News-A-Rama

Restaurant Massacre in St. Paul; Top-Secret Most-Ambitious-Restaurant-Ever Debuts in Minneapolis—What a Season!

But is there a place for a cheese cart? If you are one of the early diners at Meritage, be sure to tell Desta and Russell what you think about cheese carts, as they are opening with one, but have some anxiety about whether that will put people off. "In five years at Frost I learned that people in St. Paul want value, they want to go home full, preferably with a doggie bag for the next day. But I also learned they really appreciate good cheese more than diners in other cities," Klein told me.

"What I don't know is whether a cheese cart will scare people off as being too formal. But I ordered one, so we're trying it. White linen is another unknown, we're going to start with it, but if it puts people off, we'll go to the plain mahogany tabletop." One thing Klein is not nervous about is the future of downtown St. Paul: "I think all this talk about how downtown St. Paul is a dead zone is just ridiculous," he told me. "You go into Pazzaluna, the St. Paul Grill, Kincaid's—they're jam-packed."

Tim Niver, one of the founders of the Town Talk Diner, also thinks talk of doom in St. Paul is silly: To prove it, he's planning on opening a steak-centered restaurant in the former Pop's space up by Metropolitan State University on the hill overlooking downtown St. Paul. Name? The Strip Club.

Owner Jeff Laux at Porter & Frye, in the soon-to-be luxurious Hotel Ivy
Sean Smuda
Owner Jeff Laux at Porter & Frye, in the soon-to-be luxurious Hotel Ivy

If you are wondering what happened to Niver's last planned spot, the East Lake Pasta Shop, please know that the pasta shop is in the crowded graveyard of restaurant dreams. "Yeah, that was a case of not all the money being there in time, and other people stepping in and scooping up the space," he told me. "But you know, we're trying to keep it freaking positive. It's the same thing with the Strip Club, until it's done it's not done, but how can I not talk about it? In my heart, it's happening."

So, the restaurant in his heart "will have a dark butcher-shop kind of feel to it, and, you know, we're not going to pretend to be Manny's, we're not going to have $40 steaks on the menu, but we will have steaks, and lots of braised meats and down-home foods." Basically, Niver told me, just as the Town Talk took the classic American diner and injected a little fine cuisine into the mix, so will they take the idea of the steakhouse and take the price point down a bit by emphasizing home-cooking comfort foods. Niver also has faith in St. Paul, even east St. Paul: "It's a neighborhood in transition, just like people said [the area around the] Town Talk Diner was. It's amazing what you find when you give people a reason to come out of their houses."

If that's not enough remarkable new restaurants for you, I've got one more, one that should be open by the time you read this: Nick and Eddie (1612 Harmon Place, Minneapolis; www.nickandeddie.net).

Now, the reason Nick and Eddie is worth looking forward to is that it is helmed by two local powerhouses: The first is Steve Vranian, an endlessly credentialed California-cuisine chef who moved here 10 years ago after a spell spent running the Singapore branch of the Jeremiah Tower restaurant Stars. I was first thrilled by Vranian's cooking when he was working at the California Café almost 10 years ago, and have been waiting for him to open his own place ever since. Finally, the day is here!

He is opening Nick and Eddie with Jessica Anderson and her husband Doug Anderson—Jessica, the legendary pastry chef who baked at Lucia's for years, and then rocked the whole city with her breads and pastry at the original Bakery on Grand. To the despair of many, Jessica stepped back from baking, and then she and her husband left Bakery on Grand, but it looks like she will be baking in all her glory at Nick and Eddie. (Remember her butterscotch pudding? With its rich, creamy, toffee innocence? I loved that stuff.) Terry Chance, the designer and builder who made the iconic former Au Rebours space in conjunction with Doug Anderson, has done the design here, and reportedly the space is beautiful.

Chef Vranian, who has been dealing with opening delays since June, told me he would rather let his food speak for itself than talk about it, but he did say it will be slightly California (ingredient-driven with deceptively simple preparations) and slightly New York (strongly spiced meats) with some classic French technique (I'm going to read that as duck fat).

"People keep telling us, you have to have a signature dish," Vranian told me. "You know what? Your customer decides what your signature dish is, five years down the line, not you." Nick and Eddie will open as dinner-only, then expand to serving lunch and brunch, and, if customers demand it, even late-night food. Do you feel a desire to hang out at Loring Park again? The general goal of Nick and Eddie is to bring a sense of community back to Loring Park, which many people feel was lost once the old Loring Café closed. Is the old rock, rebel, and creative-job community out there, waiting for something to come back? We'll see.

If there's one thing this month has taught me, it's that this restaurant community we live in is, above all, surprising. Surprising like lightning!

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