Pretty on the Inside

Now run by cooks, Bakery on Grand has emerged as one of the nicest restaurants on the south side

Bakery on Grand
3804 Grand Ave. S., Minneapolis

Have you ever been to a little kids' soccer game, I mean really little kids, the kind that forget which side they're supposed to be kicking the ball toward, and maybe some of the kids kick the ball the wrong way, one starts to cry because people are yelling, a few start playing tag, and one lies down and blows spit bubbles? That was, generally, the way that Bakery on Grand opened. The restaurant was supposed to be a humble French country kitchen, the kind that roasted legs of lamb in the bread oven and served everyday people real food at everyday prices, and it got plenty of advance publicity as such. The neighborhood was delighted.

When it opened, however, it did no such thing. Instead, it seemed to change menus and ratchet up its ambitions hourly, and took to serving preposterously overdone French haute cuisine dishes that it had no real ability to pull off, alongside exorbitantly priced bottles of wine. Servers seemed generally either perturbed or perplexed by customers' inconvenient and grasping interruption of otherwise absorbing lives of the mind. The neighborhood was appalled.

Really and truly Grand: From left to right, Girard Boissy, Jeffery Truman, Amanda Leopold, and Andrew Zachow
Sean Smuda
Really and truly Grand: From left to right, Girard Boissy, Jeffery Truman, Amanda Leopold, and Andrew Zachow

Time passed. A sister restaurant, Au Rebours, opened in St. Paul, and the sisterly relationship was subsequently severed. (Nowadays Au Rebours and Bakery on Grand have only their bread in common.) More time passed. Now Bakery on Grand is finally fulfilling its mission: good, simple French country food, at everyday prices. The neighborhood has no idea.

Which has been nice for me, because I've been able to waltz right in and get a table anytime I've wanted this fall, and when I've done so I've enjoyed some lovely meals. One night the highlights were a butter lettuce salad dressed with a silky vinaigrette, pretty golden fried oysters discreetly touched with a Champagne beurre blanc, and cassoulet as rich, various, and comforting as a snowy French farm seen from a fireside window. One morning I lost track of conversation as I contemplated which was more delicious, my salty, rich, creamy eggs en cocotte, baked in a bowl with chunks of ham and truffle cream, topped with a lid of brioche and melted Gruyère cheese, or my still-warm apple galette, its cinnamon-apple slices clinging to the bits of crisp butter pastry which had been folded around them. (Yes, I had an apple galette for breakfast. They were pulling them out of the oven, and who could resist?)

Most memorable, however, was a Sunday night prix fixe, during which $28 nets you three courses: soup or salad, appetizer, and main dish. The soup, of long-roasted beets perked up with a spot of crème fraîche and given texture with a sprinkling of toasted squash seeds, was perfectly understated. A pork and duck pâté studded with bright green pistachios and dark dried cherries was light from being just made, sweet from the pork, deep from the liver, subtly spiced, and constantly amusing with the buried bits of nut and fruit. Never do I taste such a nice pâté without contemplating what a triumph of human art and ingenuity it is over the ever-present trouble of leftover ends and bits.

Slices of intense hanger steak were paired with an equally robust red wine reduction, and given a softening frame by mild, buttery mashed potatoes. And then there was the duck. The duck! Roasted until it was black as pudding, as tender as a brownie, and just as rich; perfumed with orange and given a distinct bit of fire with black pepper, paired with a squash puree of almost distracting concentration, it was an absolutely wonderful concoction, a bit like eating a romantic fireside midnight.

By the time my little group did damage to a butterscotch pudding and layers of different chocolate cakes and mousses piled into a double truffle torte tower, everyone was exclaiming that it was one of the nicest meals had in south Minneapolis in modern memory. Now, if you live in south Minneapolis, you are probably reading this with deep skepticism, but I think you might consider giving the place another go: Bakery on Grand has become much better than you, your neighbors, or your friends think it is.

What's behind the big change? Simplicity, mainly. The restaurant has become extraordinarily simple. It's simple in its staffing: They run now on a skeleton crew of less than half as many people as once worked there, and all the front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house management is done by the head chef, Andrew Zachow, who also cooks six nights a week. Zachow has distilled almost all the menu to utterly French country scratch cooking.

Consider his roast duck. While many fancy upscale restaurants simply buy shrink-wrapped duck breasts from their wholesaler, letting the farmer figure out what to do with the rest, Bakery on Grand takes dozens of whole birds. They stuff them with oranges and rosemary, splash them with red wine, and roast them in giant pans in the bread ovens for five hours. Then they pull them out, let them cool, pull the ducks apart, chill the pan juices, remove the fat, and, adding water and wine, return the stock base to the oven, to roast and reduce the sauce for a few more hours. Finally, they restore the duck to the pans of stock and roast them some more, until the skin of the duck becomes crisp. They use the endlessly roasted duck stock to make the sauce for the duck, and use what's left over to enrich soups. Such as one made of cannellini beans, butternut squash, and pieces of high-quality locally grown Berkshire pork, which they can afford to put into soup because they cut up their own pork sides to use in their house-made sausages, pâtés, Irish bacon, and more expensive pork entrees.

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