Minneapolis' Normandy Kitchen, est. 1941, has a fresh yet classic new look

The Normandy got a facelift but maintained the integrity of the near century-old space.

The Normandy got a facelift but maintained the integrity of the near century-old space. Tj Turner, courtesy of The Normandy

A century ago, the east end of downtown was a high-end, happening, tony part of town.The hotels and buildings had important, royal names, like the Curtis, the Leamington, and the Normandy.

Then came the Depression and everything fell into despair and disrepair. The east end of downtown didn’t exactly come back. Until now. East Town -- which sounds a helluva lot better than "SoFa" -- is back, baby, and it’s, well, more different than ever!

If the area surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium feels a little too sound-stagey with its All New Everything, scoot on over to the south just a few blocks. There, a nearly century-old gem awaits. You may have forgotten about the Normandy in recent years, but it recently got a much-needed facelift. The old gal’s worth another look, especially now that game fans are stampeding more obvious, less elegant downtown choices.

In 1941, John Noble purchased the Normandy Residence Hotel. It had been in operation since 1925, and Noble changed the name to the Normandy Hotel, and expanded it commercially from the more modest guest house it had been.

In the 1950s, his son, Tom, put the shine on the eating part of the operation, calling it the very grandiose-sounding Normandy Village and Salon de Musique. It quickly became a popular Minneapolis dining destination.

These days, third-generation owner and innkeeper Mike Noble runs the place. He looked around a few years ago and rightly thought “this place really needs some updates.” But he also rightly wanted to keep the nearly hundred-year integrity of the place in tact.

The Henry VIII burger is a meaty delight at the new Normandy.

The Henry VIII burger is a meaty delight at the new Normandy. Tj Turner, courtesy of The Normandy

It took two years of planning with designers to work out the finer points of how they’d juggle the renovation/restoration. Noble says during peak construction there were big holes in the facade of the building and he'd look around and think "What have I done?!" 

But the end result is what he wanted: a place that’s been around for generations, and feels like it, but is fabulous instead of fusty.

The new Normandy Kitchen is modern enough for how we eat and drink today, but classic enough to honor the integrity of this beautiful old space that we hadn’t even known was so beautiful. Noble repurposed wood floors, heightened the ceiling and exposed hammered tin, and expanded the bar to give the space the bustling bar feel that downtown drinkers and eaters crave. A back room offers more solitude and privacy for small groups and quiet repast.

Some of the strange old gray stucco has also been stripped off of the front entryway to expose the original, much more attractive brick. To do the whole building would have been prohibitively expensive, but even this, along with the addition of some gorgeous red awnings, goes a long way toward improving curb appeal. Also check out the new mural of the French countryside and grazing bovines on the western wall.

The Normandy has always had Francophile influence, and back in the ’40s the place was decked out in French countryside bric-a-brac that the first generation of Nobles collected on their frequent trips to the country's northern coast.

But did you know that today the kitchen does some truly authentic French classics? If you’re still shaken up by the demise of downtown’s Vincent a Restaurant, you might want to peek in here for foie gras, rillettes, or fries with bernaise. They’re also doing classic steak au poivre, steak frites, and some other classic French cuisine.

But if that’s not your proclivity, they’re also doing really beautiful work with humble meatloaf made with veal, beef, and pork, ladled with silky demi glace over equally silky mashed potatoes. The rotisserie chicken is also served with demi instead of gravy, and here’s something we really like: A chicken dinner for two goes for $34 and comes with stuffing, roasted root vegetables, potatoes, and warm baguette. There’s your next date night, and if it goes really well, book a room. They've sunk a half a million into the hotel over the past year or so.

Live jazz on the third Saturday of every month makes it a truly package deal.

Back in the ’40s, The Normandy shared a corner with a classic old diner, the one with the always hot coffee, the burger, the pancakes, the ornery waitress. When they closed, the Normandy started serving their burger, Henry VIII, and they’re still serving it today.

Order one, and it arrives on a plate with the big guy pictured right in the center. The burger, topped with pickle relish and raw onion, drips juices all over his face. At $12.75, it’s a relative bargain for a downtown burger, and it stands up to all the others in quality. It's also available as a trio of sliders.

This being a hotel, the Normandy is open daily for breakfast and lunch. The crepe-style pancakes bear this ballsy boast: “World’s Best.”

We’ll have to report back on that.

The Normandy: It’s old, it’s new, it’s French, it’s American, and it could be just the crossroads you’re looking for as East Town marches into a new era.

405 S. 8th St., Minneapolis