One of the best parts about taking over a Minneapolis classic and personal favorite, Jamie Malone says, was discovering all of the hidden treasure it has to offer.
A stone-laden alley courtyard, once used as storage. Antique dishes, found dusty in the basement.
Now, those uncovered elements, along with rustic, old French cuisine, will be on display when Malone and Erik Anderson’s iteration of the Grand Cafe opens on Friday.
“We tried to be gentle with our changes because the space is just beautiful,” said Malone, who is also in the process of opening the long-anticipated Brut with Anderson. “But it definitely needed some love and some fresh eyes I think.”
While a sneak peek on Tuesday revealed that some old touches (chairs and tables, the classic sign and front paned window) would remain, new details make the latest version of the space feel unique.
A fresh coat of paint – in teal, pale pink and slate – and brass light sconces breathe new life into the sunlight-soaked dining rooms. An abundance of leafy plants in a mish-mash of pots sit on marble-topped accent tables and in the wide space inside the paned window (it was once a bread window when the cafe was a bakery in the 1950s). A pair of pineapple plants joins the mix – with miniature fruits already growing atop the fanning leaves.
“Maybe in five years we’ll actually get a pineapple,” Anderson said.
Wallpaper in the back room, a tropical scene hand-painted in Paris, reinforces the theme and lends a Bohemian vibe. A delicate curved, zinc-topped bar should be arriving from City Salvage shortly to replace the chunky wooden slab that currently resides in the 70-year-old space.
And then there are the discoveries. A sidewalk patio will be extended into a stone-laid alleyway made cozy by the presence of a couple trees and a string of lights.
“This was just filled with stuff before,” Malone said. “It’s going to be so magical to sit back here on a summer night and drink a bottle of wine.”
The antique platters and dishes found in the cafe’s basement have been supplemented by an array of gems Malone and Anderson have gathered since, from delicate ice cream glasses and saucers to palm-sized trinkets that will hold cookies.
“I can’t get over how cute these are,” Malone said.
Also on those dishes: a section of “little things” that land in the $3 to $10 range and include bites such as a foie gras royale with tobacco-infused cream and a chicken liver cruller with black honey, treats that will be cooked in the giant, decades-old Baker Boy bread oven (which still resides at the head of the bar space). A handful of shareable items include poached and chilled shellfish, pork terrine and Mangalista ham, shaved from the leg perched on a Spanish-style “jamonero” holder and served by the ounce.
“I think it’s the best ham in the country right now,” said Anderson of the Tennessee-based slabs, which come from a farm he worked with when he was the chef at Catbird Seat in Nashville.
Entrées include roasted chicken, short ribs and spring lamb with ramps, fava beans and morels and duck egg dumplings – a variety that ranges from $16 for the dumplings to $43 for the lamb. Private duck and Lobster press dinners will also be available. For dessert, expect vanilla ice cream topped with Armagnac-soaked prunes, and similarly simple sweets. Grand Cafe will be closed on Mondays, open every other night and will serve brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The brunch menu will remain similar to the old-school version – stocked with eggs Benedict and brioche French toast – with some tweaks.
“I think people would be outside with pitchforks if we didn’t” keep nods to the former menu, Malone said. “But we’re going to update them, refine them.”