Landon Schoenefeld of Birdie

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The chef-owner of three highly regarded restaurants, Landon Schoenefeld is stretched thinner than ever. But he seems happy. And he has good reason to be: At almost six years old, Haute Dish maintains a devoted following downtown (and will soon begin lunch service), and Nighthawks, his take on a classic diner, gathers glowing reviews and clamoring crowds in Kingfield. And now, he has Birdie, an intimate room that creates a constantly evolving tasting menu of a dozen or so dishes for a dozen or so diners at a time. Tickets cost $100 each and include gratuity and tax (beverages are not included); tickets are available via Tempo Tickets and must be purchased in advance.

Schoenefeld is clearly in his element here. He’s having a blast collaborating with his tight crew (Jesse Peine, Brittany St. Claire, and Tlanezi Guzman), each person cooking, prepping, hosting, and serving, with no separation or hierarchy between the front and back of the house. We recently spent the better part of an afternoon at Birdie, eating, taking pictures, and talking with Schoenefeld about everything from meaty beets and Richard Simmons to aged squab and peyote.

HEAVY TABLE: So, how do you see the three restaurants tied together?

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

LANDON SCHOENEFELD: Haute Dish is what I’d call “meat-centric,” and big, hearty plates of food. And Nighthawks, it’s pretty straightforward; we might use a few luxury ingredients but it’s kind of like my vision of what the perfect version of a particular dish is supposed to be, within the diner mold. Birdie is produce-centric with a simplistic approach to a lot of the dishes. We kind of eschew red meat — we haven’t served any beef or lamb. We’ve had some ham and some pork as elements within dishes. We cook a lot of little birds, which I’d never be able to do at Nighthawks [because of cost] — squab, poussin, things like that — and more fish, more seafood.

HEAVY TABLE: What do you mean by produce-centered?

SCHOENEFELD: It means that we get our inspiration from the vegetables that are in season. This time of year, it’s getting a little more difficult. We had been able to use local produce basically up until now: rutabaga, potatoes, beets — storage crops, things of that nature. I always view March as a dead time, especially in Minnesota, and hopefully next year we’ll do even more preservation and fermenting to make that stuff last. So we think about what vegetables are in season first, and that’s how the menu comes together. It’s the glue.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

HEAVY TABLE: Is it a challenge to be vegetable rather than meat-centric?

SCHOENEFELD: Absolutely. I think it’s part of the fun. It’s sort of cool to have the limitations sometimes. Like, we have all this fucking kohlrabi downstairs! We need to ——

HEAVY TABLE: Like getting a CSA box.

SCHOENEFELD: Yeah. Exactly. Though with the CSA box, you just need to come up with something tasty for your family to eat. We feel like we have to elevate that vegetable; we’re really trying to cook special food that people aren’t going to be able to cook at home. Taking a mundane vegetable like rutabaga, and turning that into something cool? That wows people, and that’s sort of our mission.

HEAVY TABLE: Tell me about your team concept, how you work together.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

SCHOENEFELD: I really give everyone their own space. Jesse has a lot of experience, great ideas. She’s worked for me at Haute Dish for a long time, so she’s like my ace in the hole. And then Britt, who’s a great cook — she would cook circles all summer long around the guys at Nighthawks. She was an obvious choice to move over. I tell her, “do this course. Do this course.” I help her develop the ideas, mixing the experience of the old with the enthusiasm of the young. And then T [Tlanezi, above], she just constantly amazes me with the stuff she comes up with. She has a sort of irreverence to her approach, where she’ll throw avocados and weird things you wouldn’t expect in a dessert, and it’ll surprise and delight. And that’s sort of what I’m into.

HEAVY TABLE: Does the menu change every week?

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

SCHOENEFELD: Typically, we change the menu about 50 percent week by week. So if you ate here every two weeks, you’d probably have a completely different menu. We’ve actually saved all of the originals [of the menus], or most of them. We like to do a handwritten menu; it gives a little special touch. Everyone gets one.

HEAVY TABLE: Why did you decide to do tickets?

Lulu’s Lawsuit, Nighthawks, and More

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

The old Shorty & Wags at 38th and Nicollet will become a Landon Schoenefeld joint called Nighthawks, featuring restaurant-within-a-restaurant Birdie. You can help kickstart an effort to bring 3.6 acres of prairie to Cannon Falls. Lulu’s on Selby is seriously unamused by the unrelated Lulu’s Public House (above) at the State Fair. Waseca is going to get its own farm taproom called Half Pint Brewing Company, Minnesota’s first. And the Well Fed Guide to Life hits the State Fair (here’s our exhaustive visit; and don’t forget to enter some photos in our State Fair food photography contest and win big.)