When Dermot Cowley opened McKinney Roe in the shadow of U.S. Bank Stadium two years ago, he had “lofty goals” for how the restaurant would be received.
He wanted to create the Meritage of Minneapolis, he said, referring to the St. Paul bistro where diners could be equally comfortable having a burger at the bar or celebrating a special occasion with duck à la presse.
But the developing East Town neighborhood, where the Wells Fargo tower that houses McKinney Roe is located, wasn’t ready, Cowley said.
So, his previously Irish-tinged restaurant is going full Gaelic. On Tuesday, Feb. 19, McKinney Roe will become an Irish pub (530 S. 4th St., Mpls., 612-545-5863, mckinneyroe.com).
“The reality is, we’re very strong at lunch time and happy hour and we do a lot of private events. Just that nighttime dining crowd hasn’t materialized in that area yet,” Cowley said. “People in the neighborhood thought we were too fancy or too expensive.”
The new format is “essentially a less expensive operation to run” and more in line with Cowley’s other restaurants: Jake O’Connor’s Public House in Excelsior, O’Donovan’s in downtown Minneapolis and Lola’s Lakehouse in Waconia.
McKinney Roe had no problem filling up on game days, and Cowley wants to attract more of those stadium visitors, like attendees at a monster truck show who might be looking for a more casual vibe than what McKinney Roe has been projecting.
There will be “subtle” décor changes: splashes of color, Irish flags on the bar and window decals with scenes of Ireland, “but on the inside, still an elegant feel.” Yes, you can expect a full-fledged St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Chef Scott Pampuch, who had joined the restaurant last June, is no longer overseeing the kitchen.
“It just wasn’t the right fit,” Pampuch said. He is now at 4 Bells in Loring Park.
Wilson Lucero, who was the sous chef at McKinney Roe, has taken Pampuch’s place, and will be adding in a few “Irish gastropub” dishes similar to those found at Jake O’Connor’s. Expect to see “shepherd’s shank,” a kind of shepherd’s pie made with braised lamb shank served in a roasted squash bowl; and a thick-cut pork chop marinated in Irish whiskey. Prices are coming down, too. But the name, which tributes Cowley and his wife’s mothers’ maiden names, will remain.
“For a lot of people, the big crowds who go to concerts and games, they’re not going to notice anything different,” Cowley said.
As for his dreams of becoming Meritage West? “I think we were probably a little too soon,” he said. “It’s so young a neighborhood, it hasn’t fully grown into itself yet. But it’s coming.”