Wednesday, February 17, 2010
By Rick Nelson, Star Tribune Last update: February 17, 2010
In the vast north quadrant of Minneapolis, where the dining-out choices are little more than Burger King, McDonald's, Little Caesar's and KFC, the people behind a small start-up are hoping to make a big impact.
When Gullah Grub Cafe opens at 1200 W. Broadway in August, it will be the next step in an continued revitalization of the troubled West Broadway business district by Catalyst Community Partners, a nonprofit group devoted to putting dilapidated historic buildings back into productive use.
"We're a nonprofit, but our job is to stimulate the market," said president Sue Wollan Fan. "We recruit businesses or start them ourselves and then transition ownership to locals."
The $3.5 million project involves three adjacent buildings, which have housed a mortuary and a day-care center. When construction is complete, the buildings' upper floors will be devoted to leasable office space, and the 40-seat cafe will share ground-floor space with Kindred Kitchen, a commercially licensed work space and business incubator for caterers and local food-product entrepreneurs. Outdoors, a large kitchen garden will provide a steady supply of herbs and vegetables throughout the growing season, and a spacious 60-seat patio will stretch along Broadway.
The restaurant's concept was created by Shea Inc. That's a familiar name to regular Counter Intelligence readers, and it's not that I've become an adjunct to the considerable Shea marketing machine; it's just that the influential Minneapolis design and consulting firm has its fingers in all kinds of pots. No wonder Catalyst turned to them.
"They wanted a Southern cafe for the North Side," said principal David Shea, noting that the restaurant will also serve an educational purpose. "Rather than learning how to flip burgers at Burger King, kids from the neighborhood can work at the restaurant and learn real culinary skills."
Catalyst is also at work at Penn and Broadway, converting the former site of Delisi's restaurant into a much-needed new home for 89.9 KMOJ radio. A block east of the Gullah project, Catalyst recently brought the neighborhood a locally owned coffeehouse, Bean Scene Too (1101 W. Broadway, http://www.beanscene.net/).
The Gullah are a distinct, heritage-minded group of African-Americans living in South Carolina and Georgia's Lowcountry coastal regions, the area where the menu finds its inspiration. Since a chef isn't attached to the project -- yet -- it's hard to know exactly what to expect, food-wise, although Shea's prototype emphasizes basic and beloved low-country classics: she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, catfish with okra, skillet cornbread, black-eyed pea cakes, sweet potato pie and more.
"No one is doing this style of cooking in the Twin Cities," said Shea. "We want the restaurant to connect with the roots and history of the people living on the North Side, but also draw diners from elsewhere in the city."
The plan is to serve an affordable lunch and dinner daily, as well as weekend brunch. "We polled people up and down the avenue and asked them for feedback," said Wollan Fan. "Within 24 hours we had received more than 100 responses. The overwhelming response was, 'Please give us a place where we can have a meeting, meet for dinner, have a glass of wine before going to the Capri Theater -- something that is fresh and flavorful and clearly not in the deep-fried fast-food range.'"
By RICK NELSON, Star Tribune
Photo by Tim Davis, conphoto.net
Last update: February 17, 2010 - 3:02 PM
All vocations have their pitfalls. Here's one in my line of work: Jerks like yours truly tend to fall all over the innovative, even when those flashes end up landing squarely in the pan. So when yet another meat-and-potatoes joint appears on the scene, critics tend to yawn them off, forgetting -- or is that ignoring? -- that uncomplicated, all-American fare is what the vast majority of Minnesota's dining-out public seeks out on a regular basis. Lesson learned.
What sets the Loring Kitchen & Bar apart from its considerable pack of competitors are its good looks and its front-and-center address. Located on a prime ground-floor corner of a slick new apartment house on the eastern edge of Loring Park, the restaurant's urban and urbane surroundings (the work of Shea Inc. of Minneapolis) are several cuts above the cheap window dressings that are often associated with this dining genre.
It's a long, shallow, window-lined rectangle of a space, and each comfortable seat -- right down to the last stool at the bar -- seems oriented to maximize its park views. Not that we need another reason to hope for an early spring, but here's one anyway: The room is edged on two sides by a four-season portico that, in warmer weather, embraces the outdoors better than any other dining establishment in the city. Looks-wise, the restaurant reminds me of what I imagine a cafe at home furnishings retailer West Elm might resemble, and at night the soft lighting is more flattering than the "evening" setting in the changing rooms at J.Crew.
Yeah, it's a looker, and for a while that attribute manages to compensate for the fact that I could rattle off a list of dozens of Twin Cities restaurants serving similar food. Sliders? Check. Pizzas? Check. Iceberg wedge salad? Check. Not that there's anything wrong with that, to borrow from a "Seinfeld" rerun I caught the other day.
Variations with a twist
Despite the familiarity, chef Eric Strathy is cooking with integrity. He's putting out an awesome fried chicken: four big pieces sporting crispy, well-seasoned skin and juicy meat. More fried chicken -- plus a pert cole slaw -- finds its way on top of an offbeat but delicious pizza. The switched-up Caesar salad utilizes grilled romaine and its dressing replaces anchovies with crowd-pleasing smoked salmon. There's a perfectly satisfying grilled beef tenderloin that's priced right ($20) and that same cut, dressed with horseradish and sweetly caramelized onions, livens up a pair of sliders.
Those on the lookout for he-man portions should know that the LK could double as the commissary for the House of Large Sizes. What looks like an entire walleye is rolled in crackers and baked (not fried, a welcome touch), and a stuffed double-bone pork chop is the size of a brick. The burger is a half-pound monster, and side dishes, including fries three ways -- potato, sweet potato and zucchini -- are mountainous. Some dishes ought to be chucked altogether -- a misguided tuna ceviche and a dreary shrimp shepherd's pie, for starters -- while others, including overcooked pasta with overcooked clams and the too-salty soups, would blossom with some TLC. Desserts are passable but forgettable.
Naturally, my attention automatically turned to the "Temptations" menu, a winning but too-brief roster of seven small, affordably priced noshes that nudge the kitchen past its comfort-food comfort zone. Two or three can easily constitute a meal, and when they're good, they're terrific: a nicely seared scallop perched on round slices of gold and red beets, or meaty, melt-in-your-mouth baby back ribs glazed with a captivating sweet-hot sauce.
Others would profit by following the sage advice Coco Chanel once imparted to well-dressed women everywhere, something along the lines of editing out an accessory before leaving the house. For example, succulent, smoky trout is sandwiched between tasty little corn pancakes and topped with a dollop of sour cream. It's an ideal snack, until it's clumsily blanketed under a buzz-killing layer of melted Cheddar. Or robustly spicy meatloaf, sliced and stacked like kindling, is smothered by an unnecessary avalanche of fried onions.
Taste of morning
The weekend's breakfast-lunch service is just what the neighborhood ordered. Again, nothing's revolutionary -- the emphasis is on tried-and-true favorites, served in hangover-numbing portions -- but the kitchen earns points for incorporating a few original touches. One of the handful of gigantic scrambles makes use of that fabulous smoked trout, mixing it with brie and tons of green onions, a swell combination, and a decent maple-kissed house-made pork sausage is incorporated into several dishes, including a breakfast pizza finished with two fried eggs.
The corned beef hash, eggs Benedict and golden, plate-sized pancakes all do the trick, the flapjacks stacked high and dressed with berries and a flavorful Wisconsin-sourced maple syrup -- how refreshing to encounter a no-Mrs. Butterworth's zone. There's also a decent and affordable a la carte selection, and basics such as hash browns and thick-cut bacon are treated with respect.
Still, with each bite of a big, bland, beige Belgian waffle -- I've had better and I've had worse, a sentiment that sums up the Loring Kitchen's menu -- I began hoping for a little in-house a.m. baking. You know, muffins, coffeecakes, cinnamon rolls, anything that might distinguish it from the competitive brunch trade. It's kill-or-be-killed out there, and a pretty face only goes so far.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
“The original design was done beautifully,” claimed Cori Kuechenmeister, an interior designer with Shea, who explained that the original design really captured the essence of a true Parisian bistro, with details such as intricate European brass coat racks and large wall murals. “We realized immediately that we wanted to retain the soul of Chez Colette but give it a modern twist, especially in light of the ultra-modern design updates recently made to the Sofitel.”
While the modern décor of the hotel certainly underscored the fact that Chez Colette was in need of a refresh after 35 years, it was really a shift in the restaurant and hotel’s demographics that encouraged the changes. “We absolutely considered the long-time patrons who have a passion for the traditions of Chez Colette, but we also wanted to consider new generations of customers—especially the single business travelers—and address what might appeal to them as well.”
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, known simply as Colette, was an early 20th Century novelist and flamboyant performer, best-known for her novel, Gigi, which was later made into a successful Broadway musical and lucrative Hollywood film. She was the inspiration for the design of Chez Colette in 1975 and Kuechenmeister explained that she is also the inspiration for the redesign. “We looked at her history and tried to imagine what would appeal to a modern-day Colette.”
The new design unified the bar and restaurant as a single concept by removing a wall that separated them. It was replaced with a large community table, complete with internet accessibility, that invites people—especially the single traveler—to eat, drink and work in a casual, yet sophisticated environment. The new décor retained the coat racks and murals of the former space and added modern, feminine design touches. The dining room features a variety of seating options interspersed with casework and stations that draw attention to the things the restaurant is famous for: wine, bread and pastries. Private dining and business meeting areas were added and a dramatic new bright red storefront announces that this is truly a Colette for modern times.
“We highlighted all that was great about the old space, but wanted to add new levels of comfort with decorative lighting and warm colors and finishes,” said Kuechenmeister. Along with the design changes, Shea also developed the new name, new logo and new menus.
“We wanted to hit home that it is the same fine dining it has always been, and we just added some modern comforts and brought it into the 21st century.”
Friday, February 5, 2010
Loring Kitchen & Bar
[THE SCENE] Loring Kitchen & Bar, situated where the Loring Park neighborhood ends and downtown begins, is a crossroads. You'll find a mix of polished young professionals from nearby apartments (saving for homes on the lake) and well-heeled empty nesters who have "downsized" to swank city lofts. The chic black interior with zinc surfaces and mirrors sports handsome leather booths, a bar, and a travertine communal table. Now that that patio with views of the park is summer's sweet memory and the long windows are glazed with frost, neighbors are drawn to spirited concoctions (pomegranate mojitos, blue martinis) and the warming comforts within. The welcoming hosts and chatty servers make this a convenient, convivial meeting place that's also easy to wander into alone.
[PICTURESQUE PERFECT] Loring Kitchen & Bar was designed by Shea to serve up splendid views of Loring Park, and many tables in the 200-seat place face floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the park. In warm weather the outdoor patio is packed, and the covered portico will soon be equipped with folding glass doors to create a four-season space. Above the restaurant, the Eitel residential complex spiffs up this once rough, raggedy fringe of downtown. For the rest of the article, pick up this month's Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine!
The Tile Shop Brings Tile From Around the World to Nashville - Opens first retail store in Franklin near Cool Springs Mall
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 2
The Tile Shop (http://www.tileshop.com) is bringing distinctive stone and tiles from all over the world to Nashville-area homeowners with the grand opening of its new, 18,500 square foot retail store in Thoroughbred Village, near the Cool Springs Mall, at 545 Cool Springs Blvd., Franklin, Tenn. (tel: 615-656-5112)
The new store is The Tile Shop's first in Tennessee. Founded in 1984, The Tile Shop, based in Plymouth, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, is dedicated to providing consumers and tile professionals with an unparalleled selection of world-class product, focused on showcasing the extraordinary beauty and value found in ceramic, porcelain and natural stone tile. The company operates 44 stores in 17 states (Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin).
The new retail store will immediately employ 12 seasoned tile sales consultants, and will be managed by Luann Robinson, who has worked with The Tile Shop for nine years, most recently at its location in Louisville, Ky. The space for The Tile Shop's new store is leased from Brookside Properties and previously served as the site for Circuit City.
For homeowners who are new to The Tile Shop, each retail location features tiled vignettes; small mock-ups of rooms to give homeowners design ideas to stir the imagination and spark inspiration. The interactive vignettes help to showcase the wide variety of stone and tile materials available at The Tile Shop, which includes:
- Natural stone (granite, slate, travertine, marble, stone mosaics, onyx, sandstone);
- Floor tile (ceramics, porcelain, stone);
- Wall tile (ceramic, backsplash, stone, metal, subway tile, architectural facings);
- Mosaics (stone, porcelain, glass);
- Accents (basins, switchplates);
- Tools and supplies to install and maintain stone and tile; and
- Pro-Heat systems to warm tile and stone floors.
In addition to working with tile professionals, contractors and designers, The Tile Shop is prepared to help do-it-yourselfers tackle those honey-do bathroom and kitchen remodel projects with staff members who have been specially trained to work with DIYers. In addition, The Tile Shop offers a free, hour-long "How to Tile" workshop every Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. in its Nashville store, during which participants are offered a hands-on opportunity to learn how to set ceramic tile, natural stone tile, and mosaic tile. The seminars cover the necessary skills to tile a floor, wall, or backsplash with either tile or natural stone, as well as how to grout, cut tile, and seal and maintain tile and natural stone.
To complement the free, do-it-yourself seminars, The Tile Shop also provides informational videos on how to install tile on its web site, www.tileshop.com, as well as The Tile Shop Blog, where do-it-yourselfers can interact with the Tile Shop's DIY tile master.
"Whether you're tackling it yourself or you're working with a tile professional, we're ready to help you design, select and install stone and tile for just about any type of application, from a bathroom makeover to kitchen backsplashes to decorative tile for a new gas fireplace," said Luann Robinson, store manager of The Tile Shop's Nashville store. "We're here to make your dreams come true."
To welcome Nashville homeowners to The Tile Shop, the retail store is offering a 15 percent discount on all first purchases up to February 28, 2010. The Tile Shop also is a platinum-level sponsor of Nashville Lifestyle's Single in the City event, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010.