There’s a new St. Paul lunch, happy hour and dinner restaurant open right now. Gray Duck Tavern debuted this weekend as the latest restaurant from the Madison Group at 345 Wabasha Street North. The company also operates Fitgerald’s in Cathedral Hill, Public and Handsome Hog in Lowertown and the Eagle Street Grille in downtown St. Paul. This latest offering has pulled in some big culinary talent in Donald Gonzalez. The chef is perhaps best known locally as the long time chef at Forepaugh’s restaurant, but has also worked at such storied restaurants as California’s singular French Laundry, Chambers with Jean-George Vongerichten, and at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
Gonzalez grew up in California and says it was his grandmothers who taught him to cook. The three woman were British, Puerto Rican, and Mexican. All of those flavors show up on the menu inside Gray Duck. “When were talking about what the menu would be, we knew we wanted comfort food,” he said. He asked his staff, what is the food you reach for when you think of home.
The result is a collaboratively written menu that shares a diverse background that mirrors his team. There’s a rolled up and fried tortilla stuffed with pork lechon and served like a cigar in a glass dish. There are African samosas, coconut curry chicken soup, Caesar salad, duck schnitzel and a giant burger with American cheese. Inside the open kitchen there’s also a carving station featuring several kinds of slow roasted meats.
Overseeing the bar and hospitality is Aaron Johnson, who locally became known as one of the creative forces behind the brief, but beloved cocktail-driven heyday at the Town Talk Diner. He was also an opening partner at the Strip Club Meat and Fish. More recently, Johnson helped open Herbie’s, the bar and restaurant named in downtown St. Paul.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday with an additional brunch service on Sundays beginning at 10:00 a.m. There’s also a daily happy hour 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. and again 9:00 p.m. until they close. There’s plenty of meter parking in this part of downtown St. Paul and a few ramps nearby.