Town Talk Diner rises again as a chef-driven gastropub

Plump roasted mussels float in a spicy broth flecked with pork belly. 'Nuff said.

Plump roasted mussels float in a spicy broth flecked with pork belly. 'Nuff said.

Like a cat with nine lives, the Lake Street landmark Town Talk welcomes another new restaurant.

This time it’s Town Talk Diner & Gastropub, a labor of love for new owners – and spouses—Kacey White and Charles Stotts. The doors opened in July, and the neighborhood gained a culinary destination. The seasonally focused menu does the old gal proud.

White and Stotts, who have about 35 years of restaurant experience between them, moved to Minnesota almost five years ago, with the goal of eventually opening a restaurant here. It was a welcome homecoming for Stotts, who grew up in Bloomington. “I left Minnesota in 1993, and for 17 years I never stopped being homesick,” he says.

While waiting for the right opportunity to come along for their own place, White worked in the kitchen at Bachelor Farmer and Meritage; Stotts cooked at Brasserie Zentral, which shuttered in January. In a Minnesota version of “it’s a small world after all,” a golfing buddy of Stotts owns a cabin up north next door to the owners of the previous Town Talk iteration. One thing led to another, and “eight months later, here we are," says Stotts.

If you dined at any of the prior incarnations of Town Talk (and there have been many), you’ll have a moment of déjà vu walking into the restuarnat. Since White and Stotts opened the place on a shoestring budget, not a lot has changed cosmetically.

The front door opens directly into the iconic bar, and the dining room has an old world patina, with a well-worn wooden floor, tin ceilings, and exposed brick walls. The room’s perimieter is lined with wooden benches that would be uncomfortable if not for the generous use of colorful throw pillows to cushion your back – and add a little color.

This dish may look demure, but the flavors are anything but.

This dish may look demure, but the flavors are anything but.

While the surroundings may feel familiar, the food is altogether new and exciting. The menu changes frequently, based on what’s fresh and beautiful on any given day. You can be assured of a roster of at least half a dozen appetizer selections, and four or five main dish options. Making a meal by combining a couple of appetizers and a main course is a great way to sample your way around the menu.

Don’t miss the pan roasted mussels in a garlic and pork belly broth. The luscious pork is an inspired contrast to the mussels, and enriches the broth, lending a silkiness to the spicy elixir. The broth is so good you’ll want to pick up the bowl and slurp up every last drop. But be civilized and use the house-made rosemary focaccia to soak it up instead.

The short rib agnolotti offers pillows of tender short ribs wrapped in homemade pasta and served over a bed of sweet caramelized onions and a pool of short rib jus. The plate gets a pleasant jolt of acidity from a hit of lemon. No one will do the Minnesota nice thing of leaving the last agnolotti in the bowl, so if you’re sharing, eat fast.

On the main dish side of the menu, the wild Alaskan salmon is served atop an earthy yet elegant turnip puree. The fish skin is as crisp as a pork rind, and twice as tasty. A lemon tarragon vinaigrette provides a little sass.

All this goodness comes down to a simple equation, says Stotts. “There are only two things that make great food: the quality of your ingredients and your technique.”

“We’re like kids on Christmas morning when we get our deliveries and see what we’ll be working with that day,” she laughs. They start planning the day’s menu after seeing what their morning deliveries from farmers and fishmongers have brought their way. By 5 p.m. their inspiration is on your plate.

White and Stotts are amping up the bar program at the restaurant as well. The ambitious wine list features a dozen whites and even more reds. A majority of them are available by the glass, which offers a great opportunity to try something new. They’re also refreshing the cocktail memu, with 10 hand crafted signature drinks, a fitting tribute to a bar that was the proving ground for many a local bar star.

Amid all the excitement of a new restaurant, White and Stotts are realistic. “Being in the historic Town Talk building is both a blessing and a curse,” says Stotts. While the building itself is a landmark, there have been so many restaurants in the space over the past decade or so, all named Town Talk Diner. There is understandably some confusion among the dining public. Get there before everyone else figures it out.

Town Talk Diner & Gastropub
2707 E. Lake St., Minneapolis
Closed Monday; Tuesday – Saturday 5 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
No website yet, but visit the restaurant’s Facebook page to see the daily menu.