Wilder Scratch Kitchen in Bayport offers Midwestern classics made finer

Just because it's cauliflower doesn't mean it can't be fun.

Just because it's cauliflower doesn't mean it can't be fun. Mecca Bos

It’s a rare place that mashes up the sort of Midwestern faves that Wilder Scratch Kitchen does in such a stylish package. 

By now, you can think of Bayport as a bona fide foodie destination. Yeah, it’s little, but between the very Belgian L'etoile Du Nord, the real-deal smoked meats juke joint (or at least former juke joint) Bayport BBQ, and newest addition Wilder Scratch Kitchen, you’d be wise to book a room and spend the weekend wandering the tiny town and making excuses to stop and snack along the way.

Wilder has an old-school tavern feel, with enough fine touches to host special occasions. Lots of exposed brick and natural wood give it a classic feel, while track lighting, brushed steel and a marble bar dress things up.

The menu is made up of the familiar things you grew up eating if you are from Minnesota, each one treated with chefly respect. If you’re in the mood for something like potato salad, artichoke dip, or cheese curds, you don’t have to feel like you deserve to sit at the kid’s table.

Look, for example, to the bacon-wrapped meatloaf, where this homestyle stalwart is given dignified treatment, with a slab of the good stuff wrapped neatly in bacon and presented as tidily as a fine steak. You’ll recoginize the mushroom gravy as your grandma’s but not really-- here it’s festooned with cremini and enoki and other varieties proffering color and depth. (The Gentleman Forager is one of their purveyors). Next to it is a pot of eggy but restrained potato salad instead of fries.

Chicken and waffles are admittedly a departure from the loose Midwestern theme but are a standup rendition. Highly caramelized savory Belgian-style waffles come covered in a lightly spicy chipotle syrup and served next to a pleasantly brined bird with thin-crisp batter reminiscent of Korean fried chicken.

You can have fried pickles in a grown-up setting. What's not to love?

You can have fried pickles in a grown-up setting. What's not to love? Mecca Bos

If we had any complaints about any of the cooking it would be that the kitchen dialed back the salt ever so slightly, but it’s clear that these guys have technique. The chef/owner is Jeffrey Lundmark, who headed up Stillwater's wine bar Domacin for eight years. 

We also had high praise for a pretty plate of cauliflower, arriving in shades of purple, yellow, and green, dressed up with dry Middle Eastern spices and a crown of pickled onions. Fried pickles with a side of housemade ranch were the crowning glory of this meal that cleverly toes the line between fun and fine.

Service is folksy and goes great with the eats, and price points are mid-range and fair, considering the obvious scratch touch with every item.

This is the sort of restaurant with a constantly changing menu and one that we’ll be excited to revisit in the future. We’re pleased to report that we’ve already spotted a fussed-up mac and cheese involving truffles, as well as a “standard” burger with “melty” cheese.

At Wilder Kitchen, eat how your heart wants to eat and still feel like a grownup.

Wilder Scratch Kitchen
338 5th Ave. N., Bayport