Timing is everything, as chef Jason Sawicki knows.
Late last winter, after two years of planning, he was getting ready to finalize bank financing for his restaurant at 2900 NE. Johnson St. in Minneapolis. Then the pandemic intervened.
"In July I got the hard 'no,' " he said. "We'll see how things go."
Translation: He's not giving up.
Instead, he's hard at work inside a food truck that's parked in the property's parking lot, giving the neighborhood a preview of the poultry-forward brand of cooking that he hopes to emphasize when Fare Game opens.
"I've been living in the neighborhood for five years," he said. "I decided that because it's my neighborhood, I wanted to do something nice during COVID. It makes me happy to be cooking for people."
Sawicki's impressive résumé includes stints at some of the Twin Cities' top-performing kitchens. After cooking at Restaurant Alma, Sawicki helped launch Lyn 65 (with fellow Alma vet Ben Rients) and then teamed up with Lyn 65 vet Jose Alarcon to open Centro and Popol Vuh.
The brick-and-mortar restaurant will include a wood-burning range.
"After working at Popol Vuh, I fell in love with woodfire cooking," said Sawicki. "Everything gets a subtle smoke."
The truck — it's a tricked-out 1978 Winnebago sleeper camper — is familiar to Sawicki. He labored in it for three years with business partner Travis Serbus (now one of the creative forces behind the just-opened Petite León) as Wyn 65, the mobile companion to Lyn 65. When the duo pulled the plug on that venture, they sold their kitchen-on-wheels (which they found on Craigslist) to Gwen Anderson of the Local Plate in Northfield.
"I asked her if I could rent the truck for the winter, and she agreed," Sawicki said. "Food trucks are just fun. People who walk up are in a good mood, and I love talking to people, I love that element of talking while cooking. It reminds me of the kitchen counter, but it's more fun. Still, I'd love to be standing in a real kitchen. I'm too tall for that truck."
In January, he's heading to Texas to pick up a new trailer, custom-built to his specifications. It will serve as a segue to his permanent restaurant, which is already designed (by Shea Design) and ready to move into a six-month construction process once the financing comes through. Target opening date: sometime in 2021.
"In the meantime, being out in the open air in a truck, that feels like the safest way to cook food," said Sawicki.
Right now, he's serving dinner Thursday through Saturday and brunch Saturday and Sunday.
At dinner, expect first-rate rotisserie chicken (from brined and gently smoked birds) sold in quarter- and half-size portions, fried chicken tenders on a stick ("The young families in the neighborhood love it," said Sawicki), pulled chicken sandwiches (from that same rotisserie chicken, topped with a black pepper barbecue sauce, coleslaw and pickles) and a few sides, including mac-and-cheese and waffle fries. Turkey, too. Top price is $16.
Brunch is an all-taco menu, a shout-out to his taco-making tenure at Centro. As for dessert, it's made-to-order paczki filled with raspberry preserves.
"My dad's whole family is very Polish, and I wanted to do something to show people my heritage," said Sawicki. "I know that people love doughnuts — I love doughnuts — and this is my nod to my babcia, and her delicious Polish food."
Wouldn't you know it? Sawicki's first culinary job was preparing rotisserie chicken at a supermarket in Navarre.
"And here I am again," he said with a laugh. "With a lot more experience."
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib