Editor’s Note: Le Town Talk Diner is now closed.
It’s easy to look back on the late, great Town Talk Diner (which closed in 2011 after some embezzlement shenanigans at its corporate parent) with a haze of nostalgia. The Miller High Life champagne service was witty as hell. Mixologically speaking, it was always a blast; the atmosphere regularly felt like a successful cocktail party, and the menu often boasted some of the finest batter-fried cheese curds in the region (and therefore, the world).
Beyond that, however, the place had its ups and downs. The food was never cheap, but it was sporadically mediocre, and the noise level hovered somewhere between “lumberyard” and “demolition derby.”
Now, a new incarnation of the East Lake Street gorgeous-sign-with-a-restaurant-attached has sprung to life, boasting a warm, funky interior with an ambient sound level that allows for conversation below a bellow. And despite a somewhat slapdash approach to naming and branding (Town Talk is now the French-themed Le Town Talk), there’s a lot to love about this fresh take by Marseille native Emilie Cellai.
Let’s start with the burger. Perhaps we should end with the burger as well, since this thing is a game-changer. The Marseille Burger ($10) is ravishingly good. Is it the onion glaze? The mysterious, but savory “burger sauce”? The surprisingly light, almost airy beef patty that is a perfect partner to the quality bun that it wears like a dinner jacket? It’s not entirely clear, but what is absolutely evident is that this is a burger to give the Vincent Burger a run for its money. The thin and crispy fries that accompany it are also worth returning for.
The Poulet ($14) is a chicken done right, with ratatouille, herbs, garlic, and jus. There’s not much going on here, and there doesn’t have to be — a simple dish like this can taste hearty, classic, and savory all at once.
Dessert for us was a peach Tarte Tatin ($5), and in true European fashion, the dish showed off the flavors of caramelized fruit and a bright splash of creme fraiche. It may have been sweet, but thankfully, it was no sugar bomb.
And we drank well, too. A St. Honoré ($9) combined St. Germain, grapefruit, apricot brandy, and prosecco to make an intensely citric, but light, sparkling cocktail, while our Calva Julep ($9; mint, prosecco, Calvados, Angostura) fronted the apple brandy and mint and sparkled as well.
We visited Le Town Talk for brunch and enjoyed ourselves as well. The Crêpe Salée ($5) featured free-range eggs, ham, and Gruyere, and was a pleasantly eggy and chewy affair, dressed with a strong, but ultimately pleasant spritz of fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
And Le Breakfast ($10) is a tour de force, with whole, roasted fingerling potatoes, compellingly light and non-greasy breakfast sausage, veggies, and two free-range eggs prepared how you like them (we liked them poached.)
This is the part of the review wherein the critic would take a step back and chastise the establishment for its shortcomings. So far, though, Le Town Talk’s greatest crime is its nearly unreadable menu, which arrives smeared with a clown-car’s worth of fonts and enough untranslated French to give anyone but a Francophile a mild headache. (Some of us know what gougères are, and can additionally appreciate the pâte à choux from which they are made and the mushroom duxelles with which they are stuffed; those of us who don’t, however, will understandably find them a difficult dish to order.) The gougères ($5), by the way, are rich, delicious, and a steal at the price. The accompanying beer cream just tasted like … well, cream, but the mustard cream was a lovely, spicy, creamy delight.
Did we mention the Marseille Burger? We did? Oh, good. Order that; you’ll like it.
Le Town Talk French Diner & Drinkery
2707 E Lake St, Minneapolis
OWNERS: Emilie Cellai and Ben Johnson
ENTREE RANGE: $10-22
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: It’s a stretch / No