Doug Flicker in his kitchen at Piccolo restaurant
Quite a bit ago, the internationally-known Walker Art Center announced plans to include a new restaurant with their multi-million dollar renovation of the campus and sculpture garden in downtown Minneapolis. But they've been keeping mum on the talent, until now.
Chef Doug Flicker, of Piccolo and Sandcastle, will be their guy. He's been brought in to create Esker Grove, a modern 94-seat seasonal restaurant that will serve both lunch and dinner Tu-Su (The Walker is famously closed on Monday). Lunch will be more casual with counter service, and dinner will be more formal with full service. There will be a full bar, as well as 60 seats on a tree-covered terrace with views of both the sculpture garden and the city skyline.
But don't expect Piccolo Downtown. "This will be its own thing entirely, " Flicker told me. "It's going to be cool creating a new spot and feeding people in a world-renowned museum–out of town visitors, the neighborhood people, food people. I'm kind of over precious food, it has its place, but I feel like it's time for something else. In a weird way, we have the perfect DNA for this because we've got the casual experience from Sandcastle and the technique-driven kitchen from Piccolo, so we can see Esker kind of holistically."
So what are we eating? "I really want to be veg-forward, and of course we're going to highlight the quality produce we get from here, as well as the grains, but the kitchen has a big rotisserie too so we'll do some great meats. It won't be tasting menus with small plates, they'll be larger, focused plates at night with more casual, quicker plates during the day. You'll totally get that Minneapolis vibe from it." He's only just begun working out a menu but is busy lining up his team. Flicker's not leaving Piccolo, and in fact he's excited for some of the opportunities that Esker Grove will bring his staff at his other spots, "You should see the caliber of cooks I have at Sandcastle right now, sous chefs who are killing it for some summer fun. I'm glad to be able to give them more options." Flicker will also hire a Chef de Cuisine for Esker, and the name T.J. Rawitzer (formerly of the Kim Bartmann empire) was perhaps bandied about.
So, Flicker comes back to the neighborhood he helped define with his former Auriga. "It's not weird at all, well it's a little weird walking into Bradstreet for a drink. It's kind of like going back to your junior high school where you're not sure if you're remembering things right, like we're the lockers really that small?"
Construction is under way and if all goes well, Esker Grove will be open for the holidays this year.