PHOTOGRAPHS BY VICTORIA CAMPBELL / HEAVY TABLE
One of the people at our table at Churchill Street summed up the experience this way: “I didn’t expect a restaurant in Shoreview to be this great.” Suburban restaurants have long been viewed, not necessarily incorrectly, as Applebees Lite™. The first generation of indie restaurants often included great Thai, Vietnamese, and Mexican spots, but less happened in the transition to something akin to fine dining. But there’s been movement in a more positive direction for some time now as restaurateurs realize there are people living in these cities that appreciate good food and locally owned businesses. Spots like Lat14, :D-Spot, and Lyn65 have changed the game in recent years, creating a reverse commute for discerning diners wanting fine foods closer to home.
Churchill Street’s pedigree is formidable; its staff includes veterans from The Bachelor Farmer and French Laundry, as well as a pastry chef who previously worked at Rustica and The Bachelor Farmer. The space itself is welcoming and comfortable. The restaurant is designed to be a community gathering space, open five days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., so it cycles throughout the day into a coffee spot, lunch date, happy hour, and finally upscale dinner. On our visit, there were people drinking coffee and working on laptops who segued into wine glasses and dinner plates.
It’s not an entirely full-service restaurant in that customers place orders at a counter, and there’s a self-serve water station with both still and sparkling water. But there were plenty of friendly staff members checking in on diners to see what they needed once their meals had been delivered.
We started with cocktails, both with and without alcohol. The Sherry Jubilee ($12) had a daunting list of ingredients—vodka, Tattersall Sour Cherry, sherry, lemon, and cinnamon—but the drink itself was gentle, the cinnamon barely noticeable rather than taking over the drink. It turned out to pair well with food. In contrast, the Ginger & Mary Ann ($6) with orange bitters, grenadine, and ginger beer, was a gingery, spicy drink that was refreshing and would be great on a warm summer day (if we ever get one of those again.)
We liked everything we tasted and would happily order any of it again, not least because everything was presented so beautifully. An appetizer of arancini ($12) elicited oohs and aahs when it arrived. The fried risotto balls were perfectly crispy on the outside without being greasy, the risotto inside creamy and yet light. The accompanying marinara sauce was bright and sharp, a complement to the rich arancini.
The menu offered Brussels sprouts, ubiquitous in restaurants these days, but we were intrigued by something that we don’t see in that many places: Cabbage ($9, above left), in this case caramelized with caraway cream, pickled mustard seeds, and breadcrumbs. We don’t think we’ve ever cheered on a cabbage dish as much as we’re about to with this one, but it’s great to see cabbage given a serious, thoughtful turn. The silky, creamy cabbage contrasted with the crunchy breadcrumbs, with the caraway and mustard just lightly applied rather than added until overwhelming. It ended up being a surprisingly complex, delicious dish. We saw it show up on several other tables, and one person at our table ordered a second batch to take home.
The entrees weren’t breaking new ground, but delivered traditional turns beautifully done. The steak frites ($32) was a grilled medium-rare flank steak in a poivre sauce that was rich and redolent of brandy and butter. The accompanying frites were that blessing of a fried potato that’s crispy on the outside without being overly greasy, while inside the potato was hot and melty, not undercooked.
Mushroom risotto ($24) was a joyful version of a classic. Studded with mushrooms and loads of fresh herbs, the dish was topped with a crisped parmesan crust. It was a great reminder that the classics are classics for a reason.
Dessert was butterscotch pudding ($8, opposite the cabbage photo above), which was delightful to look at. Flavorwise, it was a nod to childhood puddings from the little cardboard box, but this version was definitely the more grownup one. The pudding itself was sweet, but had an undertone of caramelization that undercut that. The whipped cream was dotted with chocolate pearls that added some needed crunch. The accompanying almond brittle was a good pairing, although it could have been crunchier.
Still, that’s a very minor complaint. Overall, it’s not only enjoyable, but exciting to see chefs and restaurateurs branching out from Minneapolis and St. Paul and bringing well-conceived-and-executed eateries to the outer circles. Given how busy Churchill Street was on our weeknight visit, we’re not alone in feeling this way.
Churchill Street, 4606 Churchill St., Shoreview, 612.466.2596, WED-SUN 7am-9pm MON-TUE CLOSED