Photos by Caitlin Abrams
Dinners at 320 Northeast are filling up fast.
It’s good to know there’s still such a thing as true organic buzz. The real stuff comes from people passing photos and messages to one another about something they’ve found—not a thing they only read about on BuzzFeed or saw on Pinterest, but something they actually experienced and can’t wait to share. This is how 320 Northeast came to be.
A friend of mine had recently been to a dinner at someone’s house and couldn’t wait to tell me about it and share pictures of the food. It wasn’t a dinner party of friends; it was a ticketed dinner club of sorts. She signed up and paid $75 to eat a multi-course meal with a table full of strangers in the home of a chef and his wife. Now, I’ve heard of and been to private dining clubs and underground restaurants before, but I never write about them because, quite honestly, they never last. It’s often all flash and secrecy, and full of more portent than legality, which makes it hard for me to write stories encouraging you to go. But this seemed different.
The founders of 320 Northeast were looking for something different. Megan Sheridan had recently quit her job, leaving behind her unsatisfying corporate life to find happiness. Her husband, Matt Kappra, is a chef who has cooked at Lucia’s and some other fine places in town. He suggested that since the couple were often happiest when cooking dinner for others, they should do just that. But they didn’t want to become caterers, there had to be something more personal in this endeavor.
Inspired by the bounty of our local larders, the couple decided to create dinners that were a taste of here. Cooking with only foods and ingredients (excluding salt) that are produced within a drive for them has been the challenge they’ve set for themselves and their diners. They butcher their own animals, they forage and feed foragers. To keep costs low, Sheridan started canning CSA overages from local farms and splitting the bounty with them. When they realized that wine wasn’t really fitting the paradigm, they shifted to pairing courses with Wyndfall ciders.
The spring dinner I enjoyed was a beautiful meal of lamb, fresh pasta, trout, rhubarb, and morels. And it did taste of here. Plates were beautifully presented, but not fussy. It was honest food that celebrated the chosen ingredients, letting them sing on the plate above all things. There was a quiet reverence for the food that was neither overly earnest nor laden with moral expectations, oft a downer at such meals. The food didn’t demand your high ground; instead, it humbly sat as the simple elegance of dinner, in someone else’s house.
As a private dining club, it’s all on the up-and-up. They’re not allowed to advertise, but word-of-mouth seems to be working well, and social media is still considered free game. Instagram, in particular, has been a boon to their bookings. To reserve a seat at the table, you simply go to their website and ask to join. You’ll then get an invite, then pick a night—at first they offered only Mondays, but they’ve since added Saturdays with a longer menu and higher price. Pay your ticket fee and show up for dinner, where the table is set with handwritten, personalized menus as place cards. Sheridan is gluten-free and can make some adjustments, but generally, the menu is set by the chef and his ingredients. (Remember the dinner is in a house; there’s no cooler stocked with meal alternatives.)
During my dinner, the people at our table were from the Cities, Richfield, Burnsville, Shorewood. We were a bubbly bunch and chatted freely while Sheridan and her forager friend served us plate after plate. The woman sitting across from me used to be an architect, but chucked it and decided to set up her own accounting firm for creatives. Next to her was a woman who is the pastor at a local church. Next to me was a retired couple who had sold their home in Shorewood and just bought an RV so they could roam around the country in the next phase of their lives. Through conversation, we discovered that one man was a former pilot, and then that Sheridan is a pilot, from a family of pilots.
By the time the meal was over, when Sheridan and Kappra had pulled up chairs to the table and the neighbor had popped over with his dog, I realized this was more than just a millennial game. All of these people at the table (regardless of age or status) were interested in seeing life differently, not just for the flash and dazzle of a spectacular dinner in a secret spot, but for the real guts and glory of living it according to their own rules. And that is also how the meal tasted. Full of heart and invention and humility, from the softest bite of cured trout to the clink of glasses filled with local gin as we 10 eaters toasted our hosts. Things are shifting, as they should.
Our dinner was the last dinner in their house. Their neighborhood association got a little skitchy with the activity and asked them to cease. Instead of calling it quits, they’ve leased another space with a kitchen just down the road to host dinners and cook for private events (still using their menu and their ingredients—again, this isn’t catering). Normally, this is where I would have tuned out, assuming the end was near, but not with 320 Northeast. Most of the dinners on the site are already booked for the next month, and I’m pretty enchanted to see where this one goes.