The airy new space on Marshall Avenue next door to the shuttered Pincurl hair salon straddles a casual/elegant line. The staff are all in identical, crisp button-down shirts and aprons. Minty green and light earth tones offer a delicate elegance. This isn’t the gritty, pub-like atmosphere many chefs are relying on to sell their progressive cooking.
It’s a wise move. This stretch of Marshall Avenue, just over the Lake Street Bridge, is a bit of a food desert. A shame, considering the heavily residential converging neighborhoods, made up mostly of homeowners with expendable income to burn. Judging from the completely booked reservation list last Saturday, they’ve struck a nerve.
A declaration like “Modern Farmhouse Cuisine” practically begs for conjecture. Nobody really knows what it means, and pretension looms in the imagination. What it means in reality is that ingredients are impeccably sourced. We were told by a server that the kitchen even goes so far as to make its own flour. But the plates are marked by an artist’s rendering of familiar Midwestern homestyle bites, like brisket and roast chicken.
Gnocchi aren’t the more pedestrian potato variety, but instead the harder to find pate a choux, an airy French pastry that’s like wee savory donuts. A golden soft duck egg on top provides nature’s sauce. The meat pie is the prettiest pot pie we’ve ever laid eyes on, a woven basket of pastry hiding shredded chicken and pork. It felt blasphemous to stab into it for a bite. A little gravy would have elevated it from great to spectacular, but the attending cast of pickled green tomatoes and English mustard provided a welcome surprise from the ordinary.
A dessert of chocolate ganache was a cheeky take on a s’more, sandwiching a torched marshmallow. Dusted with beet powder, the result is earthy, dark, and adult.
Price points are smack in the value range. Nothing is over $20, and lots of small plates and snacky bits hover around the under $10 mark, making Heirloom a wonderful choice for a lingering meal of sharing and sipping.
If you’re not afraid of a little early-bird dining, begin your evening during the very accessible “social hour” from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Inventive bar snacks like grilled bread with pork fat go for $4 and $5, and select beers and wines are $3 to $7. It’s really a civilized way to ease into a dinner, and potentially the only way to secure a seat without a reservation on the weekend.
For an experience you won’t soon forget, have a seat at the bar where longtime Twin Cities bartender Wayne “Bueno” Roemhildt holds court. He wields a savant’s knowledge of the menu, as well as exacting wine pairings for every dish. Acquiesce to his whims, and it’s a Willy Wonka-esque trip.
Heirloom is the restaurant this neighborhood has been clamoring for. What any neighborhood should clamor for. It's a grownup’s place that doesn’t abide affectation, yet still manages to surprise. A triumph in this culinary landscape where surprise is an increasingly difficult feat.
Pro tip: A coffee and waffle house by Black Coffee and Waffles is going into the old Pincurl space sometime soon, another coup for the neighborhood.
2186 Marshall Ave., St. Paul