Poor Town Talk Diner has been through so much lately. Open since 1946 in one form or another, it has to look back at the last few decades with a big sigh: There was that major embezzlement situation in 2011 that routed one set of owners, the Great Recession that led it to stand dormant for a couple years, the unfortunate passage as a mediocre French restaurant known as Le Town Talk ... if Town Talk was a person it would be shopping new health clubs and interviewing life coaches. But it's not a person! It's a historic landmark and so it's back, baby—with a new set of owners and a new, very promising direction in life.
Doors re-opened July 1, after husband-and-wife chef-and-pastry-chef Charles Stotts and Kacey White took the keys mid-June. It's still the Town Talk Diner, with the glorious light-bulb moderne sign, but now it's the Town Talk Diner & Gastropub. Stotts is a local returned home—he grew up in Bloomington, but moved to Arizona for culinary school. When he graduated, he worked in a succession of high-profile Las Vegas and Arizona restaurants, including Renoir at the Mirage resort under Alex Stratta, and opened a number of restaurants for Sam Fox at Fox Restaurant Concepts. He met White in one of those restaurants, and the two hatched a plan to move back to the Twin Cities, marry, buy a house, and open their own restaurant. For the past four years they've been working, Stotts most notably at Brasserie Zentral, and White at Bachelor Farmer and Meritage. They have opened the restaurant with a skeleton crew of big talent, like former Bachelor Farmer sous chef Sam Gilman. "No dishwashers, no prep cooks, we decided to just go in and do it hardcore," Stotts told me. Brave! Also, with that in mind, I can't vouch for how the place will work once it's flat-out full of customers—but I dropped by for an early taste last week when only a handful of other diners were there, and can say it was very promising.
My favorite dish? The mussels. Fat as quail, clean as eggs, bathed in a not-timid garlic and white wine sauce and served with hunks of grilled bread, they were as good as mussels at any four-star joint. A seared wild-caught king salmon filet was also four-star restaurant crisp, and the light and silky young turnip puree with the fish perfectly captured turnips' fresh peppery youth—not their old turnipy age. Stotts told me that the restaurant's working idea is to simply ask their fish supplier what's best, ask their farmers what's best, and do as little to the food as possible after that. "We change the menu almost every day, we print it ten minutes before we open," he said. "Our philosophy is, when you can get great product the main thing you have to do is get out of the way so you don’t screw it up. If you have great product, just apply good technique to it, season it, and get it out of the way." That's a plan I endorse.
A wild Wisconsin blueberry pie by White was just the flavor of a zillion blueberries, concentrated, in a good crust with a simple sweetened whipped cream. Lovely. Obviously the place is young, but if First Bites mean anything, I'm giving it a full and hearty: "Very promising." Check it out yourself for dinner from Tuesday - Saturday starting at 5 p.m. or for Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m..