drink graveyard. But surely there is a sharp restaurateur somewhere out there who can make a success of this giddily glamorous space?

Today’s version: If historic design bona fides are what you seek, soak up the considerable scenery at Bank (88 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-656-3255, www.bankmpls.com), which occupies the gorgeous Art Moderne showcase that is the former banking lobby of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank.

 

Peter’s Grill

The lunch counter was the pre-1950s version of McDonald’s — quick service, moderate prices — although Peter’s Grill predated McDonald’s by 41 years. The restaurant spent the bulk of its life next door to Young-Quinlan on 9th Street (now, naturally, a parking lot), but by 1991 it had moved — well-worn walnut booths and curving laminate countertops in tow — to its third home.

That’s where it remained — with the exception of a short blackout, when ownership briefly changed hands, ultimately returning to the original family — until it closed for good in June, the last of the downtown lunch counters.

That final Saturday truly marked the end of an era, a farewell to uniformed waitresses and the flavors of the pre-fast-food world: turkey fricassee with dumplings, liverwurst sandwiches, cling peaches with cottage cheese and baked-daily apple pie. This is one story with a happy ending. While paper covers the windows at the former Peter’s (114 S. 8th St.), a breakfast-all-day enterprise, the Hen House Eatery, is on its way.

Today’s version: A cross between the Band Box (729 S. 10th St., Mpls., 612-332-0850), Ideal Diner (1314 Central Av. NE., Mpls., 612-789-7630) and Four Inns (101 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-291-7939, www.thefourinns.com).

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