It bears repeating to note that one of the most rewarding aspects of the current restaurant boom is the way opportunities are being created for a new generation of chefs to step to the forefront and strut their stuff.
Eastside chef Remy Pettus is definitely a member of that fraternity. The Minneapolis native has worked for and learned from an impressive cadre of chefs — locally, in Chicago and in Northern California — and it’s a pleasure to see him ensconced in his own kitchen, taking justifiable pride in a menu of his own design.
He imports a flatiron cut of Kobe-style beef from Idaho, and, with just salt and pepper and a hot grill, skillfully takes it to a velvety medium-rare. Then he stands back and waits for the accolades.
And boy, do they fly in. The shamelessly flavorful, beautifully marbled meat exudes the buttery texture of a rib-eye, but at a lower cost; at $34, it’s nothing short of a euphoric beef-eating experience.
Especially since Pettus accentuates the beef’s inherent lavishness with earthy mushrooms, then inserts a refreshing palate-cleansing finish in the form of black grapes. The crowning touch is an astonishingly delicious potato pavé, although the menu invokes the far more egalitarian “scalloped potatoes.”
Me? I’d call them Cheesy Potato Goodness of the Gods. They’re simplicity itself, which is maybe why they’re so appealing, just pressed layers of thinly pared Yukon Golds, garlic-infused butter and three cheeses, baked just until the potatoes begin to soften, and then browned on the stove until they take on a caramelized glow. I’m sighing, just thinking about them.
Two happy sidenotes: For those not interested in that steak — although, how is that possible? — Pettus offers the potatoes as a side dish. Order it, often (along with the ingenious fried wild rice). At brunch, Pettus picks up the same flatiron steak, pairing it with eggs. Twenty-eight bucks isn’t exactly chump change at brunch, but this is one worthwhile expenditure.
The kitchen’s focus on lighter, healthier cooking really comes through in tuna poke.
The default mode for this dish is all about darker acids like soy, but Pettus turns to bright grapefruit and sesame instead, with hot Fresno chiles and cool avocado doing their opposites-attract thing.
Another clever culinary trick: The pretty, luxuriously creamy lobster soup is actually cream-free, thanks to poached and puréed sunchokes.
Nothing but praise for a taboulleh-like salad of quinoa and chewy farro, and a skillfully composed take on the bacon-spinach salad format.
The menu’s casual offerings do not disappoint, and they’re aimed squarely at what is surely the huge number of frequent diners who live in the burgeoning neighborhood.
The fried chicken sandwich packs a flavor wallop without the attending cholesterol guilt, letting a smoky (and tomato-free) barbecue sauce and crunchy, spicy pickles do the heavy flavor lifting, although the juicy chicken thighs and sturdy pretzel bun play their roles well. I’d happily tuck into it on a frequent basis.
Ditto the burger, a thick, mouthwatering patty of lean bison sirloin, topped with a prosciutto-thin slice of Nueske’s bacon (all of the divine smoky, porky flavor, little of the guilt), aromatic aged Mahon cheese, pickled baby peppers and a swipe of shallot jam. The fries? Excellent.
And for snacks, there’s a colorful salmon-three-ways option, the obligatory cheese and meat platters, and gorgeous prawns, poached and chilled and paired with a rollicking cocktail sauce.
Pettus and chef de cuisine Nick Dugan take full advantage of the wood-burning oven at the center of their showy, wide-open kitchen. They use red oak embers to unlock the sweetness inside carrots, using them as building blocks for a lovely salad that’s boosted by a pert lemon vinaigrette.
The oven’s intense, transformative heat is also the secret behind a first-rate roast chicken. Cooked on a bed of thyme and garlic in a cast iron pan, the meat is prodigiously juicy, and the oven’s high heat produces a browned, tantalizingly crispy skin, its underside decadently seasoned with a 50/50 blend of foie gras and butter.
The salsify-bacon-squash foundation on another dish couldn’t have been more appealing on a chilly November night, but the main attraction, a slab of pearly, flaky corvina, was unevenly roasted; overdone in parts, nearly raw in others. It was difficult to muster enthusiasm for a leaden, overdressed flatbread. As for the desserts, they’re fine, and highly shareable, but not particularly memorable.
The stellar baked goods offered at brunch are another story. They’re prepared by new hire Beryl St. Jeanne, who recently returned to her hometown after pastry- making stints in Austin, Texas.
Just a few weeks on the job, and she’s already made brunch at Eastside a hot reservation, turning out airy popovers enriched with Gruyère, creamy quiche, delicate chocolate éclairs, pull-apart chocolate babka and flaky, fruit-topped Danish. I can’t wait to see what miracles St. Jeanne performs with the dinner dessert menu.
Her a.m. baking certainly complements Pettus’ fine brunch offerings. Some p.m. favorites migrate to the menu, supplemented by well-executed morning standards, including eggs skillfully enhanced with mushrooms, French toast, omelets and a dreamy plate of shrimp and grits.
Along with foreseeing the real estate possibilities at the once-moribound corner of Washington and 3rd, Burnet had the smarts to recruit Pettus, as well as tap Dan Oskey of Tattersall Distilling in Minneapolis to develop the appealing libations program.
He also commissioned Shea, the Minneapolis design firm, to craft a distinctive environment inside a taller version of the lookalike apartment buildings that are popping up all over town.
Mission accomplished. The vast, animated (translation: loud) room has tons of big-city personality, its considerable bulk divided into bite-size pieces without diminishing its see-and-be-seen sweep. Stylishly tying it all together is a ring of amber-tinted clerestory windows and enough ceramic mosaic floor tile to outfit an Olympic-sized swimming pool. It’s one of those rooms that makes everyone a little better-looking.
My only question, and it’s a selfish one: Mr. Burnet, can you please open a restaurant in my neighborhood?
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