Along with the ambitious renovations happening at the Walker Art Center, the provocative Minneapolis museum has decided to extend the idea of art beyond the canvas and onto the plate. Working with Culinaire (the company that also operates Sea Change inside the Guthrie Theater and Fika at the American Swedish Institute), they have pulled in none other than Doug Flicker to launch Esker Grove.
Flicker is the beloved Minneapolis chef whose work at South Minneapolis' Piccolo has garnered ardent fans from far and wide, including Anthony Bourdain, who famously marveled at the inspired meal he had there. But this isn't just a story about pretty plates and tweezer food. No, Flicker also operates Sandcastle, a concession stand with beer and wine on the shores of Lake Nokomis. Here, the food is exactly what you want for a day at the beach: hot dogs, horchata, cheese curds and a proper twist cone. "This will be built from my experience in fine dining and at Sandcastle," he said. "Pulling from those two worlds, this project makes sense."
The new restaurant will seat 94 inside and 60 outside, under a canopy of honey locust trees. Every seat comes with spectacular views of the downtown skyline and the sculpture garden thanks to floor to ceiling windows and mindful design.
During the day, the restaurant be more casual with counter service, quickly-served lunch and grab and go options with exceptional coffee. The room will also function as a gathering space.
By night, the experience transforms into full-service dinner. (The Walker exhibits are closed all nights except Thursdays.) Parking will be easily accessed through the ramp attached to the Walker and doors that open onto Vineland Place. Hours will be Tuesday through Friday lunch, brunch Saturday and Sunday and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
We're working in a new frontier and treating an onion with the same care and respect as a tenderloin.
On the menu will be the de rigeuer locally sourced, ethically raised meats, but taking center stage on the plate will be vegetables and grains. "It's not a vegetarian restaurant," Flicker cautioned. "That said, I think as chefs we've cooked a piece of meat every way imaginable. We're working in a new frontier and treating an onion with the same care and respect as a tenderloin." Plus, there will be a rotisserie, so we can expect those slow, spit roasted meats, but imagine what a rotisseried head of Romanesco could become in Doug Flicker's masterful hands.
There will also be a full bar, and while he has been talking to some very interesting people about who could lead the cocktail program, no one has yet been selected.
The name Esker Grove comes from the location of the restaurant, at the base of the museum, built into a rolling hill between Uptown and downtown. According to a release from the museum an esker is "a serpentine ridge of soil, gravel, and earth deposited by streams of meltwater left from the slow movement of glaciers over time." Grove = pretty tree place. The room will be filled with light and walnut wood with a sound absorbing ceiling to combat the loud restaurant scourge sweeping the nation. A focal point wall will act as an often-changing art showcase. It's all designed by HGA and Amsterdam-based landscape firm, Inside Outside.
I can write a menu, but a menu is just words
Flicker is already brainstorming ways the food can participate in the art exhibits. "It could be an exploration and an amazing opportunity to do art dinners instead of the usual wine dinners," he said. Think of the upcoming events like the British commercial awards or packing a specially designed lunchbox to pair with the redesigned sculpture garden. What comes next, only exists in the chef's imagination.
"I can write a menu, but a menu is just words. This is a continuation of everything that I’ve done, but the next step. This is not another Piccolo. Not another Sandcastle," he said. " This is a different place in time." Spoken like the next artist to be featured at the Walker.
Look for Esker Grove to open in December 2016.