That style is a good fit for The Sample Room’s kitchen, a closet-sized hovel with no room for advanced gadgetry. Knudsen respects places like Travail and Piccolo that employ special machinery, gels, gums, and powders to create more avant-garde edibles on their small plates. “It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s great. But it’s not me,” he says. “At the end of the day, you want a nice braised short rib with a root vegetable puree.”
He’s not yet sure how the menu will evolve but expect more neat pairings of meat and veg. “The direction Geoff really started, and that I hope to continue in, is that each small plate is more of a composed dish,” he explains. “Not just a piece of cheese on a plate, something with more thought.”
Knudsen plans on adding more seafood to the menu, maybe a hearty bouillabaisse for the winter, hoping to balance out what’s currently a meat-heavy affair. After presiding over God-knows-how-many boils at the Smack Shack, he laughs, “I can say there will not be any lobster on the menu. Not for a while.” Call it shell-shock.
Mostly, he’s keen on continuing The Sample Room’s legacy of executing routine snacks at a level you wouldn’t expect from your neighborhood bar. “Part of a restaurant’s longevity is not being radical in change,” he says. “It’s gradual. I’m not going to come in and smash the menu and say we’re only doing smokehouse barbecue.”
We wouldn’t fault him, considering there’s hardly any decent barbecue in the Twin Cities, but we understand his point. “It’s all about continually changing,” he sums, “which this place has always done, while staying familiar and comfortable.”