Stewart and Heidi Woodman are turning to the Lyn-Lake neighborhood for the next iteration of their restaurant.
Heidi's fans who were hoping that the top-rated restaurant, which went up in smoke in a devastating Feb. 18 fire, would return to its home at 50th Street and Bryant Avenue S. in southwest Minneapolis, get ready for some disappointing news: It's not happening. It never was.
The good news? Owners Stewart and Heidi Woodman will be cooking soon, as they have finally landed a new location. It's the former Vera's Cafe (2903 Lyndale Av. S.) in the busy Lyn-Lake neighborhood.
On the day of the fire, the couple's insurance adjuster leveled with them. "He said that the reality was that it was a serious fire, and that sorting it all out would take a long time," said Stewart Woodman. "What he told us was, 'You lost that location today.' That was one of the saddest things, coming to terms with losing our neighbors."
The next day, the hunt was on. After scouting more sites than they could possibly count -- including coming close to signing the former downtown Minneapolis home of Cafe Brenda -- the Woodmans have come full circle, returning to the Vera's site, one they originally fell in love with but ultimately wasn't available. It was a happenstance journey. One day Heidi Woodman was driving down Lyndale Avenue and noticed that the signage had changed: Vera's was back on the market. They pounced.
By coincidence or fate, it's two blocks from the site of Five Restaurant & Street Lounge, their high-profile, short-lived venture that pre-dated Heidi's.
Although the former coffeehouse is roomier than it looks from the street, the new location will have the same scale -- about 55 seats -- as its predecessor, but with a few important additions: a small bar with a full liquor license (and a classic-cocktails emphasis), a 25- to 30-seat patio that's set under a canopy of mature shade trees, a chef's table, even a small parking lot. Unlike Heidi's 1.0, its replacement will also feature an open kitchen (remember watching Stewart Woodman cook behind the counter at Levain, his first Minneapolis gig?), with views from both the bar and the dining room."It feels like we're taking the best aspects of Levain, Five and Heidi's, putting them in a pot and making this," said Stewart Woodman.
As for the menu, Stewart Woodman said that he's going to continue to cook what he calls "four-star food at two-star prices and, God willing, do it better," with appetizers under $10 and entrees under $20. "I've been doing a lot of fantasizing about what to do, menu-wise, but I think that it's important that we reopen as Heidi's," he said. "I think I have a better understanding of what I'm trying to express, and I felt like I was finally getting there. The week before the fire, we had a record week." One dish that will remain, happily: the Shefzilla, a surprise appetizer.
The restaurant's core players include new sous chef Jordan Hamilton (his résumé includes Zelo, Bar Abilene and the Nicollet Island Inn). The front of the house will be managed by Elizabeth Cismaru and three-year Heidi's vet Kyle Bille; co-owner Frank Thorpe, a memorable presence in the original Heidi's dining room, is taking on a different, less visible role "to be determined," said Stewart Woodman.
The opening? The Woodmans are hoping that the restaurant (which is being designed by Smart Associates, the Minneapolis firm behind the neigborhood's looky Fuji Ya and moto-i) can be built in 60 to 90 days. An ideal debut date would be Oct. 15, the launch of Stewart Woodman's cookbook, "Shefzilla: Conquering Haute Cuisine at Home" (Borealis Books, $27.95), which he wrote in a whirlwind three months after the fire.
"The book was a knee-jerk reaction to not dealing with the discouragement [of the fire]," he said. "All we really wanted to do, and want to do, is get back to work. Opening the restaurant can't happen soon enough for me."Now open
The Franklin Street Bakery (1020 E. Franklin Av., Mpls., www.franklinstreetbakery.com). has expanded, opening a retail outlet in the 44th-and-France retail hub on the Edina-Minneapolis border, a few doors down from the landmark Convention Grill. Along with the bakery's breads and cupcakes, cookies and pastries, the new location (3904 Sunnyside Rd., Edina) also features frozen Greek yogurt and made-to-order sandwiches.
New in southern suburbs: Porter Creek Hardwood Grill (14201 Burngarten Dr., Burnsville, www.portercreek.com). The team behind Doolittle's Woodfire Grill (www.doolittlesrest aurants.com) has built a handsome and spacious new restaurant and bar (it replaces an eyesore of a Bakers Square, signaling what is hopefully a trend in suburban restaurant design and development) that also features a roomy, well-appointed patio. On the menu side, chef Jason Adams covers a lot of bases at lunch and dinner, putting a smoker, rotisserie and wood-burning oven to plenty of use, and the bar pours about four dozen wines by the glass.