Those of you who frequent downtown Minneapolis may have noticed something new nestled between Bar Fly nightclub and Lure Showclub near Eighth and Hennepin. Maruso Street Food & Bar is the newest addition to the downtown food scene, offering street fare from around the globe. The restaurant's kitchen is guided by executive chef Andrew Garrison.
Recently we sat down with Garrison and one of Maruso's co-owners, Chrissy Kabanuk, to discuss the concept of Maruso's and their plans for the future.
Kabanuk and her husband co-own the building that now houses Maruso, and she explains that they had always wanted a restaurant to go into the space. "We always did a lot of traveling to kind of look at different concepts," Kabanuk explains. "We kept going to places that were a little warmer-climate-type places, and they were doing street food and really accessible and urban-type food to the masses, and we said, 'You know, we should really do a concept like that.
"It began to grow after kind of hooking in with the other owner, Bill Schweng, who is the grandson of [the founder of] a hundred-year-old soy sauce company, which is the namesake for the restaurant," Kabanuk says.
Garrison, at the ripe old age of 27, has had an interesting career. A 2008 Le Cordon Bleu graduate, he started off working under Don Saunders at the now closed Fugaise and then moved on to be his sous chef at Stouts Island Lodge in Birchwood, Wisconsin. He also spent time working in some of the Twin Cities' top restaurants, including Tilia, the Bachelor Farmer, and W.A. Frost. After a stint at the University Club in St. Paul, Garrison spent a year traveling as the executive chef for Cirque du Soleil.
Working for Cirque du Soleil is what helped give Garrison his insight into global cuisine. Working with a cast from around the world, Garrison had to study food from other cultures to try to accommodate their global tastes. "With menu items, I had pretty much run out of things I already knew how to cook within the first couple weeks," says Garrison. "From then on it was just exploring constantly: different regions, cuisines, cultures, that sort of thing. I would try, for menus, to feature some of the local food culture, at least on one of the days when we were in a city."
Garrison had other challenges to overcome, both nutritionally and culturally. "I had to do lunch and dinner everyday for a cast and crew of between 85 and 120 people," says Garrison. "I had to have a different meal for every meal period of every day, and each meal had to be approved by a nutritionist."
If there was a certain dietary or cultural need that was represented by a certain percentage of the cast, he would also have to accommodate that. "We had about 30 to 35 Chinese cast members, so everyday for dinner I would cook, or at least attempt, a traditional Chinese dish," Garrison says. "They were all from the Szechuan and Hunan provinces, so it was really tasty food, on the spicer side, and fresh."
The menu for Maruso was derived from a list of almost 50 traditional street foods that Kabanuk and the other co-owners had come up with. The owners wanted a somewhat simpler menu, so once they brought Garrison on board the menu was scaled back to the version they have now. "In paring it down we kept some traditional Latin items, some traditional Asian items, and a couple of American items went on to take care of the meat-and-potato-palate folks," Kabanuk says.
"I definitely have plans to move quite a bit more global on it, because it's pretty Latin and Asian-centric right now. And then there's strangely Philadelphia for some reason," he jokes.
Some of the menu items Garrison recommends checking out are the beef bulgogi, which has apparently already garnered a bit of a reputation, and the shrimp and grits. Kabanuk suggests the green curry tofu and the bahn mi. Also, most of the menu at Maruso is naturally gluten free, and most of the things that aren't can be made so on request.
One welcome thing you'll find about Maruso's menu is the low prices. Maruso didn't want to open a street food restaurant that served its dishes at fine-dining prices. Most of the items at Maruso fall under $10.
Despite the low prices, chef Garrison and the owners are dedicated to the quality and care that come with a chef-driven restaurant. The menu is almost entirely scratch made, Garrison says, and they'll be looking to more locally sourced products in the future. "Basically my goal is to apply the same principles that I learned from Don Saunders," says Garrison. "I'm trying to instill that in my crew."
Some things to look for in Maruso's future could include opening up for the breakfast/brunch/lunch crowd. They have also discussed staying open into the late-night hours.
Maruso Street Food & Bar
715 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
612.333.6100; Maruso website
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Minneapolis & St. Paul dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.