The Lynhall in Minneapolis
It’s hard to be truly excellent at just one thing. Being excellent at a half dozen things is a lot trickier.
The Lynhall, a stylish new eatery in the Calhoun-Isles neighborhood of South Minneapolis, bills itself as a “market-inspired cafe, event space, kitchen studio, and incubator kitchen.” In one fell swoop, The Lynhall sets out to do quite a lot. In scope, space, and concept, it’s ambitious. To the everyday diner, this translates to a counter-service restaurant and bakery that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily — along with an espresso bar, and wine, beer and cocktail service. There just happens to be a TV kitchen studio on site, and half the restaurant is sometimes shuttered for private dining events. Overall, we found The Lynhall to be a bit of a mess — but a sometimes appealing one.
Let’s start at the front door. Step into The Lynhall, and you’ll find yourself in a restaurant of some kind. What that restaurant is, and how it works, is a little mysterious at first glance.
We found out, after a long period of oafish gazing, that you order food at a counter in the back — but first you must “enter through the gift shop,” as it were. On our initial visit to The Lynhall for dinner, we were greeted by a fully realized brand, hard at work. Aesthetically, the space is a meticulously curated Pinterest board come to life, teeming with Stuff White People Like: brass accents and white tile, marble, bold light fixtures, reclaimed wood, shelves full of brass and copper knickknacks that look straight out of a West Elm catalogue, flat paint finishes, candelabras, and creamy shades of green-gray. Upon entry, you are welcomed by a table full of merch emblazoned with The Lynhall’s motto (Eat. Drink. Gather. Grow.), and a sign exhorting you to “Join our online community!” Their Instagram handle and preferred hashtag are featured prominently.
A greeting like that inspires our bullshit antennae to extend rigidly, expectantly, longingly. And yet with a concept as overflowing as The Lynhall’s, perhaps we can give it the benefit of the doubt, and not immediately assume that the mission-driven language and community-building goals described on its website are a cynical attempt to acquire a Scrooge-MacDuck-sized vault’s worth of free PR via its customers’ endless ‘Gramming. After all, it takes a lot of time, energy, and passion to create a place like this. And money. And while it’s clear that a lot of resources were poured into the space and the concept, the flavors of the food itself don’t yet live up to the promise held within the meticulous design and branding. After all, you can’t lick a light fixture. Or at least not without some kind of social penalty.
So, let’s talk about the food. For dinner, we ordered what seemed an appealing variety of dishes. The menu is divvied up into Sandwiches, Salads, Sides, and From the Rotisserie. First up was the Brioche Open Faced ($11), essentially a gussied up avocado toast. Beautifully composed, with thinly shaved raw veggies and pickles, it looked the part, and we spied other diners snapping photos of the selfsame dish with their phones. But its flavor fell flat. Avocados need salt, and this sandwich was not seasoned. The raw veggies were watery. The pickled veggies were few and lacked the punchy zing we hoped for. The brioche that supported this beautiful mess was dry and tough. A total miss that an Instagram filter can’t make taste better.
From the rotisserie, we tried the Pork Belly ($12 for a half pound). And boy, were we bummed out. A plate of sliced, jiggling pork belly and a single, thin slice of wan, stale bread, all of it drizzled halfheartedly with olive oil, was set down in front of us, insulting the life of the hog that it once belonged to. Properly cooking a pork belly is not rocket science — it’s pretty much a Ron Popeil set-it-and-forget-it affair. The Lynhall’s belly hadn’t been cooked long enough to turn the fat unctuous and delectable, leaving us with a plate full of chewy, tough strips of greasy sadness.
The Arugula Salad ($10) sounded promising and looked appealing on the plate with its ricotta salata, charred carrots, and cured olive powder, yet it had little flavor. The charred carrots were limp, barely browned things that offered nothing. No acidic kick was present to counter the peppery greens.
A side of Grilled Vegetables with Romesco Aioli ($7) was beyond forgettable, the less said about it, the better.
The Charred Sweet Potato ($5), however, was memorable in that it was egregiously terrible. A fat, whole sweet potato arrived on a plate, split at the top, not charred by any stretch of the imagination (is this kitchen staff afraid of fire?), drizzled in a cumin yogurt and garnished with pomegranate seeds and pepitas. The potato was barely warm, its texture and flavor reminiscent of canned pumpkin — mushy and Gerberlike. Everything else just tasted strongly of cumin. No salt was detectable. Our dining companion took one bite and physically pushed the dish away.
In all, these dishes added up to a supremely disappointing meal. The tap cocktails we sampled fared no better: The Homestead Sangria ($8) revealed none of the pink peppercorn or minted green tea flavors listed. The Wisdom, Silver, Knowledge & Gold ($9) billed itself as a concoction of aquavit, celery, rose, and lime. It turned out to taste like a celery soda, just as sweet as a Pepsi, which would’ve been preferable.
Along with the confusing combination of counter service and sort-of-table-service, the dinner experience at The Lynhall left us feeling baffled and unsatisfied. The overall impression was that everything we ate had been assembled, rather than cooked; that the elements of every dish were just waiting, separated in their sixpans, and thrown together prettily without any sense of flavor and cohesion.
We came back for breakfast hoping for better, and we were relieved to find it.
The entire vibe of The Lynhall made more sense in the morning. The bar counter was stocked with great-looking pastries, and sunlight streamed in through the large windows as patrons gathered at the communal tables with coffee. First up for us was the French Toast ($9): two massive planks of sturdy, eggy bread topped with more whipped cream than any human should eat in one sitting (and excellent whipped cream, at that), a generous amount of fresh berries, and real maple syrup. It was a relief to sink a fork into this monstrosity, take a breath, and find that all hope was not lost at The Lynhall.
Next came the Potato Sourdough Tartine ($12), a strikingly beautiful dish with every garnish tweezed into place. The sourdough itself was nicely marked from the grill, topped with soft scrambled eggs, ricotta, smashed peas, and wide, curling ribbons of gorgeous speck. While not fully realized — the textures of the eggs, cheese, and peas were too similar — the sourdough’s tang came through, and the speck lent its salty richness. At $12, however, the value felt problematic for a smallish open-faced breakfast sandwich.
Our third breakfast dish was the Smoked Pork Belly ($13), and once again, the crushing disappointment of The Lynhall’s pork-belly preparation was on full display — and somehow worse this time around. A slice of the dinnertime belly was grilled for this dish, making it even tougher, like a thin, leathery pork chop. Thankfully, the underlying breakfast was redeemed by properly crisp and salted red potatoes, a bit of hollandaise, and a finely poached egg.
We returned one final time for lunch, and found that The Lynhall is at its most appealing in the afternoon. The bakery cases at the back counter were filled with fantastic-looking pastries, savory tarts, and desserts, as well as some ready-made sandwiches and deli salads. People were casually working on laptops, clearly savoring the comfortable environs and not feeling rushed to eat and run. Small meetings were being held here and there, and the drip coffee was excellent and freely flowing with self-administered refills. The overall mood of The Lynhall at breakfast and lunch was that of a really great lobby in a boutique hotel — more of a way station than a destination.
We grabbed an open-faced chicken salad sandwich from the cooler along with a side of grilled brocollini. Both were solid; nothing much to crow about, but satisfying and hearty, and far better than anything we had for dinner. We followed it up with a coffee and a rum-toffee banana bread topped with whipped cream and berries. It didn’t dazzle, but it did the job, and it was a pleasure to linger over our laptop near a sunny window to write this review.
And all that lingering led to some additional thoughts: In an age when marketing is interwoven so completely into almost every daily experience, what does the concept of community mean? Can it be manufactured from scratch by a roomful of “creatives” and a whiteboard, or can it only be earned — its qualities defined by an inexact process of people doing, being, failing, succeeding, and giving over time? As long as a few buzzwords and a hashtag are tossed in there, is that enough? Does it even matter?
In the same vein, what elevates a meal from simple assembly to cooking? What separates eating from dining? As long as some trendy ingredients are in the mix and everything looks Instagrammable, does it even matter anymore?
Lofty musings that are outside the purview of a restaurant review, perhaps, yet our experiences at The Lynhall got us thinking about such things. While the space itself is beautiful, the concept ambitious, and the “online community” apparently robust, we found the old chestnut “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” to ring true here. As far as we can tell, The Lynhall’s best trade is being photographed. As a close second, it’s a solid neighborhood place to eat and gather for breakfast and lunch — and we can always use more of those. We hope to see The Lynhall improve and grow into its shoes as time goes by.
Fast casual cafe in South Minneapolis
2640 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
OWNER: Anne Spaeth
Sun-Thu 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $11-$28
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate to amenable din