Quickly – name your favorite restaurant in the suburbs west of Wayzata. Unless you live out that way, you probably don’t have one. Not that there aren’t some good holes in the wall (Countryside Cafe in Hamel, anyone?), but it doesn’t seem like gastronomic expectations run very high on the western fringe of the metro. So when this author was first told to visit Bistro 11 in Loretto, the initial reaction was, “Who in Loretto has the nerve to call their restaurant a bistro?” After a couple visits, any fears of pretense were relieved by a solid array of classic menu staples, thoughtfully prepared and presented.
The aforementioned nerve belongs to Kyle McBride and Kristin Rotter (below, right) who opened Bistro 11 in April. Veterans of the beverage and hospitality industries, respectively, they looked to open a family-oriented, casual restaurant in an area sorely in need of just that. They’ve created a two-for-one restaurant – a hangout for pizza, burgers, and tap beer, or one just as suitable for a four-course chef-driven spread. They opened in the former space of Retro Roast & Fountain, a Fifties-style coffee shop (the checkerboard floor even remains). It has the look of Victory 44 with a broader color palate, its walls adorned by a series of bizarre paintings of colorful squiggles (which are probably the most disagreeable aspect of the restaurant overall).
Chef Andrew Suthers (above, left) was chosen to helm the menu drawing on his impressive pedigree, which includes time as head chef at Biella in Excelsior and chef de cuisine at David Fhima’s Louis XIII. His last two plus years were with Parasole – opening Burger Jones, stints at Manny’s and Pittsburgh Blue, and creating the bar menus at Living Room and Prohibition. His approach at Bistro 11 is entirely from scratch – seasonal, fresh, and local. He cites farms in Buffalo, MN, and the farmers market conveniently located next door as favorite suppliers. Fresh seafood from The Fish Guys features prominently in his specials. His menu is full of unassuming standards with a premium on execution. Nothing is avant-garde, deconstructed, or reimagined – there’s no need to reinvent the wheel in Loretto, after all.
For appetizers, the crab cakes ($10) are a light and airy version of the classic. They don’t have as much of a crust as some people might expect on a crab cake, but that’s an issue of preference. The chunks of red pepper instead create the textural contrast to the soft crab. The most successful appetizer is the shrimp tacos ($11), four hard shells filled with a wonderful shrimp ceviche, topped with a big slice of avocado. It’s a delicate flavor and if there’s a knock on the dish, it’s that there’s not enough of it in each taco. The ceviche could stand alone on future menu iterations – in a small bowl with a some tortilla chips for scooping. The shrimp corn dogs ($10) were slightly amiss. The ambition to bring a touch of class to stick cuisine is appreciated, but the result isn’t quite there. The layer of batter around the shrimp is very thin and the shrimp ends up slightly tough. It’s not the spongy, rich texture you would expect – it’s closer to satay than State Fair. It should be said — this is likely Bistro 11’s most popular starter, so maybe they just suffer from a misnomer.
Bistro 11’s soup and sandwich fare is exactly like you’d expect on any lunch menu. It’s the hamburgers that are certainly the standouts of this menu section. The bright flavor of the beef overshadows whatever additions it’s topped with. The Harvest Burger ($9) is your best choice, with pancetta and thinly sliced apples striking a nice salty-sweet contrast under the rich Tillamook cheddar. The Bistro features a gas-fired pizza oven and a fair section of their menu is devoted to their 10-inch pies, which sport a beautifully crispy thin crust. The Mushroom Taleggio ($9) is an earthy and dense combo, one only for the serious mushroom lover.
Pastas and other entrees experience the most seasonal turnover, and the late-fall lineup speaks highly of Suthers’ talents. The butternut squash ravioli ($15) had an expressive flavor to the filling, drizzled with creamy gorgonzola which thankfully did not overwhelm the squash. They were cooked a very firm al dente, and the slightly soupy texture of the filling was a trivial complaint on an otherwise good dish.
Osso bucco ($23) was the clear standout among entrees. The pork shank was tender as could be, accompanied by a smoky red-wine tomato sauce that this author could have ordered a glass of were it on the drinks menu. Restaurant gnocchi are often dense, flavorless potato bombs, but Bistro 11’s gnocchi were delicious and obviously homemade. Light and lumpy, almost approaching tater-tot texture, they were heavenly when dragged through the sauce and the dollop of herbed ricotta. The dressed arugula adds a nice bitter counterpart to the savory pork. The same herbed ricotta tops the bucatini ($17), which, while slightly overpriced, is a perfect counterpart to the rich pork and veal meatballs.
On the dessert menu, the Apple Pie for Two ($12) was really more of a pot pie – a baking dish topped with a layer of crust. The apples in the filling were crispier than expected and the filling was largely devoid of the apple-cinnamon goo that is the hallmark of many apple pies. The top crust was almost more of a cake texture, spongy rather than flaky. Not quite the pie you’d expect, but a light and tasty finisher.
You likely won’t leave Bistro 11 with a game-changing dining experience. The menu’s familiarity, seemingly want of personality, completely belies the passion behind it. The Duck Menage A Trois ($24) is the prime example – juicy duck breast over confit risotto and bits of duck cracklings flavoring the chard on top. It’s a dish with a three-day process using the duck head-to-tail and is, like the restaurant itself, quietly brilliant. Bistro 11 produces the classics – painstakingly well. It is attention to detail that pushes them from satisfactory to very satisfying.
BEST BET: The Osso Buco ($23) – Savory, tangy and perfectly balanced.
115 Railway Street W
Loretto, MN 55357
Sun & Mon: 4pm–11pm
CHEF: Andrew Suthers
OWNERS: Kyle McBride and Kristin Rotter
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / On Weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / By Request (and Gluten-Free Pizzas)
ENTREE RANGE: $9 – $27