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First Bite: District Fresh Kitchen + Bar
By: Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl | Posted: 06/05/2014
Nothing has been bigger in Minnesota food the last few years than the Surly taproom and restaurant. That, of course, is because the mere desire for the Surly taproom and restaurant was what got our state-changing Surly bill imagined, and then passed. That Surly bill then birthed the local brewery boom and the local distillery boom. While everyone else was frolicking in the new economic territory Surly had wrought, Surly itself bought an eight-acre brown field in Minneapolis and announced plans for a $20 million brewery, taproom, and restaurant.
The question of who would lead the kitchen at this national destination of a taproom and restaurant has swirled around the Twin Cities all year. The answer came today, and it’s sort of a shocker: Jorge Guzman, the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef who has been top toque for the last three years at Minnesota’s leading tapas bar, Solera. Before that, Guzman was very briefly chef de cuisine at Corner Table, and before that a cook at Tejas. So, as Guzman is best known for his work with Spanish flavors, what? Jamon Iberico with Furious, queso manchego with Hell, paella with Darkness? Part two of the shocker: This whole Surly thing is going to be nothing short of enormous. All told, Surly will host a 100-seat full-service restaurant, a 300-person casual dining beer hall, a 175-person event center, and a two-acre beer garden. That’s big.
But not so big as Solera, actually. “At Solera we’ve done 1,000 people a night,” Jorge Guzman told me on the phone just now. “So all of this is big, but doable.”
What is he thinking for the food? “I just got the job four days ago, just signed the paperwork,” Guzman said. “Right now as far as I know it’s chef-driven, craft-beer inspired.” Meaning what? “I love fried chicken like nobody’s business,” Guzman said. “But I don’t see fried chicken as a staple dish. I think it’s really going to be about thinking about the flavors in the beer, and working to bring those out in ways that are subtle. I also built my reputation, to the extent that I have a reputation, working with local farmers.”
True that—he founded Farm in the Cities, the series of events that connects local farmers and chefs and raises money for local organizations such as Youth Farm. So, local farms, look for them!
I also asked Guzman about barbecue, as he grew up in St. Louis, and he said he thought barbecue could play some role. I asked about his childhood in the Yucatan, and he told me about how one of the things he loves about the Yucatan is the way the cuisine of Lebanese immigrants became woven in with native flavors. “Will there be a modern al pastor at the new Surly?” I asked, referencing the gyros-like cone of pork, chili, and pineapple so identified with the region. “Potentially,” he said. “Linda has an affinity for Mexican food, and there are ways to fit in those flavors so they’re not just big and bold, but they’re more an underlying tone to the whole menu.” Linda is Linda Haug, who will be overseeing the food part of Surly; she is, of course, married to Surly’s legendary head brewer Todd Haug, and once owned and ran Minneapolis’s long lost and lamented Café Twenty-Eight. So, Linda! Local farm al pastor? That would be so cool. Think about it.
Linda has a while to think about it. As do we all. The expected open of all of this is now early 2015 for the beer hall, with the restaurant and the rest of it opening one chunk after another, and all of them open hopefully before the summer 2015. That’s a year! Merely a year. So start x-ing off the days on your calendar Surly Nation, because here comes the thing that already changed everything.
Malcolm Ave. SE at SE 5th St., Mpls., surlybrewing.com
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a senior editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.See bio
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