Stillwater native Mike Willenbring put in 7 years as head chef at Revé Bistro & Bar before he decided it was time to set out on his own.
So when the former Belgian café L’Etoile du Nord space opened up, he grabbed it.
Manger Restaurant and Wine Bar opens Jan. 5. (320 5th Av. N., Bayport, 651-324-9313, mangerrestaurant.com)
“It was always my dream to have a restaurant when I was 30,” said the 28-year-old Willenbring, who co-owns Manger with his wife, Nicole. “When the opportunity came along, we couldn’t refuse.”
Willenbring got comfortable in his career with the steak-and-seafood, tasting-menu kind of cooking Revé is known for.
At his new restaurant, those “cheffy things” aren’t exactly in line with the Bayport dining scene, he said.
“I wanted to be a little bit more approachable, but still upscale and still doing fun things.”
Instead of a chef’s tasting menu, look for amuse bouches throughout dinner. “Random, little surprises to introduce unique items and ingredients,” he said.
Everything he makes gets kissed by woodfire in a centerpiece oven. There will be pizzas, roasted veggies from local farms, braised meats and at lunch, sandwiches.
The space is pretty much in turnkey condition, but Willenbring had one significant addition: an oyster bar.
“It’ll be a really relaxed atmosphere. Sit a couple hours, get a bottle of wine. We’re not really expecting our dinner service to be constantly turning tables,” he said.
Manger will be open Tues.-Sat. for lunch and dinner.