When James Beard award-winning chef Alex Roberts purchased the 1905 building that houses his 15-year-old Restaurant Alma, he and his staff immediately began to think big. Those plans (with an assist from James Dayton Design, the Minneapolis architectural firm) are now coming to fruition.
What’s now a Dunn Bros. outlet is going to become Cafe Alma. Roberts is envisioning an everyday, morning-to-night cafe and bar with a drop-in informality and an emphasis on coffee, cocktails and baked goods, plus a repository for all the beloved Alma dishes that inevitably depart from the restaurant’s hyper-seasonal menu.
Upstairs, Roberts is installing six guest rooms for an enterprise he’s calling the Inn at Alma, targeting the $150-to-$200-per-night visitor.
As for the original Alma, the dining room is getting a refresh, along with a private events space (“we’re always saying no to private parties, now we can say yes,” said Roberts) and much-needed additional kitchen capacity.
“It’s all intended to give us a challenge,” said Roberts. “We want always to be better, and to provide a better experience.”
Interested in a preview? Be on the lookout for a series of on-site pop-up events, mimicking Alma pastry chef Carrie Riggs’ successful quartet of one-day-only bake sales last fall.
The project is currently in the permitting stage, and if all goes as planned, Roberts said, he’s looking at a late-summer/early-fall opening.
528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909, www.restaurantalma.com
In a Lowertown loft
Strip Club co-owners Tim Niver and J.D. Fratzke, partnering with colleague Brad Tetzloff, are channeling their considerable skills into the just-reborn Rayette Lofts building in Lowertown and launching Saint Dinette.
Their culinary inspiration? The French-rooted goings-on in Montreal, New Orleans and Puebla, Mexico.
“Not necessarily a fusion of them,” said Niver. “More of a party time thing, with lots of influences and flavors.”
Translation: Fried oysters with cornbread and hot sauce, smoked marlin enchiladas, beignets with raspberry jam, all dishes featured at recent Saint Dinette pop-up preview dinners.
The restaurant will be managed by two La Belle Vie vets: Adam Eaton in the kitchen and his fiancée Laurel Elm in the front of the house.
Right now the plan is to serve dinner six nights a week, with weekend brunch aimed at shoppers at the St. Paul Farmers Market, located across the street.
The space, with its 16-foot ceilings and enormous windows (the 104-year-old building was once the home of the manufacturer of Aqua Net hair spray), will seat 70 in the dining room and 10 in the bar.
“It’s old-school lofty, just awesome brick walls and cement crown molding,” said Niver. “I have such a crush on this space.”
Opening? “My guess is that we can start swinging hammers in early February,” said Niver. “That should put us in the mid-April region.”
261 E. 5th St., St. Paul
Grand Avenue’s grand renewal
Dormant for nearly two years, the Lexington is coming back in 2015, in a major way.
The revival is being spearheaded by a team of experienced restaurateurs — Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald (Smack Shack), chef Jack Riebel (formerly of Butcher & the Boar) and Lorin Zinter (formerly of Heyday) — and all boast deep St. Paul roots, an attribute befitting one of the city’s storied eating-and-drinking landmarks.
Thoma and Riebel grew up in the neighborhood, Fitzgerald lives there now, and Zinter, a Shoreview native, has many happy childhood memories of the place.
“My mom lives in St. Paul and grew up there,” said Zinter. “She took me to the Lexington as a kid because her parents took her there. When I told her that it was my new project, I thought she was going to cry. It’s crazy how we all have a connection to such a historic space.”
A top-to-bottom remake will preserve the interior’s fabled millwork (“No one could afford to build it today,” said Thoma) as well as the hallway lined with photographs of Saintly City power brokers. A rooftop component is also in the works. The project was announced last April, but progress was delayed by extensive unforeseen structural and mechanical issues buried within the 79-year-old building.
Construction is now underway (look for a giant crane to materialize soon), and diners should be able to immerse themselves in Riebel’s classic American fare — and enjoy cocktails upstairs, under the stars — by early summer.
1096 Grand Av., St. Paul
Art deco revival
The same fearsome foursome is taking on an equally historic downtown Minneapolis property: the art deco wonder that is the former Forum cafeteria.
They’ve renamed the vast, mint green-and-mirrors room Il Foro, a reflection of the kitchen’s contemporary Italian focus. The plan is to serve lunch weekdays and dinner daily.
“Italian brings it all home. It’s solid, good food,” said Riebel. “Modern cooking isn’t going away, but there’s a reason why things are classics. You don’t need foams and gels.”
Riebel is no stranger to the space. He spent six years in the Forum’s kitchen, during the time when Goodfellow’s occupied the landmark address. “It’s like coming home,” he said. “Truly.”
The same can be said for Il Foro’s chef, Troy Unruh, who also cooked at Goodfellow’s (“Jack was one of my mentors,” he said) before spending a dozen years in New York City, including a run at Del Posto, Mario Batali’s top-rated Italian palace.
Il Foro will be far more informal. “No one should feel the need to come in wearing a suit and tie,” said Zinter.
Decor aside, a major draw for the quartet was the revenue potential in the property’s four private dining rooms. “Corporate spending is back, and there aren’t that many places downtown that do a power lunch,” said Thoma.
Minimal tweaks to the space — relocating the bar from the room’s center to its 7th Street side is one change — were submitted for the city’s historic review process last week, and construction could follow in a few weeks.
Not to worry: The Forum’s berth on the National Register of Historic Places guarantees that its giddy chandeliers, intricate cast plaster, gleaming Bakelite tiles, richly detailed etched glass and other priceless features will remain.
A late spring opening is planned.
40 S. 7th St., Mpls.
And keep in mind …
The third location of Salsa A La Salsa just opened in the former home of short-lived BoneYard Kitchen & Bar (2841 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-455-6688, www.salsauptown.com), serving its central Mexican fare at lunch and dinner daily, along with weekend brunch.
Wedge Table (2412 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., www.wedge.coop), the Wedge Co-op’s entry into the quick-service restaurant business, will debut at this new Eat Street location on Monday, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Wine, beer and coffee, too.
Dinner service is set to kick off Feb. 4 at Sassy Spoon (5011 34th Av. S., Mpls.), owner Tamara Brown’s brick-and-mortar iteration of her nutrition-conscious (gluten-free, low-sugar, fresh vegetables, sustainably raised animal proteins) food truck of the same name.
Vellee Deli, another food truck-turned-restaurant success story, is getting close to launching its downtown skyway spot (30 S. 7th St., Mpls., www.velleedeli.com).
Having departed its Block E address last fall, Bradstreet Neighborhood Craftshouse will be reopening this spring in its new Lowry Hill home, the former Rye Deli (1930 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.bradstreetcraftshouse.com). Expect to encounter dinner daily, served late into the night, and a new weekend brunch.
In Linden Hills, chef Erick Harcey of Victory 44 is transforming a 100-year-old hardware store (4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls.) into a three-sided enterprise: an all-day (and vegetable-focused) neighborhood restaurant, a grab-and-go counter and an interactive facility that will support everything from demonstrations and cooking classes to a three- to four-night per week multicourse, fixed-priced dinner. No name yet, with a tentative midwinter debut.
At the happening intersection of 38th and Nicollet, HauteDish chef Landon Schoenefeld is developing a culinary twofer. There’s Nighthawks (3753 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.), his “nocturnal diner” (translation: a dinner and late-night destination specializing in staples from the blue plate universe; brunch, too), and then 20-seat Birdie, where the focus will be on multicourse, fixed-priced meals. Construction is underway.