It’s a story that’s almost perilously corny. But when it’s done right, the local-kid-makes-good scenario makes for boffo box office. That’s certainly the case at four-star Spoon and Stable, which immediately earned its reputation — with good reason — as the toughest reservation in town since the doors opened late last year.
Chef/owner Gavin Kaysen’s biography is certainly the stuff of screenplays. Driven, talented and tireless, the Bloomington native immersed himself, post-high-school, in the upper echelons of the culinary world, eventually landing in New York City under the tutelage of one of the continent’s great luminaries, Daniel Boulud.
He stayed for nearly a decade, developing a Harvard-level skill set (and a Rolodex to match) before leaving his mentor and returning to his hometown. With seeming effortlessness, Kaysen proceeded to do everything right in his relentless pursuit of excellence.
After landing a premium North Loop address, building a beauty of a dining venue (a best-in-portfolio effort from Shea, the Minneapolis design firm) and recruiting a top-flight crew (including chef de cuisine Christopher Nye, pastry chef Diane Yang and bartender Robb Jones) Kaysen proceeded to cook in his dramatic, camera-ready kitchen with a vigorous clarity, casting a discerning net on the region’s larder and turning out one seasonally reflective, scrupulously realized dish after the next. His approach, rooted in the classics but with a contemporary edge, isn’t flashy, or trendy, or prone to gimmickry.
The same could be said of the restaurant, which gift-wraps each facet of the dining-out experience in a cloud of warm, well-practiced hospitality. A role model for the local dining scene, Spoon and Stable has also become a darling of the national food press, and garnered an unprecedented-for-Minnesota pair of James Beard Foundation award nominations. No surprise there.
Welcome home, Mr. Kaysen.
Chef of the year: Jorge Guzman of Surly Brewing Co. in Minneapolis
It speaks volumes to his abilities that chef Jorge Guzman doesn’t get lost in the overwhelmingly impressive, everything-that-$30-million-can buy facility that is Surly Brewing Co. Instead, Guzman’s a shining star. When he was hired, his mandate was crystal clear: “It’s all about food that tastes good with beer,” he said. Done. On peak days, several thousand diners can roll through Surly, and Guzman and his crew deliver a memorable experience to each and every one. Downstairs in the populist, energetic Beer Hall, the emphasis is on boldly flavored barbecue. Upstairs in the Brewer’s Table, Guzman turns on the nuance, tapping a tasting-menu format to demonstrate how the brewery’s singular beers can be as inspiring as any winery’s output. “We want to show people what the possibilities are,” he said. Now that he’s at the helm, Guzman has discovered that being a mentor is the most treasured part of his job description. “If someone becomes successful because they worked here, that’s better than any accolade that anybody can bestow on me,” he said.
Dish of the year: Fried chicken at Revival in Minneapolis
Fried chicken — everyone can prepare it well, right? Wrong. When it comes to the version at Revival, a deep-fried revelation happens after a single bite, although stopping at just one requires a Tungsten-level willpower. Chef Thomas Boemer’s fidelity to Southern traditions is so strong that the recipe could be ripped from the tattered pages of a vintage cookbook from a Southern Baptist ladies auxiliary: Amish-raised birds tenderized in a buttermilk marinade (“To me, it’s one of the quintessential scents of the Southern kitchen,” he said) and fried in lard, yielding a nutmeg-browned coating that is prodigiously crispy yet miraculously doesn’t fall away from the juice-laden, flavor-rich meat. Boemer’s Tennessee Hot rendition improves upon perfection, the just-out-of-the-fryer chicken generously brushed with an incendiary cayenne-heavy spice blend. Minnesota-born, Southern-raised Boemer has a genuine affinity for the food he grew up eating, so be sure to order extra fried chicken — it’s sold in two-piece, half- and whole-bird portions — and walk away with a doggy bag, because the restaurant’s signature dish also constitutes what is easily the year’s best leftovers.
Meal of the year: Brunch
Sure, the dining world’s most famous portmanteau has always been a player. But in 2015, it felt as if the weekend midday meal known as brunch became a prerequisite for every newcomer, including Saint Dinette, Eastside, Parella, Nighthawks, Bradstreet Neighborhood Craftshouse, Sassy Spoon, Cafe Racer Kitchen, Mon Petit Chéri Bakery & Kitchen, Pilgrimage, Hola Arepa, Third Bird, Lela, Le Town Talk French Diner & Drinkery and La Fresca. Tops in its class? Sunday brunch at Spoon and Stable. Also noteworthy is the big-time way Burch Steak and Pizza Bar — the Star Tribune’s 2013 Restaurant of the Year — embraced Sunday brunch, starting with chef Daniel del Prado’s spectacular shrimp-crab étouffée and pastry chef Shawn McKenzie’s superb output. The one sad note is the demise of Sunday brunch at the Bachelor Farmer, truly a classic. “There’s going to a net gain in the end,” said chef Paul Berglund, referring to the restaurant’s soon-to-open breakfast-and-lunch cafe. Yes, it’ll be open Sundays. Phew.