St. Paul has landed a top chef.
Karyn Tomlinson, the fast-rising culinary star who lit up the kitchen at Corner Table with her refined and audacious cooking from 2017 until it closed in the summer of 2019 — and was the first female chef to win Cochon555, the national pork-centric cooking competition — has taken over the former Bar Brigade.
She's christened her new venture Myriel (470 S. Cleveland Av., myrielmn.com), named for a favorite character in author Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables."
"I read it years ago, shortly after I'd finished cooking school," she said. "Bishop Myriel demonstrates how inviting someone in for a simple meal can make all the difference in a person's life. It's a really beautiful picture of hospitality, and I wanted to name my first place after that."
The menu is still being formulated, but Tomlinson hopes to offer some kind of tasting menu option.
"I want to get to know the neighborhood before I commit to anything," she said. "I'll highlight my European training — I went to cooking school in France, and I spent time in Sweden — and I want to highlight products from Minnesota farmers. 'Humble elegance' will be more of my philosophy."
Tomlinson and business partner James Brown — he's co-owner of the Hi-Lo Diner (4020 E. Lake St., Mpls.) — will be giving the 45-seat dining room and bar an overhaul, replacing the brick storefront with glass-paneled doors and adding a restroom. The diminutive kitchen (before Bar Brigade, the space was home to Ristorante Luci for nearly 30 years) will not be expanded.
"It's basically a 10-burner range with two very questionable ovens," Tomlinson said with a laugh. "It's small, but where there's a will, there's a way, and I definitely have the will."
While Tomlinson plans to open Myriel sometime after Christmas, she's contemplating an earlier start in the form of a single night of dinner service, or by booking private parties.
Until then, she's operating Karyn's Quarantine Kitchen, a takeout-only venture named for the lively and informative how-to videos she posts on her Instagram account.
The abbreviated menu, available on Saturdays, includes a changes-weekly meal kit for four as well as a family-style serving of pot roast sandwiches made with dinner rolls fashioned from a cherished family recipe (those same yeasty rolls helped her emerge victorious at Cochon555 in 2018). She's also turning out a small selection of baked goods; at least week's test run, she was offering loaves of bread and apple pie. Takeout orders can be placed through myrielmn.com.
Although the logic may seem counterintuitive, Tomlinson sees benefits in opening a restaurant during the pandemic.
"Everyone has to be more creative now," she said. "The reality is that the pandemic has made many places shut their doors, and with people vacating spaces, there's more opportunity for someone like me. There's more risk involved, but there's also more leverage in being able to negotiate a good lease."
She's been hunting for a space for a while, with no success.
"I kind of thought it was never going to happen," she said. "It's been hard to find a spot. Just when I was starting to give up hope for the Twin Cities area — I was going to start looking out in the country, near Dassel, that's where my family is — this happened. It's very serendipitous."
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib