A closed restaurant, often a cause for sadness, can also translate into an exciting opportunity.
That’s certainly the case with chef Andrew Kraft, who is making a name for himself in the former home of the Craftsman in Minneapolis, which quietly called it quits a little more than a year ago.
Enter Kraft, a Grand Cafe vet, and his business partners, Jeremiah Dittmann and Sam Rosen, and their promising new venture, the Bungalow Club. They’ve given the space enough tweaks (a bigger bar, a cheerier dining room) to eliminate most post-Craftsman comparisons. As for the menus, they’re nothing like their predecessors.
The restaurant — named for the surrounding area’s most popular style of house — focuses on pasta. There are a half-dozen skillfully prepared, refreshingly offbeat varieties ($15 to $17), from an oxtail lasagna to tortelli (a larger version of tortellini) filled with ricotta and served with essence-of-spring vegetables in a roasted vegetable broth.
A few large-scale entrees — a steak, cornflake-crusted chicken, a patty melt, all in the under $23 range — are balanced by a dozen or so thoughtfully composed snacks, small plates and salads.
Crisp, wrinkled gem lettuce is brushed with a tangy buttermilk dressing and layered with hard-cooked egg and crunchy croutons, a welcome alternative ($10) to the omnipresent Caesar (and proof positive that the “house salad” doesn’t have to be the dreary also-ran that it frequently is). A “smorgasbord” plate ($16) offers a hearty salutation, with shareable noshes that range from a rich chicken liver pâté to a decadent slab of pork belly.
Cocktails ($9 to $10) reside firmly in the classics mode — updated takes on Negronis, whiskey sours, daiquiris — and I’m looking forward to returning and checking out the “family feast” option, where, for $50 per person, Kraft improvises a dinner. Welcome to the neighborhood.
The Bungalow Club, 4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-866-3334, thebungalowclubmpls.com. Open 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
A new owner has returned a Roseville culinary landmark from the dead. He’s Timothy Hughes, and he revived Maverick’s Real Roast Beef in early April, after the 19-year-old strip mall destination abruptly closed in early January.
“My goal in life was to open a restaurant before I was 30,” said Hughes, age 29. “I did it, just barely.”
His enthusiasm comes naturally. A veteran of Tavern Grill and Mission American Kitchen, Hughes’ affection for Maverick’s stretches back to when he was a teenager, washing dishes at a nearby malt shop.
“It was real people behind the counter, serving you real food,” he said. “It wasn’t Arby’s, or McDonald’s. It has character, which is something you don’t find everywhere. We don’t have a lot of mom-and-pops left, and to see it disappear would have been a tragedy.”
His plan? “To improve everything, and to bring it back to its glory days,” he said. “It’s a constant learning process.”
Hughes has managed to slip in some cursory renovations, with plans for more (adding booths, for example) this summer.
“It needs some love,” he said. “It hasn’t had some for a long time.”
The roast beef sandwiches ($7) are, in a word, excellent. Tender and flavorful eye of round, roasted low (250 degrees) and slow (six hours) is sliced paper thin then piled high on lavishly buttered, lightly toasted, tender-yet-sturdy buns. Savor them in their admirably austere state, or dig into the condiments bar.
The (friendly) counter-service spot also features open-faced sandwiches (beef, pork and turkey, $9 and $10) with mashed potatoes and gravy, French dip and beef-and-Cheddar sandwiches (both $8) and a few kids’ items (all $5), including a pint-size roast beef sandwich.
Hughes is working on adding brisket to the mix. Even better, he’s planning on opening a second location, somewhere in the downtown Minneapolis skyways.
“It’s going to happen this fall, I promise,” he said. “And it’s going to kill down there. There are way too many of those salad joints in the skyway. How much lettuce can you eat?”
Maverick’s Real Roast Beef, 1746 N. Lexington Av., Roseville, 651-493-9672. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Seafood in St. Paul
It seems as if St. Paul is landing a disproportionate share of exciting new restaurants (and good for St. Paul, right?). Witness the advent of Grand Catch, the casual, affordable, seafood-focused setup, a partnership between siblings Sameh Wadi (he cooks) and Saed Wadi (he runs the businesses, which include World Street Kitchen, Milkjam Creamery) and Cajun Deli owner Thien Ly.
This restaurant — which occupies the Mac-Groveland space that was home to Grand Central — is a robust response to a previously unfilled niche in the local dining scene: a global twist on the glorious tradition of the Cajun seafood boil.
Here’s how it works: Choose a shellfish (crawfish, mussels, shrimp, clams, priced by the pound), then a sauce (garlic-butter, for example) and a heat level, one that ranges up several scales, from Minnesota-like mild to “insane ghost” (as in ghost pepper). After a short wait, a massive, piping-hot bowl of said shellfish arrives, and it’s a top-notch shared-meal experience.
Wadi also includes a few starters, including an addictive, thick-cut shrimp toast ($8.95), a spiced-up crab dip ($13.95) and nicely rendered fried green tomatoes ($8.95). Sandwiches include a fried chicken number, its juicy meat and crisped-up breading a textbook example of textural contrast, along with a splendid, abundantly proportioned shrimp roll ($13.95). Dessert? It’s the dreamy soft-serve from the Wadis’ Milkjam Creamery.
Grand Catch, 1672 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-348-8541, grandcatchmn.com. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Fresh fish, quick service
There are two new purveyors in the ever-expanding poke bowls universe.
The latest rage in fast-casual dining is fairly simple to figure out: In a Chipotle-like setup, diners select raw or marinated chunks of fish — the protein is usually tuna or salmon, with tofu frequently tossed in as a nod to vegetarians — then choose vegetables and some kind of sauce, serving the whole shebang over rice. (By the way, “poke” is Hawaiian for “to slice or cut” and is pronounced POH-keh.)
It’s quick, fresh and relatively affordable, which makes the poke bowl an ideal skyway lunch setup, right? It’s no wonder that Chicago-based Aloha Poke recently landed at 8th and LaSalle in downtown Minneapolis.
The growing chain manages to hit most of the poke bowl requisites, selling portions in three sizes ($7.50, $9.50 and $14.50), but I was more impressed by Fish Bowl Poke, a stylish offshoot of the adjacent (and terrific) Ramen Kazama.
It’s virtually the same design-your-own setup (with fairly similar prices: $7.95, $9.95 and $14.95), but the Fish Bowl folks offer a slightly more adventurous and quality-minded range of add-ons, including a “kale power blend” as a rice substitute, which outranked Aloha’s dreary “mixed greens” offering. The proximity to Kazama is another definite bonus. One observation for both: Could the (plastic, ugh) bowls themselves be a little roomier? That would certainly make eating easier.
Fish Bowl Poke, 5 W. 34th St., Mpls., 612-354-2516, fishbowlmsp.com. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Aloha Poke, 811 LaSalle Av., Mpls., 612-353-6204, alohapokeco.com. Open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Finally, a quick shout-out to the advent of Local Roots.
If the name rings a bell, it’s because entrepreneurs Courtney and Joe Norgaard have been selling a full-flavored array of Local Roots soups in the frozen foods sections of local supermarkets. They’ve widened their ambitions, opening a breakfast-and-lunch cafe that features soups, of course, but also well-made and reasonably priced a.m. standards (pancakes, pulled pork hash), sandwiches and salads, all served in a cheery, family-friendly setting. Could the Norgaards please open a branch in my neighborhood?
Local Roots, 817 E. 66th St., Richfield, 612-345-5258, localrootsmn.com. Open 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib