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Burger Friday: Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: December 5, 2014 - 12:58 PM

The burger: A person doesn’t go into the Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen thinking that they’re going to encounter a burger for the ages. A spectacular brown butter-enriched chocolate chip cookie, or a live-altering bacon-blueberry muffin, yes. But a burger? Not really.

But at second glance, it's not such a stretch. Owners Danielle and Chris Bjorling are in the business of transforming flour (I like to think of their kitchen as a modern-day Pillsbury Bake-Off, back in the era when the contest was all about creating sensations with Pillsbury’s Best all-purpose, rather than repurposing Grands! Flaky Layers Butter Tastin’ Biscuits; you know, actual baking). With a burger, the process often starts with a hamburger bun.

And when it's the Copper Hen, we're talking a fantastic hamburger bun. It’s a brioche-style beauty, shaped by hand and baked each morning. The Bjorlings are keeping no secrets where all of that soft, yeasty deliciousness starts.

“The amount of butter in that thing is ridiculous,” said Danielle with a laugh. “It’s so rich that lots of time I order the burger without the bun, even though the bun is the best part.” (I stringently advise against that. The bun must stay). And no, the kitchen doesn’t add a swipe of butter when the buns get toasted.

“They have so much buttery texture as it is,” she said. “That would be overkill.”

As if prudence was a genuine concern. Please. The patty is another wonder, a thick, roughly-hewn monster using the ground beef mix from Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis. The kitchen fortifies that flavorful but lean grass-fed meat with — you got it — butter. “We brown a ton of butter and basically fold that delicious fat it into the beef,” said Danielle Bjorling.

Yes, the glory that is brown butter. Are you sensing a pattern yet? I’m so trying this formula at home, because it’s a strategy that leads to an outrageously rich patty, one that simmers in its own juices on the flap top grill until the meat reaches a barely pink medium-rare.

The rest is refreshingly uncomplicated. Yellow onions are peeled, cut and cooked on the stovetop, low and slow, until they reach a gently sweet, compote-like consistency, then heaped on top of the patty with gleeful abandon. English cucumbers are sliced thin and cured in vinegar, jalapeño, garlic and mustard seeds until they hit that crunchy-tangy sweet spot.

In the best-for-last department, there's a ridiculously addictive cheese sauce, inspired by the kitchen’s A-plus mac-and-cheese. Here’s how it’s made: Four cheeses -- Gorgonzola, sharp Cheddar, white Cheddar and American (“which gives it the viscosity that it needs,” said Danielle Bjorling) -- are brought to an oozy melt on the stove, then steeped with whatever hoppy beer is currently available at the bar (right now it’s an India pale ale from Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits in San Diego) and puréed in a blender.

The result is vaguely resembles what might happen should someone try masquerading an artisan-crafted beer-cheese soup with that crazy tortilla-topping molten glop served at movie theaters. It’s an ingenious crowning touch for one of the Twin Cities’ great burgers.

Price: $12.

Fries: None. Instead, there’s an appealing pile of field greens, tossed in a vibrant honey-nurtured sherry vinaigrette. At first, this too-healty-for-my-own-good gesture felt like an enormous cop-out. But the greens act as a kind of garden-fresh palate cleanser, one that allows a person to indulge in one of those brown butter chocolate chip cookies.

The Bjorlings steer clear of deep fryers, but burger lovers with a hankering for fried potatoes are not without options. For an additional $2.50, the kitchen will toss in a side of its smashed potato home fries, which are baby potatoes, slightly cut and smashed in the pan as they’re fried in olive oil. They’re taken to a tantalizing crispiness, and I highly recommend them.

At the bar: Someone in the building is clearly a beer lover, because the Copper Hen’s ever-evolving chalkboard list is forever revealing some previously unknown — to me, anyway — craft brewery (San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery) or oddball beer (Crème Brûlée milk stout, from Southern Tier Brewing Co. in Lakewood, N.Y.).

Secret weapon: The Copper Hen has what few Eat Street-ers possess: A (free) parking lot. It’s directly across Nicollet from the restaurant, and for those who who arrive via automobile, it's a godsend.

Address book: 2515 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-872-2221. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

Zinter leaving Heyday

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: December 2, 2014 - 1:48 PM

To restaurant watchers, the news isn’t a huge surprise, but here goes: Lorin Zinter is leaving Heyday.

When Zinter, one of the Twin Cities' top front-of-the-house faces, announced last month that he was joining the team behind the reincarnation of two legacy Twin Cities restaurants -- the Forum Cafeteria (re-christened Il Foro, to reflect the modern Italian menu) in downtown Minneapolis, and the Lexington in St. Paul – the new equation left a lingering something’s-gotta-give scent.

“We basically decided that I wasn’t going to spread myself too thin with other projects,” said Zinter. “I talked with my partners [chef Jim Christiansen and business partner Mike Prickett] and we all felt it was in the best interest for me to move on and have someone else step in. It’s all very amicable, there’s no ill will, it was a group decision.”

Details of their partnership agreement haven’t been finalized, but his much has: Stepping into Zinter’s general manager shoes will be Dani Megears, who has been Heyday’s astute wine buyer since the doors opened in April.

“Jim and I have both known Dani for years,” said Zinter. "Jim worked with her at Solera, I worked with her at La Belle Vie, and we both think the world of her.”

Zinter (pictured above, right, with Christiansen on the left, in a Star Tribune file photo) will remain at four-star Heyday through the end of the year.

“I’m sorry to see Lorin go,” said Christiansen. “We have a great relationship and he brings so much to the table. But I’m excited for him.”

In his next role, Zinter will be steering the front-of-the-house operations at the Lex and Il Foro, a potent partnership that also includes Smack Shack partners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald, along with former Butcher & the Boar chef Jack Riebel.

Both historic properties will debut “sometime in 2015, and let’s leave it at that,” said Zinter with a laugh, refusing to be nailed down to anything more specific, calendar-wise. “We want to be realistic. You know how these restaurant openings go.”

Charlie Awards winners announced

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: November 18, 2014 - 1:56 PM

Winners of the fourth-annual Charlie Awards were announced Sunday afternoon at the Pantages Theatre in Minneapolis. The awards celebrate excellence in the Twin Cities' food and drink scene. 

Newcomer Brasserie Zentral – from Meritage owners Russell and Desta Klein – was named Outstanding Restaurant.

Outstanding Chef honors went to Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma and Brasa.

Thomas Boemer, chef/co-owner of Corner Table, was handed the award for Emerging Food Professional, which salutes chefs with less than five years experience. The restaurant, which moved to a new home earlier this year, was also handed the Outstanding Service award.

Restaurateur Kim Bartmann was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award. The award caps a busy year for Bartmann. Since January, the owner of Bryant-Lake Bowl, Barbette, Red Stag Supperclub, Gigi’s Cafe, Pat’s Tap and Bread & Pickle, launched two restaurants – Tiny Diner and the Third Bird – and had a hand in the birth of a third, Kyatchi.

The award for Outstanding Pastry Chef went to John Kraus of Patisserie 46.

Vincent Francoual, chef/owner of Vincent, was named the year’s Community Hero.

Jesse Held of Borough, Parlour and Coup d’etat was named Outstanding Bartender. Coup d’etat also came up a winner in the Outstanding Restaurant Design category. The Uptown restaurant, which opened in January, was designed by ESG Architects of Minneapolis. 

Butcher & the Boar won Outstanding Beverage Program Honors, the West Side IPA from Harriet Brewing was awarded Outstanding Local Craft Brew.

Two awards were determined by an open-to-the-public online poll (one that garnered 10,000 votes). The Moral Omnivore was named Outstanding Food Truck. The online poll also selected nominees for Outstanding Food Item, and a panel of expert judges chose the winner from six finalists. That award went to the St. Paul Grill and its the "Grill Charlie’s,” a beef tenderloin sandwich with caramelized onions and horseradish mayonnaise.

Winners are selected from a voting pool of 175 independently owned Twin Cities food-and-drink establishments.

The awards are organized by Ivey Awards founder Scott Mayer and longtime Twin Cities food advocate Sue Zelickson, and are named for Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale (pictured, above, in a 1960 Star Tribune file photo), the fabled downtown Minneapolis restaurant that closed on July 21, 1982, after a 49-year run.

In downtown Minneapolis, Republic owner is going Irish

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: November 17, 2014 - 5:57 PM

Dan Kelly’s Bar & Grill in downtown Minneapolis is about to become Dan Kelly’s Pub.

The changes goes beyond a few words above the door.

Owner Marc Maslow is retiring, and has sold his vaguely Irish establishment — the kind of welcoming, low-wattage refuge that has evolved from downtown staple to anachronism — to Matty O’Reilly (owner of Republic and 318 Cafe), who plans to go deep with the whole Irish thing.

"I've been wanting to do this for forever," said O'Reilly. "I've just been looking for the right space to come along."

Enter Dan Kelly's. O’Reilly was drawn to the property's ornate, 44-foot wood bar, the long row of booths, the working kitchen, the square footage that will allow the addition of a small stage for live Irish music.

“When we walked into the space, I was immediately reminded of Sgt. Preston’s on Seven Corners,” said O’Reilly, recalling the former (and nostalgia-dipped) tenant of the space now occupied by Republic. “All the woodwork, all the stained glass. It already looks and feels like an Irish pub."

O’Reilly takes ownership on Dec. 1 (“the check just cleared,” he said), and he has plans for a light renovation, mostly paring the space of its beer signs and TV screens.

“They don’t resonate with the natural beauty of the place,” he said. “It’s more or less a turnkey space, we’re going to put on a coat of paint and put a new menu out front. Why not make use of a perfectly good facility? I keep coming back to Sgt. Preston’s, but it’s really the same thing: Once you get everything down and really look at the room, you think, ‘Wow, this place is super-cool.’ We need a term for people like us. We wait around for a perfectly good space that needs a refresh on the concept.”

(Something tells me that this is the restaurant equivalent of HGTV's "Rehab Addict," but I digress. Besides, O’Reilly’s announcement is happy news for this diner. The pub, which is located in the historic WCCO Radio building, is going to be around the corner from the Star Tribune’s new home when the newspaper moves next April.)

Menu-wise, it’s back to the basics. This will not be an Irish pub that serves ceviche, Caesar salads, tacos and other off-topic distractions.

Instead, Republic chef Keven Kvalsten is putting his spin on Irish comfort-food favorites: A stout-Cheddar fondue with apples and house-baked brown bread, battered house-made sausage and chips, lamb stew with Irish stout and root vegetables, minced beef shepherd’s pie, boxty (potato pancakes with creme fraiche and house-smoked salmon), split pea with ham soup, corned beef and cabbage sandwich with white Cheddar, house-cut potato chips with curry ketchup, and more.

As for the bar, O’Reilly has done his homework: Forty-plus Irish whiskeys, and plenty of craft beers. The latter is not a surprise for a guy who is about to increase the number of taps at his Seven Corners outlet of Republic to an astounding 104 (“We have a 5,000-square foot basement over there, so we can do anything we want,” said O'Reilly). What is a surprise is that he won’t be featuring a lot of Irish brews.

“The ones that are available to us here in Minnesota are not a super-good reflection of the best beers from Ireland,” he said. “We’ll probably have Guinness and Harp, but we’ll leave the rest of the lines to craft beers from Minnesota and from around the United States.”

One emphasis will be hard ciders. O’Reilly has partnered with Sweetland Orchard owners Mike and Gretchen Perbix to create an exclusive line of hard ciders aged with whiskey-soaked oak.

“We wanted to go all-in with the authenticity,” he said. “What better way than to do that than with small batches, made here in Minnesota?”

Regarding the property’s slight name change, here’s the story: O’Reilly was not about to christen his latest project after himself, despite possessing his own perfectly marketable Irish name.

He cited an iron-clad rule of Anthony Bourdain’s: Never name a bar after yourself. "Or maybe it's my humble upbringing," he said with a laugh. “Whatever it is, I just can’t do it.”

A January opening is in the works.

Name change: From Merchant to Spoon and Stable

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: October 24, 2014 - 1:25 PM

It’s a memorable day at Gavin Kaysen’s opening-in-mid-November North Loop restaurant.

“All of our plates, and glasses, and silverware just arrived, and we’re unpacking,” he said. “It’s a little hectic around here.”

Oh, and then there’s the slight matter of an announcement Kaysen dropped on social media this morning. He’s changed the name of his enterprise, from Merchant to Spoon and Stable (check out his video here).

The new name reflects the century-old building’s original use as a stable — remnants of the horse stalls remain in the dining room’s brick walls — and Kaysen’s well-known penchant for stealing restaurant spoons. As souvenirs. To date, he estimates that his collection, numbers-wise, hovers around 500.

Q: So, spoons?
A: Yeah [laughs]. I started doing it when I was probably like 20. It didn’t start out as much. You know, when you travel, you save a postcard, or you save currency — and I did, all these countries before they went to the euro, I have them framed — and I didn’t think much of it, I just starting taking spoons, thinking it would be a fun way to remember where I’d been. You know, I would be inspired by the meal, or the company. What’s funny is that people started sending them to me. I’ve had cooks who staged in places around the world, and they’d send me spoons. I’ll be honest, I have a number of spoons that I don’t know where they came from — no clue — and some of them have got a note taped to them to remind me. But I do know where the majority came from.

Q: Is your collection going to be displayed in the restaurant?
A: My brother is going to create a piece of art work with them. We're going to get out a couple bottles of wine, he’s bringing over driftwood from California, and we'll get some glue or nails so they don’t get stolen like I stole them [laughs].

Q: Are you holding any spoons back?
A: Yes, I want to be sure they’re not included because they mean so much to me. I have a spoon from my first meal at Cafe Boulud. I’ve got a spoon from Paul Bocuse, I remember that very well. I’ve got one from the French Laundry, it was given to me, I didn’t take it. There’s one from David Myers from Sona in L.A. At the end of the meal, I was presented with a cigar box, and I opened it, and inside, there was a spoon.

Q: Have you ever been caught?
A: No. I used to sometimes take them and slip them into my wife’s purse, and she’d say, "Don’t make me be that person." But there’s a spoon that I’ve never been able to get, from Alain Ducasse's restaurant in Monoco. The silverware is gold. I’d give my left leg to get one of those spoons. A friend was there, and he sent a picture of it, and said it was "the spoon that got away." He didn’t take it for me. He said, "Are you out of your mind? I’m not going to steal a gold spoon for you." [laughs]

Q: How much do 500 spoons weigh?
A: A [expletive deleted]-ton, you have no idea. When I moved them from New York, I vacuum-sealed them, separately, because they were so loud. From there, I divided them among three separate boxes, that’s how heavy they are.

Q: Are you setting yourself up for souvenir seekers like yourself?
A: Probably [laughs]. I’m going to put a souvenir charge on our POS [point of sale] system. That’s the only way to control it. I got the idea at Tru in Chicago. I was having dinner there, by myself, and there was a lady who had ordered that beautiful caviar staircase, do you remember that? When she finishes the caviar, she discreetly grabs the caviar staircase and puts it in her purse. No one says anything, not the waiter, no one. I was shocked. She proceeds through the meal, and asks for the check. When she sees the final invoice, she opens her purse, puts the caviar staircase back on the table, and the waiter takes the bill away and readjusts it. Later I asked him, "What did you do?" And he told me they have a souvenir fee, because people take the staircases all the time. It was $250. And I said, "You legitimately have that as a line item on your POS system?" [laughs].

Q: I can’t tell if you’re being straight with me. You’re really going to have a souvenir charge? How much?
A: I don’t even know. Good question. But I’m totally going to have to have a souvenir fee. We have to do something [laughs]. Or we can just let it chill out for six months, and then get the word out that we’ll have a Sunday where everyone can come in and return the spoons, no questions asked [laughs].


Q: When did you decide to change the name?
A: About two weeks ago, when I began to realize all the other restaurants named Merchant. I didn’t know about them. There’s one close to us, in Madison, Wis. More than anything else, I was putting on my small business owner hat, and asking myself, ‘How will this help or hurt the guys in Madison, or in New Jersey, or in L.A.? I don’t want to the cause of any hurt. I want our name to be genuine to this space.

Q: And you went to your mentors for advice?
A: Yes, I went to Daniel [Boulud], and I asked Thomas Keller. I said, "Chef, do think this is bad, changing the name?" My biggest concern is that people would think it was weird; you know, the prime rib special that’s now $9 when everyone else is charging $18. Chef said, "Naming the restaurant is the hardest part of the build-out, and I’m always glad that I didn’t have to name the French Laundry, because it was already called that. Whatever is on the front door, you have to believe that. You make it that name."

Q: How many names did you brainstorm?
A: It’s funny, Spoon and Stable was the first name that I came up with, way back, but I set it aside. Actually, when I originally wrote the business plan, I was calling it Dorothy’s [for Kaysen’s late grandmother, Dorothy Ann Kaysen]. Then I walked through the space and saw the stable and thought, yeah, this makes sense. Why didn’t I just listen to myself the first time? It could have been a lot easier. But that’s part of the process, and I learned a very valuable lesson. That’s being a business owner. You learn these things. I want to learn from my mistakes, it makes you better.

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