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New chef, new menus, new focus at the North Loop's Hewing Hotel

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.”

Bacon takes center stage in cheeseburger at Erik the Red in downtown Mpls.

The burger: In just about any other instance, the beef patty on the Thor’s Burger at Erik the Red might be viewed as waifish. Paltry, even. But when the burger’s other, far showier animal protein – a bruiser of a slice of bacon – is taken into account, that modestly scaled patty takes on a right-size dimension.

That bacon truly belongs at center stage. It’s produced in-house, in a process that involves a six-day cure and an oak-fueled turn in the smoker (here’s a sign that the kitchen knows that it has a winner on its hands: a gigantic slab of the stuff is sold as an entree, for $16). For the burger, the bacon gets the sliced-thick treatment, and then it's obviously nurtured on the stove to the point where the dense, slightly chewy interior is robed in a crisped-up and utterly mouth-watering outer edge. It’s spectacular. Note to other, lesser bacon cheeseburgers: you’re way out of your league.

The patty, slight as it is, is hardly a slouch. It’s a standard mix of 80 percent lean beef and 20 percent fat, pressed to within maybe a quarter-inch thickness and taken to a no-nonsense medium. it's fairly safe to say that it's little more than a necessary component of a bacon delivery system.

Garnishes are fairly basic, and they certainly don’t get in the way of that fried porky goodness: a handful of crispy shredded iceberg lettuce, a well-melted Cheddar that exudes hints of smoke, crispy fried onions and mayo-based sauce punched up with onions and horseradish.  

The tender, rich-tasting bun (baked at Emma Krumbee’s) has a noticeably high butterfat content. It’s lightly toasted and lavishly buttered, and it's a worthy companion to that bacon.

There are two burgers on the Erik the Red menu  (the other is a double-patty cheeseburger), and that’s two more than when the self-proclaimed “Nordic smokehouse” opened last fall across 6th Street from U.S. Bank Stadium.

“There was a call for it,” said corporate executive chef Nicholas Mihajlov. “We’re here to make people happy, and people coming from the game wanted a burger. We decided to do a burger that has something you can’t find anywhere else, and that’s our slab bacon.”  

Price: $13.

Fries: Included, and interesting. It’s a handful of long, golden and nicely salty potato fries, interspersed with a few unexpected root veggies (parsnips, rutabagas) cut as fries, a pleasant and welcome surprise from the same-old, same-old.

Where he burgers: “I live in Eden Prairie, and so I like to go to the Lions Tap for a nice, greasy burger,” said Mihajlov. “I also like Snuffy’s Malt Shop over in Minnetonka. And you can’t go wrong with the Jucy Lucy from Matt’s.”

Coming this weekend: Mihajlov is a busy guy, overseeing kitchens for Overlord, the food-and-drink company owned by restaurateur Erik Forsberg. He’s in the midst of rebranding the former Dan Kelly’s into the second iteration of Devil’s Advocate. This weekend he’s also launching brunch service at Erik the Red, with a menu that features several Benedicts, a few hash dishes, poached salmon and of course the kitchen’s fabulous slab bacon, served with eggs.

Get happy: Sorry to report that there are no burger markdowns during Erik the Red’s happy hour. However, Mihajlov and his crew do pull together a series of sliders (lamb shank, braised short rib), serving them weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

Address book: 601 Chicago Av. S., Mpls., 612-249-5999. Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; bar open to 2 a.m. daily.

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

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