Twenty-five months after announcing their plan to create a restaurant in the Keg and Case Market at the former Schmidt Brewery complex in St. Paul, Thomas Boemer and Nick Rancone opened their In Bloom on Monday night.
Based solely on looks, the effort appears to have been worth the wait.
The two-story dining room is dominated by a massive stone hearth. It’s set at a 45-degree angle from the restaurant’s dining room, which accentuates the views of the action.
And there is plenty of showmanship. The hearth’s 20-foot stove is fueled by burning oak (to the tune of two cords per week) and it’s divided into five cooking stations, each utilizing sturdy iron grates at various levels to capture different heat levels (from powerful flames to glowing, radiant coals) and using different aromatics (plum wood, vine clippings, hickory) to forge varying flavor profiles.
“There are no electric- or gas-fueled stoves or ovens,” said Boemer. “This is my dream kitchen. There’s something about the precision that’s required to cook with fire. The food isn’t smoky, it isn’t charred. It’s subtle. I’ve wanted to be a disciple of this cooking for so long.”
A small wood-fueled oven is designed for roasting (including a snack of local grapes, Marcona almonds, olives and figs), and hooks will be used to cook everything from 1 1/2-lb. poussin to venison legs, “and other large-scale dishes that can only be done in this special way,” said Boemer.
Along with those share-with-the-table dishes (of special note is 2-lb. prime Porterhouse steak, dry-aged for 70 days), the menu is divided into four other sections. Seafood dishes include broiled oysters with bone marrow sabayon, cockles with corn cream and guanciale, and grilled trout with melted leeks.
Vegetable dishes include roasted carrots with whipped ricotta and fennel pollen, grilled lettuce hearts with a warm anchovy vinaigrette, and Jerusalem artichokes and baby artichokes with cattails.
The “bird” selection ranges from pheasant to duck hearts, and an all-venison selection includes a tartare preparation, a house-made summer sausage (prepared by house butcher and Red Table Meat Co. vet Tyler Montgomery) and a ragu over cavatelli.
Boemer (pictured above, left, with Rancone, in the space in August 2016 in a Star Tribune file photo) has joined a small cadre of local chefs embracing hearth cooking, including Ann Kim at Young Joni and Jose Alarcon at the recently-opened Popol Vuh. He and chef de cuisine Jeff Lakatos — a veteran of San Francisco’s Boulevard, another wood fire-focused operation — are forging what they believe is a regional style of cooking.
“When I think of a Minnesota cuisine, I think of what we experience when we go up north to the cabin,” said Boemer. “It’s sitting around a fire, cooking pan fish. Or opening the freezer and seeing venison. This is our connection with the outdoors, and that was the flavor profile that was imprinted on me when I was growing up.”
The plan is to also collaborate with fellow Keg and Case Market vendors. Boemer is taking honey from Worker B, giving it a delicate smoke on the stove and then turning it over to Sweet Science Ice Cream owner Ashlee Olds to incorporate into ice cream.
“Then we’ll put it in a marshmallow and toast it over the hearth,” said Boemer.
He’s also roasting a range of mushrooms from Forest to Fork.
“I think I’ve eaten a pound of mushrooms a day since we started cooking,” Boemer said with a laugh. “We’re going to make use of this whole amazing community.”
“We’ll eventually add lunch,” said Rancone.
The restaurant was designed by Studio M Architects of Minneapolis. All seating wisely radiates from that imposing stone hearth (catch the view from the amphitheater-like mezzanine that serves as the restaurant’s private dining space; there’s also a great perch from the neighboring Clutch Brewing Co.). The modernity of the finishing details is in stark contrast to the primal hearth and the rough-hewed brick-and-timber shell of the Schmidt’s historic structure.
A 12-seat kitchen counter acts as a front row to the dramatic cooking proceedings. The dining room's marble-topped tables segue into wood-framed booths lined in purple-and-silver velvet and illuminated by copper-finished globe lights. At the rear is a well-outfitted bar. (A 60-seat patio — with its own built-in bar — will materialize next spring).
Artwork includes a trio of colorful, graffiti-like panels — they’re painted on cement blocks that were used, long ago, to fill in windows — by Eric Inkala, a Minnesota native now working in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Nearly 300 hand-formed acrylic flower petals — fitted with fiber optic illumination — hang from the ceiling in a sweeping cascade.
“It’s not as expensive as it looks,” said Rancone. “We don’t want to become the place you go once a year on your anniversary. Even though it’s stylish, we’re super-conscious of having accessible price points.”
Meanwhile, at the duo’s adjacent Revival Smoked Meats, the crew is gearing up to start serving weekend breakfast, with a menu that will include brioche rolls filled with eggs, cheese, the kitchen’s smoked brisket and a fermented sweet chile barbecue sauce.
When? “Soon,” said Boemer.