Almendinger to Creamery Cafe, Scena, and More

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This week in the Tap: Our columnist looks at an important move for a local chef, gets fired up for the star-powered Scena Tavern, parses the distillery deluge, praises cheese “cakes” … and a morel festival at The Sample Room.

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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

Peter Sieve / Heavy Table
Peter Sieve / Heavy Table

Almendinger Departing Third Bird, Scena, the Distillery Deluge, and Cheese Wheel Cakes

Seward Co-op’s new restaurant on Franklin Avenue has picked up some serious culinary firepower. LUCAS ALMENDINGER (above right, with Steven Brown) will be moving from The Third Bird over to the soon-to-open Co-op Creamery Cafe in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. He starts at the Creamery Cafe in a few weeks, and the Cafe should open its doors at the end of July, says the Creamery’s production manager Chad Snelson.

With Seward’s extensive experience sourcing quality local ingredients and its acquisition of a proven chef, there’s no reason why it can’t turn the Cafe into a blockbuster … assuming it can find the neighborhood’s price point for various meals, a target that can often be elusive. The Seward neighborhood has seen a surge of good food (from serious curry at Tracy’s to the newly opened Mon Petit Chéri to the terribly named but surprisingly good Sober Fish), but the Cafe will be doing three meals a day and will have to balance an impulse to push the limits of farm-to-table cuisine with the day-to-day competition for the frugal, hungry, but potentially loyal breakfast diner. It’s an exciting struggle, and a chance to put a finger on the pulse of Seward, Longfellow, and other nearby neighborhoods.

Jamie Malone at Sea Change
Peter Sieve & Justin Blair / Heavy Table

There’s no time to breathe: barely a fortnight has passed since Nighthawks started slinging its high-concept diner fare, and SCENA is already sucking up the oxygen as the Next Big Thing. As well it should — the upcoming restaurant (to be located at 2943 Girard Ave S in Minneapolis) combines the culinary forces of proven creators Jamie Malone (above) and Erik Anderson (below), who will be contributing extensive consulting and training to the new venture, and selecting its executive chef.

The restaurant’s press release name-checks some digging-a-page-deeper European favorites, including carbineros (big prawns that will be prepared live at the Scena Crudo bar), house-extruded canestri (pasta), and steamed clams with ’nduja (one of our favorite types of charcuterie, thanks to the version produced by Madison’s Underground Food Collective.)

Bringing Anderson and Malone into this big-money project in a consulting, asterisk-laden way could be anything between brilliant and classically dumb, depending on how things play out — if the two are merely fine-cuisine window dressing for an indifferently run, pump-out-the-standards Uptown meat market, the blast of pre-opening acclaim will boomerang as expectations are dashed; if the duo are successfully mined for their smarts and experience, the place should be a big, lovely, culinary powerhouse in a part of the city where young people with money want to eat smart, current food.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Heavy Table knows both Malone and Anderson and digs their cooking. If their influence definitively shapes the way Scena buys its product, cooks, and serves, Uptown should have a new powerhouse on its hands. We talked to Malone at some length for a story we wrote about battle wounds in the kitchen. She talked about why chefs do what they do, and said: “I often will think about that and wonder: What personality does it take to do this for a living … ? Maybe it’s pretty well known that cooks tend to be more on the introverted side of things. So maybe it’s a way of expressing care for others in a way that we don’t know how to do otherwise.”

And if you’ve got a free hour, grab a glass of something special, and pore over our 5,000-word debrief with Anderson, who talked to our own Peter Sieve about great skate dishes, the success of Tilia, and the appeal of timeless food.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

A TORRENT OF DISTILLED SPIRITS is washing across the Land of 10,000 Lakes, drowning local spirits aficionados in white whiskeys, gins, aquavits, rums, ryes, and more. Craft spirits offer a wild frontier opportunity that is in increasing contrast to the possibly approaching plateau of breweries and taprooms, the latter of which have sprouted across the state like mushrooms. Distillers on the horizon include Lawless Distilling, Twin Spirits Distillery, and Tattersall Distilling, and there will no doubt be others sauntering up to the starting line in the months to come.

Lawless founder Nate Karnitz, commenting in the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal, sums up the mentality pretty well: “When I was in school I started seeing [new distillers] popping up in Minneapolis, and I thought it would be better to get in at the ground level rather than trying to break into craft beer, which is in its fifth or sixth wave now.”

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Like the taproom boom, the distillery deluge has at least two components —

One is the production of beer or hard spirits and the selling of those spirits through liquor stores, restaurants, and bars. Conventional wisdom says that this is where the real money is, but not everyone can be Summit, or Phillips, or Surly — particularly when all of those big spirits makers are still aggressively engaged in maintaining and expanding their place in the market. At the moment, there’s a big novelty premium for putting out a quality locally distilled vodka or gin, and bartenders are eagerly mixing and showing off the local hooch — but at some point in the near future, the 12th or 14th or 27th painstakingly wrought Minnesota rye won’t elicit even a politely stifled yawn from drinkers and scene-watchers.

The other is the neighborhood real estate aspect of the boom. A brewery or distillery can make a fair-to-mediocre product and profit mightily if their taproom or cocktail room is located correctly and packed to the gills with locals and tourists celebrating the act of drinking locally. You can muddle through as a brewer or distiller but create a sparkling local business with a well-located venue that can catch cash from special events, private parties, weekly specials, limited releases, and all manner of other promotion that keeps the customers coming back for more. The potential for cocktail rooms to enrich Minnesota’s nightlife is real and wonderful, and it will help popularize the view of spirits as great local food, and not (merely) a fine way to fire up a buzz.

Becca Dilley Photography
Becca Dilley Photography

This is really a minor point, but it’s one very near and dear to my heart: brides (and other conspicuous celebrants) are starting to realize the appeal and value of trotting out CHEESE WHEEL CAKES. We live in an era when a top-of-line wedding cake can easily drift into the low four figures, but a massive 20-pound wheel of something lovely (like SarVecchio parmesan from Wisconsin’s Sartori, for example) runs a mere $320 and makes a perfect bottom layer for an Upper Midwestern cheese array that would proudly anchor even a mammoth celebration. Wisconsin leads the way, at the moment: Lindsay Christians has the scoop (or the slice, or the wedge, or whatever) over in the Cap Times.

— James Norton

Becca Dilley Photography / Flak Radio's 100th Episode
Becca Dilley Photography / Flak Radio’s 100th Episode

The Weekend Starts Now at The Bachelor Farmer (Taping of Episodes 1 and 2 from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, May 28)
50 2nd Ave N, Minneapolis

The premiere taping of the Heavy Table / Secrets of the City podcast The Weekend Starts Now takes place this Thursday night in the Afghan Room at the Bachelor Farmer. Hosts James Norton and Taylor Carik will present an irreverent but enthusiastic rundown of arts, culture, food, and drink taking place in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area, while entertaining a variety of guests and keeping their live audience guessing.

Guests will include illustrator-about-town WACSO and writer M.C. Cronin, Chef Paul Berglund, and Eric Dayton, with more names to be announced in dramatic last-minute fashion.

Tickets are free (and available online), but are nearly gone, so act quickly if you’re interested.

If and when tickets run out, don’t despair — 30 (free) tickets are available via Eventbrite for the taping of episodes 3 and 4 at the Chef Shack Ranch at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 8.

Ted Held / Heavy Table
Ted Held / Heavy Table

MN Morel Fest at the Sample Room (Saturday, May 30, 3-10 p.m.)
2124 Marshall St, Minneapolis

A who’s who collection of local chefs (Thomas Boemer of Corner Table; Jim Christiansen of Heyday; Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable; Todd MacDonald of the soon-to-open Parella; and Nick O’Leary of Smack Shack) will be serving up various wild preparations of morel mushrooms for the gratification of the masses at the end of this month. Live music, all-star bartenders, and chef-MC Sameh Wadi all threaten to make the event a great deal of fun. Tickets are sold on a sliding basis: $75 gets a 3 p.m. entry and the choicest VIP morsels; $55 gets a 4:30 p.m. entry and a full spread of mushroom dishes; and $0 gets a 7 p.m. entry, with music and food available for purchase.


Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table


  • T’s Place in Minneapolis
  • Pairings in Minnetonka
  • El Burrito Mercado (Midtown Global Market location)
  • Umbria Pizza in Eden Prairie
  • Sapor (closing June 2015)
  • School II Bistro in Chanhassen
  • Bars Bakery (both locations)
  • Nye’s Polonaise Room (closing 2015)



St. Paul

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
  • 11 Wells Millwright Cocktail Room, Historic Hamm Building, St. Paul | Spring 2015
  • Lexington (new ownership), 1096 Grand Ave, St. Paul | Spring 2015
  • Saint Dinette, 280 E 5th St, St. Paul | June 2015

Greater Twin Cities Area and Beyond

The Tap is the Heavy Table’s guide to area restaurant openings, closings, and other major events. The Tap is compiled and published biweekly by the Heavy Table. If you have tips for The Tap, please email James Norton at