“There’s no detail too minute,” says Burch Steakhouse backer Ryan Burnet, whose split with former business partners still burns.
“We’re still in the freak-out stage,” says Isaac Becker, the famed local chef who opened the red-hot Burch Steakhouse and Pizza Bar at Hennepin and Franklin in Minneapolis just three months ago. “Opening up something this big costs a lot more than you think to operate.”
They’re running two separate restaurants on two floors, overflowing 240 seats several times a night with more tables and chairs already on order, and staffing shifts at a cost three times more than Becker thought.
But behind the crazy opening nights and the A-list crowds is a low-key man who assembled nearly $1.2 million in financing to make the restaurant happen. He is Ryan Burnet, a superstar broker and the son of real estate mogul Ralph Burnet. He maybe could have coasted, but he’s determined to build a business all his own.
Sing along! Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall (and one Manhattan with Buffalo Trace, Cocchi Vermouth, egg white, orange liqueur, Cherry Herring and bitters). Sigh.
A guy walks into a bar. He orders a vodka tonic. That’s it. That’s the whole joke. Because, can you remember a day when ice wasn’t hand-cut, when bitters didn’t come in an eyedropper, when your bartender was just that, and not a handlebar-mustaschioed mixologist in a porkpie hat and bowtie? Craft cocktails. The culture of the drink seems as poised to take over the bar experience as latté culture once was to the lowly cup of drip coffee.
And like that now de rigueur trend that’s no longer a trend but rather a matter of course—(drip or Chemex?) the philosophy of it all seems rife for the haranguing. Because of, let’s face it, the eye-rolling minutiae of it all. Has craft cocktaildom jumped the shark? Is it fair to say that some days you’d just as soon be poured a simple, life-validating Jack and Coke and then be left the hell alone—no essences, bitters, tinctures or garnishes, please?
I posed this question to a handful of our city’s most prominent bartenders (mixologists, if you must). Here’s what they had to say:
Top twin Cities food minds pick their “go-to” cookbooks and reference guides from the crowded bookshelf.
“Whoever designed the streets (in St. Paul) must have been drunk. I think it was those Irish guys, you know what they like to do.”
—Jesse Ventura on Late Night with David Letterman
As a resident of Saint Paul, I take offense to any criticism that smears the hard work of our city founders and builders. It doesn’t matter what their ethnic or religious background is, the people who designed the Capitol City were pretty shrewd. With that said, there is one thing they could have done differently; they could have designed our kitchens counters in our older neighborhoods to be just a tad bit bigger.
Recently my wife decided to reclaim a portion of her prep area, but this came at the expense of my cookbook collection. I was told that I could only keep three books on the counter, and the remainder would be relegated to closets and bookshelves.
Fresh/local/seasonal is fine, nose-to-tail cooking is delightful, and no one can argue with the Bacon Everywhere movement. But sometimes, it’s good to leave the trends to the trendsetters. Not every diner is looking for a meal of locally-grown heritage micro greens with half an ounce of free-range pork kidneys. Sometimes, you just want a beer and a burger. And for that, there’s 7 West Taphouse. Rick Lampton, who co-owns Grizzly’s locations in Duluth, Hermantown, and Superior, Wis., opened 7 West with a partner towards the end of 2012. He says the idea was to keep it simple. “It’s a simple concept,” Lampton says. “We’re specializing. It’s not a full menu, which really increases your times and your operational efficiency.”
The hottest, most successful new restaurateurs are staring convention in the face. And laughing.
It’s on a low cliff overlooking the shimmering turquoise Caribbean Sea. My favorite restaurant in the world, the one I have for years been calling “The Nameless Restaurant,” because it indeed has no name, is also my dream restaurant. The one that, if I had all of the money in the world, I would buy, and run no differently than it runs today. I have even gone so far as to approach the owner, a charmingly belligerent, harmless drunkard who spends many of his days in a hammock smoking cigarettes. “I’ll never sell. I’m going to die here,” he wisely reported.
This nameless restaurant of mine is almost not a restaurant at all. The kitchen is dark and spare, and houses only a few rudimentary pieces of equipment. The tables and chairs are of the cheapest brand of plastic available from Walmart, and the server is usually a kid under the age of 10. There is no menu—instead you’re told what you’ll be dining on tonight, should you care to stay. A verdant spread of the freshest guacamole, a rustic quinoa stew, a groaning platter of arroz con pollo; whatever is on, it’s always, always good. And not just good, but memorable, in the way that sears itself into your senses, as some of the best food you’ve ever consumed, in spite of, and probably because of its simple, yet perfect execution.
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