Scusi coming soon in St. Paul--serving wine in kegs

The Blue Plate restaurant group, long known for its neighborhood grills serving turkey burgers and beer-battered green beans--Highland Grill, Edina Grill, Longfellow Grill, etc.--has a new Italian concept in the works for the St. Paul space recently vacated by Heartland (not 100 yards away from another Blue Plate eatery, Groveland Tap). The Hot Dish spoke with co-owner David Burley to get the scoop on Scusi, which is scheduled to open Monday, October 4.

After owning neighboring businesses for roughly a decade, Burley and Heartland's chef-owner Lenny Russo started talking about Blue Plate taking over Russo's space several months ago. "We'd had a hankering to do pizza for a while," Burley says of the Scusi concept. The idea evolved to include far more than pizza. The restaurant will have a wine bar, a charcuterie program (lots house-made), and chef-driven cuisine, including a large selection of fresh and dried pastas, along with classics like veal osso buco and Florentine-style NY strip steak, plus more experimental dishes such as deconstructed lasagna.

As for the beautiful Arts and Crafts space, Burley says the plan is to change a few things but also to "leave as much there as we can and honor what they were able to do with the space." The owners are doing a little redecorating to make the place feel cozier, including adding a few televisions (to show old Italian movies without audio, like Barrio's silent screening of spaghetti Westerns) and booths. In fact, they plan to put a booth in Heartland's famous alcove table.

Regarding the wine program, Burley wants to be the first in town to serve wine on keg. Though the concept is new locally, Burley notes that a few restaurants in other parts of the country are using it and that winemakers have been kegging wine for a long time, as they often store some of their wine in kegs for blending. Burley says he likes the way the packaging is more efficient and has a lower environmental footprint than wine's typical production methods of bottling, corking, labeling, and shipping. Blue Plate will start with two kegs as they and their customers get used to the on-tap system, which involves replacing oxygen with an inert gas as wine is dispensed. "There are a few tricks to it," Burley says. "You can't push it as hard as you can beer, or you'll get an effervescent."

And for those who can't get enough of Blue Plate's grill concepts, Burley says that in addition to Scusi, they have another grill in the works scheduled to open next spring in Eden Prairie. The site is near another restaurant with "grill" in the name--Kona Grill--so Burley says he doesn't expect to call the place Eden Prairie Grill. "We'll probably do something more creative," he says.

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