The long awaited opening of St. Genevieve, Steven Brown’s newest venture, is right around the corner. Sort of. Maybe. Well, sometime in 2015, anyway.
In the mean time, we sat down with the always affable Brown outside his uber popular eatery, Tilia, to chat about restaurant life, the ever-changing tastes of the American public, and fond memories of his first bite of wilted spinach.
As everyone and their third cousin knows by now, St. Genevieve will be a French tavern and will occupy the former Lynn on Bryant space in South Minneapolis. The location is near and dear to Brown’s heart. The building’s owners also own Patina, where Brown’s wife once worked, and have become friends over the years. "I have a connection to them and the place," Brown said. "They’ve been nothing but supportive and kind." The location has been on Brown’s radar for a while, even as he was planning Tilia. Plans were put on hold while Tilia garnered a fervent fan following. The timing seemed right when the opportunity presented itself again recently.
People aren’t afraid of ingredients anymore. They aren’t afraid to try octopus or offal.
The Lynnhurst location also embodies the close-knit neighborhood vibe Brown is drawn to. "I think of the Twin Cities as a small town trying to be a big city. But like in any big city, your neighborhood becomes your hub," he said. The 50th and Bryant corner is both vibrant and low-key, a perfect spot for a local hangout. There will be sidewalk seating at St. Genevieve, allowing for even more opportunities to connect with neighbors and visitors alike. "At our core, we are a neighborhood restaurant," he said. "Sure, I would love for people to come from St. Paul, Woodbury, heck, Chicago! But I am hoping to give that neighborhood another great place to return to again and again."
So why a French tavern? Or, a buvette, if you will? "I used to think French food was too overwrought; you have to take the peelings off everything," Brown laughed. "But it doesn’t have to be that complex, it’s about showcasing great ingredients. People aren’t afraid of ingredients anymore. They aren’t afraid to try octopus or offal."
To me, the excitement of food has always been about discovery
Brown feels lucky to be in the business of creating positive experiences around great ingredients. "Maybe the first time you had escargot it wasn’t a great memory, so then it becomes our job to be good arbiters of the food," he explained. "Our job is also to make sure that we curate your experience so your first taste is amazing."
"To me, the excitement of food has always been about discovery. I remember the first time I had fresh squeezed grapefruit juice or the first time I had cilantro. When I went to France for the first time, my mind was completely blown. It seemed like even the Nutella crepe on the street somehow tasted better, and the wine and the culture…" he trails off, lost in a haze of memory. "To me, that’s the motivation behind St. Genevieve, to capture some of the spirit of those things in a way that makes people feel transported."
Brown hopes to create a place where everyone feels welcome. "You can come in as you are, relax at the bar. You can also order a bottle of champagne and celebrate your birthday and feel equally comfortable. We want to be relaxed, we want to have fun, but we are also serious about what we do."
It’s that process of discovery that to me is so exciting.
Currently, St. Genevieve is in what Brown called "a healthy state of disarray." The small upstairs kitchen has been removed and a new bar will take its place. "Conceptually, we want it to be a buvette, which is a tavern, so the bar is important as a gathering place."
Heather Keena will once again team with Brown on the design. "I love working with Heather again, but it’s going to be different from Tilia," Brown said. "I hope that you’ll notice see some of the same DNA, but it’s a different place."
The team is also putting in a ceiling where once there was none, and a vestibule for better flow. "Hopefully we’ve learned some lessons in the last five years at Tilia. This process makes me love Tilia even more -the nostalgia- the process I went through with Tilia. It’s like those first food memories, you get to have foie gras for the first time again!"
And of course, everyone wants to know when they’ll be able to get that great first taste of foie gras in South Minneapolis. "In some ways, there is always pressure to get it out there and get it done," Brown cautioned. "But a friend once told me: you only get to open it once." That’s his way of saying, "chill."
Brown’s humility comes through in his final observation of the new venture: "I can’t tell you, ‘oh it’s going to be great.’ As a friend and a guest, it’s up to you to say if it’s successful. And it’s that process of discovery that to me is so exciting."