Chef Jack Riebel doesn’t mind a little pressure. His career thus far has prepared him for the approaching official opening date of The Lexington pm February 9. He prepared fine dining fare at the original Stillwater location of La Belle Vie and dazzled musical glitterati (including Prince) inside The Dakota. He’s also gone lower brow with the smoke and meat focus he took while opening Butcher and the Boar and he remade bar fare inside the beloved dive Half Time Rec. All that talent and experience is culminating on the new menu for the stately restaurant on the corner of Lexington and Grand Avenues in Saint Paul. It’s just that he’s not ready to talk about it.
The kitchen is firing and the chef is watching over his crew as they prepare dishes in preparation for the official opening happening February 9, but we’re still under strict orders not to spill a word beyond, “There will be pot pie.” We would also venture that there will be oysters and hopefully some of the deviled eggs the chef served at a recent media event, but details of exact menu items are still under wraps days before guests settle into the dining room and begin bellying up to one of the two bars.
It’s understandable why the chef and part-owner of the new generation of the Lexington would be a bit skittish. Expectations and tempers are already high. It was April 2014 when the news broke that Kevin Fitzgerald and Josh Thoma of the Smack Shack had purchased the restaurant along with Riebel. Since then, the remodel has been arduous, to put it kindly. (Glacial might be a more accurate description.)
The group were unprepared for the extensive work that the building required. After years and years of operation, many projects had been over-looked and the building itself held years worth of damage. That meant stripping it down to the base. The upstairs event space floor wasn’t safe and had to be removed and rebuilt. Everything sexy from HVAC to foundation needed attention.
The Lexington first opened in 1935 and through the years became an established dining landmark in the capital city, hosting dignitaries and notables before slowly settling into a destination for an aging clientele. After changing hands multiple times in recent years, fans became frustrated with uneven experiences. The light seemed to grow dim for The Lexington and for a time the chances of it fading into history seemed like a very real possibility.
Skeptics are guarding any optimism as the news has spread like wildfire that one of the most beautiful dining rooms was about to return to its glory, but this tour of the nearly completed room does give us hope.
Reservations for the dining room, which retained its old world elegance also has just a few touches of modernity to keep up with changing times. Modern art decorates some of the walls and the bars are still sleek and curved, but with tall upholstered chairs instead of stools.
Now, the only remaining question we have, is what is on the menu to go with the pot pie?
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