A Grand Experiment

In which a handful of culinary brainiacs scramble, strive, scheme, surprise, and succeed

Bakery On Grand
3804 Grand Ave. S.

When Bakery on Grand opened last January, they had a few (delicious) scones, a big, empty, gorgeous white room, and big plans: tables, chairs, cooked food, the works. I thought I would wait to review it. When Bakery on Grand set out their first plates of hot food early last spring, in a hybrid counter-service fashion, at hard to predict times, without a wine and beer license, I thought I would wait to review it--for the winelist, the table service, and, generally, the restaurant part.

When Bakery on Grand got their much delayed wine list last August, they started to build a second dining room so that people didn't have to eat in front of the bakery counter amidst the bread racks, so I thought I would wait for the dining room. These, I thought, are the things a serious restaurant needs to have in place before it can be reviewed: Tables, walls, wine, food, and some sort of system of delivering the wine and food to customers.

Chris Freeman serves up dinner at the constantly morphing Bakery on Grand
Fred Petters
Chris Freeman serves up dinner at the constantly morphing Bakery on Grand

When I visited last fall and sat in an electricity-free, heat-free dining room and shivered in my coat while peering down at a pitch-black plate wondering what might be endive, what might be cheese, and what might be the thumb of my dearest friend, I learned to appreciate, for the very first time in my land-of-plenty life, how critical basic utilities really are to dinner. Also, the final team of chefs--Emily Streeter as head chef, supported by Gerard Boissy and Andrew Zachow--didn't come together until a few months ago.

Now, as of this writing, and nearly a year after Bakery on Grand's opening, there is wine, there are regular hours, there is the cooking team, that second dining room even has heat, and as for lights--soon. Soon. Soon they will build a skylight and put a light fixture over that, which may or may not happen before the third, private, under-construction dining room debuts, and--did I mention the super-secret new downtown St. Paul location?

A new downtown St. Paul location is imminent, near the Landmark Center and far more upscale than the Minneapolis location, and I shudder to think what paroxysms this will wreak on this little team of brilliant scramblers, and so I think I am going to review Bakery on Grand in its current unfinished state, because I have concluded that it will forever be unfinished--unfinished, scrambling, striving, scheming, surprising, and doing it all on a base of some of the best scones, breads, and twice-baked brioche that any of us will ever have the privilege of tasting.

Oh, those scones. Those lovely, lovely little scones. Tender, buttery, the texture perfect beyond reckoning, the whole golden sparrow of one held together by little but gravity and the internal embrace of butter, then crumbling between the fingertips into lush, lightly lemony-looking lambkins of love! Lambkins of love, I tell you! Twice-baked brioche is another treat that will reduce grown-up critics to twirling tots, arms flung up to the heavens to celebrate the things that can be done with butter, almond paste, flour, and talent.

That these scones are so fantastic is no surprise. They're a Jessica Anderson concoction, and, as she was a chef at Lucia's for eight years, Anderson's talents have been keenly felt by thousands--even if they weren't always associated with her name. Bakery on Grand is owned by Anderson, Keith Poppei, and Anderson's husband Doug, a chatty, outgoing longtime theater director and playwright who has waited tables in many, many high-profile Minneapolis restaurants, and is perhaps the most-known and best-connected person in Minneapolis. If we ever suffer a blackout the way the East Coast did last summer, I predict that all communication in Minnesota will be done by means of Doug Anderson.

The Andersons and Poppei launched the bakery with the plan of having high-style, low-cost, European-minded dining--real food made in slow, simple ways. When they succeed, they make a little patch of Grand Avenue seem like it's been lifted bodily from your most fulsome fantasy of what life might be like in Paris. I think they meet their greatest success with their Sunday suppers, in which you get your choice of three courses for a fixed price.

I tried one last month, for $26, and it was one of the most pleasant meals of my year. The meal started with a choice of salads, either a crisp and clean mixed green salad with a champagne vinaigrette or a spinach salad with a rich, warm bacon dressing. Then we got to choose between a few simple appetizers: The house pâté was chunky and true, that simple pork and liver combination that is so grounding, though a tiny English Stilton flan was soggy and tasted more like a plain mini-quiche than something thrilling. Entrée options included a roast chicken, a nice pot au feu with beef brisket and short ribs, carrots, potatoes, and onions; it was like a pot roast, and while the broth it came in was thin, it was hard to argue with at that price.

The final entrée choice was a version of the classic French cotriade, though in this instance the creamy fish soup included mussels, shrimp, and scallops, and so very much butter it would melt the hardest heart. (Or harden the youngest heart, or however that goes.) Of course, there was no need for dessert, but we got one anyway: the Bakery on Grand's signature chocolate roll, a dark-chocolate cake rolled around the most unadorned cream filling. It can be entirely captivating.

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