When a restaurant is as firmly entrenched in the city’s dining-out psyche as the Modern Cafe, it’s easy to take it for granted.
But given its influential track record, the restaurant that everyone shorthands to “the Modern” deserves better. Ever since the day in 1994 when Jim and Patty Grell opened their contemporary diner in the home of the beloved Rabatin’s Northeast Cafe, the Modern has played a key role in reviving the neighborhood and the Twin Cities' food-and-drink scene.
Twenty years in the restaurant industry is a milestone worthy of a major celebration, and the Grells are delivering just that, with a series of celebratory dinners taking place every night this week.
From Tuesday through Friday, the kitchen is setting aside its regular menu -- sorry, no pot roast -- and preparing a special six-course dinner. The evenings' dishes have been created by previous Modern chefs, who will also be spending specific evenings back in their old stomping grounds. Here’s the rundown, dish-wise and chef-wise:
* Salmon with sweet corn polenta, yellow tomato puree and puffed farro salad by Phillip Becht of the soon-to-open Victor’s on Water. Becht was at the Modern from 2003 to 2011, and he will be appearing Tuesday.
* Pork and beans, by Mike Phillips of Red Table Meat Co. Philips was at the Modern from 1995 to 1998, and he will be appearing Wednesday.
* Potato gnocchi, with pork confit and brown butter hollandaise by Scott Pampuch of the University of Minnesota. Pampuch was at the Modern from 1996 to 2003, and he will be appearing Thursday.
* Walleye egg rolls with dill and ginger kimchi, by Matt Morgan of the Bachelor Farmer. Morgan was at the Modern from 1994 to 1996, and he will be appearing Friday.
* Creamed corn, with smoked green tomato creme fraiche butter by Ella Wesenberg, who has been the Modern's chef de cuisine since 2009. She will be appearing Saturday.
Price? A very Modern-esque $55. No reservations.
"It has been really fun to get all these chefs together," said Jim Grell, adding that each is going to contribute an amuse-bouche or two on the night they visit. "Mike is going to bring his slicer in, he's got a four-year-old prosciutto," said Grell. "And Matt is set on making Ritz crackers with peanut butter and pickles."
On Saturday, the focus is taking a major turn. "We're going to scrap the entire menu and make fried chicken," said Jim Grell. All of the details haven't been hammered out just yet. "We're still kind of putting it all together," he said. "But it's going to be cheap, and we'll be doing great sides, too."
Grell added that he has one hope for Saturday's festivities. "That the plumbing will back up," he deadpanned. "Like it did on the very first day, 20 years ago. At least this time, I'll know what to do."
Realistically, you could be serving mini-hot-dogs on a stick and they would still be a delight when served in the stunning gardens at the Minnesota Arboretum, which held its Toast and Tastes fundraiser last night under a sunny sky with balmy temperatures.
Nonetheless, those at the gathering had far better dining options -- in fact, the best in many years of the festivities. Here were some of the highlights:
Shrimp chorizo with fennel, from chef Hakan Lundberg of the Minneapolis Club, topped my best-of list. Unexpected (ground up shrimp, shaped), fun (on a stick) and really tasty (I had to grab a second one, just to be sure it was as good as the first!).
A close second: carrot-cured hamachi sashimi with apple and radish from The Rabbit Hole (Midtown Global Market). Served with sparkling lychee kombucha. Wow. Make that two wows.
Duck breast with farro, pickled rhubarb and kohlrabi puree, with a chocolate bouchon on the side filled with passion fruit panna cotta, from chef Scott Graden of the New Scenic Cafe in Duluth.
Housemade roasted andouille sausage with two sauerkrauts on brioche from chef J.D. Fratzke of the Strip Club (St. Paul).
Korean glazed pork belly on-a-stick from chef Scott Pampuch of the University of Minnesota (Arboretum Catering).
And the flowers and greenery, of course.
It seems fitting that a booze mart will be opening in a newspaper building, given the indelible image of hard-drinking journalists with a pint in their desk drawers in such films as “His Girl Friday.”
Except that when Revival Wine Beer and Spirits opens in the classic St. Paul edifice known to many as the Pioneer Building, there will be no journos in the house (the Pioneer Press offices moved a block or so away years ago), and this store will cater to a more upscale crowd than us ink-stained wretches.
The man behind the store, slated to open in mid-May (with a public tasting slated for May 20), is Jeffrey Huff, who started the charming Little Wine Shoppe in St. Anthony Park a few years back. This “shoppe” will not be “little”: 2,200 square feet compared to 300 for his former store. “My walk-in cooler’s almost bigger than the Little Wine Shoppe,” he said with a chuckle.
But it should be just as personal. Huff has been building cabinets to protect his inventory from getting too much light in a space with “massive windows.”
“The space is just amazing,” said Huff. It’s on the second floor of the Pioneer Endicott Building, which dates to 1889 and had been empty for a few years when Richard Pakonen of Pak Properties bought it, largely for residential usage.
Some of the 230 new luxury apartments are already occupied, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art will be taking up the entire first floor. Huff, who will be the first commercial tenant to open, named the store after the building’s architectural style, Romanesque Revival.
Huff said his store will be heavy on craft beers and the emerging artisan distillery world, and that the wine selection will be focused on quality and value. “I know the demographics of who’s down there,” he said. “But I knew the demographic in St. Anthony Park, and that didn’t quantify into selling high-end wines.”
Regardless, he’s excited to be in “an absolutely beautiful space” and has gotten comfortable with its size. “I guess you start small and get bigger. That’s the goal, right?” Huff said. “This is all the bigger I want to be.”
Savor Minnesota isn't for everyone, I guess. But here's who it is for: those who figure Minnesota-made wine is not so good, but have an open mind about it. Or those who preach "local, local, local" when it comes to food but not wine.
The fifth annual event, slated for April 26 at Canterbury Park, will find 20 Minnesota wineries pouring their wares from 1 to 5 p.m. I can vouch from experience that the stuff from Cannon River, Chankaska Creek, Saint Croix, Carlos Creek, Sovereign and Woodland Hill is absolutely worth checking out, and I'm looking forward to sampling fermented grape juice from Buffalo Rock, Forestedge Winery, Garvin Heights, Goose Lake, Indian Island and others.
At the very least, those who still pooh-pooh the state's wines should check out the Marquette from whoever is serving it. And they also can quaff some beer from August Schell, Summit and Mankato Brewing, not to mention bites from a score or more food purveyors. And if nothing else, you'll come away with a free wine glass.
Tickets are $45 at the door, $40 in advance at Northern Vineyards in Stillwater or at SavorMN.com.
Attendees can buy up to six bottles of wine before departing — the better to change the minds of friends who are blasé, or worse, about the rapidly evolving local wine biz.
It's a honey of a tasting tonight as local professional chefs present their best pastries featuring dandelion honey. Come for a sample -- many samples -- from Spoonriver, Lucia’s, Restaurant Alma, Andoyne, Gigi’s Café Uptown, Mason Restaurant Barre, Open Arms, Seward Co-Op Bakery, Treat, Mademoiselle Miel and Jenny Breen. Proceeds go to support Healthy Bees, Healthy Lives initiative.
When: Thursday, April 10
Where: Nicollet Island Pavillion, 40 Power Street, Minneapolis
|Restaurant Bargains (4)||Holidays (45)|
|Deals (2)||Farmers markets (66)|
|Baking (61)||Chefs (105)|
|Cookbooks (41)||Cooking at the cabin (5)|
|Farmers and foraging (31)||Healthy eating (33)|
|Locally-produced food (70)||Minnesota newsmakers (134)|
|On the national scene (108)||Openings + closings (33)|
|Recipes (109)||Restaurant news (246)|
|Restaurant reviews (58)||Beer (2)|
|Food, beer, wine events (30)||TV food shows (26)|