Last week, just two months shy of her Uptown landmark’s 30th anniversary, Lucia Watson sold her Lucia’s Restaurant to a group of local investors, who pledged to keep the place — right down to the name — as is. It’s tough to single out another industry practitioner who has enjoyed Watson’s enduring influence in the hospitality arts; she was a farm-to-table leader decades before the movement got that name, and her restaurant, wine bar and cafe/bakery spawned a new generation of chefs and restaurateurs. Lucia’s aficionados should not despair; chef Ryan Lund and general manager Heather Asbury, both eight-year Lucia’s vets, remain at the helm.
The year of the pop-up
Temporary restaurants were hotter than Taylor Swift’s iTunes sales. Former Sea Change chef Erik Anderson returned to Minneapolis after a critically acclaimed run at Catbird Seat in Nashville, and proceeded to stage one-night-only dinners in his friends’ restaurants, eventually pairing with fiancée Jamie Malone (another Sea Change vet) in the (sadly) empty space at the Lynn on Bryant for a series of meals previewing the planned venture they’re calling Brut.
When construction temporarily shuttered the Birchwood Cafe last winter, the restaurant kept its regulars happy with a monthlong breakfast pop-up at Verdant Tea. Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart fame took over Hola Arepa on Mondays in November and December for Power, Corruption and Pies, her temporary shrine to pie culture.
Tobie Niditz and Craig Johnson parlayed buzz-generating events in restaurants and at farmers markets to create their opening-soon Prairie Dogs, their paean to chef-crafted hot dogs and sausages. When FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar launched its renovated downtown home, chef Jim Kyndberg didn’t rely upon an ad campaign to spread the news; instead, he created a monthlong pop-up, using a food truck as his preferred (no pun intended) vehicle. Detroit chef Tunde Wey brought a six-course taste of Nigeria to a guest-chef pop-up at the Third Bird in November.
And while labeling an on-the-premises event as a “pop-up” seems to fly in the face of the off-site meaning of the phrase, plenty of operators developed an enthusiasm for the practice, and diners benefited. Witness the savory and sweet baked goods that Restaurant Alma pastry chef Carrie Riggs floated as test-case options for Alma’s opening-in-2015 neighborhood cafe, the sold-out spread that Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant pastry chef Katie Elsing set out on Tuesdays, the occasional porkfests run by members of the Travail Kitchen and Amusements crew and the brief homage to barbecue that took over chef Landon Schoenefeld’s kitchen at HauteDish.
Taking the cure
A long-held dream came true this year for Mike Phillips, and for the cured-meat fanatics who love him. The former Craftsman chef opened his Red Table Meat Co. Those who have been waiting patiently — and impatiently — for Phillips’ expertly crafted coppa, salami, guanciale, pancetta and other cured meats can now revel in them at restaurants, supermarkets and farmers markets.
The story of the year is, without question, the hundred-plus new restaurants that popped up across the Twin Cities, a supercharged dining environment that is without local precedent. The list includes Agra Culture Kitchen & Press, Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen, Coup d’état, Crooners Lounge and Supper Club, Gyst Fermentation Bar, La Fresca, Libertine, Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar & Grill, LoLo American Kitchen, Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar, Marche, Margaux’s Table, Public Kitchen & Bar, Saguaro, Salt Cellar, Tongue in Cheek, Vivo Kitchen and Wedge & Wheel. Some of the chains that landed in the metro area over the past 12 months include Bonefish Grill, Hard Rock Cafe, JL Beers and Yard House, along with a bevy of quick-service pizzamakers, including Pieology, Pizza Studio and PizzaRev.
The food-truck-as-restaurant-launch-pad trend continued unabated, with brick-and-mortar iterations of Red Wagon Pizza, Hot Indian Foods and Hola Arepa enriching the dining landscape. Look for Vellee Deli and Sassy Spoon to follow suit, soon.
So many new (and admirable) food trucks showed up in 2014, including Butcher Salt, Fro-Yo Soul, Filius Blue, Red River Kitchen, Green + the Grain, O’Cheeze, Vin’s Italian and Flavor Wagon. And hats off to the Broder brothers for getting into the walk-up business, minus the wheels, with Porchetteria at Terzo Wine Bar, their daytime kitchen-window outlet that hawks a superb handful of sandwiches made with slow-roasted belly-wrapped pork shoulder. And three cheers for the handy late-night window at Coup d’état.
No single entity came close to the whopping $255,669 that Travail Kitchen and Amusements raised in 2013 via Kickstarter, but turning to crowdsourcing websites continued to be a popular vehicle for raising cash among local food-and-drink purveyors. Case in point: A dozen Twin Cities restaurateurs, food truck operators, brewers, butchers, bakers and winemakers — from Sandcastle, Herbivorous Butcher, Mattie’s on Main, Urban Fringe Winery & Cider House, Sisyphus Brewing, Bistro La Roux, GYST Fermentation Bar, Bars Bakery, Wabasha Brewing, WildEarth Woodfired Mobile Pizza Bakery, Filius Blue and Tru Pizza Truck — convinced 2,294 people to invest a total of $225,590 in their businesses.
This was the year when no one — west of I-494, anyway — could complain that there’s nowhere to dine in the suburbs. Cōv, 6Smith, Lunds and Byerly’s Kitchen and Peoples Organic transformed Wayzata’s restaurant scene. Across the waters of Lake Minnetonka, the Suburban, Coalition and Victor’s on Water pulled a similar fix for Excelsior, and Cast & Cru lured diners to nearby Greenwood.
Coming in 2015: Cookbooks from local chefs and restaurants. Sameh Wadi of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge is releasing “The New Mediterranean Table: Modern and Rustic Recipes Inspired by Traditions Spanning Three Continents” (Page Street Publishing Co.) in the spring, with images by local photographer Matt Lien. In September, Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant (with an assist from Minneapolis photographer Tom Thulen) will debut “Heartland: Farm-Forward Dishes From the Great Midwest” (Burgess Lea Press). And in the late fall, just in time for its 20th anniversary, the Birchwood Cafe will launch its still-unnamed cookbook (University of Minnesota Press), a collaboration between two locals — writer Beth Dooley and photographer Mette Nielsen — and two B’wood-ers, chef Marshall Paulson and owner Tracy Singleton.
Restaurateur Kim Bartmann — she of Bryant-Lake Bowl, Barbette and Red Stag Supperclub fame — had a blur of a year. She launched two distinctive properties — eco-minded Tiny Diner, the dreamy Third Bird — and had a hand in the creation of a third, the gem that is Kyatchi.
Memo to Anoka Mayor Phil Rice: Hand the keys of the city to Hans’ Bakery owner Kelly Olsen, pronto. Olsen revived the beloved but long-shuttered doughnut shop in February (restoring the classic Beehive, among other goodies), and business has been so brisk that a second Hans’ opened in Navarre in October. Speaking of doughnuts, the state’s first Dunkin’ Donuts franchise appeared in Rochester in June; can the Twin Cities be far behind?
After channeling her passion for baking into a (constantly sold-out) farmers market stand, attorney Anne Rucker parlayed that sensation into Bogart’s Doughnut Co., a morning-only repository for her delicate and wildly addicting brioche doughnuts glazed in brown butter icing. Tuesday, otherwise known as The Happiest Day of the Week, is when Rucker cranks out the Pershings, her ridiculously delicious deep-fried version of the cinnamon-cardamom roll. Architect-turned-baker Joachim “Aki” Berndt followed the same path, parlaying a successful farmers market business into Aki’s Bread Haus, a permanent home for his skillfully prepared German breads and sweets.
No chef was a bigger headline grabber than Gavin Kaysen, the Bloomington native who left his longtime position at New York City’s Cafe Boulud (where he earned wide acclaim, including a Michelin star and the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef of the Year award) to return to his hometown and open (in mid-November) Spoon and Stable in the North Loop. Other late-season (as in, too-early-to-review) openers include Victor’s on Water (led by former Modern Cafe chef Phillip Becht), Cast & Cru (the knockout at the remade Old Log Theatre, run by chef Patrick Scot Moore) Margaux’s Table (chef Margaret Doran’s return to White Bear Lake), Salt Cellar (an old-school steakhouse on Cathedral Hill) and Workshop at Union (chef Stewart Woodman’s lab-as-restaurant for the Crave empire).
Tourist in Chief
When President Obama visited the Twin Cities in June, he adopted local customs in record speed and dove into — what else? — the beloved cheese-stuffed burger known as the Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar. Later in St. Paul, he zipped into Grand Ole Creamery for a waffle cone (the shop’s signature Black Hills Gold flavor, ’natch) and then stocked up on locally made foods (HealthGlen Farms raspberry jam, Mademoiselle Miel honey bonbons) at the Golden Fig, where The Most Powerful Man in the World paid in cash.
Pastry chef musical chairs
Follow along: Khanh Tran said goodbye to her long-held job at Cosmos for a new gig at the Bachelor Farmer. Diane Yang left her post at La Belle Vie (along with general manager Bill Summerville) for Spoon and Stable. Niki Francioli departed Sea Change to open Brasserie Zentral, then replaced Yang at La Belle Vie.
Kudos to Nicollet Diner co-owners Sam Turner and Dion Coker for adapting we-never-close hours in their new short-order hot spot, a rare Twin Cities urban amenity. It was certainly a year for the diner, with the advent of Tiny Diner, Cook St. Paul and Le Town Talk French Diner & Drinkery. The trend is showing staying power. Look for Nighthawks (from HauteDish chef/co-owner Landon Schoenefeld) and Saint Dinette (from the team behind the Strip Club) to materialize in 2015.
Moving on up
Several restaurants used the year to settle into spiffy new homes. Corner Table moved two blocks south (into the former — and roomier — La Chaya Bistro), and co-owners Nick Rancone and Thomas Boemer are converting the restaurant’s original corner storefront into Revival, Boemer’s nod to fried chicken and other staples from his happy Southern childhood. The Mad Hatter Tea Room relocated into the stunning 157-year old Woodbury House, reinventing itself as a full-service restaurant (and keeping its tea service, of course). Lakeshore Grill at Macy’s Ridgedale store moved into a great-looking new space in May. While it didn’t change addresses, the Birchwood Cafe closed and reopened with considerably more (and much-needed) elbow room. And Bradstreet Craftshouse said goodbye to its original downtown Minneapolis location and is reopening next month on Lowry Hill in the former home of Rye Deli.
It was a year of changes at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, restaurant-wise. The building’s primary restaurant space went from Mezzanine (a D’Amico property) to Grain Stack (by Stock and Badge, the Rustica-Dogwood Coffee Co. partnership) to Agra Culture Kitchen & Press in the space of a year. Also gone after short runs are Half Pint, a clever kid-friendly counter-service cafe, and a lobby-level branch of Dogwood Coffee Co. Meanwhile, the Walker Art Center pulled the plug on Gather, its dramatic D’Amico-run restaurant. Well, almost. Lunch service is history, but the restaurant remains open for dinner and drinks on Thursday evening.
So long, farewell
The year’s record-setting level of new restaurants was slightly dented by a number of closings. Some of the significant goodbyes included the Lynn on Bryant, the Gray House, Bar Abilene, Rye Deli, Social House, Mosaic Cafe, Glen Lake Cafe, Kozlak’s Royal Oak, Santorini, Napa Valley Grill, Al Baker’s, Bistro 11, JJ’s Coffee + Wine Bistro and the Belmore and New Skyway Lounge.
Between January and December, a large amount of properties flipped, a leading indicator of the restaurant market’s high temperature. Cafe Maude on Loring became the Third Bird. Union Fish Market morphed into Workshop at Union. Parka downsized into a Dogwood Coffee Co. outlet. Anodyne became an extension of Bull Run Coffee Bar. Uptown Cafeteria was recast as Libertine, and Nami is now Dong Hae Korean Grill and Sushi. Costello’s made way for the second Red Cow. Citizen Cafe re-emerged as Pilgrimage. Serlin’s Cafe became Cook St. Paul. La Chaya Bistro was replaced by a new home for Corner Table. Sunset’s in Wayzata turned into Cōv, and Sunset’s in Woodbury is now Craft Kitchen and Bar. Peter’s Grill is now Hen House Eatery, and what was once Heidi’s is now a branch of Lago Tacos.
Eat Street Buddha Kitchen & Lounge just become the third iteration of Black Sheep Pizza, the former Figlio (actually, that’s the former-former Figlio, since the Uptown landmark’s reincarnation in the Shops at West End didn’t pan out) is on track to become the Loop West End, sibling to the Loop Bar + Restaurant, and 3 Tiers is about to become the brick-and-mortar home of the Sassy Spoon food truck. Republic owner Matty O’Reilly purchased Dan Kelly’s Bar & Grill, with the plan to convert it to an Irish pub called Dan Kelly’s Pub. Finally, the original Famous Dave’s in Hayward, Wis., was lost to a fire, and the first Twin Cities outlet of the barbecue chain — in Linden Hills — closed its doors.
Bagel success story
Here’s hoping that sisters Kate and Jen Lloyd follow in Rucker’s and Berndt’s entrepreneurial footsteps. The self-described “bread heads” used a farmers market stand to launch their Rise Bagel Co., and their boiled-and-baked output has set a new Twin Cities standard for excellence. Can brick-and-mortar permanence be far behind?
Despite investing $2 million in a top-flight facility four years ago, the culinary arts program at Minneapolis Community Technical College could be near its demise. A big issue is the high (42 percent) rate of student loan defaults, thanks to an average $12-an-hour postgraduate wage, which doesn’t cover loan-repayment obligations. “It isn’t good enough anymore to say, ‘This is a program that’s popular,’ ” college interim president Avelino Mills-Novoa told the Star Tribune. “We have to answer the question: What’s happening to graduates when they leave our institution?”
Starry, starry times
The new-restaurant story isn’t just about quantity. Quality also reigned, as three restaurants — Brasserie Zentral, Heyday and Travail Kitchen and Amusements — were awarded four stars, an unprecedented number for a 12-month period. Five restaurants were awarded three stars: Coup d’état, Rabbit Hole, Kyatchi, Hola Arepa and Libertine.
Love, from Food & Wine
Salty Tart baker/owner Michelle Gayer’s handiwork — a recipe for focaccia with roasted squash — was featured on the cover of Food & Wine magazine’s November edition. Oh, and when the magazine launched Chef’s Club by Food & Wine, a restaurant in New York City’s landmark Puck Building, it tapped four of its most recent Best New Chef honorees to prepare dishes, including Erik Anderson — formerly of Sea Change and now working with fiancée Jamie Malone (and F&W Best New Chef) to open Brut in Minneapolis — to create dishes, and cook at the restaurant next month. “We’re thrilled that Erik is part of it,” said F&W editor Dana Cowin.
Root for the home team
Chefs with local connections spent part of 2014 competing on reality TV series. Barbette chef Sarah Master made it to the second season’s penultimate episode on ABC’s “The Taste.” Rosemount native Katie Weinner battled her way through the eighth week (out of 13) of competition on the 12th season of Bravo’s “Top Chef.” And Erin Campbell — manager of Nadia Cakes in Los Angeles but soon to be running the cupcake shop’s opening-in-February Woodbury location — won on the Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship.”
Hot: Shrimp and grits, fried chicken, pretzels, bone marrow, brunch, the North Loop, bottled cocktails.
Enough already: Salted caramel, pumpkin spice, pork belly, TV screens, no-reservation policies, the eternal “Are you still working on that?”
The Strib covers my dining-out expenses when I’m on the clock. Still, I manage to devote plenty of my disposable income to restaurants, and I’m grateful for the happy experiences I enjoyed this year at Al’s Breakfast, Be’wiched Deli, Brasa, Chef Shack Ranch, Foxy Falafel, Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, Piccolo, Sapor Cafe and Bar, Sun Street Breads, Tilia and Yum! Kitchen & Bakery.
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib