The Travail Collective opened a new restaurant last week in northeast Minneapolis, and "we didn't tell anybody," said co-owner Mike Brown.
Dream Creamery, at 816 Lowry Av. NE., Mpls., is a nostalgia-fueled ice cream parlor with a short food menu of cheeseburgers, fries, cheese curds and lobster rolls. The takeout spot, with only outdoor picnic tables for seating, remains in a soft opening phase. Its grand opening will be June 3.
The notably flamboyant restaurant group wanted to remain low-key for its latest endeavor, which they co-own with chef Nathan Mickelsen. The last time Travail opened a restaurant at this location — and advertised it — their Minnesota BBQ Co. was overrun with customers.
"It was a train wreck," Brown said. So for Dream Creamery, the group of chefs let word spread organically in the Holland neighborhood and online, and "we had a healthy first week," Brown said.
Minnesota BBQ Co. closed last year after an outdoor fire damaged the building's electrical wiring. (The building is owned by the Travail team, and designed by the same architect as Travail's Robbinsdale headquarters, PKA Architecture.)
"After the fire, we were like, 'Let's just let it be vacant for a while because times are weird right now, and we maybe don't need another thing on our plate,' " Brown said. But when the team met Mickelsen, "We were smitten. That guy's got it, man, he's got the passion."
Mickelsen, who has a fine dining background, also has some serious ice cream credentials, having been part of the launches of two major local players, Milkjam Creamery and Bebe Zito, both with ice cream ace Ben Spangler.
"I've always been obsessed with ice cream; my whole entire life it has been one of my favorite things to eat, but I'd never worked on it before," Mickelsen said. "Ben taught me everything I know about ice cream."
When Mickelsen parted ways with Bebe Zito, he reached out to Travail with an idea for an ice cream ghost kitchen. The Travail team took the concept a step further and offered to re-work the barbecue space, which is just down the street from a Dairy Queen.
Mickelsen's ice cream flavors, in pints branded like an 8-bit video game, read like a supermarket snack aisle — marshmallow pretzel brownie, peanut butter and Oreo, monkey bread praline. (Some of those flavors are also being offered by the pint at Pizza Lucé.) They all call up some memory from his childhood: movie theater snacks, his grandmother's oatmeal cookies.
"Everything that you see in there is a late-'80s, early-'90s motif, and it's just all about bringing you back to your childhood, because that's what it does for me," said Mickelsen, 37.
The restaurant's Oklahoma-style burger is made by smashing a patty into a pile of red onions and allowing the whole jumble to caramelize on the griddle. It's served on a squishy Denny's 5th Avenue Bakery bun and topped with more onion, American cheese, a tangy "special sauce," and house-made pickles.
The mayo-based lobster and shrimp roll comes on a buttery, toasty hunk of the same Denny's bread with a hearty sprinkling of chives. Mickelsen worked for a time at Minneapolis lobster spot Smack Shack, and "to be frank, I kind of wanted to one-up them," he said.
The menu may soon get some additions, including mini corn dogs, Brown said. It's all a little '80s and a little State Fair, but with Travail pedigree.
"I don't want people to feel intimidated by this," Mickelsen said. "There are a lot of young families in Northeast. I want them to feel the nostalgia."
Bob's Burgers takes over Bebe Zito
Brace for incoming burger puns: Bob's Burgers will take over Uptown's Bebe Zito for Memorial Day Weekend. The beloved Minneapolis ice cream and burger shop from co-owners Gabriella Grant and chef Ben Spangler will dress up as the beloved cartoon burger shop from May 28 to 30. There will be an ice cream special, burgers of the day, costumes and more.
The pop-up is a promotion for "The Bob's Burgers Movie" that lands in theaters May 27. The TV show stars the Belcher family: Bob and Linda with their kids Gene, Tina and Louise, who run a burger restaurant.
But which burgers of the day will make the cut? Little Swiss Bunshine (made with buttered bun), I Fought the Slaw (and the Slaw Won), or The Hand That Rocks the Bagel?
Yia Vang launches a new podcast
Yia Vang, the celebrated local chef of Union Hmong Kitchen and the forthcoming Vinai, has launched a new podcast called Hmonglish along with news anchor Gia Vang to explore the intersection of Hmong and American culture. The first episode drops June 1.
Yia Vang is also the cohost of the White on Rice podcast that discusses food and culture.
Hospitality community mourns chef Matthew Kempf
The Twin Cities food community is mourning the loss of Matthew Kempf, a longtime chef who died on May 13. Kempf worked in a number of notable kitchens including Goodfellows, A Rebours, Il Gato, Maude, W.A. Frost, The Mill NE and more. Kempf was working at Northeast's The Sheridan Room at the time of his passing. Hospitality friends gathered to remember the Champlain native this week.
GrillFest celebrates 10 years
If you grill it, they will come.
Celebrate all things grill-related — cooking contests, demonstrations, samples, drinks, products, you name it — at Minnesota Monthly's 10th annual GrillFest, May 21-22 from 1 to 5 p.m. at CHS Field, 360 N. Broadway, St. Paul.
Tickets are $65 in advance; $75 at the door, and all attendees must be 21 or older. Tickets include admission, a tasting glass and samples. For tickets and more info, go to grillfestival.com.
Kickoff to the fair tickets still available
Tickets are still available for the Minnesota State Fair's Kickoff to Summer, held May 26-30. The five-day event includes many fair favorites with its food, music and shopping offerings — and a chance to ride the Giant Slide.
But we're all about the food. Participating vendors include Andy's Grille, Baba's, Big Fat Bacon, Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, Coasters, Dino's Gyros, French Meadow Bakery & Cafe, Fresh French Fries, Mancini's al Fresco, Mouth Trap Cheese Curds, RC's BBQ, Summer Lakes Beverage, Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar, Tiny Tim Donuts and many more.
Tickets, which are sold by time slots, are $12.50 each; food is extra. Children 4 and younger get in free. Go to mnstatefair.org/kickoff-to-summer/ for details.
Happy Thai New Year
Head to the State Capitol for the Minnesota Songkran Festival, hosted by the Thai Cultural Council of Minnesota. The festival celebrates Thai New Year with a variety of authentic cuisine, cultural performances, arts and crafts, a papaya salad eating contest and more.
The festival, on Capitol grounds, is May 28 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and May 29 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, go to thaiculturemn.us.