Food Meets Beer gets busy at The Grand Cafe
By John Garland
Photos by Daniel Murphy
The Grand Café in Southwest Minneapolis has a reputation for quiet elegance and fantastic brunch. A stunning meat program and more craft beer are now making it more accessible for everyday eating.
Ask your favorite foodie where the best eating is happening in Minneapolis these days, and they’ll tell you to head south. They’ll cite a favorite Linden Hills eatery or the farmers’ markets in the Kingfield or Fulton neighborhoods. They might rattle off a list of buzz-worthy openings—Terzo, Parka, The Lynn on Bryant, Rincon 38, Sandcastle, et al.
These new bistros on the block all aspire to have the staying power of the Grand Café in Southwest Minneapolis. It has recently entered its eighth year of plating graceful fare in its homey digs off 38th Avenue. Owners Dan and Mary Hunter have quietly curated a farm-to-table hot spot. The menu just says simply “Local, Seasonal, Sustainable.” They don’t brag about it, they just do it.
The dinner menu is composed and confident: six entrees, three salads and selections of antipasto. The plates are thorough but not over-thought, comforting and familiar with a European sensibility. The Grand relies heavily on farmers’ markets in the summer, and a signature of their cuisine is prolonging that bounty through preserving and pickling.
“It’s something I’ve always done, and it’s an element that’s always been a part of our philosophy,” says Mary Hunter. “It attracts a certain type of chef who’s interested in being a part of that.”
Currently that chef is Wayne Schroeder. The son of a butcher, he’s spent three years recently honing his meat skills at Clancey’s. “That’s where I learned how to cut all the animals and how to cure all that stuff,” says Schroeder. “Making pâtés, dry curing, aging meat, it’s cool stuff. When you spend a lot of time down there, you get to learn a lot.”
His meat program at the Grand is right on point. It’s not at the level of, say, Butcher & The Boar or Heartland. But for a tiny place in South Minneapolis, he’s dedicated far more thought and effort into its presentation than you would expect from your neighborhood café.
He uses poultry from Wild Acres and beef from Stonebridge in Long Prairie. He recently ran through snout to tail preparations on a whole Red Wattle hog, a rare heritage breed of pig that Schroeder was keen to make the most of. “People said they’d never had a pork chop like that in their life,” says Mary. “That was an extraordinary cut of meat.” The chops are gone, but they still have some Red Wattle curing away.
So don’t think of the Grand Cafe in Southwest Minneapolis as only suitable for sit-down dining. Schroeder’s meat and cheese plates are natural beer snacks. His recent chicken liver pâté is a hearty mousse that screams to be paired with a hoppy IPA. He’s curing bacon, hanging duck prosciutto, and executing juicy rillettes. It’s Wayne’s world—charcuterie time—excellent.
So the next order of business for the Grand is to tap into more beer. “At first we didn’t even have [tap beer],” recalls Dan Hunter. “I got a little Home Depot kegerator, just to get some in here. Then I got the real deal, and we got hooked up with Surly. I love Surly Furious, we had two of theirs on tap when they were just a small local place that delivered and took good care of us.”
“We’ve actually used Surly quite a bit in our food,” says Schroeder. “We were braising pork belly in Surly a few menus ago, adding a bit in the mustards, and it’s in the cookie on the ginger panna cotta.”
Schroeder is friends with the brewers at Harriet and they’re often the second brew on tap next to Surly. We’ve been drinking Divine Oculust there lately and it’s killer with the charcuterie. They have a few other locals in bottle—Fulton and Rush River among them—but a more extensive lineup of local craft beer on tap will be the Grand’s next major upgrade.
While the Grand Cafe may sometimes get lost in the shuffle of new restaurants in Southwest Minneapolis, they’re a perennial favorite when it comes to brunch. “Part of why people love [brunch] here is because we’re not reinventing it,” says chef Jim McIntosh. “Our brunch is way more from scratch than any restaurant I’ve ever worked in. We don’t take any shortcuts.”
The star of brunch is eggs en cocotte, poached eggs swimming in cream with hunks of puff pastry, ham and gruyere. Their huevos rancheros are a nice elevation of the classic, featuring pork confit in a rich mole.
The centerpiece of the Grand’s main dining room is the towering vintage Baker Boy oven. It stands about seven feet tall, maybe eight feet across and just as deep. In its youth, it had been the heart of the Grand Bakery, and the later incarnation, the Bakery on Grand. It’s now used to bake sourdough for toast, brioche for French toast and rosemary crackers for spreading pâtés and soft cheeses.
That sourdough gets a touch of brew as well, when Dan takes the foam from newly tapped kegs of Furious to feed the yeast starter. “I’ve got to feed that starter two or three times a week and it has a bigger smile on its face when we put some good brew in,” he says. “It re-invigorates the starter, it gets a little tired out just eating flour and water, it makes it more interesting.”
Regulars understand the seasonality at play at the Grand Cafe in Southwest Minneapolis and keenly anticipate the dishes they know are around the corner, especially the cassoulet in fall. Year round, one of the most popular requests is the house-made corned beef, both in the Rueben at
Killer Pairing #1: Charcuterie Plate + Harriet Divine Oculust
Though it will vary based on what Wayne’s been curing, this was the content of our recent board: pork rillettes, duck prosciutto, chicken liver pâté, and pork lomo (dry-cured tenderloin). They were accompanied by a host of pickled veggies: red onion, cornichons, turnip and beet, with an egg pickled in beet juice and a rhubarb jam. The Oculust is the kind of beer you need for a plate like this. It calls for something with body, heft and alcohol to stand up to the smoke, acid and salt.
Killer Pairing #2: Ginger Panna Cotta + Surly Furious
A dessert beer pairing? Why not? More than anything, this killer pairing proved that a good panna cotta would go well with just about anything. In this case, the piercing ginger flavor matches the hoppy Furious and the chocolate cookie softly echoes the beer it’s made with. But the meats are so tasty we might just opt to have them for dessert instead.
John Garland also writes about beer and food for the Heavy Table (heavytable.com