Bread & Pickle upgrades concessions at Lake Harriet
The new concession emphasizes local: Even the ice cream is from Sonny's and Izzy's. See the slideshow.
Lake Harriet has been a city park for more than a century, but these days, as tattooed and spandex-clad parents push their off-road-ready jogger strollers past, it's hard to imagine early Minneapolitans riding horses or bicycling in petticoats around the same paths. No matter how the city's populace changes, Lake Harriet's beauty—its cool breezes, lazily drifting sailboats, and shimmering reflections—will remain an important community asset.
Until a few years ago, Minneapolis treated its park concessions like those of airports and stadiums: With a captive audience, there was little competition, and little reason to innovate. Prior to 2002, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board ran the Lake Harriet refectory without generating much income from its limited menu of hot dogs, ice cream, popcorn, and soda. But the installation of Tin Fish at Lake Calhoun in 2004 and Sea Salt in Minnehaha Falls the following year proved that a private operator with more ambitious food and beverage offerings could do substantial business—and boost park revenue, with operators paying the board a percentage of their gross revenue. By the end of 2008, Tin Fish and Sea Salt were helping city park concessions generate more than $200,000 in profit. The board believed that the Lake Harriet refectory wasn't reaching its full potential, and it put out a request for proposals.
Competition for the Lake Harriet contract was fierce, with several high-profile names in the mix, including such seasoned restaurateurs as Larry D'Amico of the D'Amico empire, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, Lowell Pickett of the Dakota, Supenn Harrison of Sawatdee, and Steven Brown, who now owns Tilia. Restaurateurs Kim and Kari Bartmann—the sisters behind Barbette, Bryant-Lake Bowl, and the Red Stag—won the bid with a concept called Bread & Pickle. In May, the refectory opened with expanded hours, offering food and beverage from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
A key aspect of Kim Bartmann's plan was to leverage her experience running sustainability-minded operations (her other restaurants have incorporated LEED-certified construction techniques, composting programs, and local/organic ingredients, among other practices) to make Bread & Pickle a zero-waste operation. Environmental stewardship is, naturally, a core park value, and when the Lake Harriet Citizen's Advisory Council surveyed lake visitors about expanding the concessions, the potential for increased trash was cited as a primary concern.
While the typical quick-service eatery generates an inordinate amount of trash, with its plastic plates, Styrofoam clamshells, and the like, Bread & Pickle's sandwiches come wrapped in paper, and its beverages are served in biodegradable cups. Everything that comes out of the refectory's windows can be tossed in one of the restaurant's compost bins. Really. Everything. From the spoons to the straws to those last few French fries you didn't finish.
The eatery's eco-friendly policy requires a little more wherewithal on the part of both operators and customers. If Bread & Pickle wants to sell potato chips, Bartmann explains, she needs to track down a supplier that packages its product in compostable bags (she knows of only one, and they haven't been returning phone calls) or else portion chips into its own biodegradable, individual-serving bags. Due to concerns regarding plastic and transportation, Bartmann decided not to sell bottled water, a convenience to which quick-serve diners have become accustomed. As an alternative, Bread & Pickle offers reusable stainless steel bottles for $3—a money-losing price, Bartmann says—to fill with tap water. But if both parties can stay patient, flexible, and committed, Bread & Pickle is poised to be the greenest park concession in the country.
Barbette executive chef Kevin Kathman created the eatery's menu of American picnic fare using many locally sourced and organic ingredients from the network developed at Bartmann's other restaurants, including Fischer Farms pork, Larry Schultz eggs, and Kadejan poultry, among others. These premium ingredients can cost two to three times the price of commodity products, so Kathman says he's buying in bulk and using resources creatively to minimize the amount of that expense that's passed on to diners.
For breakfast, Bread & Pickle serves yogurt and granola, blueberry muffins, and lemon-ginger scones, as well as a breakfast sandwich that all the rest might model themselves after. A toasted English muffin is covered with melted cheddar, slices of lightly griddled ham, and a fried egg with a yolk just set into a golden yellow gel. It beats McDonald's Egg McMuffin by a landslide.
The rest of the day's menu consists of a few grill items, sandwiches, sides, popcorn, and ice cream supplied by local favorites Sonny's and Izzy's. Among the sandwiches, the hummus wrap is a perfect hot-weather meal—Holy Land hummus, yogurt sauce, lettuce, cucumbers, radishes, and other vegetables (including zucchini and peppers once they're in season) are folded, burrito-style, in a spinach tortilla. At just $5.25, it's light on both the stomach and the wallet, and it won't negate a lakeside exercise routine.
Scratch-cooking sticklers might ding Bread & Pickle for not making its own hummus, but Kathman had to make a few concessions due to the eatery's tiny kitchen and high volume (Bartmann decided to use the space as-is for a season before considering expanding the kitchen into the building's breezeway). The staff is creating a commissary kitchen at the nearby Gigi's cafe, which Bartmann recently took over, but in the meantime, Kathman says, he's squeezing in prep work at the other restaurants whenever he can. (Sometimes that involves Kathman calling the closing chef at Barbette at 1 a.m. and asking him to put turkeys in the oven so he can swing by and pick up the roasted birds a few hours later.)
Another one of Bread & Pickle's vegetarian options, the black bean burger, is a mass-produced product from Morningstar Farms—a fact that might raise locavore hackles. But the kitchen serves some 400 patties a week, and Kathman says he didn't want to risk inconsistency with a house-made burger. Putting aside commercial or artisan origins and focusing solely on taste, it's a decision that can't be argued with, as the robust, smoky-tasting Morningstar black bean burger outshines the ho-hum handmade spinach-walnut patty served over at Gigi's.
Bread & Pickle's burger may be the item most negatively affected by the eatery's logistical constraints. Because the patties come pre-formed from the meat processor, they lack the tender fluffiness of burgers shaped on-site. On the plus side, the burger's grass-fed beef is sourced from a family-run Wisconsin farm and slathered in Kathman's "special sauce," an addictive riff on Thousand Island dressing.
Bread & Pickle's deep-fried cheese curds are served in a more modest portion and at a higher price than, say, those at the Minnesota State Fair—probably not the worst thing for keeping waistlines in check. But the cheese, which by itself retails at local co-ops for around $10 a pound, is worth the extra price. The curds are made with organic milk from Wisconsin's Castle Rock Dairy, and their gooeyness makes a lovely contrast to their crisp tempura shells.
The trouble with serving American fare, Kathman admits, is that most diners grew up eating the stuff and have developed a preference for familiarity. Guilty as charged: Comparing Bread & Pickle's egg salad to my mother's, I found it dry and under-seasoned. I wanted more mayonnaise and salt, or fresh dill, mustard, and celery—something to distinguish it more from its bits of plain egg white and crumbly yolk. The potato salad seemed similarly bland, lacking both textural contrast and richness. But the Kathman lineage may simply take a lighter approach to cooking than the Huttons do (and may very well have lower blood pressure and risk of heart attack as a result).
Straightforward, basic fare can be satisfying in its simplicity, but sometimes, as with a few Bread & Pickle sandwiches, it feels too plain. For example, the ham and cheese sandwich is just that: thick slices of ham, cheese, and yellow mustard between two slices of sourdough bread. It tasted fine—certainly better than the waterlogged stuff that comes out of Oscar Mayer's plastic packs. But it seemed like a sandwich that had been slapped together at home, without any of the extra flourishes that might indicate it was conceived by a chef and served at a restaurant. Same story with Bread & Pickle's turkey sandwich, which is made with sliced roasted turkey, shredded iceberg, a middling tomato, and herbed mayonnaise on multigrain. I had hoped for a little extra flavor complexity—maybe a squirt of spicy mustard or a scoop of cranberry chutney—to make it feel more special.
Bread & Pickle's chicken salad, liberally studded with fresh tarragon, made a solid foundation for a sandwich, but lacking any sort of garnish, it was overwhelmed by its New French Bakery ciabatta bun. After a few bites, I took the rest of the sandwich home and toasted the bread, added more mayonnaise, layered on a lettuce leaf, sliced tomato, and a few pickled dilly beans. Call me Dagwood, but without such accessories it seemed incomplete.
Bread & Pickle faces some stiff competition for lake-goer picnicking dollars right up the street. To keep pace with this year's City Pages Best Sandwich winner, Clancey's butcher shop, Bread & Pickle's most straightforward options might acquire a little more nuance. But despite the eatery's short operational season, Kathman says he plans to modify the menu a couple more times through the rest of the summer and fall and add several more items, such as bratwurst, tossed salads, popsicles, cheese steaks, breakfast burritos, and beignets, all of which sounds promising.
Kim Bartmann wouldn't have become a successful restaurateur without being committed to tweaking operations to better satisfy customers. For Bread & Pickle that might mean adding daily specials or putting buckets of rocks on the tables to keep napkins from blowing—whatever it takes. "We want to make it into the best thing that ever happened in a public park," Bartmann says.
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