The Depot at First Avenue and Green Mill's Twisted Fork

Casual, chef-driven eats in the Twin Cities

Some of the Green Mill owners recognized that pizza was no longer packing the house and decided to split the Grand Avenue space in two and launch a new, adjoining restaurant. They hired Stephen Trojahn, formerly executive chef of Cosmos and Bradstreet Craftshouse, as a consultant to help them create the initial menus for a restaurant concept that had chef-driven elements, yet still reached the masses. Trojahn then handed the reins to Keven Kvalsten, chef-owner of the former Green Room in Waconia, which was noted for its seasonal menus that incorporated local and organic ingredients.

After Kvalsten applied for the job, he was surprised to find the restaurant was affiliated with Green Mill. "To be honest, I was a little put off," he says, thinking he'd be working with mass-produced ingredients and big-box suppliers. ("I hate buying cheap food because it really costs more in the end," he says.) But once Trojahn and the Green Mill owners told him their idea was to combine small-scale, local, sustainable purveyors with a more corporate structure, he was sold. "If we can get a typical Green Mill customer to come into our restaurant and try our food, I think that's a win," he says. "Sourcing from farmers isn't a new idea, but if you can bring it to a more general populous, let's say TGI Friday's or Applebee's, that would be wonderful. If each of those places could buy directly, it would be a win for the farmer, the customer, and the people cooking the food."

No whiff of stale pizza grease seeps into Twisted Fork, which looks like an upgraded chain pizza shop with its striped upholstery and dark wood bar. The menu and ambiance are reminiscent of the restaurants owned by the Blue Plate group, such as the Highland and Longfellow Grills: familiar comforts are prepared with—no surprise here—a twist. Mom's meatloaf is made with bison; the house-made potato chips are made with smoked-paprika-sprinkled sweet potato chips. Prices stay low: Most dinner entrées cost less than $20, with several in the $12-$13 range. You could get in and out of Twisted Fork for, well, about the price of a pizza.

Jana Freiband
The Lady Gaga of hot dogs: The Depot's Diamond Dog with bacon and pretzel bun
Jana Freiband
The Lady Gaga of hot dogs: The Depot's Diamond Dog with bacon and pretzel bun

Location Info

Map

Twisted Fork Grille

1342 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Macalester/Groveland

Details

Twisted Fork Grille
1342 Grand Ave., St. Paul
651.690.5901; www.twistedforkgrille.com
appetizers $4-$12; entrées $12-$25

The Depot
First Avenue 17 N. Seventh St., Minneapolis
612.338.8388; www.first-avenue.com/thedepot
appetizers $5-$10; entrées $7-$11

To position itself as a neighborhood spot, Twisted Fork serves three meals a day, seven days a week. Breakfast takes things in the right direction but could use a little nudge to hit perfection. From among the savory meals, for example, pork shoulder hash was a tasty mash of poached eggs, potatoes, parsnips, and sweet potatoes, but the meat—from Hidden Stream Farm in Elgin—hadn't been cooked long enough to turn from chewy to melting. On the sweet side, traditional French toast is made from lemon-poppy seed bread, creating a pleasant sweet-tart balance with its garnishes of fresh blackberries, agave nectar, and Greek yogurt.

Dinner played out in a similar manner, mostly successful with a minor execution miss. The Minnesota Chopped Salad makes several smart ingredient choices, with smoked walleye to add richness and toasty grains of puffed wild rice to lend a snappy texture. The bison meatloaf was also a winner: succulent texture, infused with the savory notes of bacon bits, bacon fat, and wild mushrooms. The Ale-Braise Lamb Shank looked like a caveman's club but tasted a lot less menacing, its gamy flavor heightened with notes of juniper and clove. A bed of lentils—a domestically grown version of France's Lentils du Puy, sourced from Great Ciao—was sadly undercooked, with an unpleasant, grainy consistency, like biting into a mealy apple.

The Twisted Fork doesn't take its local, sustainable sourcing as far as it might. The kitchen uses Ames honey, Neuske bacon, and several Minnesota cheeses, but to keep prices low, Kvalsten buys the restaurant's chicken from Amish growers in Ohio and uses Atlantic salmon, considered less desirable in terms of the fish's quality and ecological imprint than pricier Pacific salmon.

For locavores, the restaurant might generate the same mixed feelings as Wal-Mart's move into organics did a few years back. But for diners who have never visited Corner Table and its brethren, a Twisted Fork burger may be their first introduction to naturally raised beef. And who knows, maybe at some point the North Dakota natural beef being used by Twisted Fork's side of the kitchen will replace the commodity beef of more mysterious origins being griddled for Green Mill diners. "It might have been a marketing exploit at first," Kvalsten says of Green Mill's foray into more sustainable eating, "but I honestly think they're on board with it. I certainly am."

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