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After an 18-month intermission, the curtain has come up on a new and improved Dakota, the landmark music club with a 35-year history. And there's new leadership transforming the food program, too.

The Dakota's kitchen has long been a stage for top culinary talent, with chefs Ken Goff, Jack Riebel and, for the past decade, Derik Moran among the distinguished alumni. Now, James Beard Award-winner Tim McKee and the Bachelor Farmer's Nathan Rostance are consultants on the culinary program and operations, respectively. And Remy Pettus, a Minneapolis native with Carolina roots, is executive chef. (Pettus most recently helmed the restaurant Bardo until its 2020 closing.)

Location:The Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-332-5299,dakotacooks.com. Open for dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 5:30-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Call to arrange dining without a show ticket. Proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test is required for entry.

The vibe:The menu isn't the only thing with a new look: The space was updated during the COVID-related closure, with better sightlines and a bigger stage. (Back wall booths are the best seats in the house for both privacy and views.) Even the plates are different: Pettus' Southern-inspired cuisine is served on locally made hand-painted pottery.

If you're hoping to catch up with your date over dinner, be sure to get there early. The restaurant opens for dining a couple hours before showtime, and once the musicians take the stage, conversation can be tricky — and frowned upon.

The food:The menu nods to its music club home, with "intros" (snacks) and "opening acts" (appetizers), "headliners" (entrees), "side acts" (sides) and "curtain calls" (dessert).

Pettus' Southern cuisine with Minnesota touches celebrates local ingredients when possible. Minnesota-raised pigs are the source of tasso-style ham on an appetizer plate that comes with a mound of pimento cheese and airy gougères ($16). Crawfish from Lake Vermilion and wild rice turn classic, comforting gumbo into a northern dish ($16). A light and fresh entree features Minnesota lake trout, blackened by heavily spiced charred onions and served over a heap of deeply satisfying lima bean succotash ($28). Many of the entrees' sides are available a la carte, too, and Pettus' grits are as warm and buttery as a cashmere sweater, with a contrasting assertive bite from sharp white cheddar ($7).

Desserts keep the Southern theme going with buttermilk pie; a rummy bananas Foster-esque crêpe; and an enormous "Mississippi mud" chocolate cake with Bailey's-flavored mousse that'll surely yield leftovers ($14).

Drinks:A cocktail menu in the $13-$15 range favors whiskey drinkers, though one standout in the style of an Old Fashioned employs bacon-washed rum. Wines by the glass start at $8, local beers are on tap and in cans from $7, and a few $4 nonalcoholic concoctions round out the drinks list.

Parking: The Dakota is offering valet parking for the first time ($12 plus tax) from the corner of 10th Street and Nicollet Mall. Otherwise, you can use street meters or park in the neighboring ramp on LaSalle Avenue and 10th Street for $6. (Just be sure to bring your ticket with you so you can access the ramp again after hours.)

Tip or no tip:A 3% employee wellness charge is added to every bill, but you can add an additional tip when you pay.