Minneapolis, fire up your St. Paul envy, two well-known Uptown chefs are heading east to open a chef-driven casual Mexican spot in the old Glockenspiel space on West Seventh.
Those chefs are Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse, most recently of Chino Latino and Libertine, respectively. Not to get too inside baseball here, but these two have been local industry luminaries for a long time, and if you listen carefully you can hear a big "OMG at last," from many, many cooking lines in local kitchens. Both are Tim McKee protégés: Hesse opened Masu and has been making Libertine taste good since it opened in 2014, and Nelson started cooking for McKee in the kitchen at La Belle Vie Stillwater in 2000. Nelson briefly helmed The Inn, a blink-and-you-missed-it joy in downtown Minneapolis which was run by Tim Niver of St. Paul's hottest Italian Mucci's. That's relevant because Hesse and Nelson's new spot looks to be working the exact plan, and in the exact neighborhood as Mucci's: Basically, take food that people already like, and make it with all the cheffy insight and tricks of the trade which make it better.
It's called Pajarito, or little bird, which is what Hesse's wife calls their kids. It will serve lunch and dinner continuously, and will have a bar run by rising star Kara Smith, who will be making mezcal drinks and cheffy syrups as she has done at Libertine and Cafe Maude. Food will be tacos—they're shopping house-made tortilla equipment as we speak—and those tacos will be the traditional kind made of pork, beef and the like, but also seasonal seafood, such as soft-shelled-crab and blue prawns. Ceviche and its spiked cousin aguachile will play prominent roles, so perhaps a cucumber citrus hamachi aguachile. There will be a wood-fired grill producing both grilled chilis and tomatillos for the salsas, but also grilled vegetables and bigger entrees to share, such as a tamarind-glazed ribeye or a whole grilled red snapper.
Things there won't be: Bullfighting memorabilia, Mexican wrestling masks, or anything cheesy like that, says Nelson—think contemporary, not campy. Is that a dig at Barrio, the Twin Cities' current reigning modern Mexican champion? We will not discuss it. "Whenever I'd travel to another city I'd always think—this is what's missing in the Twin Cities," Hesse told me. "We work really well together, that's why we're doing this," Nelson said.
Target opening date? This fall, optimistically October, possibly November, they say. The last time a couple of McKee acolytes headed out together we got Be'Wiched and Icehouse—definitely feathers in the cap of the Twin Cities. Here's hoping the little bird setting up a nest in St. Paul will provide more feathers for all our caps.
Pajarito, 605 W. 7th St., St. Paul