First Look: Fresh pasta and hard-to-find wines delight at The Bungalow Club

A tasty tortelli was made lively with delicate spring vegetables: tiny peas, conserved mushrooms, slivers of radish.

A tasty tortelli was made lively with delicate spring vegetables: tiny peas, conserved mushrooms, slivers of radish. Sarah Chandler

“It feels like a bungalow!”

So exclaimed chef Andrew Kraft’s mother upon first glimpsing the space that now houses The Bungalow Club, his inviting new neighborhood restaurant on East Lake Street. That casually elegant, circa-1901 building, which until last year housed Longfellow fixture The Craftsman, has already been much-loved. (Until just before The Craftsman’s closing, when it fell under new management and became much-maligned.) But let’s remember the good times, shall we?

In any case, a leftover glow remains, and the new team ably carries the magic onwards, upwards, and across the Atlantic—towards Italy. Kraft has joined up with Sam Rosen, a Grand Cafe alum from Kraft’s long tenure at its helm, and brother-in-law Jeremiah Dittman.

Their super power? Fresh pasta.

While many are already deeming The Bungalow Club an Italian restaurant, it might be more accurate to call it Italian-inspired, leaving ample room for other influences. The menu is divided into four––or rather, four and one half––sections, riffing on of the traditional Italian antipasti-primi-secondi-contorni-dolci model. (Here, the contorni, or sides—all vegetables—form the half-course.)

Deciding to live vicariously through the massive smorgasbord––pork belly, burrata, pâté, oh my!––that the enthusiastic couple beside me ordered as course number one, I skipped straight to the second column.

“Just like grandma’s strawberry pie.” Sort of.

“Just like grandma’s strawberry pie.” Sort of. Sarah Chandler

I enjoyed every morsel of my gem lettuce salad, elevated to exuberance by one of the best house-made dressings—a tangy scallion-buttermilk—I’ve had in ages. Sipping my Slovenian Pinot Grigio, I waited for the next course.

Did you catch that? Slovenian wine. The last time I enjoyed Slovenian wine, I was in a seaside village on the Adriatic coast where the street signs were lettered in both Italian and Slovene. In other words, you won’t find many Twin Cities establishments that serve it, and certainly not by the glass. You’ve really got to make an effort to find it: While that lovely little country, birthplace of our current First Lady, has more than 25,000 vineyards, few bottles are exported.

The by-the-glass wine list is often one of a restaurant’s dullest features, but here it’s downright adventurous. At The Bungalow Club, they’re clearly making an effort; it’s just one of many fine-point details that add up to a bevy of little surprises across the menu. On the other hand, I appreciate that the cocktails––a whiskey sour, a grapefruit daiquiri, a Negroni, an old-fashioned––are recognizable rather than revolutionary.

My third course of tortelli arrived in brodo (broth), much like it might at a trattoria in Bologna, Italy. Tortellini, as you’re more likely to be acquainted with it, may be the Emilia-Romagna region’s best-known pasta dish, and wisely, the chef chooses to amplify rather than mess with this classic.

A simple white bowl, flanked by fork as well as a spoon (you’ll need it for the broth), swam with a generous portion of al dente tortellini stuffed with ricotta and peas. While I wished for a slightly heavier hand with the ricotta, the broth was made lively with delicate spring vegetables: tiny peas, conserved mushrooms, slivers of radish. Asparagus so thin, they must have been sliced by a ninja.

One of the beauties of fresh pasta is that you can experiment, and Kraft likes to play: There’s the irregularly-shaped maltagliati (which means, literally, “badly cut”), and the Venetian bigoli, a rounder, thicker version of spaghetti, served with pig’s head. Diners who share Anthony Bourdain’s meat-eating aplomb will want to try the oxtail lasagna, too.

If your idea of Italian doesn’t involve dishes that name the body parts of animals, no worries: You can order fresh rigatoni with good old pork-beef meatballs.

Momentary disappointment struck when the most interesting item on the dessert menu, a buckwheat rhubarb Napoleon, failed to appear: they were out. Yet the piping hot strawberry pie that came crowned with a dollop of vanilla gelato proved to be, as the bartender intimated, “just like grandma’s strawberry pie.” (That is, if your grandma keeps gelato on hand and makes pate brisée crust.) Brisée—French for “broken”—essentially means that butter is blended, rather than cut into the flour, producing a delicate, buttery crust with a flakier, crunchier texture than traditional pie.

While the restaurant’s interior might not inspire you to exclaim “Bungalow!” like Kraft's mom, it pays a sweet homage to both the Longfellow neighborhood and the scores of Craftsman bungalows built there during the turn-of-the-last century Arts and Crafts movement. The beauty of these homes lies in their streamlined, compact grace; small in scale but often deceptively roomy inside, they’re full of gorgeous woodwork and clever built-in shelves. Designed to surprise and delight rather than impress.

The Bungalow Club may indeed impress you, but for now it seems to have set its sights firmly on delight.

The Bungalow Club
4300 E. Lake St., Minneapolis