I’ll cut to the chase: Here are 10 reasons why the Lynhall has landed firmly on my dining-out radar.
1. Two rising-star chefs. How to revive the tired sandwich-salad-soup circuit? You put chef Shane Oporto in charge. His résumé includes gigs as varied as the Lafayette Club, Libertine and La Belle Vie, and he’s channeling that experience into creating what could have been another been-there/done-that experience into one that’s full of happy surprises. Then you take full advantage of pastry chef Katie Elsing’s gifts, watching as she turns out standard-setting breads, plus a cadre of sweets that also take a turn away from same-old/same-old expectations. The fact that both are demonstrating that excellence can be experienced at everyday prices is the proverbial icing on the cake.
2. All hail the tartine. Oporto artfully views Elsing’s skillfully rendered breads — deliriously rich brioche, nutty wheat loaves, or a tangy, sturdy potato sourdough — not as mere slices but as plates, or canvasses. There’s no prettier sandwich in Minneapolis right now than the one that pipes swirls of creamy avocado across brioche, crowning that foundation with a highly sculpted landscape of herbs and raw and pickled vegetables. It tastes even better than it looks. Ditto the chicken salad sandwich. Another open-faced beauty, it relies on the kitchen’s rotisserie chicken (more on that in a moment), splashes of a vibrant green curry, pops of cilantro and ginger and, for color and texture — two traits always on Oporto’s mind — juicy gooseberries and sharply pickled daikon radishes. It’s billed as a “daily” special, but this equation proved to be such a hit that it hasn’t left the menu, at least not yet. Here’s hoping the formula remains.
3. And three cheers to the savory tarts. The kitchen’s commitment to vegetarian — and vegan — cooking really comes through in a series of gorgeous tarts. Carrots are roasted with molasses and garam masala until they’re barely soft but still retain a semblance of crunch. Then they’re tossed with raw carrots, hazelnuts and a vegan cashew cheese, a sublime exercise in deeply wrought color and flavor. Even better is the tomato version, built with preserved tomatoes, a three-week process that yields intensely flavorful fruit that’s scented with thyme and rosemary, then enriched with Parmesan. On paper, it comes off as very Moosewood Collective, but in looks and taste it’s anything but. Oporto just announced that he’s leaving the Lynhall for a new opportunity, and his successor will have big shoes to fill. “We’re sending Shane off with lots of accolades,” said owner Anne Spaeth.
4. Oh, that chicken. For all of Oporto’s admirable approaches to meat-free cooking, he’s no slouch when it comes to dealing with animal proteins. He keeps the kitchen’s showy rotisserie busy with two off-the-beaten-path alternatives — leg of lamb and pork belly — but it’s the most basic of choices, chicken, that forges such a favorable impression. The birds are brined for 24 hours and then dried for four days before the oven’s heat works its magic, leaving crackled skin and spectacularly juicy and deeply flavorful meat. That goodness comes at a price, but one nibble in, and you’ll realize how much the lower-cost supermarket version has deadened our collective taste buds.
5. Soups and salads. Speaking of supermarkets, Oporto will forever ruin anyone who relies, prepared salads-wise, on the rote efforts of their nearby supermarket deli. His ingenious combinations — slightly sweet roasted beets with crunchy snap peas and tangy preserved kumquats, or chewy kale dotted with tumeric-seasoned couscous and spiced-up walnuts — all exceed the salad-making checklist. He’s also got a flair for vegetable-centric soups. One makes fine use of the season’s predictable overabundance of zucchini, placing it in a starring role with other of-the-moment green vegetables in a basil and tarragon-fueled broth that’s brightened with a splash of sherry vinegar. Another is straight-up San Marzano tomatoes cooked with onions, garlic, milk and butter (“It’s not the healthiest soup I’ve ever made,” Oporto said with a laugh), blended to a pleasingly thick purée and garnished with some of those color-saturated herb-preserved tomatoes used in that sublime tart.
6. Morning refuge. Breakfast is particularly strong. A habit-forming Cheddar-sage scone, filled with tender, succulent ham and a runny egg, is a definite day-brightener. Then there’s the pair of spectacular tartines. One marries fresh peas — a total lip-smack of summer — with paper-thin shears of speck, squeaky-fresh ricotta and creamy scrambled eggs; the other pairs juicy tomatoes, an opulent Brie “fondue” and a runny poached egg. I’ve definitely found a new source for my (not-so) secret French toast addiction. Even a basic a.m. skillet gets the deluxe treatment. One complaint: It’s strictly coffee and pastries until 8 a.m., a bummer in this early-to-rise town.
7. Super sweets. Elsing had me at her brown butter tart, a dense, moist, butterscotchy square of unadulterated goodness. But her cute desserts-in-a-jar — a tart lemon custard capped with berries, a luscious French silk pie — are certainly attention-grabbers, too. She treats éclairs like mini-parties, and her approach to morning standards (capping a nicely crumbly coffee cake with a sumptuous meringue swirl, for example) is similarly good-humored. Even her drop-style cookies, dense with butter, could never be mistaken for coffeehouse standards.
8. A next-generation third place. Designer Abby Jensen of James Dayton Design in Minneapolis has seamlessly transformed a 1925 garage into a mood-enhancing gathering space. It’s as inviting as it is flexible, effortlessly catering to all kinds of scenarios, from extended campouts with laptops to family meals to impromptu cocktails. Its aspirational design elements also double as a three-dimensional look book, and Jensen is more than happy to share nitty-gritty details. That soothing green/gray accent wall? It’s painted in Benjamin Moore’s “Raindance.” The dining room’s all-in commitment to communal tables (a risk in standoffish Minnesota that seems to be paying off) is capped with envy-inducing tabletops (from Ciel Loft & Home in St. Louis Park) fashioned from reclaimed Northern Chinese elm. The seemingly endless sea of countertops constitute a veritable Cambria showroom. The handsome Windsor-style chairs hail from Michigan’s Grand Rapids Chair Co., and the majority of the light fixtures are trimmed in trendy brass. Eavesdrop a bit among your fellow diners and you’re bound to hear “I want to live here,” or similar observations. “One of our main goals was to make it feel residential, and comfortable, so that’s the best compliment,” said Jensen. “It never gets old.”
9. Plays well with others. On a restaurant-packed street, the Lynhall stands out for what it doesn’t do, which is be a copycat. “We wanted to be sensitive to everyone around us,” said Oporto. “The hardest part about being in this neighborhood is trying to figure out how to open a spot that doesn’t conflict with the other restaurants.” Which explains a number of dishes on Oporto’s menu, items that aren’t replicated elsewhere. The exceptional roast leg of lamb, for example. The meat marinates in a multiculti-yet-harmonious mix of ras el hanout, garam masala and orange zest for three days, then it’s slow-roasted to a spectacularly tender, melt-in-your-mouth finish. Like that exceptional roast chicken, it’s served platter style, in half-pound and full-pound portions, and what a way to dine, with that tender, deeply flavorful lamb as a centerpiece, surrounded by Oporto’s idea of sides: toothy grilled broccolini popping with preserved lemon, or roasted cauliflower tossed with mild Picholine olives, or a colorful toss of roasted beets. nutty farro and punchy goat cheese.
10. Sharp leadership. Not all first-time restaurateurs can successfully translate their vision into some semblance of viable reality, but Anne Spaeth can. A lawyer, Spaeth left a career advocating for troubled and abused children determined to create a community, one that connected over food, in all of its permutations (which explains the facility’s culinary multimedia studio and commissary kitchen/business incubator). Spaeth and general manager Kristin Tyborski have a knack for bringing together a wide swath of human talent, whether it’s Jensen, or Elsing, or Oporto, and to foster an environment where hospitality is Job. No. 1 (sure, I encountered some minor service glitches, the majority of which, I imagine, will work themselves out as the staff gains experience). Also, at a time when industry soothsayers are predicting (and lamenting) that the city’s new minimum wage ordinance will kneecap table service and favor less expensive counter-service operations, Spaeth shows that it can be done. With style, and grace.
The Lynhall ★★½
Info: 2640 Lyndale Av.S., Mpls., 612-870-2640, thelynhall.com
Hours: 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Reservations for 10 or more only.
Service: Super-hospitable but occasionally error-prone.
Price ranges: With the exception of the rotisserie meats ($12-$28), it’s rare to see prices above $14.
Recommended dishes: Tarts, tartines, scone sandwich, French toast, rotisserie meats, pistou soup, desserts.
Beverage program: First-rate cocktails — including a half-dozen summery spritzers — in the $8-$11 range. Brief (but well-chosen) and happily affordable wine, beer and soda selections.
Special menus: Plenty of vegetarian and vegan choices. A few (delicious and nutritious) kids’ choices in the $5-$10 range.