Trailblazers 2017: J.D. Fratzke & Matty O’Reilly

J.D. Fratzke (left) and Matty O’Reilly (right) of Bar Brigade // Photo by Tj Turner

J.D. Fratzke (left) and Matty O’Reilly (right) of Bar Brigade // Photo by Tj Turner

The restaurant game has never been an easy one. But the last decade of dining in the Twin Cities has thrown innumerable challenges at restaurateurs—a cook shortage, a minimum wage debate, food costs and rent on the rise, and diners possessed of a fickle, Instagram-fueled, hit-the-hot-new-joint-once-and-never-return mentality.

In the face of these challenges, the partnership of Matty O’Reilly and J.D. Fratzke has delivered two of St. Paul’s most engaging new restaurants of 2017—ones different in concept and execution, but the same in how they so presciently answered the demands of their neighborhoods.

Perhaps no restaurateur has been a greater evangelist for local beer than O’Reilly, whose Republic at Seven Corners and the MSP Airport continue to set the bar for service and selection. But in 2017, he had us drinking wine—rosé on tap at Bar Brigade and tumblers of Chianti at Delicata. In each of these restaurants, he found a pocket of St. Paul with a dearth of good dining, in a ward with a liquor license to spare. Brigade took over a corner accustomed to cozy dining (formerly housing Luci Ancora) and gave it a fresh start. Delicata gave the busy young families of Como Park the great pizza they deserve with the un-fussy counter service convenience they need.

The potential of these locations has been cemented by the exacting qualities of the food. After nearly a decade in the kitchen at Strip Club Meat & Fish, Fratzke has flourished in the front of house at Bar Brigade. His menu is not revolutionary—he’s roasting chicken thighs and grilling hanger steak. And he’s sneaking really good vegetables onto our kids’ plates at Delicata, too. In a town brimming with restaurants begging to be your Saturday night destination, Fratzke has made Tuesday dining in St. Paul feel just as princely.

As dining in the Twin Cities moves further away from million dollar flameouts on Hennepin Avenue, cheers to O’Reilly and Fratzke for focusing their considerable talents on the basics—the pizza, the chicken and vegetables, the stuff that might not make splashy headlines but makes us feel warm and sated when we just want a good meal on the way home from work. May their partnership blaze more trails through the Capital City in the years to come.

Trailblazers are the people, ideas, businesses, and organizations doing necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in the realms of food, drink, and culture. See the rest of The Growler’s 2017 Trailblazers here.

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.