Heirloom in Saint Paul
Heirloom is billed as a “neighborhood” restaurant that specializes in “modern farmhouse cuisine.” As these terms suggest, it’s utterly inviting and the fare is rustic, centered on seasonal and local ingredients. But the food is also beautiful, subtly complex, and, at times, cutting-edge without being the least bit pretentious. Chef Wyatt Evans (formerly of WA Frost) has our attention.
The most unassuming dishes on the dinner menu (brunch is served on Sundays) produced the most high-fives and “hot damns.” The pedestrianly named “meat pie” ($14) turns out to be an adorable acorn-shaped cracker crust filled with a luscious, soul-warming mixture of shredded chicken and pork, cinnamon, and a layer of green tomato chutney. Accompanied by sharp English mustard, raisins, and pickled green tomatoes, the delectable pie skillfully balances textures and flavors. Hot damn, indeed.
Moving from England to Ireland, Evans’ black pudding ($11) is another stunner. Made of pork shoulder, pig’s blood and organ meat (heart and liver), and steel-cut oats (for binding), the “pudding” is really a refined, funky, and delicious meatloaf. A light puree of celery root and thin slices of tart, slightly sweet pickled apples cut the dish’s richness while brightening it. Winner winner, fancy meatloaf dinner.
“Trout pastrami” ($9) didn’t initially register a hot damn – more like a WTF? But then we tried it. Once again, the hot damns flew like Donald Trump insults. Evans cures ocean trout with pastrami spices (coriander, juniper berries, salt, sugar, and pepper), brushes it with squid ink, and then cold smokes it, producing a “meaty,” deep red product that highlights (rather than smothers) the fish’s natural flavor. Served as a sort of deconstructed pastrami sandwich, the trout comes with delicate rye crackers, micro cabbage greens, fluffy horseradish cream, and pickled onions. Where so many “deconstructed” dishes make us pine for the fully constructed original, this deconstruction works very well.
Though the four other dishes we tried didn’t lead to exuberant swearing, they generally impressed. The “interesting vegetables” ($8) are a labor-intensive winner. The dish changes constantly—even “order to order”—Evans told us, but the basic idea is to serve multiple preparations of in-season vegetables. Our dish included, for instance, beets that were roasted, dehydrated, raw, and pickled, alongside carrots (displaying subtle but stunning knife-work), parsnips, cauliflower, and more. The vegetables were also topped with a ricotta whey foam (Evans insists he’s not a “foam guy,” but liquid whey wouldn’t work on the dish) that adds a touch of acidity. The result is definitely interesting, and great tasting (even if we’d prefer a lighter touch with the kefir butter).
An entree of freshwater fish ($16) was nearly exceptional—the main component was expertly cooked, with crackly skin and tender flesh. A bed of faro added depth and gave the dish that farmhouse quality, while pickled celery, raw radish, and micro greens provided freshness. The mushroom broth was a great idea, but ours was too salty. With a minor tweak, this dish would ascend to hot damn territory.
We were also thrilled to see pork jowl on the menu, because we’re big fans of the fatty, super flavorful delicacy. Evans puts a lot of work into the jowl ($15): he brines it for 24 hours, cooks it in rendered pork fat, grills it, and then brushes it with barley and malt glaze, which, when put over the open flame, gives the meat a char. Unfortunately, ours didn’t have much char and lacked crispness. It did pack a major flavor punch and we enjoyed it (though it didn’t displace Corner Table’s jowl as our favorite in the area). Savoy cabbage and cranberry mostarda are ideal accompaniments, and the dish made us long for Thanksgiving (and consider replacing turkey with pork jowl). Although the bed of sweet potato puree tasted good on its own, it added unnecessary sweetness and richness.
We’re not sure that the chestnut cake ($8) tasted much like chestnuts, but it was moist, comforting, and sweet enough to classify as dessert without knocking us out with sugar. Both fresh and poached pieces of pear and a red currant sauce give this relatively light treat additional character and seasonality—an excellent cap to a rich, savory dinner.
2186 Marshall Ave
Saint Paul, MN 55104
CHEF/OWNER: Wyatt Evans
Sun: Brunch 10am-2pm, Dinner 4-10pm
BAR: Beer and Wine
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: Yes/Upon Request
ENTREE RANGE: $8-18
NOISE LEVEL: Amenable din