One of the hottest reservations to snag on a Friday night isn't in Minneapolis. Diners are flocking to Promenade Place, a strip mall in Eagan, to Kitchen and Rail, which is the work of several industry veterans determined to create a draw for city dwellers and a destination for folks that live in the area.
The restaurant is owned by Victor Salamone, Joe Newhouse and Casey Lines. Salamone grew up in Milwaukee, where his family owned a restaurant. His professional career has included overseeing food and beverage programs for Hilton Hotels, and he was the franchise owner of several Famous Dave's. It was through that company that he met chef Charlie Torgerson, who was brought in to help construct Kitchen and Rail's eclectic menu.
On the night we visited, after snagging one of the few remaining reservations near dinnertime on a midweek evening, walk-ins were gently being informed of the extended waits for a table. Salamone was glad-handing his way through the dining room, checking in with every table and greeting some diners as friends. He was visibly tickled that we ordered "Nana's meatballs," which Torgerson adapted from a recipe of Salamone's grandmother.
Location: 3344 Promenade Av., Eagan, 612-402-7380, kitchenandrail.com
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 4-10 p.m. Fri., 4-11 p.m. Sat., 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat., 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
The food: The menu, which defies categorization, begins in America's heartland and then bops around the globe for added inspiration. There are steaks, vegan options, those Italian meatballs in tomato sauce ($10), Vietnamese-seasoned pork belly, wings and more.
We arrived 10 minutes before happy hour ended, but our server was determined to get an order of discounted appetizers and drinks in if we wanted them. Cauliflower stood in for meat in the burnt ends, charred and topped with a little sticky sauce ($8, $5 for happy hour). The Whole Damn Wings were smoked over cherrywood and we chose a dry rub seasoning ($14 at dinner, $5 for the smaller happy hour portion). Chips and caviar are thick slices of potato fried and topped with crème fraîche and served with a small bowl of black caviar ($12).
Entrees could be pasta, espresso-rubbed filet, Vietnamese spiced pork belly or butter chicken. We chose the latter two. Pork belly ($17) was cut into thick cubes, smoked and served with a brown sugar and warm spices which likely involved some star anise. It arrives over rice and is garnished with chiles, cilantro and grated carrots. Butter chicken ($12) was a vibrantly colored curry served over rice with warm naan and a dollop of yogurt sauce.
There's brunch, too: The weekend service just launched with a menu that includes Creole-seasoned eggs Benedict, waffles, pork belly sliders. bloody Marys and even a regular ol' bowl of cereal.
The vibe: The room has a little bit of everything for just about every diner. There's a gallery wall stocked with painting reproductions in gilded frames arranged on a trendy blue wall. Chandeliers glint in the reflected lights overhead. There are TVs within every sight line and on the evening we were there they played "The Real Housewives" of Someplace Fancy, sports recaps and a 1978 John Huston movie with an entire cast of "Oh, that guy!"
The room is a bit cozy and boisterous with acoustics that can be challenging for conversations during peak hours.
The staff moves with impressive speed, maximizing service and attention so each table is attended to without lingering for too long.
Getting there: The mall location affords plenty of parking, especially into the evening as nearby shops close for the day. Just make a reservation.