The term “neighborhood restaurant” means different things to different people. Sometimes it refers to casual (opposed to fine) dining spots outside of downtown. Other times it means a place where locals can get accessible, comfortable food in a friendly environment — these are establishments where “everybody knows your name.” We can even think of neighborhood restaurants as spots that become associated with particular locales and lure people from near and far to “the neighborhood.” These are places like Tilia in Linden Hills (Minneapolis), The Kenwood in Kenwood (Minneapolis), and The Strip Club in Dayton’s Bluff (St. Paul). Heyday, the hotly anticipated joint venture of chef Jim Christiansen (La Belle Vie, Union) and front-of-the-house guru Lorin Zinter (La Belle Vie, Sea Change), is on its way to becoming the neighborhood restaurant in Lyn-Lake (Minneapolis).
Although less than a month old, Heyday is already hitting its stride with inventive, well-executed food; solid service; and all around excellent vibe. The restaurant, named after a song by local heroes The Replacements, is definitely of the neighborhood: rustic, stylish, funky, and casual. There’s the worn hardwood floor, slick but still reclaimed chairs with steel backs, strings of chopped seltzer bottle light shades, awesome silverware chandeliers, and appropriately selected tunes (one night featured soulful pop and the other straight-ahead rock). Heyday is cool without pretense, “vintage” without self-righteous irony.
Also fitting of the area, Heyday’s service is relaxed but professional. Zinter sets the tone, checking on tables, answering questions, bussing dishes, and running food. Servers are attentive but not overwhelming, and they check with chefs when they’re unsure about the details of dishes or alterations that might make a picky eater more happily fed. On both visits, we felt welcomed, comfortable, and cared for — an impressive feat for a staff that’s been together for such a short amount of time.
Like nearly all restaurants these days, Heyday claims to be “seasonal.” Unlike most, however, it backs up its rhetoric, and then some. The current menu features some of our favorite spring delicacies, from asparagus and morels to ramps and rhubarb. Chilled dishes, grilled meats and veggies, and light, herbaceous sauces led to us to declare: “Now this is spring. I love spring!”
Christiansen skillfully blends invention and restraint, producing playful (but not silly), focused, visually stunning fare. Chilled asparagus with parmesan crisps and horseradish and lemon “pudding” ($9) is both familiar and surprising (and so good we ordered it both visits). Crispy lamb belly with grilled romaine and sugar snap peas ($11) is a simultaneously simple and complex dish that allows each scrumptious ingredient to shine. The most memorable raw meat dish we’ve had in a very long time, the lamb tartare ($9) has a subtle chili kick, brininess from tiny elderberry capers, and richness from the impeccably fresh and flavorful lamb. Fried artichokes and toast give the silky dish pleasant crunchiness. The menu is replete with similarly wonderful combinations of contrasting textures.
Perhaps no dish better expresses Christiansen’s vision than the chicken liver tart with rhubarb compote ($9), which masterfully performs the sweet-savory tango. The flaky crust provides a little crunch, while a tiny bed of fresh greens and sliced fennel adds freshness. The dish is fun, funky, and oh-so-flavorful; it likely could win over even the most diehard offal skeptics.
Heyday’s thoughtful playfulness extends to its cheese plates and desserts. Christiansen combines cheeses and accompaniments into cohesive concoctions that draw on, but don’t lean on, the standards. We greatly enjoyed the combo of comté, walnuts, honey, and brioche ($5) — another fantastic, balanced mix of flavors and textures. Rogue River blue cheese paired brilliantly with tiny onion rings and a slightly sweet shallot jam ($5).
Pastry chef Diane Yang (pulling double duty at Heyday and La Belle Vie) is laying out some of the best sweets in the Twin Cities. While we really liked all four of Yang’s dishes, we absolutely loved a bizarre-sounding dessert featuring vanilla crème fraîche ice cream, rhubarb granite, frozen licorice, and orange ($7). We almost passed because frozen licorice seemed like one powerful ingredient too many. Thankfully, we indulged and found the subtle anise of the frosty, fractured licorice pulled the other flavors into an awesome, refreshing whole under a delicate fort of rhubarb shards that melted in the mouth. Although novel, Yang’s creations are still identifiable as dessert. Heyday is the rare restaurant that incorporates the gizmos of molecular gastronomy to elaborate on and enhance a menu that never feels too far from home.
We were impressed, too, by the young restaurant’s attention to detail. Rolls are made with spent grain from Indeed Brewing, and they come with equally outstanding house-cultured butter to smear on them. Then there’s the gratis apple and pine gummies and white chocolate squares delivered at the end of the meal. And, there’s the carefully crafted wine list, featuring well-priced, interesting, food-friendly selections (both bottles and glasses) from vineyards far-fetched enough to keep oenophiles of all stripes purring. By focusing so intensely on little things that many other restaurants ignore or push aside, Heyday makes the diner feel special and the dinner well worth the expense.
Although Heyday is doing so much right, it shouldn’t come as surprise that such a green restaurant exhibits a few growing pains. There were some issues with seasoning during our second meal, with over-salted beets and morels and an over-sweetened broth in a dish of pulled pork and clams. Given that the kitchen put out a series of skillfully prepared proteins — including succulent squab ($19), chicken thighs with exquisitely crisp skin ($11), and mouthwatering beef filet ($24) — we were surprised to receive overcooked monkfish ($16). We had a similar response when served a sickly sweet and boring non-alcoholic cocktail along with two well-made, balanced, and fully loaded drinks.
Considering Christiansen and Zinter’s clear commitment to excellence, we’re confident they’ll quickly remedy these minor issues. And if Heyday builds on its hot start, it will help more firmly establish Lyn-Lake as a prime destination for dining, drinking, and good cheer.
Modern American in Lyn-Lake, Minneapolis
2700 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Every day: dinner service, 5-10pm; bar menu, 10pm-12am
CHEF / OWNERS: Jim Christiansen / Lorin Zinter and Mike Prickett
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $9-$24