When Augustine's reopens on May 20, the restaurant (1668 Selby Av., St. Paul, augustinesmn.com) will have new culinary leadership and a different format.
In 2016, owners Howie Melco, Tony Anderson and Anne Marie converted a former laundromat into a gastropub and bakery. Earlier this year, the trio hired Lenny Russo as a consultant, and the former Heartland chef/owner is transitioning the operation into a neighborhood bistro.
Russo has recruited Derik Moran, the talent who spent a decade running the kitchen at the Dakota, as the restaurant's chef. Toni Luschen, longtime pastry chef at the former Lucia's Restaurant, is Augustine's pastry chef. Mega Hoehn, Russo's spouse and the front-of-house face at Heartland, has signed on as general manager.
"It's traditional French bistro with modern touches, and it's a style of cooking that I appreciate the most," said Moran. "It's going to be low-key, simple food, focusing on local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients. I have lots of creative freedom. It's a great opportunity, and I'm looking forward to being a part of the St. Paul community."
Moran said that the menu should change every three to four weeks, and that its 12 to 15 items will be evenly divided into small ("not 'tapas' small," he said) and large plates.
Starting out, the former will include beef tartare with giardiniera and house-baked brioche toast, asparagus with egg and a tarragon aioli, vichyssoise with an arugula purée and French fries with bearnaise sauce. For the latter, there are mussels cooked in white wine and spring onions, cappelletti pasta with mushrooms and artichokes, bass served with lentils and spinach, grass-fed beef sirloin paired with a sunchoke-potato purée and a burger topped with Gruyère, aioli and tomato jam.
Luschen's initial dessert roster includes a rhubarb-lime custard tart with buttermilk ice cream, a vanilla bean panna cotta with strawberry-black pepper compote, a cheese board and nightly semifreddo and sorbet selections.
Small plates prices range from $12 to $20, large plates run $18 to $28 and desserts hover around $12.
The restaurant will be a tip-free and service fee-free operation, with service costs built into the menu's prices.
"We're doing it the way the rest of the world does it," said Russo. "All the prices on the menu will reflect inclusive service. There's no place on the charge slip where you can leave a tip."
The salary structure is also a departure from the industry's standard operating procedure.
"Everyone is being paid $20 an hour, it doesn't matter if you're a server, a bartender, a line cook or a dishwasher," said Russo. "Everyone's labor is valued in the same way. Real change in this industry begins with equity in compensation."
Along with some small pandemic-related design tweaks — plexiglass barriers, additional outdoor seating — Augustine's regulars will notice that the building's bakery case won't be in play. For now, anyway.
"The bakery counter feeds into the concept of a French bistro, and we'll definitely have it at some point," said Moran. "Right now we just want to focus on getting the restaurant back on its feet, getting people into the door and showing the new concept. There's a lot that this building can offer, and I want to tap into every revenue stream possible to make it work."
The bar will see some changes, too. The number of taps is being reduced from 40 to about 20. At least 10 remaining taps will be devoted to beers, and the rest will be dedicated to wines (served by the carafe, half-carafe and glass), cider, kombucha and hard seltzer.
"The mantra is, 'Let's do a little less in order to do a little more,' " said Russo. "We're focused on quality, not quantity."
The plan is to start with dinner, served Thursday through Sunday, with the goal of adding Saturday and Sunday brunch. Weekday daytime hours are a later possibility.
"There's a lot of excitement," said Russo. "People in the neighborhood keep stopping by and asking when we're going to open."
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib