More change is coming to the dining operations at the Minneapolis Insitute of Arts, and soon.
The owners of Agra Culture Kitchen & Press announced that they are opening a branch of their counter-service operation -- their third -- at the museum in mid-October.
Agra Culture debuted in May in Uptown and then launched a second location in the 50th-and-France commercial district in southwest Minneapolis in July (find my review here).
The chain is the work of Andrea and Aaron Switz, the founders of fast-growing Yogurt Lab (which has grown to 10 outlets since opening in 2011). The couple tapped former Macy's chef Tim Scott to create Agra Culture's breakfast-lunch-dinner menu, which emphasizes organic and sustainably raised ingredients and includes nods to those following vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets. Scott and the Switzes parted company earlier this month.
No further details are available, but Agra Culture will replace several short-lived ventures from Stock and Badge, the partnership behind Dogwood Coffee Co. and Rustica. S&B operates the lobby-level Dogwood Coffee Bar and Half Pint, which is tailored to children; both opened less than a year ago. The company also briefly operated Grain Stack, a counter-service restaurant located on the museum's mezzanine-level dining space; it closed in June.
"We understand that the museum's preference is to have a single food vendor," said Dogwood owner Greg Hoyt. "We supply Agra Culture with coffee, and we're happy to continue to supply the museum through them."
Stock and Badge is moving out of the restaurant business. The company shuttered its not-quite-two-year-old Parka on Sunday, and is converting the East Lake Street location into a Dogwood Coffee bar.
"We're going to be concentrating on coffee and bakery," said Hoyt. "So it goes."
Just as the weather is starting to turn cool, Parka is going away.
I'm bummed (selfishly, the restaurant isn't far from my house, and its under-the-radar breakfast menu is one of the Twin Cities' loveliest) by the news. "I am, too," said co-owner Greg Hoyt. “But not enough people are rewarding us for what we do."
The space isn't going dark. Hoyt & Co. are rebranding it as a Dogwood Coffee bar, and it will feature a full line of the company's trademark carefully-prepared brewed beverages, along with Rustica pastries, sweets and sandwiches.
Parka’s last meals will be served on Sept. 21, and the space will close for a week for renovations.
“We want to give it more of a coffeehouse feel,” said Hoyt. One major change will be placing a wall to cover the now-open kitchen. Hoyt said the facility will probably be repurposed as a Rustica baking site. "They're just bursting at the seams," he said.
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."
Once again, the North Loop is proving its position as the Twin Cities’ hottest stretch of restaurant real estate.
This time, be on the lookout for Brut, the collaboration between chefs Jamie Malone (pictured, above) and Erik Anderson. Malone’s departure from Sea Change was announced today. “Not everything is all together or in place yet, but it’s something we have been working on for a while,” said Malone.
The couple hasn't nailed down a specific North Loop site just yet, but they’ve definitely targeted the neighborhood.
“It’s where we live, and we want to stay here,” said Malone. “We want this restaurant to be what we do when we retire [Malone is 31, Anderson is 41]. We want to be working in the community where we live, where we are a part of. We don’t want to work at a place that we’re driving to every day.”
As for the food, “We want to keep it classical, French-style cookery,” said Malone. “Right now we’re thinking a shellfish type of thing, but we’re really waiting until we find and secure the space, and that will dictate how we do things.”
Size-wise, they’re aiming at roughly 80 to 100 seats in the dining room, along with an emphasis on a roomy bar. “We want to make the bar very casual, a place you can go a few times a week and have snacks, a glass of wine or maybe a cocktail. Not so expensive that it feels like an occasion.”
The Brut name is a reference to the dry-to-the-taste sparkling wine and chosen, Malone added, “Because we both love drinking it,” she said with a laugh. “We think it goes well with a lot of the food that we want to cook. And there are lot of interesting sparkling wines from around the world, lots of things that aren’t super-accessible — at least right now — in a restaurant setting.”
(And no, it has no connection to the 1960s men’s cologne of the same name, “Although we should work that in somehow,” said Malone with a laugh. “I love that.”)
The couple met in 2008 when they were both cooking at the then-new Porter & Frye — although Malone knew of Anderson when she was a student at the Cordon Bleu and he was an instructor — and they later worked together when Anderson was running Sea Change. When Anderson left for Nashville in 2011 to open Catbird Seat, she replaced him at Sea Change. Both chefs have national profiles, most notably as Food & Wine magazine Best New Chefs, he in 2012, she in 2013.
To give diners a taste of what’s in store, the couple is planning a series of four-course pop-up dinners at the former Lynn on Bryant (5003 Bryant Av. S., Mpls.), on Aug. 8, 9, 15, 16, 29 and 30. The details — price, reservations, etc. —haven’t been hammered out yet, but Malone and Anderson will keep folks posted via their Twitter account, @brutMN.
“We want it to be a fun, summertime, kind of thing,” said Malone. “And we need something to do besides go to the dog park every day.”
More Malone news: Twin Citians Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine, producers of the Perennial Plate, are turning their attention to a remake of PBS’ “Victory Garden,” in collaboration with Edible magazines. Their first of 13 half-hour episodes is going to be filmed in Minnesota and will feature — you got it — Jamie Malone.
Meanwhile, at Sea Change, Malone is being replaced by the restaurant’s longtime sous chef (and former Alaska fisherman), Ryan Cook.
The burger: Because the place invariably makes me a little bit nuts, I view visits to the Mall of America as a chore rather than a treat. There, I said it. Still, I found myself there earlier this week, taking a seat at the highly animated counter at Johnny Rockets.
I can’t recall the last time I’d visited the sole Minnesota outlet of this California-based company, but the word “decade” probably applies. The nostalgia-dipped chain dates to 1986 in Los Angeles; its MoA outpost debuted when the mall opened in 1992. Today, the company (its name is a mash-up of two Americana bedrocks: Johnny Appleseed, and the classic Oldsmobile Rocket 88) operates more than 300 locations, which fry up a collective 17 million burgers each year.
I stuck with the basics and ordered “the Original.” As fast-food burgers go (it arrived in six minutes), it’s not bad. Not bad at all. It reminded me of the countless drive-in burgers that I inhaled as a kid, only slightly larger, a move befitting our supersized culture. The third-pound, thicker-than-Burger King’s beef patty was clearly fresh rather than frozen, a good start. Although it left the flattop grill both under-seasoned and well into medium-well, the patty still managed to muster some meaty sizzle, if not a lot of juice.
It's more team player than attention-grabber, and somewhat overshadowed by the burger's remaining elements, all classics. The soft, gently yeasty bun gets a just-right toasting. A spread of tangy, semi-crunchy dill pickle chips acts as a barrier between lower bun and patty (not that the toasted bread had to worry about being soaked by running juices, as there weren't any), and it’s topped with a dash of raw chopped white onions, a generous handful of shredded iceberg lettuce, a standard-issue tomato slice, a squirt of yellow mustard and a thick swipe of mayonnaise.
No surprises, certainly, but It all adds up to an agreeably sloppy mess (I think I went through six paper napkins, which is always an encouraging sign), and the whole shebang is thoughtfully held together by an easy-to-handle wax paper wrapper. I repeat: Not bad.
Price: $5.39. Going the cheeseburger route is an extra $1.29, a somewhat outrageous mark-up for a humdrum slice of American.
Fries: Not included. There’s a $2.79 upcharge (the smiley-face plate of ketchup is presumably folded in the tab), and I can’t say that the thick-cut, pale, limp, under-salted effort is worth the extra dough.
On the soda fountain front: My chocolate malt ($4.49) was the honest-to-goodness real thing, not some tragic food-court soft-serve nightmare. The upside is that it sported the right thick-ish consistency, and the overflow arrived in a frost-covered stainless steel malt can, just as it should be. The downside? There was little more than the barest, faintest trace of chocolate flavor. And while complaining about authenticity is more than a little ridiculous in this highly artificial environment, but would it kill the corporate powers that be to ix-nay the tacky plastic soda fountain glasses?
Blast from the past: Don’t forget a few nickels fpr the juke box, which reminded me that I'd not heard the “American Graffiti” and “The Big Chill” soundtracks in forever. My budget allowed one selection on the tableside Seeburg Wall-O-Matic, a spin through the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel,” and it was easily my week’s best-spent five cents.
Take a seat: There are two ways to experience Johnny Rockets: Wait in line for takeout then schlep over to a smattering of nearby tables, or take a seat at the counter and place yourself in the capable hands of the serving staff. I highly recommend the latter because a large percentage of the red vinyl swivel chairs provide ringside seats to the action at the stove. It’s quite a show, a frenetic, highly choreographed production that made this diner appreciate, once again, the sweat required to keep even a basic burger joint up and running.
It’s also one of the few places at The Nation’s Largest Shopping Center where people are likely to rub elbows with complete strangers. The young girls seated next to me were clearly reveling in every aspect of their Johnny Rockets experience: reacting to the constant roar echoing across the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park, gazing in amazement at the fleet-footed crew as they went through their paces, ooh-ing and aah-ing over their burgers and malts. Living vicariously through their delight was a happy eye-opener for this not-so-occasionally jaded diner.
Real deal: And now for the True Confessions portion of today’s Burger Friday. My original intention for this megamall excursion was to partake in the (extraordinary) burger-and-beer deal at FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar. Here's the deal: choose from one of four iterations (turkey, bison, walleye or a white Cheddar cheeseburger, all paired with fries) and any one of the bar’s tap beers (including brews from Fulton, Summit, Surly, Schell’s, Big Wood and other locals), and fork over a shocking $10.
Yeah, ten dollars. The offer is available in the bar only, although being relegated to that handsome refuge of a space can hardly be labeled a hardship. There’s just one hitch. This Deal of Deals is a midday-only special, available 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily. My convoluted brain had somehow twisted it into a happy hour offer, which is why my 6 p.m. appetite ended up at Johnny Rockets. Next time I’ve got an MoA lunch on the calendar, I’m definitely heading to the Radisson Blu. It's easy: the hotel is accessible from the mall through the second floor of South Avenue; the restaurant is on the same level.
Address book: Johnny Rockets, 370 South Avenue (on the edge of the food court), Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-858-8158. Open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar, second floor, Radisson Blu hotel, 2100 Killebrew Dr., Bloomington, 952-851-4040. Burger and beer special served 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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