Tullibee, the restaurant inside the recently opened Hewing Hotel in the North Loop, made an abrupt switch at the top of its food chain last month, when opening chef Grae Nonas was replaced by Bradley Day, a veteran of a dozen high-end New York City restaurants.
Day is no stranger to hotel operations, having cooked in them in Florida, Miami and New York City. “Even when I was working with Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] in London, the restaurant was in a hotel,” he said. “I’ve kind of grown up in hotels.”
After many years in Manhattan, why did this native Australian decided to relocate to Minneapolis? One reason is the proximity to Des Moines, his wife’s hometown. And the couple wanted to raise their young son and daughter in the Midwest. There were also professional considerations.
“I also wanted the opportunity to be a part of a community,” he said. “And not just part of the New York City machine.”
Over the past few weeks, Day has been slowly but surely implementing changes at the Hewing, which opened last November. His first dinner menu appeared about a week ago, and breakfast revisions debuted last Friday. One notable alteration is that Day’s menus offer diners more options than their predecessors.
“Moving forward, we want to increase the restaurant’s approachability,” he said. “We want to have people from the area dining with us two or three times a week.”
As for the restaurant’s Nordic focus, it has been de-emphasized, while its seasonal, farm-to-table mindset is being accentuated.
“We’ll be using the same techniques and methods – a wood-fired grill, hearty vegetable dishes, shareable fish and meat dishes, with the main focus being on local ingredients,” he said. “But I wouldn’t call it ‘Nordic’ any more.”
Still, he’s retaining a few Nordic benchmarks. Lefse, for instance, which he's pairing with chicken livers and pearl onions.
“It’s very Minnesota, isn’t it?” he said.
He’s also retained the hotel’s on-the-premises program of butchering whole animals and operating a dry-aging process.
“That’s worked out really well,” said Day (pictured, above, in a provided photo). “We’re able to use lots of cuts that most restaurants don’t use, and our banquets program can use the remnants.”
New dishes include lamb tartare with pickled radishes ($14), a smoked smelt Caesar salad ($10) and a platter of Minnesota cheeses and house-cured and smoked ham ($16). Entrees include pan-roasted halibut with peas and a ramp pesto ($29), pork with smoked apples and watercress ($26), a 65-day dry-aged beef steak ($42) and the top-seller, a deceptively simple roast salmon that’s served with a cauliflower puree and baby carrots. Another attention-getter: a whole trout, seasoned with a lemon-dill oil and baked in the kitchen’s wood-burning oven.
“We get the trout in twice a week, from Lake Superior,” he said. “It’s great for larger tables, it’s a very shareable.”
The $14-and-under breakfast menu includes brisket hash, cured salmon with scrambled eggs and a Benedict prepared with smoked turkey and a bread that calls upon two sides of Day’s background: it’s made with an Australian lager, and baked in a made-in-Minnesota Bundt pan.
A revised lunch menu – one, that Day says, will also emphasize approachability -- should appear in a few weeks.
Yes, it has been a busy first month. So far, Day said that a favorite part of his new job has been getting to know his suppliers, including Maurice Smith of DragSmith Farms in Barron, Wis., and Pat Ebnet of Wild Acres in Pequot Lakes, Minn.
“Pat has been a great resource for me,” said Day. “He’s been coming in every other day, talking about what he has, and how he raises his birds. I’ve never used his products before, and they’re really good.
“For me, it’s going back to why you get into this business in the first place, which is working with fresh ingredients from local farmers, and creating a platform to sell their products, and having the community get to know who they are.”