The Town Talk Diner on East Lake has a long and storied history. Dating from the 1940s, the space fed a generation of factory workers, and then in 2006, partners from the Strip Club turned it into an equally beloved modern-day diner with adult milkshakes and best-ever onion rings. Another restaurant group, Theros, took it over for three years, and having closed in 2008, it reopened last year with the jaunty "Le" attached to its name. (The signage is on the Historic register, so there was no changing it). And owner Emilie Cellai says those two little letters might be her biggest challenge.
1. It's French, kind of
"People come in and when they see that it's French, sometimes they'll run," says the Marseille native, who always had a dream to open a French comfort food restaurant reminiscent of the places from home that live in her heart. "Just like the Japanese don't eat sushi every day, the French don't eat fine dining every day."
2. They have burgers — in fact, they have three burgers, all made from high quality, all natural beef, and set next to thin and crispy fries dusted in fresh thyme. This Marseille burger finished with onion glaze and Gruyere is like everything that's good about French onion soup. Also see a "Paris burger" with mushroom sauce and gorgonzola, as well as another finished with bacon and egg.
3. The recipes hail from Cellai's mother's and grandmother's kitchens, and her mom checks quality control whenever she visits. Cellai admits there were some opening glitches where her kitchen manager was not following recipes. The new chef is Ozzy Amelotti, formerly of Verdant Tea, and she says the collaboration is working out beautifully.
4. They have the best slice of quiche in town.
You know how quiche is almost always unfortunate and dry, with the texture and mouthfeel of old gum? Not here. This quiche justifies all the fuss about quiche, which we've never been able to understand, with crust levity akin to the finest shortbread, and egg curd billowy with cream and abundant herb. Lush doesn't begin to describe it.
They probably also have the best chocolate mousse
Finished with "caramel crunch" and candied orange, this is a dessert that goes straight to what the heart of a dessert should be. Fine quality chocolate silken as the best ice cream, with texture and fragrant fruit. You'll be hard-pressed to relinquish the spoon.
6. It's friendly and casual
Don't be a Francophobe. Cellai is hoping to shake the preconceived notion that French cooking has to be "scary or complicated" or that "you're not going to be able to read the menu." The approachable bar vibe that Tim Niver made famous remains, and the "Buvette" happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.offers a "refillable" glass of wine for $8 with the purchase of any menu item, as well as $3 select beer and cocktail discounts. Cellai adds that Niver's craft cocktail menu remains, with "a French Twist."
7. They offer brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays which includes a "refillable" mimosa, New French Bakery baguettes with butter and jam, a half dozen variations on crepes, and "Madame Benedicts" with smoked ham, gruyère, dijon, béchamel, a fried duck egg, and brown butter hollandaise. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
8. On Thursday, November 19, they'll be celebrating the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release with three wines and an a la carte menu including fried smelts, market fish, sausage and lentil stew, frisee salad, and beignets.
9. Sundays mark "neighborhood night," with a dollar off any beer and a dollar off kids' menus, encouraging families to get out of the house and get into the 'hood for a little Sunday din.
10. Most importantly, Cellai wants to share the authentic comfort food of her childhood. She says the Corsican stew (her family vacations in Corsica and her parents have retired there) just "screams comfort" and she's made it with her mom an million times. It was even served at her wedding reception. It's a pitch-perfect autumn blend of braised beef, tomato sauce, carrot, cured olive, and pappardelle pasta. Or, she says, the bouillabaisse is another first-run menu item, the "legendary fish stew of Marseille" — with market fish, mussels, fennel, and rouille — taking further inspiration from the way they eat back home.
"My father still goes fishing every day, and they eat what they get."
Le Town Talk Diner
2707 E. Lake St., Minneapolis