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Jamie Malone: A Chef’s Tour of the Twin Cities
By: Stephanie March | Posted: 07/08/2014
The light bulbs on the iconic Town Talk Diner marquee will blink once again. And yet, somehow, they will blink with a French accent.
Emilie Cellai Johnson and Ben Johnson are the husband and wife team who will relaunch the spot as Le Town Talk French Diner & Drinkery sometime this September. The idea is to make it into a working-class French bar and restaurant serving comfort food inspired by the hometown memories of Cellai Johnson's childhood in Marseille. Julien Marsson, also of Marseille, will be creating the drinks program, which will include plenty of bubbles and cocktails.
The spot will be modeled after a "buvette," which, in France is a social hub where people gather after work and linger long into the night, maybe tippling a signature cocktail made with Chartreuse, vodka, verbena syrup, and apple juice. A quick look at the bar menu shows a nice list of bubbly drinks with cava and Champagne, signature cocktails that have a bit of French influence, and some boozy smoothies (perhaps as a nod to the former adult milkshakes of TTD days past). All drinks can be ordered as a "cascade" for four or more people, which basically means you're drinking out of an absinthe fountain.
The food menu claims local sourcing and places the quality of ingredients as a high priority. This French comfort food seems to be sometimes authentic and sometimes a bit of a mashup with local favorites. Brunch features a Croque Monsieur, quiche, both sweet and savory crepes, plus French toast. Small plates include French deviled eggs and pickle rollups made with cornichon and herbed goat cheese. Bigger plates include cod hot dish (!!) , steak frites, Corsican stew, a Marseille burger with Swiss cheese and roasted red peppers, and Merguez lamb sausage with harissa mayo on baguette.
Can they successfuly Frenchify one of the food set's most hallowed and keenly missed haunts? Well, they can't change the sign, as that's a historical fixture, and word on the street is that the Theros Group still actually owns the sign and the name, so will adding "le" be enough? All I know is that I need to brush up on some of my Frenchy bon mots.
Stephanie March is Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s food and dining editor. See bio
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