Two Esker Grove veterans, Denny Leaf-Smith and Kim Tong, are branching out from the Walker Art Center restaurant and opening All Saints.
When their restaurant (222 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., allsaintsmpls.com) debuts in August, it will revive the charming space that was most recently occupied by Bardo.
Leaf-Smith — a 112 Eatery, Eastside and Cafe Lurcat veteran — will run the kitchen, and Tong, a convivial presence in the dining rooms at Borough, Masu Sushi & Robata and the former Piccolo, will manage the front of the house.
"Kim and I worked together really well at the Walker," said Leaf-Smith. "Her operational expertise is unbelievable."
A wood-burning grill is going to be a central cooking component.
"The concept is going to be very vegetable-forward," said Leaf-Smith. "We're working on moving vegetables to the center of the plate. That wood-fired grill will impart a great char and smokiness to the vegetables. Not everything will come off the wood-fired grill, but at least one component on every plate will."
Leaf-Smith's vegetable-centric menu follows the recent announcement that, after a pandemic-related pause, influential New York City chef Daniel Humm will reopen his Eleven Madison Park as a vegan operation. The news swept across the country like a culinary tidal wave.
"I saw that, and I thought, 'Oh man, he beat us to the punch,' " Leaf-Smith said with a laugh.
But unlike Humm's Michelin-starred New York City dining experience, which will feature a $335 plant-based tasting menu, the All Saints kitchen will utilize meats.
"But the meat component will enhance the vegetables, rather than the vegetables enhancing the meat," said Leaf-Smith.
The plan is to serve dinner six nights a week (and follow the traditional tipping model), expanding to weekend brunch service in 2022.
"We're not trying create any kind of fine-dining experience," said Leaf-Smith. "It's going to be casual and refined at the same time, with an approachable per-person price point, the high $30s to the low $40s. I'm also trying to pull from my past 112 Eatery days, where 70% of the menu is locked down, and 30% changes seasonally. You'll be able to come back time and time again for a favorite dish, but you'll also be able to expand to new dishes that we've put on for the season."
The long, narrow building dates to 1928 and housed Bobino and Rachel's before chef Remy Pettus opened Bardo in 2017. Bardo closed in September.
Minneapolis-based Wittkamper Studio — founder Aaron Wittkamper's work is familiar to fans of Brother Justus Whiskey Co., Heather's, La Doña Cerveceria, Tattersall Distillery and J. Selby's — is making changes to the restaurant's footprint.
Tong and Leaf-Smith want to add more seats to the dining room, boosting the number to 80, and in order to do that, the bar is being relocated from the entrance and will run along the wall that faces the restaurant's first-rate patio. A 12-seat communal table is being installed near the kitchen, and will serve as overflow seating and as an informal, semi-private dining space.
The All Saints name is a reference to the building's original tenant, a funeral home.
"It's as close to paying homage to the funeral home without being too campy about it," said Leaf-Smith.
In the past year, the neighborhood has seen a burst of restaurant activity, with the addition of Northeast Tea House, Sidebar at Surdyk's, Stepchld, Hyde Kitchen + Cocktails and the just-opened Arturo's Pizza. Sonder Shaker, temporarily closed since October, reopens May 14.
Leaf-Smith said that launching a business during a global pandemic has its challenges, but he's confident about the future.
"For the first couple of months, when we told people that we were opening a restaurant, they would say, 'Are you crazy?' " he said with a laugh. "But I feel like people are going to value going out to dinner a little bit more than they did before the pandemic. Everyone has had a good amount of time to cook at home during this last year, and they're hungry to get out. We're hoping to catch everyone on the upswing."
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib