The Lynn on Bryant blends elegance and coziness
The dining room offers upscale dishes like this baby pumpkin filled with chestnut custard. Take the tour...
When a friend of mine first returned home to Minnesota after a two-year stint in Uganda serving in the Peace Corps, he had a somewhat difficult time readjusting to life in the States, but not for the reasons you might expect. After all he had seen and done in his time abroad, it was an impromptu stop at the SuperAmerica on 25th and Hennepin that completely threw him for a loop. "I just need a thing of regular toothpaste," he murmured while scanning all the labels. "Why are there so many? And the chips! There have to be like 10 different kinds of chips over there!" I didn't want to tell him there were probably more like 20, as he was clearly already shell-shocked by all the choices. "I guess I just got used to having one kind of everything," he said. "Is it weird that I miss that?"
As Americans we expect a lot of options, but having too many all in one place can sometimes cause you to feel you've made a wrong decision, sending you into a spiral of self-doubt and dissatisfaction. (Side note: If you're interested in this idea, check out Barry Schwartz's excellent book The Paradox of Choice.) I'd venture to guess that most people have experienced this at one of those Cheesecake Factory-type restaurants where the menus are so comically extensive they're presented to you in a binder. The toothpaste crisis comparison is probably too dramatic to apply to a sweet, cozy new neighborhood restaurant like the highly anticipated Lynn on Bryant, but I was reminded of it on my first visit there, and it proved to be hard to shake.
It's not that the Lynn has an overwhelming number of dishes on its menu. On the contrary, chef Peter Ireland's offerings for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and both dinners (yes, you read all of that correctly) are on the slim side, a manageable 10 to 15 items apiece, and all the fare fits the description of classic yet casual French, which is something we don't have a ton of in the Twin Cities. So will it fly with Lynnhurst residents? Some things certainly will. The fact that breakfast is served daily during the week and starts early (7 a.m.) will be appreciated by anyone who wants a truly great cup of coffee and, cross my butter-clogged heart, one of the best little caramel rolls I've had this side of Hinckley. The dine-in part of the morning menu consists of some pretty heavenly fruit-stuffed brioche French toast, dainty steamed eggs Florentine served in a countryside-chic hinged glass jar, mildly spicy house-made sausage, and wobbly Swedish cream with a little cinnamon-apple compote that easily passes as dessert but can still be enjoyed guiltlessly as a morning meal. Best of all, the plates come with the Lynn's deep-golden-brown potato cakes — better than hash browns and more socially acceptable than tater tots. The problems? One pancake is $6, which is hard to swallow if you're just dropping by to grab breakfast with your kids. A basic omelet, while expertly made and stuffed with high-quality ingredients, is 11 bucks. Yogurt and granola will run you seven smackers. For casual breakfast, it ain't cheap.
If you're dining with kids, it's actually better to come at dinner, when tots can order a "hodgepodge" meal of finger foods like cheese, crispy chickpeas, fruit, chicken, and cooked veggies, all served in a muffin tin at a price determined by your kid's age (one year = $1). That said, dinner is also where I had my own petite version of the toothpaste crisis. One of the Lynn's founding concepts was to have a cafe setting in the front of the restaurant and a more formal dining experience in a separate room at the back. That's all well and good — plenty of restaurants have a more casual bar menu and a fuller set of options in the main restaurant — but with all the different mealtimes and menus, it can get a little confusing at the Lynn, leaving you wondering which side of the green grass you might be on and which one you might be missing.
For example, on the cafe side you can order from the cafe menu or the dining room menu, but you'll be seated on a first-come, first-served basis — no reservations are accepted. Stars of the cafe menu include a gorgeously light and pungent goat-cheese souffle served with a simple green salad, a perfectly executed croque monsieur with super-thinly shaved ham and an even ratio of crispy to still-bubbly cheese parts, and a leg of well-seasoned duck confit with warm potato salad. Then in the dining room, you can order only from the dining room menu, which is smaller but more elegant (and more expensive). Homey French dinner dishes include a duo of beef with grilled hanger steak and braised short ribs, which were unfortunately short on textural contrast; an impressively moist bone-in chicken breast that I would have loved with a crispier skin; and for the vegetarians, a baby pumpkin filled with chestnut custard and served with quinoa, cauliflower, and spinach. In a surprising twist, the house-made desserts were really good and dirt-cheap. Three dollars for a generous slice of super-rich dark-chocolate cake with a mousse-like whipped filling and buttery chocolate frosting? Unheard of. An indulgent individual baba au rhum that would make Ina Garten proud? Costs less than a side of fries at the Lynn.
The little caveats keep coming. Reservations are accepted in the dining room, except on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when it isn't open for dinner. At weekend brunch you can order off the brunch or breakfast menu in either dining room, but there's no lunch on the weekend. Is your head spinning a little? I understand and appreciate the divided-dining concept in theory, but in practice it's confusing territory. I get the sense it will be quite some time before guests know where they'd like to go without needing a long explanation from the host.
One of the far clearer and easier-to-appreciate intentions of the Lynn's co-owners, Jay Peterson and chef Ireland, is a commitment to sourcing protein and produce only from local farms. Both men are farm-raised themselves, and it shows in everything they do here, from the use of reclaimed barn wood in their stunning interior design to their plan of offering heat-and-eat takeaway meals, seasonally inspired and designed to order.
In the end, I think it's better to risk a little confusion and retain the ability to create different experiences for different kinds of diners, because there's absolutely no identity crisis with the food. In fact, the whole operation's point of view is communicated incredibly well through its branding. I haven't seen such appealing, consistent, evocative design across all a restaurant's physical and online platforms since the Bachelor Farmer. My guess is that the Lynn will adapt over time to the demands of its regular diners, and hey, as long as they have somewhere to go for both wine and coffee, they may not be at all overwhelmed by the paradox of choice.
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