Hyper-local food finds a champion in Kieran’s Kitchen

The Abundance Board, with all the fixin's.

The Abundance Board, with all the fixin's. Lucy Hawthorne

Anyone who’s met him knows Kieran Folliard can spin a yarn. But the Irishman has also spent a lifetime building successful businesses here in Minnesota—founding the Liffey, Kieran’s, the Local, and 2 Gingers Whiskey—where he put in the work to back up those stories.

In his latest venture these strengths, at last, converge. The story of each meal is Kieran’s Kitchen.

Since opening on August 2 in northeast Minneapolis’ Food Building, Kieran’s Kitchen has been more than a “farm-to-table restaurant.” The counter service-style market (featuring an open kitchen and full bar serving neighborhood craft beer, plus cocktails from Twin Cities distilleries spiked with Skinny Jake’s honey) has positioned itself on the frontier of localism more than any trendy moniker conveys.

While produce arrives from growers within a 45-minute radius of the Cities, each of the menus’ primary ingredients—from early morning breakfast to the heartier full menu served from 11 a.m. on—travels maybe 300 yards to reach diners’ mouths.

Housed just down the hall are Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, Alemar Cheese, and Red Table Meat Co. Separately, these artisans represent the pinnacle of their respective crafts. All had built respected reputations by quietly supplying high-end restaurants as far away as Los Angeles, but Folliard felt they weren’t receiving their due at home. They’d been so close and yet so far from stepping into the local spotlight—not to mention making one hell of a sandwich together.

But at Kieran’s Kitchen, their story—and the story of good food on the whole—touches all senses via the Food Hall. Customers can roam the space to witness churning vats separating curd from whey at Alemar’s workspace, Red Table’s methods for curing ham on full display, and skylights pointing toward Skinny Jake’s rooftop beehives.

Breaking down barriers between the chain of supply and consumption challenges diners’ notions of participation. This tension elevates Kieran’s Kitchen to the realm of destination dining, where in the hands of anyone besides Folliard, it would simply seem like a deli.

A view of the market at Kieran's Kitchen

A view of the market at Kieran's Kitchen Lucy Hawthorne

But trying to fit so much on a dinner plate is no easy task. Which may be why Folliard, on opening day, told me he “should have gone fishing.”

Diners will disagree with him, no doubt. In the capable hands of chef Ian Gray, the frisson of ideals meeting reality produces some of the most flavorful food in the Cities.

Gray’s strength is also my burden, here, in promising what lies in store for you. Though cheese, fresh flour, and meat remain constants, supplementary ingredients may pivot to accompany daily deliveries from farmers. Given the establishment’s dedication to intentionality and sourcing ingredients, Gray’s is a game of constant, subtle Iron Chef-ing.

Further complicating matters was a surprise menu switch accompanying shoulder season and the harvest. This made mere memories of late-summer standout dishes like a roasted sweet corn chowder reminiscent of esquites plumped by Alemar’s creme fraiche, or an inspired Vietnamese-tinged cold noodle salad blessed with bands of cucumbers and blazing hot peppers dressed in a barely there vinaigrette.

That said, across months of dining at Kieran’s Kitchen, dishes ranged from very good to transcendent, even if a certain balance of vegetables may vary from visit to visit.

The menu is most interesting when multiple purveyors from down the hall collide, often in unexpected forms, as is the case with perennial favorites like the Smoked Carrot Sandwich and the Spicy Cream Cheese Dumplings. In the sandwich, ribbons of the vegetable are layered over toasted rye from Baker’s Field, accompanied by Alemar’s gentle, creamy brie. Its magic lies in slow-smoking the vegetable over wood planks to impart an almost meaty flavor that complements carrots’ natural sweetness, without sacrificing tooth in the process. Reader, your author never expected to find herself a “carrot sandwich person,” but such is the power this place commands.

Spicy Cream Cheese Dumplings

Spicy Cream Cheese Dumplings Lucy Hawthorne

Those dumplings pull from pierogi tradition in form, arriving as a series of tender dough pouches puffing with cream cheese made specially for Kieran’s Kitchen. Don’t be fooled, though: While they’re smothered in sauteed pepper slices and pickled onions, these darlings take a bath in a pepper sauce that, as culinary director Zach Dunphy mentioned, can be delightfully un-Minnesotan depending on the batch. Between the sauce’s heat and a near-salad of herbs topping everything, the idea that these have kin in pierogi becomes but a flicker.

The “Ham Hock Ravioli” might not be the most appetizingly named dish, but on the plate, it sings. Apprehensions of clunky meats are laid to rest by a hock-jus christening giant ravioli, crowned by blue cheese-butter and a fistful of port-fig jewels the size of thumbs. Like all the pastas at Kieran’s Kitchen, the ravioli’s flour is milled daily, lending a richness of flavor that can’t be matched locally. Two thick slices of half-charred bread primed for sopping arrive as garnish, along with an “optional” ramekin full of butter worth shamelessly bringing home.

Purists should choose to play charcuterie roulette with the Abundance Board, which comes in two sizes—neither intended for loners. Choose from any of the day’s selections of Red Table meats like coppa or Pork Queen, and Alemar’s cheeses in the market’s case, paired with whatever fresh ferments happen to be on hand, and go to town.

Plates hailing from so many disparate cultures shouldn’t translate into a single meal so smoothly. But repeating, simple elements—whether carrots or mushrooms in myriad forms, or mild cheese cropping up as a spread here, a filling there—easily bind the dishes together, like a folk song’s refrain uniting disparate generations.

This touch of the ancient and timeless lends Kieran’s Kitchen a visionary air. By sending customers out the door with a doughnut for the road, or bellies stuffed with (and like) ravioli, history and work sublimate into hard-to-replicate beauty. For this, Folliard and Gray have given us tools to better recall such meals, and the craftspeople behind them, on the road ahead.

Click here to see a photo slideshow of Kieran’s Kitchen


Kieran’s Kitchen
117 14th Ave. NE Minneapolis