Fame, Fortune, Pop-Ups . . . and Dumplings?

An irreverent look at the most anticipated new Twin Cities restaurants of 2014.

Interior of Coup d'Etat restaurant in Minneapolis.
Photo by Caitlin Abrams

What will 2014 hold for the Twin Cities? Fortune? Fame? DUMPLINGS? (Which are themselves filled with fame and fortune?) How can any mere mortal foretell the seemingly unknowable future? Well, by reading this list of the most anticipated openings of 2014 that I put together for you.

Since it's kind of a lot of stuff, I went ahead and divided it into five nifty sections: Big Deals Forthcoming, Big Deals Upcoming, Tinier DealsBig Deals In The Midst, and In Summation
In which we discuss Coup d’Etat & Travail . . . aka Travail alums vs. actual Travailians
Pork belly at Coup d'Etat
Coup d’Etat
2923 Girard Ave. S., Mpls.

Chefs Nick O’Leary and Tyler Shipton were founding members of Travail, but then went on to open one of the top new restaurants of 2013, Borough, with its excellent cocktail bar Parlour, run by Jesse Held. It’s a mighty team, date night finesse, lots of energy, and cocktails on par with the best in the nation. Now for their next act they take on Uptown with Coup D’Etat, a 300-seat, multi-level, indoor-outdoor visionary cocktail restaurant and more scheduled to open next week. But what will the food be like?

I talked to Nick O’Leary and it won't be like Borough with elaborately constructed plates, but that doesn't mean it'll be like a chicken wing bar either:

“No burgers, no tacos, no sandwiches, no wings—it seems like every place in Uptown has a burger and bad chicken wings, we wanted to do something else.” Like what? “Real food that’s comfortable to people in the neighborhood: Polenta, arincini balls, flatiron steak, a half roast chicken, salt crusted loup de mer, tuna crudo, gnocchi, pastas from scratch,” O’Leary said. “When I look around, I see a lot of people moving to Uptown right out of college, and I think people want another option besides pretty bad chicken wings.” But there will bar food—at the walk-up window that faces the Lagoon. This window will be a true street-food window, O’Leary says, it will actually be street food meant to consume on the street. And there in the window: “A bad-ass burger, tacos, pizza by the slice; anything we like, we’ll put it on the chalkboard and sell it from the window.”

Coup d’Etat should be open soon. In the meantime check out our full preview complete with photos.

The menu board at the old Travail space.
Travail & The Rookery:
4124 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale

All the folks who backed the Travail Kickstarter at the $100-and-up levels will be invited to their soft opening, and that will go on for a week. After that, critics from around the country will pour in to find out if this is going to be one of the best new restaurants of 2014 or whether this fearless bunch of hard-partying molecular gastronomists have already reached the apex of their talents. Mike Brown tells me they have cool new toys to bring to the scrum: a centrifuge straight from the chemistry labs of UW-Madison, ceramic brick grills that heat to 1800 degrees, a pasta extruder, and an anti-griddle (a griddle that freezes things with a surface super-cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen) that will allow the creation of tableside reverse-ice-cream sandwiches (ice-cream on the outside). Both Travail and The Rookery will open simultaneously, and if you or anyone you know has a PhD in chemistry, drop by because they’re not entirely sure how to use that centrifuge yet.

How big of a deal are these? BIG. In fact, before the corn gets knee-high, we should have three restaurants that could potentially reorient the dining landscape in their respective cities.
Meritage Sommelier, Nico Giraud
Brasserie Zentral (and family)
505 Marquette Ave. S., Mpls.

So just exactly how many Austrian restaurants is Meritage owner Russell Klein opening in downtown Minneapolis? Basically one big one, and three satellites. The big one will be across from the light rail station between Marquette and City Hall on 5th street in the Soo Line building (which is being transformed into fancy condos). It will be called Brasserie Zentral, and it will be a 150-seat Austrian beer palace with, Klein says, a "fantastic" wiener schnitzel, Austrian taffelspitz, and other north-central European comforts.

“A great wiener schnitzel is a work of art,” Klein tells me. “The breading should be so light it should almost be a soufflé rising from the meat. A lot of people have never had great wiener schnitzel, and I’m going to change that.” 

There will also be beers of every sort, and a very strong pastry program with a well known pastry chef.

Then there's the satellites. In the skyway there will be Café Zentral, a grab-and-go counter-service spot with European street-food like sausage sandwiches, crepes, pastries, and, a most-welcome addition to the skyway arsenal, craft coffee. Another component will be the street-level wine bar Foreign Legion, which will have several hundred wine selections available by the glass. How is that possible? Cutting edge wine pouring technology in which surgical grade needles are inserted through the cork, so that wine can be extracted and simultaneously replaced with noble, neutral argon gas.

“We’ve done tests, you can have a wine bottle open for months and there is no degradation in quality,” Klein says.

And in addition to wine? Cheese! “We’ll have a huge selection of cheeses,” he says. “Raclette, just like you get in Switzerland, and a killer grilled cheese menu.”

Finally, there will be a Zentral retail wine shop, curated and stocked by Meritage’s sommelier, the award-winning Nicolas Giraud. Oh, and double-finally, Zentral will also have a vast rooftop available for private events, so reserve it now if you want it for Fourth of July fireworks. 
That ubiquitous octupus, here from La Belle Vie.
2702 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.

Jim Christiansen may be one of the most gifted chefs of his generation, and everyone’s buzzing about his first solo spot slated to open this spring on 27th and Lyndale. If you’re not familiar with Christiansen, he was the star pupil of Tim McKee of La Belle Vie, spent formative time at the best restaurant in the world, NOMA in Copenhagen, and went on to have a dazzling, if short-lived, tenure as the opening chef of that cruise-ship on Hennepin, Union.

Now he’s opening his own place with former La Belle Vie maître d’ Loren Zinter, and it will be casual, a dining room and a lounge, a menu of around 20 items, priced $5 to $20, with a full cocktail program highlighting unusual liquors, and a wine list that is designed to be particularly food friendly. What will Christiansen do at his new place? He’ll make his own butter, for one thing. He says he’s developing a cultured butter from wonderful Kalona Organics milk (they’re obsessed with butter at NOMA) and that the real old-fashioned buttermilk will star on its own, in dishes like a flatbread made with buttermilk dough, onion, and country ham. Some other dishes: Wood-roasted local quail with poached morels, charred ramps, and a bee balm vinegar; a high-heat plancha-roasted octopus with a smoked bone marrow and mint vinaigrette, young spruce shoots, and sweet pea broth. “It’s the ubiquitous Minneapolis octopus,” Christiansen quipped. Ah yeah, Minneapolis, land of ubiquitous octopus, with the bone marrow . . . like we do.

Well, when Heyday opens it will open for dinner only, and at some point will serve weekend brunch as well, though don’t go looking for the menu of the former tenant of the spot on 27th and Lyndale, the Sunnyside Up Café. “People keep asking if we’re going to have this cornflake breaded French toast that they had on their menu. No. No we are not going to have that,” Loren Zinter told me. “Why do people keep asking that? I can’t tell if they’re joking.” 

Bar tricks at The Strip Club.
Saint Dinette

One of the most popular restaurants of the last few years in St. Paul has been the grass-fed steak- and chop-house The Strip Club. Now chef JD Fratzke and co-owner Tim Niver are branching out with a second spot, right across from the historic farmer’s market in downtown St. Paul. The food is going to be North American comfort food with native French influence—think the American-French influenced cuisine of New Orleans, Montreal, with maybe a little north woods Voyageurs food as well. There will be an extensive cheese program, because cheese is the subject that unites France and Wisconsin.

Not getting it? Me either, but St. Paul was recently named one of 20 finalists for Best Romantic North American Getaway by USA Today (for real), so something’s in the air. Co-owner Niver told me to think about restaurants like Joe Beef in Montreal and Cochon in New Orleans, but the St. Paul iteration. “We want to do classically simple food, but good, we’ll try to strike a balance between being awesome and authentic and not too plain.”

The restaurant will serve dinner only during the week, and all day on the weekends, brunch to dinner. Jess Werkmeister, formerly of Heidi’s and Birdhouse, will be chef de cuisine. 
Is that all? Heck no! 
Bellying up to the Smack Shack bar. 
We also have a couple of very interesting projects by important players in the local food community: Josh Thoma of the lobsterrific Smack Shack is opening a new, uh, shack: Paddy ShackEditor's Note: said shack bares no relation to Chef Shack or Shake Shack . . . though, Shook Shack remains available for your use—will be an Irish spot inside St. Paul icon The Half Time Rec. At the Paddy Shack, Thoma says, the house specialty will be hand-cut fries. How hard is that? Thoma says pretty hard to do right, as they’re actually designing the whole kitchen around them, with special blanching, cooling, and frying facilities. Other nouveau shack specialties: fish and chips, shepherd’s pies, boxty cakes, and all-day and -night Irish breakfasts, with black or white pudding, rashers, and the works.

Meanwhile, due west, Philip Becht and Brian Crouch are opening an Italian-influenced spot in Excelsior called Victor’s.

AND: The Wilde Roast crew is nudging a little north, taking over the former Kikugawa space, which is across the hall from their current spot, there they will install Mattie’s on Main, a live music venue and neighborhood saloon.  


Meanwhile, two very big deal chefs have moved back to Minneapolis after time in other cities, and are each looking for restaurants of their own.

Erik Andersen trained with Doug Flicker, of Piccolo, and later worked for Tim McKee, running Sea Change, but made national news with his spot in Nashville, The Catbird Seat, where he was named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s top ten upcoming chefs in America. He left that restaurant right after New Year’s, and is looking to open a Minneapolis spot soon.

“The business plan is done, the financial stuff is close to being finished—it’s gonna happen,” Andersen says.

When it does, it will be “refined, but getting back to classic techniques. Not Alinea or El Bulli-inspired food, but just back to classic French technique. A proper restaurant, with a nice dining room.” 

Where? Definitely Minneapolis. And why here? “Nashville’s awesome but it never felt like home like Minneapolis did. I’m from Chicago originally, and I moved around a fair amount, but Minneapolis just felt more like home to me than anywhere I’ve lived. The majority of my friends are here, and I just like it. I think the food scene is thriving, and friendly. When I drove up to my new place [near Borough and Parlour] all the cooks from Borough came out and unloaded my U-Haul. It felt so great.” 

And now, the search for the physical space begins. “I want to build something that’s lasting,” Andersen says. “This is something I want to last, and to be a thriving restaurant in the cities for years.” 
Haute Dish, where Andersen plans to pop-up in February.
Until he finds his own spot, Andersen plans to do pop-ups at various kitchens around town, especially Haute Dish. Andersen’s planning his first two pop-ups for Feb. 4 and Feb. 18 at Haute DishSeating will be limited to 20 each night and it will run $200/ person, wine pairings included. Call Haute Dish’s reservation line and ask for the Erik Andersen pop-up if you want in. To get looped in on future Andersen pop-ups follow him on Twitter.
The other big news is that Todd McDonald, of New York City’s Bouley, Cru, and most recently Willow Roadand son of local foodies extraordinaire Bob and Sue McDonald, has moved back home to Minneapolis, and is looking for a restaurant of his own.

“It’s great to be back,” said McDonald, who moved here with his fiancée, Mary Kole, a sommelier.

Why here, why now? Family, schools, and the friendly chef scene, of course! 

“We were living in Brooklyn, and thinking about trying to open a restaurant there but the amount of capital you’d need is twice or three times what you need here, and the quality of life is worse—the schools aren’t great, we want to raise a family. Doing that in New York is so expensive. And I want to be part of this budding Minneapolis food scene, which is just awesome.”

Some of his favorite spots? The Bachelor Farmer, Piccolo, Terzo, and Tilia.
Steven Brown at Tilia
Speaking of Tilia, Steven Brown has been helping connect McDonald with vendors, realtors, and everyone a new chef in a new town would need. Which is a decidedly easier task because the restaurant community in Minneapolis is actually friendly . . . Unlike in New York.

“Whoa,” said McDonald, when asked about the comparison. “It’s the complete opposite. The thing about the New York community—it’s very cliquey. There are little groups of chefs who don’t let anybody in, and you have your connections and your friends and that’s that. It’s incredibly competitive and tough . . . cut-throat. Very cut-throat. Here chefs support each other, it’s refreshing.”

McDonald is looking in south Minneapolis for somewhere for a forever-restaurant: Someplace big enough to support a good wine list and a cocktail program, with a neighborhood to serve with food, street-fairs, Octoberfests, the works.

“We haven’t found the right spot in the right community yet,” McDonald told me, “But we’ll find it.”
So what does all that say about our local food scene? That high-octane chefs are driving thousands of miles to have their next acts on the prairie and that our current roseter of high-octane chefs are reinventing our scene? Check back in 2015 and we’ll know the final answer. Until then, this town is red-hot.