Photos by Caitlin Abrams
Plates of food at Eastside restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota
The simply elegant roast chicken.
Ever since the chef has become the face and focal point of a restaurant, we don’t tend to talk much about the owners. There are some partnerships in town in which the chef is equally balanced by a force of a front-of-house owner. Tim Niver, Nick Rancone, and Tracy Singleton come to mind as owners who are as iconic to their restaurants as their chefs. Usually, we call attention to owners when they are the face of their collection of restaurants: Kim Bartmann, Blue Plate’s David Burley and Stephanie Shimp, and Phil Roberts of Parasole. Considering the quality of restaurants under his belt, why has it taken so long to talk about Ryan Burnet?
Burnet didn’t come up through the ranks of kitchens. As the son of Ralph Burnet, Ryan was working in the family business, helping to develop The Chambers and The W Downtown, when he decided to dabble in restaurant ownership for himself. He began big by launching Barrio in 2008. Remember what a splash that place made when it opened with a Tim McKee taco menu and Johnny Michaels mezcal drinks on Nicollet Mall? Then he teamed up with Isaac Becker to open a tiny thing called Bar La Grassa. Next, while Barrio expanded to St. Paul and Edina (and eventually Target Field), he and Becker opened Burch Steak. Burnet is a guy with a lot of yearly sales under his purview. One might notice that each of his endeavors is tied to a pretty big-named chef, someone vetted in the industry who easily becomes the name and face of the restaurants, so Burnet happily hangs in the backdrop as a McKee or Becker does most of the talking.
Which brings us to Eastside. Burnet was contentedly running his empire when the opportunity for Eastside popped up. Located in the lower level of a new condo building on the eastern edge of downtown Minneapolis, Eastside is Burnet’s newest restaurant, and his first without a big-name chef. He’s brought in Remy Pettus, a young and relatively unknown chef, to be the main guy behind the stoves. What madness is this? You would think that a person with such a winning pattern, with such game-changing eateries, would continue his go-big-or-go-home record and bring in some flashy gun. You would think that he’d want to continue driving the dining scene in different directions, as he did successfully with upscale tacos, modern Italian, and a new-age steakhouse before that. But you’d be wrong, because this isn’t that kind of place, and Burnet is smart enough to get out of the way and let the restaurant be what it needs to be: a club house of sorts for the neighborhood.
Eastside isn’t redefining the way people dine, or shifting local paradigms, because it’s not trying to. It succeeds supremely in being a comfortable, easy-going joint that has just the right amount of upscale trappings to keep things interesting, but not too many that they become a distraction. Splashy crowds come and go, always hopping to the next big thing, but Eastside is a place that has people packing in, happily ensconced inside their new find.
To be clear, Pettus is no slouch. He’s a local boy who grew up in that very east downtown neighborhood before going to California to work in Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, and then to Chicago to work with Homaru Cantu at Moto. Though Pettus is not a household name, many chefs in the industry have told me “that boy can cook.” His food is on-point and the menu plays to both familiar cravings and the need for a little something more. I can’t say enough about the roast chicken, which is nothing short of simple elegance. On top of roasted seasonal veg sits a boned chicken that has a crisply seared skin. It is a juicy and flavorful bird that is dressed with a dousing of buttery sauce hinted with foie gras. The dish comes together with a wholesome decadence. Because, sure, you can make chicken at home in your condo kitchen, but you probably can’t make this one on a Tuesday night, so why not just go downstairs and treat yo’ self?
And so it goes with the rest. Happy hour snacks and drinks are solid. Scalded shishito peppers are dotted with soft Indian paneer cheese and hit with lime for a delightful full-sensory changeup. Wood-fired flatbread is mounded with pulled pork and seasonal mushrooms; calamari is refreshingly not fried and hidden in breading, but grilled on a metal plate and tender with a toothsome chew. Tucking into the bison burger is a smart idea, mantled as it is in rich mahon cheese and bright pickled peppers supporting crisp bacon. It is compact and showy only in its restraint. A simple side of salty, rich fried wild rice has become one of those dishes I can’t stop thinking about: Why isn’t this the actual representation of our favorite native food? Everything I’ve tried has been made with great ingredients and left me feeling well-fed. Consistency is one of the issues that I think will be ironed out with time, but service has been confident and efficient.
Overall, I don’t feel worried for this place like I do with some others that have opened in the past year with edgier menus or tough locations. This eatery is making a strong and confident play for the swath of eaters who aren’t looking for cutting-edge or intricate reinventions of their meals. Eastside has debuted as a solid American brasserie without the aid of a big-name chef firing the hype. In a weird way, maybe that is a shift. 305 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-208-1638, eastsidempls.com