“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” says Geoff King. “We’re just trying to showcase these ingredients.”
The Draft Horse opened in the Food Building in Northeast Minneapolis two months ago with a straightforward mandate—show off the meat and cheese. Located down the hallway from Red Table Meats and The Lone Grazer Creamery, the café is positioned as the de facto retail outlet for one of the most exciting food production facilities in town.
But that mandate comes with a caveat: showing off meat and cheese, as well as cooking seasonally, means embracing limitation. For a Minnesota restaurant to have the motto “farmed near, made here” means getting creative, especially in the winter.
“Yeah, winter can be tough,” says Luke Kyle, who also co-owns The Anchor Fish & Chips. “Lots of root vegetables, squashes. We’re not making salads topped with tomatoes.”
The idea for The Draft Horse began in Kyle’s kitchen. “We started doing Sunday roasts at our house, probably four years ago, inviting family and friends,” he says. One of those friends was Anne Saxton (Barbette, Bryant Lake Bowl, Pat’s Tap, et al), and they got to talking about how to make gatherings like those open to the public.
“We thought it would be fun to do a restaurant together that was focused on that style of food. Good meat, good vegetables, local, seasonal stuff,” Kyle says. “We want to make this dining room to feel like home, if you don’t feel like making your own roast.”
Kyle knew that Kieran Folliard was working on the Food Building and noticed a storefront space wasn’t in use. He proposed the concept and Folliard was on board immediately. But Kyle also knew he needed a chef friend to pull it off.
Enter Geoff King, founder of Scratch Food Truck, who had used The Anchor’s kitchen in his early days of slinging street eats. Having a food truck entrepreneur execute the menu for The Draft Horse makes a great deal of sense, since mobile cooking forces a chef to drill down into the fundamentals of their concept, and learn to do more with less.
“I work better when things are directed, when I can work within certain parameters,” King says. “This was an easy thing to jump into because of [Luke’s] concept and idea—Sunday roasts, making stocks—basic, soulful food.”
The Draft Horse’s menu has the ethos of a food truck—namely, smart arrangements of simple food. The same two meats in their spectacular pot pies also show up as two of the three entrees. The meat and cheese are laid out on snacking boards, and stuffed into pre-made deli sandwiches at the counter. A few hearty winter veggies get roasted as side dishes. The Salt and Pepper Ribs are a deviously simple and tasty starter.
And the building will soon be host to a bakery from Rustica’s Steve Horton, featuring an in-house flour mill. When you can get world-class meat, cheese, and bread made down the hall, there’s no sense in devising something “chef-driven” to muck them up.
The menu will be changing with the seasons and everyone at The Draft Horse seems excited for summer. “The original menu is based on what we could get, what was obtainable and local,” says King. “But when those seasons open up, it’s playtime. How can we push it? Not in a crazy way, but how can we showcase what we have?”
The Draft Horse
117 14th Ave. NE
Deli Hours: Tue-Sat, 11am-6pm