Jamie Malone, chef/owner of Grand Cafe, can add the title of Stealth Restaurateur to her resume.
“Yes, we’re kind of slowly doing a takeover of Eastside,” she said, referring to the roomy restaurant (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) at the corner of Washington and 3rd avenues in Minneapolis. Turns out, Malone has been quietly at work since mid-September.
“We decided not to close down and reopen,” she said. “Instead, we’ve been on the ground there for a few weeks, sort of learning about the business, laying the foundational work and slowly making improvements. I think there will probably be three, four or five months of gradual changes. We’ll probably end up changing the name.”
Wait. Who is “we”?
“By ‘we’ I mean myself, my general manager here at Grand — who is kind of my partner in all things — Nikki Klocker, and Sam Marshall,” she said. “Sam was an integral part of Booker and Dax [star chef David Chang's influential Manhattan cocktail bar that closed in 2016 after a five-year run], and she’s come on board as general manager, and she’ll be running the bar program.”
Much of the new menu is in place, with more to come in the next week.
“The space is huge, which means you can have a ton of big groups in there,” said Malone. “Which is why we’re doing larger-format, family-style dishes, which is the way I love to eat. We won’t get crazy with the garnishment, it won’t be Look-At-Me Food. It’ll be food that’s really delicious and fun to eat.”
For example: Whole roast duck that arrives on a lazy Susan with several mustards, braised cabbage and scallion pancakes. Or a whole roast bass, dressed with a pork cheek-brown butter vinaigrette and paired with roasted sunchokes. Or a pork porterhouse with charred shishito peppers and a sweet corn souffle.
Shareable starters include a crudite platter, beef tartare, deviled crab on toast, a flatbread topped with clams and wood-grilled oysters. Single-serving plates include steak frites, bucatini tossed with sofrito-braised hazelnuts and an heirloom tomato salad with grilled nectarines.
Guthrie ticketholders, take note: the restaurant is offering a three-course, fixed-price, pre-curtain meal.
At the bar, Marshall is focusing on larger-format drinks. The showiest is a spritz composed of Aperol, Bonal (a French herbal aperitif), St-Germain (an elderflower liqueur) and sparkling chenin blanc. It’s presented in, yes, a golden swan.
“It serves two,” said Malone. “Or, one, if you want to have a lot of fun.”
For now, the plan is dinner only, Monday through Saturday, with a (4 to 7 p.m.) happy hour. Brunch will materialize soon. The decor will slowly evolve.
"The room is beautiful, but it needs some personality," said Malone. "It's hard for me to describe, but it's going to get a little weird, and a little funky, and a little '90s."
Eastside, which opened in September 2015, never really caught fire, despite the alchemy of smart ownership (Ryan Burnet, he of Barrio, Bar La Grassa and Burch), a great-looking space (the work of Shea Design of Minneapolis) and a string of savvy chefs, now leading some of the metro area’s top restaurants: Remy Pettus, now chef/owner of Bardo (222 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-886-8404, bardompls.com); Nick Dugan, now chef de cuisine at Bellecour (739 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com); and Dennis Leaf-Smith, now chef at Esker Grove (723 Vineland Place, Mpls., 612-375-7542, eskergrove.com).
Malone is certainly in the midst of a remarkable year. In April, Food & Wine named Grand Cafe one of the nation’s best new restaurants, and featured a knockout portrait of Malone’s sweet-savory spin on the Paris-Brest on the magazine’s cover. How does she feel about taking on a second restaurant?
“‘Uh-oh’ was the first thought I had when I woke up this morning,” she said with a laugh.