The much anticipated second restaurant from Meritage owners Russell and Desta Klein is now open in downtown Minneapolis and the rich, old-world vibe and continental cuisine will make you feel like you're supping in a fancy Austrian dining car.
The sights and sounds of construction outside -- some renovations to the historic Soo Line building that houses the restaurant are still underway -- might just as quickly jolt you from that reverie. But get a few bites into one of Brasserie Zentral's elegantly composed European standards, and you'll soon find that luxury again.
Helmed by chef de cuisine Troy Unruh, the kitchen turns out refined continental dishes with a distinctly Austrian bent. Lunch is reasonably priced, with a selection of pastas made in house, salads, sandwiches, and a pared down selection of the dinner menu's main plates, including bratwurst, schnitzel, and vegetable holishkes -- all for under $20.
Dinner brings back those pastas, salads, and main courses, and adds sides like Austrian potato salad and artichoke gratin, as well as plates meant for two, such as a $100 prime cote de boeuf and a whole roasted chicken stuffed with brioche and foie gras. Indeed, in case anyone was wondering which side of the foie gras debate the Kleins fall on, the dinner menu includes an entire section dedicated to the stuff, all Minnesota-raised, served seared, roasted, layered with phyllo dough, and as a classic terrine.On a recent visit for lunch, we were greeted with a plate of toast points made from house-made pretzel rolls and a smooth and tangy spread of quark, cornichons, and paprika. On the recommendation of our very attentive waiter (the service is on par with that of Meritage) we followed up the amuse bouche with the fresh cheese and spring nettle ravioli.
Incorporating a variety of peas -- pea tendrils, snow peas, green peas -- the dish balances bright and grassy spring flavors with rich brown butter and tart Pecorino. The tender ravioli, which look more like tortellini, are served on a velvety herbed pea puree and topped with dentelle-like Pecorino crisps.
We also sampled one of the main plates that appears on both the lunch and dinner menus. The pork cheeks braised in Maibock come served with potatoes, escarole, and baby vegetables and are topped with lovage, a sweet herb.
The pork cheeks were fork-tender, and though the dish is savory as a pot roast should be, the tangy sofrito and slightly sweet lovage offset the rich meat and potatoes.
On the dessert menu, the Black Forest cake is a crowd favorite, our waiter told us, but we opted for the caramel kaffeehaus cream instead: a small glass pot of thick caramel cream served alongside a small brick of crumbly shortbread, a thin waffle cookie, and an Earl Grey macaron. If you like variety within your desserts, this small sampler fits the bill, but we'll definitely be going back to try the traditional apple strudel, raspberry Linzer tart, and, of course, the Black Forest cake.
Brasserie Zentral officially opened on Monday, and serves lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner Monday through Saturday starting at 5 p.m. (the restaurant has a small menu to tide over diners between the lunch and dinner services).