Photo from Le Town Talk Diner Facebook page
It's so hard to talk about the restaurant space at 2707 East Lake Street in Minneapolis without wandering down memory lane, waxing nostalgic about the restaurant that was once there. But I'll give it my best shot, because it's not fair to Emilie Cellai and Ben Johnson to compare Le Town Talk Diner to the Town Talk Diner (2006-2011, RIP).
Le Town Talk is a totally different animal: a French bistro-style restaurant, with a very small, and very focused menu. We went for dinner on Friday night during the send week for these second-time restaurant owners. The food was good, the service was warm and welcoming, and it sure is nice to see the bright lights screaming "TOWN TALK DINER" again on East Lake Street.
The owners describe the place as "working class," and that's important, because I think most in the Twin Cities think French restaurants are upper crust. The price points are easygoing, we had a $5 starter, a very classic Southern French bistro dish of pickled carrots combined with golden raisins and cinnamon. It was spot on.
My 9-year-old had the vol au vent, kind of a riff on a deconstructed pot pie with two large puff pastry rounds, a mix of chicken and lobster with heavy dill overtones. It was $12 and delicious. There are three items on a kids menu, including a good burger with crispy, thin French fries (already perfectly executed) for $6 (includes milk or juice). I enjoyed the cod hot dish, which included salted cod, potatoes, tomatoes, and a heavy dose of cheese on top. Frankly it was a little challenging to distinguish the cod from the potatoes, but overall it was a very tasty and hearty dish. My wife's steak frites with a mushroom bourguignon sauce was just okay. The steak was cooked nicely, but it needed more seasoning, or more sauce, or both. (Also, the native French owner should probably work a little more with the servers on how to pronounce bourguignon, or just change the menu and dump the French terms.)
I wasn't in love with the cocktails I tried, but some of that may be because the restaurant is new and figuring out what it wants to be offering. And some of that may be because my very first exposure to a real cocktail came from Aaron Johnson and Nick Kosevich behind the bar of the... wait, I promised I wasn't going to go there. There are three non-alcoholic cocktails, which, because the price point of everything else was so low, made me pause at $6 for a lime, fresh mint, and soda water "faux-jito."
The wine list does excite me, however: lots of great French choices from different regions of the country (I had a lovely Cote du Rhone).
This space has been dormant for three years, and I know many people took a look at it. Because the sign on the outside has been designated as historic, any potential owner was stuck with it. Opening anything like the last Town Talk Diner (perhaps like Chicago's Au Cheval) would have been almost impossible. Too many people comparing it to the original TTD. So pivoting and going French buvette? I love it. The adding of the "Le" to "Town Talk Diner" was a stroke of genius.
Nice people, nice space, smart concept: I like where Le Town Talk is heading.