Going Stag

Kim Bartmann's latest venture updates the supper-club concept for the green era

RED STAG SUPPER CLUB
509 First Ave. NE, Minneapolis
612.767.7766
www.redstagsupperclub.com

It's hard to miss northeast Minneapolis's new Red Stag Supper Club: A huge cast-aluminum sculpture of, yes, a red stag hangs from the corner of the building, as if it's guarding the place. It adds a welcoming touch to a city block that was rather desolate in recent times, despite its close proximity to bustling East Hennepin Avenue. Situated near the building that once housed the late, lamented-by-some Bank's discount store, the restaurant is often packed with attractive hipsters, who are flocking to both a known commodity and an earth-friendly one.

A place to meat: Red Stag's butcher plate
Jana Freiband
A place to meat: Red Stag's butcher plate

Proprietor Kim Bartmann also owns two popular Uptown spots, the comfy and eclectic Bryant-Lake Bowl and the sexy Barbette, and she's working on opening a fourth, in the former Joe's Chicken Shack space off Nicollet on 26th Street. Bartmann's known for working with interesting chefs who aren't afraid to experiment but know a classic when they see one, and for promoting the use of local and organic products and sustainable practices. With her newest eatery, open since November, she takes the environmental consciousness a step further: The Red Stag is Minnesota's first LEED-certified restaurant. The acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a designation conferred by the U.S. Green Building Council. In other words, Al Gore would approve. Fortunately, those facts aren't pushed on diners—a supper club should be fun, not educational.

And that convivial, old-school supper-club aura has not been lost here. Chatty groups filling the bar and tables drown out the background music, at least until the late-night entertainment starts. One red wall sets off the others of exposed brick. The long, wood bar, behind which hang large, black-accented mirrors, takes center stage in the room, but the old piano across from it is prominent as well. The open kitchen along the back of the restaurant adds a modern feel, and even though it's from the '60s, so does a framed, Warhol-inspired paper dress featuring a Campbell's soup-can print. The room's environmentally friendly touches are mostly subtle, noticeable only if you're paying attention: Wooden tabletops are made from discarded doors, and that beautiful candlelight flickering from within an old-fashioned colored-glass holder on your table is actually an LED bulb. Green efforts are perhaps more evident in the restroom, where the hand dryer on the attractive black- and mirror-tiled wall looks space-age, and has indeed achieved a feat of modern science: It actually works.

WHILE THE LEED certification covers the building and energy use, the food at the Red Stag is also designed with the earth in mind. Head chef Bill Baskin recently cooked at Cosmos and has a résumé full of sustainable-food bona fides. "He really cares about local products," Bartmann says. "Some people pay lip service to it, but he's very committed." He's visited all of the farms that supply the restaurant, she adds. Baskin's winter menu is hearty enough to lure souls out even in our recent frigid weather: Squash appears in a few different guises, and there's even a stroganoff entrée.

Diners might want to begin with the small plates menu, which includes smelt fries served with Vidalia onion tartar sauce, a grilled flatbread with different toppings daily (Gruyère and asparagus on one visit), and several salads. There's a simple house salad with greens and beets, a Waldorf with the expected apples and walnuts plus shiitake mushrooms, and a chop salad ($7; $12 for a large portion) that was a pleasing, fresh combination of greens, frisée, diced onion, pomegranate seeds, Gruyère shavings, tiny squares of ham hock, and citrus, all topped with puffed wild rice, which added a contrasting nutty, slightly burnt flavor.

Meat aficionados should try the butcher plate ($15). Presented appropriately on a wood slab, it contains a "pig in a blanket," a sweet, flavorful pork sausage partially wrapped in puff pastry; a Scotch egg (a thin layer of sausage and breading covers a hard-boiled egg, all deep-fried); and a ramekin of potted duck: tender, spreadable bits of meat encased in its own creamy fat, served with toast points.

French fries ($5), flavored with parsley and garlic, are triple-cooked, creating thick yet very crispy, ultra-caramelized outer edges, with the soft potato on the inside rendered almost creamy. They're giant-sized and served with a smoky, house-made ketchup.

A side of macaroni and cheese gussied up with truffle oil and lobster ($8) was rich and filling. It was pleasingly bland and comforting, as mac and cheese should be, but the gourmet additions didn't liven up the flavor as much as I'd hoped. Also, the cheese sauce was a bit thin and failed to cling to the noodles, a problem that disappeared upon reheating later—the rare dish improved by the microwave. (To-go containers are of thin but sturdy, presumably easily biodegradable cardboard; no Styrofoam here.)

At dinner one evening, an appetizer special of light yet meaty lobster cakes was accompanied by a tasty, salty side of black-eyed peas with ham hocks and onions. The duck entrée ($19) was a generous portion of the fatty, succulent meat, cooked to a medium-rare that retained the juices wonderfully. It was served with a house-made ravioli stuffed with sweet, nutmeg-touched butternut squash, all atop a bed of wilted arugula and fat, sweet golden raisins. The combination tasted like a bounteous harvest.

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