Purple Sandpiper and BLVD Kitchen bring culinary ambition to suburbs

Big city not required for big taste

AFTER RECOVERING from the havoc his former friend, Tom Petters, wreaked on his finances, Dean Vlahos has reemerged on the restaurant scene. Vlahos founded the Champps chain and went on to launch Redstone. His new venture, BLVD Kitchen and Bar, is another suburban concept that replaces an old Don Pablo's off 394 and Hopkins Crossroads, next to Michael's crafts and Dick's sporting goods stores.

Vlahos is famously connected, and his Redstones have become places for the wealthy to relax when they're not at the country club. (The Eden Prairie Redstone will forever be remembered as the place where Kirby Puckett was arrested after allegedly groping a woman in the restroom.) "It's almost like Dean is the mayor of Minnetonka," says BLVD's executive chef Mike Burkauskas. "Everyone seems to know the guy."

BLVD is an upgraded version of both of Vlahos's previous concepts, replacing Champps' "Americana" and Redstone's "American Grill" taglines with the more foodie-oriented "Kitchen and Bar." The restaurant has a vaguely European vibe with embossed panels on its high ceiling and white subway tile along the open kitchen. But it also feels like a man room with its large central bar and ring of televisions.

At BLVD, steer toward the ribs
Sasha Landskov
At BLVD, steer toward the ribs

Location Info

Map

Purple Sandpiper

8405 Lyndale Ave. S.
Bloomington, MN 55420

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Bloomington

BLVD Kitchen and Bar

11544 Wayzata Blvd.
Hopkins, MN 55305

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minnetonka

Details

BLVD Kitchen & Bar
11544 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka
763.398.3200; www.blvdkitchen.com
appetizers $5-$14; entrees $11-$30

Purple Sandpiper
8405 Lyndale Ave. S., Bloomington
952.888.1429; www.purplesandpiper.com
appetizers $5-$9; entrees $13-$18

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Children are sparse at BLVD—it's more of an after-work joint, designed with groups in mind, with a modest party room and patio. Tall tables in a back corner tend to collect groups of guys in buttoned-down shirts who stand around with drinks in their hands, shouting over the din.

Several details elevate BLVD from the typical freeway-lining chain eatery: knowledgeable servers wearing crisp white shirts and smart striped neckties with long kitchen aprons around the waist; hostesses who offer to switch your white napkin for black for those wearing dark colors; cloth hand towels in the restrooms; buttery Brussels sprouts served in cast-iron crocks with nubs of pancetta and sprigs of fresh thyme; house-made potato chips—overcooked and under-salted when I had them, unfortunately—cutely wrapped in brown paper and tucked into metal cups.

Vlahos recruited Mike Burkauskas after admiring the chef's menu at a clubby Chicago steakhouse called Gibsons, and Burkauskas worked with longtime local consulting chef Tobie Nidetz to develop BLVD's dishes, source vendors, and hire staff. The restaurant's list of American comfort food with a twist bears some resemblance to the menus Nidetz created at Jimmy's Food and Cocktails in Minnetonka and the now-closed Stone's in Stillwater. There are the familiar chicken wings and tomato basil soup, but also seasonally changing small plates and entrée specials.

There are better places to eat seafood than BLVD. A halibut fillet had a pleasant grilled char, but the flesh tasted rather dry. The accompanying relish was made with kernels hand-sliced off the cob, but they were sadly thick-husked and not very succulent—the dish begged for more juice or acid. The oh-so-trendy lobster mac and cheese (made with curly cellentani pasta, actually) had nice hints of sweetness and spice, but some lobster bites had the texture of a mealy apple.

Next time, I'd stick with the bar food. The ribs are great—jammy sweet and smoky, leading with a whiff of vinegar and finishing with a mess on the fingers—though not a savvy order in any professional context. When I tried the Royale with Cheese, its double patties were overcooked and piled with too-salty American cheese, yet it made two great innovations in the been-there-ate-that burger world: a haystack of "frizzled" leeks (they're soaked in buttermilk, fried in seasoned flour, and finished with a blend of dehydrated brown sugar and salt) and a pretzel bun, which is dense and chewy, with a pleasantly taut crust (St. Agnes does BLVD's baking, using the restaurant's recipes). Better to get the slider trio and balance out a beef burger with one of the tender fried chicken and another with coleslaw-topped pulled pork that's less sweet but more spicy than usual. The shaved rib eye sandwich has a lot going for it, between the tender, juicy meat, pillowy bun, melted mozzarella cheese, and frizzled leeks, but it needs to overcome its blandness with some spicy or pickled condiments to be as good as a Philly cheesesteak.

The bar scene at BLVD will surely make it a social hub of the western suburbs, even though, right now, its food and beverage offerings are somewhat uneven. One meal, for example, that started with an insult to Bloody Marys everywhere—watery mix, blah spicing, harsh alcohol flavor—was redeemed, by its end, with Sebastian Joe's vanilla ice cream in a lush puddle of salted caramel and cinnamon-sprinkled, shortbread-style cookies. Still, for a tired restaurant category that could use inspiration, BLVD is headed in the right direction.

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