The Tap: Fulton Gets a Food Truck

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This week in the Tap: Fulton launches a dedicated food truck for its taproom, and a look ahead at upcoming restaurants in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Fulton Beer Starts Up (and Then Parks) Its Own Food Truck

Food trucks are nomads. They come and go freely, changing their location with rapid (and sometimes maddening) frequency. Their fast-moving nature is part of their appeal, but if you’re a brewery taproom depending upon their help to supply the food part of the food-plus-beer combination that customers love so much, you might just want to bank on something more predictable.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Enter the dedicated taproom food truck. Fulton Beer has rehabbed a gorgeous vintage Airstream trailer into a mobile (but taproom-based) Taproom Kitchen, and put veteran chef Scott Pampuch (above) at the helm. Pampuch has rotated through a few high-profile gigs over the past few years, but he’s probably best known as the founding chef of Corner Table, a restaurant that opened strong and never wavered, even after its change in ownership.

Although the Fulton Taproom Kitchen offers a menu that’s casual and accessible (think sausages, pretzels, a charcuterie plate), its sourcing is impeccable. The Kitchen works with partners including Red Table Meats, Tangletown Gardens, Baker’s Field, Johnny Pops, and Lowry Hill Meats, and Pampuch adds house-made touches to everything he serves. We tried a handful of his offerings at Monday’s media preview, held in preparation for this afternoon’s official public debut, and found most of them to be on the money.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The Lonely Brat ($7), for example, had a lovely coarse grind and perfect seasoning, and the pickles (above) in the charcuterie-laden Nosh Plate ($9 for the small) had terrific crunch and a pleasant hint of sweetness. The Downtown Hot Dog from Sentyrz Market ($7) was all beef with a nice snap to the casing. Not too salty, not too greasy. A couple of dishes (the $6 War and Peace Tipsy Pie, the $9 Cheese Wurst) could use improvement, but the menu was on point as a whole.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The menu’s highlight is the Porchetta ($7), slow roasted pork loin and crisp pork belly (the latter a Pampuch signature) with fresh arugula, locally grown tomatoes, and juniper aioli on a ciabatta roll. It’s sloppy, it’s juicy, and it’s finger-licking good.

To our knowledge, Fulton is the first area taproom to jump on the natural synergy of taproom and house-owned food truck (although, see Surly, with its in-house beer hall restaurant), but it likely won’t be the last. — James Norton with tasting notes and photos from Brenda Johnson

The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at editor@heavytable.com.

NOW OPEN:

James Norton / Heavy Table
  • Seventh Street Truck Park, 214 W 7th St, St. Paul | A food hall with a rotating collection of trucks and three separate bars. Our review here.
  • Bardo, 222 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | A new “modern American bistro” in the old Rachel’s spot in Northeast, with chef/owner Remy Pettus.
  • Tillie’s Farmhouse, 232 Cleveland Ave N, St. Paul | Seasonal cuisine, some of it with a Scandinavian influence, with ingredients from local farms. In the former Trotter’s Cafe.
  • Wonders Ice Cream, 298 University Ave W, St. Paul | A shop selling the latest craze (?), rolled ice cream. See also: Sota Hot and Cold at 394 University Ave W.
  • Delicata1341 Pascal St, St. Paul | A pizzeria and gelateria by Matty O’Reilly, J.D. Fratzke, and Noah Barton.

Pampuch’s Return, Wall Street Journal Ink, and More

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The joy of harvesting (and eating) wild wood nettles. Chef Scott Pampuch (above, founder of Corner Table) is back in town and running a project called Lunchbox on the U of M campus. A journey by bike to sample some of the craft brews of Minneapolis. A profile by Joy Summers of the couple behind Wise Acre Eatery. And two great local beverages — Joia and Gray Duck Chai — are featured in a Wall Street Journal infographic on roadtripping.

The Churn: Scott Pampuch Joins University of Minnesota and More

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Scott Pampuch, who left town for a stint at the Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee after cultivating a strong following at Corner Table and Tour de Farm (find our writeup here), is back in the Twin Cities as the executive chef for Aramark at the University of Minnesota. Indeed Brewing Company throws a party for Art-A-Whirl, complete with a full music lineup and intriguing special release, “L.S.D. Honey Ale” (lavender, sunflower honey, and dates). For the first time ever, the St. Paul Farmers’ Market delays opening by a week to “let spring temperatures catch up and yards dry out.” A reprise of last summer’s Diner en Blanc to look forward to once temperatures stabilize mid-summer. And a profile of Jay Sparks, the influential yet modest executive chef at D’Amico and Partners.

The Churn: Love from Details, and More

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Details calls Sun Street Breads one of the best new bakeries in America. Some details on the upcoming Sparrow Cafe at 50th and Penn. Our editor weighs in on lutefisk on the Current (featuring graphic lutefisk-tasting audio). Minneapolis local food alum Scott Pampuch gets a write-up for his Iron Horse venture in Milwaukee (pictured above: Pampuch working with locally foraged mushrooms). Our own Joshua Page raves up Bull Run coffee. D’Amico Kitchen is leaving the Chambers hotel. Summit Unchained #12 will be “100% Organic Ale.” Wisconsin’s Beer Baron writes up the newly emerging Port Huron Brewing Company of Wisconsin Dells. WACSO writes and draws a whole host of local eateries including Modern Cafe, World Street Kitchen, Pupuseria La Palmera, and the French Hen. Lueken’s grocery in Bemidji sells out… to its 400 employees. And an embrace of fine Scandinavian dining puts us on the map for Travel + Leisure.

Foxy Falafel Moves Into the Former Caribe and Morning Roundup

A flood and hailstorm devastates Laughing Loon Farm, an long-form interview with Wisconsin master cheesemaker Kerry Henning, tasting notes for Dave’s BrewFarm Hibiscus Lager, details on the newly opened downtown Lunds, farm-to-table chef Scott Pampuch departs for Milwaukee to work for a national hotel management company (here’s our interview with team behind the post-Pampuch Corner Table), and Foxy Falafel is moving from street food to bricks and mortar in the old Caribe space.

Thomas Boemer and Nick Rancone of Corner Table

Crystal Liepa / Heavy Table

Vincent may be the only local restaurant more thoroughly intertwined with its founding personality than Corner Table was with Chef Scott Pampuch. Pampuch drove the restaurant’s relentlessly seasonal and local menu, enforced its standards, and worked the room like a champ — dine there once and you knew him, dine there twice and he was an old friend who could hook you up with foraged mushrooms.

When Pampuch departed last summer for fame and fortune (Dara’s recent profile on him is a fine recap of his current projects), Corner Table’s demise or radical transformation seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Previously loyal diners ducked the place. “It will still take time to recover from the void that Scott left on the name of this restaurant,” says 29-year-old owner Nick Rancone (above, left), who purchased the place with his wife Chenny. “We knew it would take time, and the hardest thing about that is sticking to your guns, and right now we don’t get to share what’s going on here with as many people as we’d like on a weekly basis.”

But stick to his guns he has. Backing him up from the kitchen — or leading the charge, if you prefer — is 32-year-old Chef Thomas Boemer (above, right), a rambler with Minnesota roots, a lover of Low Country cuisine with a Southern upbringing, and a survivor of a Las Vegas trial-by-fire under the tutelage of renowned Chef Alain Ducasse.

Crystal Liepa / Heavy Table

The food is first-rate, the pork belly (above) still the best in the Cities, the plates edited and balanced with wit and grace but without pomp or fussiness. A recent meal at Corner Table (at the suggestion of the Lucid Brewing guys) was persuasive enough that we stopped by Corner Table yesterday to chat with Rancone and Boemer.

HEAVY TABLE: What was the restaurant under Scott [Pampuch], and what is it now… or what is it becoming, at least?

NICK RANCONE: It was always a very collaborative restaurant. I think Scott put a team together better than a lot of people do in town — he was very adept at procuring and utilizing talented people. I think that’s a very admirable trait for someone to have, to have that eye for talent.

It was really on the front end of farm-to-table. He had always done it on a radical edge of the thing, and he was unrelenting in his standard for that.

Crystal Liepa / Heavy Table

The restaurant and the menu was always related to that hyper seasonality and that locality thing. To take that and keep that mentality relevant — there was a tradition, a legacy almost, that he put forth. The menu would change a lot and he explored a lot… to continue on with that mindset is important. That’s the legacy we wanted to perpetuate.

THOMAS BOEMER: Scott laid down the groundwork for what Corner Table is, over the last seven years, and we want to take it that next step. We want to refine it… to take that feeling, that service, that food to the next step. The local aspect is part of that. He was a huge part in this town in showing people what is right in our backyard.

The next step is me believing that the awareness is there is to dial it in and focus. That’s going back to the purveyors and getting the very best of what they have through developing the relationship and having very high standards.

I see us as a strong, European-influenced, technique-rich approach to classic Americana. That’s Low Country, that’s Minnesota cuisine… I’ve been all over the United States and you can never get more American than a piece of pork belly. It’s so immediately identifiable. You see it and you imagine the flavors.

HT: But where do you guys diverge from Scott’s method of doing things?

Crystal Liepa / Heavy Table

TB: Nick’s presence is a huge factor in terms of what’s different. I’m in the back, and I get to stay there. Now, I love to talk to people, we have people come in the kitchen and we get to connect, and we have a fun bar crowd: We had someone come in recently at 5 o’clock and leave at 2am, which is just crazy.

But I don’t have to come out here … Scott was this personality, and this presence, but with Nick here, I don’t have to fill that void, and my focus is, from start to end, being with every plate of food that passes through here. And that’s a plus. With Nick’s presence here, Chenny’s presence here, that’s two people focusing on that integral part of people’s experience.

And I think Nick is poised to be one of the new wine gurus here in town — we change the menu and the wine menu constantly. We reprint the menu two, sometimes three times a week and he’s keeping up with the wine menu. If you order a dish and you want the perfect glass of wine to go with it, he will tell you what that is and why it’s so wonderful.

HT: The concept of cooking farm-to-table, which includes working with animals that you have a somewhat personal relationship with, is key to what you’re doing. Is it old hat? Has everybody caught on to it by now?

NR: It’s weird to us because we’re so immersed in it that we sometimes lose sight of it. Last week we were carrying a pig in — a 180-pound hog — which is a weird, awkward thing to carry… right in the front door in the middle of the day, and these two older ladies were walking down the sidewalk and they were just like: “That’s a real pig!”

I was getting crushed by this thing. I’m not a butcher, that’s not my body type. But I’m like: “Where do you think the pork chops come from?”

Northern Brewer’s Grand Opening and Morning Roundup

Dara profiles former Corner Table chef and current TV personality Scott Pampuch, a taste of Big Eddy Russian Imperial by Leine’s, a taste of yak momo from Himalayan Restaurant (our review here), details of the grand opening for Northern Brewer in Minneapolis, The Pourhouse is coming to the old Spin nightclub space downtown (“The biggest attraction, literally, will be its massive 24-foot television screen”), the former Shinders space will get some  rooftop dining, and the oldest ice cream parlor in Minnesota prepares to reopen after a few years of downtime.

Gai Gai Thai For Lunch and Morning Roundup

Mobile foodmongers Gai Gai Thai will be launching a once-a-week lunch service at Patisserie 46 this Thursday (menu as PDF — grilled pork belly nam tok FTW!); a general look at what some farmers market vendors are up to this winter; Donut Star in Burnsville has caught on to the bacon long john; METRO showers love on Sun Street Breads, Patisserie 46, and Rustica; a review of Schell’s Deer Brand beer; the rules of the “family meal” for restaurant workers, and Chef Scott Pampuch adds TV hosting duties to his already laden platter of commitments.

Pampuch Departs Corner Table and Morning Roundup

“I’m not going to be at Corner Table anymore,” says Chef Scott Pampuch, meditations on a mysterious apple tree in Wisconsin, the state government shutdown sidelines the Independent in Uptown, Summit’s holding release parties for its Silver Anniversary Ale, an exploration of the gritty Dragon Star market, and how to make a tincture of St. John’s Wort flowers.

Scott Pampuch’s New Job

Chef Scott Pampuch of Corner Table and Tour de Farm is taking on the new job of executive chef at the Minnesota Valley Country Club, according to a press release that went out tonight. It’s not clear whether Pampuch is leaving his position as executive chef at Corner Table; “Corner Table will remain a leader in serving local, sustainable food with the seasons,” the press release notes unhelpfully, and a request for comment has not yet been answered. UPDATE, 06/30/11: Pampuch tells Dara that he’s no longer going to be cooking at Corner Table.

Road Work, Bacon Cake, and June 20 Tweet Rodeo

Construction season is in full swing, and a number of local businesses are affected. Among the latest: @kopplins (parking is allowed in the gas station lot nearby) and @msmarketcoop (the parking lot will be back up and running by Wednesday). In other news, @Smack_Shack hosts another lobster boil — tickets are still available for this Saturday’s event, @CocinaBarrio adds a new lunch taco to their menu, and @ScottPampuch makes a dessert to please even the most carnivorous sweet tooth.

Sunday Breakfast at Corner Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Corner Table Chef Scott Pampuch and I got into it on Twitter about whether to his new Sunday breakfast would better be described as “brunch.” It seems to me that if you’re serving rich, celebratory breakfast food until 2pm on a Sunday and playing yacht rock over the sound system, “brunch” is the only word that does the experience justice. But in deference to the chef (pictured above), let’s call it “lunfast” and move past linguistic squabbles.

Whatever you call it exactly, the stuff Pampuch is serving up at Corner Table on Sunday mornings makes for a hell of a nice beginning of the end of the weekend. We tried (clockwise, below, from top left) the cinnamon toast with caramelized apples and maple syrup, the postmodern braised beef hash (a tribute to Pampuch’s days at the Modern with Jim Grell), a daily special mushroom scramble, and duck fat-fried potatoes. All good, all the mains under $10 (the potatoes were $4.50), and the combined impact of this sort of an order was glorious — bits of potato, egg, apples, beef, and bread were being passed hither and yon over the table, snarfed down with good coffee. At the end of whatever-you’d-call-the-meal, every plate was clean.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table