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Chef Doug Flicker on balancing serious eats at Piccolo and summer fun at Sandcastle

Chef Doug Flicker on balancing serious eats at Piccolo and summer fun at Sandcastle
Courtesy of the Piccolo website

Doug Flicker is a chef about town. His beloved fine-dining eatery Piccolo continues to push boundaries in molecular gastronomy, while his casual beach joint Sandcastle has Kickstarted its way into a successful second season. At the start of next month, he'll head up a foraging dinner at Star Thrower Farm in Glencoe, Minnesota. Flicker took a few moments to sit down with Hot Dish and chat about expansion and juggling the two worlds of summertime fun and serious eats.

See also: Piccolo's Doug Flicker makes list of most-underrated chefs in the world

Hot Dish: What's coming up for you in the next couple of months with Piccolo and Sandcastle? Doug Flicker: Sandcastle officially opened May 10, and with that the construction started for the built-up patio. It's a major expansion going out towards the lake [with] more covered seating.

When is that going to be wrapped up? They're telling us around the middle of June, so hopefully Memorial Day weekend they will have all the groundwork done [too], all the cement, and then we will actually be able to use our liquor license at that point. Then a couple weeks later they should have everything wrapped up.

What are you going to be serving once you get the license? We will have Fultons. I believe we are doing the Lonely Blonde and the Summit IPA. We've got three wines on tap -- two whites and a red. We're doing kombucha from Verdant Tea on tap. Then various tall boys and stuff like that.

How do you juggle Sandcastle and Piccolo?

Good people. We have a new chef at Sandcastle and a sous chef that came back from last year. I do the menu and everything sort of trickles down from me. I spend two days there and four days at Piccolo. It's delegating. It's hard, too. Piccolo has always been very, very hands-on, and my baby. It still is. I spend most of my time there, but it's very difficult to be in one place and not think about the other place. You just trust that everything is getting done.

 

What appealed to you about opening a seasonal spot?

You ever go to Sea Salt? It's one of those places that just becomes iconic, so to weigh in on that and have my own little corner of that world is just fantastic. The seasonality appealed to me. To be on Lake Nokomis, walking outside of the restaurant and watching the sunset, getting out the fishing pole and casting a couple times into the lake is just really cool. And it's so different than what Piccolo is. Making hot dogs and cheese curds, while seemingly simple, it's really difficult to get all of that done [with] consistently high quality, and the volume.

Is there any part of your fine-dining background that influences Sandcastle?

I think the DNA is there. There's the Dog Flicker, which is a hot dog with a fried egg and kimchi. [It's] out of the ordinary, upscale. The menu was kind of difficult. On one hand you have people who are just at the beach that want the lowest common denominator and at the same time you've got hipsters on fixed gear bikes drinking Fulton who know what good food is. The challenge there was to try to get something for everyone.

Are there any changes you've made to the menu this season?

Like anything, you think you know what it's going to be, but then you get in and it starts to take on a life of its own. I thought that one menu would work throughout the year and then October hits and its cold and its not that appealing to anyone anymore. We've tweaked some stuff in the spring and the fall. We've got chili, chili dogs. We changed a salad. We're going to do some neighborhood nights this year. We're going to try and do fried chicken one night, taco Tuesday, a sloppy Joe night. I think it will be an evolution throughout our time there. The Dog Flicker and the cheese curds will always be there.

Where do you find your inspiration for the menu?

On the beachfront you go to old classics and stuff you maybe grew up with as a kid. We talked about doing a Frito pie and tater tots, and things that our moms fed us. It's more nostalgia. Piccolo is about what's happening in the world of modern cooking and pushing to reinvent ourselves all the time. You've got the left-brain, right-brain thing. Especially with Piccolo it's about how we can push each other to move the restaurant forward.

How did your soft-serve Kickstarter go?

After Travail it was sort of nerve-wracking because everyone compares themselves to the Travail Kickstarter. We were fully funded thanks to a lot of generous people and the soft-serve machine came in last week. We're all learning how to make a stellar ice cream cone and it's a lot harder than it looks.

What's your favorite summertime dish?

Hot dogs are definitely up there. Bratwurst, sweet corn, watermelon.

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