Since opening their first Minneapolis restaurant, Stewart and Heidi Woodman have been served their share of challenges, only to rise from the (sometimes literal) ashes. Five, their 2005 restaurant, was hotly anticipated, but short-lived, and their next venture, the first incarnation of Heidi's, was destroyed in a fire. The wholesome food-focused Birdhouse, now shuttered, may have been before its time. Now, they will wind down the year with some greatest hits and return in 2014 with an entirely new concept.
Chef Stewart Woodman came from such hallowed New York kitchens as Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's flagship restaurant. He's worked for a galaxy of chefs from Alain Ducasse and Gray Kunz. He arrived in Minneapolis with his wife Heidi, and originally worked at Levain before moving on to open his first restaurant, Five on Bryant Avenue and 29th Street in a converted firehouse. The space was dazzling and the dishes he created won him national adoration as one of Food & Wine 's Best New Chefs in 2006.
After the investors pulled the plug on Five, Stewart and Heidi, herself an renowned pastry chef, relocated to a new spot and opened the first Heidi's at Bryant Avenue and 50th Street. Again, critics swooned at his elegant creations that pushed the culinary envelope. On a frigid day in February 2010, a fire, which reportedly began in Heidi's grease vent, destroyed the restaurant along with neighbors Patina and Blackbird Cafe. The loss would come just hours after Woodman was selected for the semi-finals of the James Beard Awards' Best Chef Midwest. Never one to sit quietly, Woodman took to his blog, Shefzilla, to thank his supporters. (The blog was named after the nickname given to Stewart by Star Tribune critic, Rick Nelson, and spoke to Stewart's large personality and temper.)
As they gathered their gear and planned their next move, Woodman made the decision to try his hand at a cookbook. The resulting Shefzilla: Conquering Haute Cuisine at Home would celebrate its release in a shell of a building on Lyndale just off Lake Street.
That shell became Heidi's version 2.0, a stunning restaurant, which again won them rave reviews including four stars from the Star Tribune. Known for innovative dishes and focus on every aspect of the dining experience from first course to wine choice, they seemed to thrive.
A renewed focus on health next drew the Woodman's to a different concept, Birdhouse. Their vegetarian, vegan and sustainable meat dishes had critics swooning again - especially that sweet pea purée. However, there seemed to be some instability in the kitchen and the inconsistency in the food quality showed that. The large house that they were located in has been a spatial challenge for others that have occupied it, including duplex and Pandora's Cup. (It's now home to Nico's Tacos).
In the midst of Birdhouse's struggles, the Woodmans faced a more daunting challenge. Woodman wrote eloquently about a terrifying history of cancer in Heidi's family and her courageous decision to confront it head-on. This was in March of this year. Shortly after that, the Shefzilla blog went dark. In June, Birdhouse closed their doors.
Tonight Hot Dish received confirmation that the end of Heidi's 2.0 is at hand. They will run out the year with a special menu of greatest hits, continue their pre-theater specials, Thursday night happy hours, and their exclusive chef's table experiences with 11 courses of culinary razzle dazzle.
Get it while you can, lovers, because at the close of this year, Heidi's as we know it will be gone from the culinary scene. We'll stay tuned for what will surely be a thrilling new chapter in this ever-evolving restaurant story.