Ever wish there was a second Lenny Russo restaurant? Well, St. Paul’s leading locavore chef is about to lend his smarts, and staff, to a new eastside project. And it’s a steakhouse!
Said Russo-guided steakhouse is funded by the team behind the Eagle Street Grille and will be called Salt Cellar. It will be kitty-corner from W.A. Frost on the corner of Selby and Western on St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill. The executive chef is Russo’s longtime sous chef, Alan Bergo, who has made a local name for himself as a passionate mushroom hunter and wild food crafter.
But how does a wild food crafter make sense in a retro steakhouse? Imagine grass-fed prime rib, and a side of mushrooms that are a little more chanterelle than button. An endive salad, but instead of regular old lardons there’s a long slab of house cured bacon.
Bergo, who grew up on a 1,000-acre corn and soybean farm near Willmar is a longtime cookbook collector and as he made his way through St. Paul kitchens including Il Vesco Vino, Pazzaluna, and Trattoria da Vinci. He's become known for cooking throwback "family meals" (what a restaurant feeds the staff prior to evening service) that are straight out of Escoffier and Jean-Louis Palladin, and that's partly what's prepared him to run a steakhouse with retro elements like steaks next to classic gratin dauphinoise (that’s the French grandad to scalloped potatoes), and lobster bisque made with grass-fed cream. While there will be a fair amount of classic hotel tableside cooking at Salt Cellar, Bergo says, with a tableside Caesar, and a tableside bananas foster, there will also be lots for the modern eater, with gluten-free options, vegetarian charcuterie, a cheese cart, and sustainably caught tuna in the salade Niçoise.
“Alan’s been with me for over four years, I thought it was time for him to leave the nest and try something new,” Russo told me. “I think the retro steakhouse frame will be good for him. I’m a food geek—but Alan is really a geek. He outnerds me by a mile. If he and I are foraging for mushrooms, I know the names, but he knows the Latin names, and the soil characteristics the mushrooms require. His culinary icon is Jean-Louis Palladin. That’s the person you want running a steakhouse today, because he can appeal across generations. Old people will remember what he’s doing in a nostalgic way, but young people will see it in a new, cool way—don’t forget Escoffier only knew grass-fed beef, retro doesn’t only mean Sinatra on the sound system.”
In addition to a formal dining room, Salt Cellar will also have a lounge with burgers, cocktails, and other typical lounge fare. As for a target opening date? They're thinking November.
Got any retro dish requests? Post them in the comments, because Bergo will be heading in to his kitchen to start refining recipes in about two weeks. I’ll chime in with my request: How about a beef Wellington with fancy mushrooms, and a vegetarian mushroom Wellington too?
Oh, and in the event you're curious about what foraging is really all about, here's a nifty video of Alan hunting for mushrooms from his website foragerchef.com:
Salt Cellar, 381 Selby Ave., St. Paul