Head to dinner at the North Loop’s newest fine dining establishment without an address scribbled down, and there’s an excellent chance you’ll miss it. With little in the way of signage (the only indication we were in the right place was a couple of trendy twenty-somethings asking for IDs and a subtle laminate on the door), at first glance the Bachelor Farmer seems more like a chic invite-only speakeasy than your standard Minnesota eatery. (Read our story about a dinner party that contains some of the restaurant’s origins).
While the chic speakeasy bit is partially true — the restaurant is owned by Governor Mark Dayton’s sons, and we spotted the governor and Senator Amy Klobuchar dining at a nearby table on a recent visit – the place seems more like a – well, a bachelor farmer. You know, a working class guy with an honest upbringing, aspiring to make it in the big city with a more modern spin on things than the generation he succeeds. Sappy, yes – but pale hardwood tables with industrial metal legs, old-school Scandinavian-inspired blue heart wallpaper, and simultaneously hipster-and-homey blue gingham awnings make the restaurant seem right at home in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District. Open for more than a month, the restaurant offers a menu that has experienced a number of minor tweaks and still reads “friends and family.” Whether that promises a final sweeping overhaul down the road remains to be seen.
As it stands, the menu is packed with well-executed classic cocktails and Scandinavian standards with a modern spin. Excluding drinks, it’s split into five categories: appetizers, toasts, entrees, sides, and desserts.
Drinks at The Bachelor Farmer stick to the classics — if you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, head downstairs to the quirkier Marvel Bar (read our take here). In our experience, the Old Fashioned was akin to the pre-Prohibition Era drink — no sugar packets, Maraschino cherries, or Sprite — it was bracingly strong (in our book, this is a good thing) and eschewed the cloying sweetness so frequently found in modern incarnations of the drink. The Sidecar was similarly constructed: strong, well-balanced, no filler.
What better way to start a meal at a Scandinavian-style restaurant than with lox? This version was cured in-house to great effect – silky texture and buttery, dill-tinged flavor without an overwhelming presence of salt or fishiness. The accompanying scrambled eggs were topped with a potent mixture of herbs and onions that broke up the richness of the eggs and lox.
Fried Pacific Cod, Spring Onions, Green Beans ($11) was essentially tempura-battered bar food done right – the onions had give without being soggy; the fish was flaky and tender. The lemon caper aioli dipping sauce was tasty and added just enough kick for the cod – overall, a pleasant, non-greasy, balanced snack.
If you’re looking for a flavor bomb, get the Grilled Sausage, Lefse, Pickled Beets, Grain Mustard ($10). The sausage was packed with spices, which played nicely with the tang of the beets and the spice of the mustard. The lefse makes an excellent, flavor-neutral vehicle to carry the otherwise volatile flavors.
A healthier option, the chilled kale soup ($7), split our group. The earthy broth tasted like pureed kale with just enough body, in part due to a dollop of crème fraiche – however, there were a few objections that it tasted “too healthy” – a bit like something one might drink on a juice cleanse. We found the Bibb Lettuces, Montforte Blue Cheese, Walnuts, Cider Vinegar ($9) — really well seasoned and balanced, with the right level of acid — delicate and delicious.
By virtue of a charming little rack of toast (which, even after it grew cold, retained a perfect balance of crunchy-yet-chewy texture), the substantial appetizer or light meal toast options were reasonably filling. The Gravlax, Sweet Mustard, Cucumbers ($13) was a nice take on a classic, featuring spot-on, lightly pickled cucumber slices and house-cured gravlax. A rather tangy, country-style mustard offered a not entirely unwelcome, rustic spin on the smooth, sweet stuff often served with gravlax.
The mustard reappeared in the Rabbit Liver Pâté, Grain Mustard, Dried Cherries, Hazelnuts ($10) as a sidekick to the smooth, rich pâté. The flavor catalysts in this dish seemed to be the cherries and hazelnuts – though sparsely sprinkled, they added some rich depth and texture to the otherwise smooth pâté. Also good: Shaved Eye of Round, Pickled Yellow Wax Beans, Arugula, Capers ($11). Despite a number of strong flavors, the varied textures and flavors played off one another harmoniously. Less exciting was the Baked Camembert Cheese, Summer Vegetables ($8) – though pleasant and comforting, this one reminded me of a cauliflower-heavy version of the veggies on toast I always abhorred growing up.
If you’ve had as many mediocre meatballs as I have, you may be tempted to skip The Bachelor Farmer’s version of the traditional Swedish workhorse in favor of something more, well, exciting. Do so at your own peril, as these are easily some of the best we’ve had: meaty, flavorful, and pleasantly salty, drizzled in a refreshingly functional brown gravy devoid of any dull, corn starch-imbued sheen. Add a bit of silky mashed potatoes, the ubiquitous crispy pickled cucumber slices, and lingonberry sauce, and you’ve constructed a bite made in heaven. The dish’s only downfall? This writer asserts that the lingonsosa could retain more of the berries’ original tartness.
The vegetarian option among the entrees – the Poached Eggs, Cherry Tomatoes, Leeks, Snap Peas, Sauce Choron ($17) – was well-done, but needed some kind of grain or vegetarian protein to anchor the otherwise light, crunchy vegetables and creamy egg. The Grilled Rabbit, Savoy Cabbage, Pole Beans, Brown Cheese ($23) also found itself just shy of the mark – though the balance of vegetables, pungent gjetost cheese, and mildly seasoned rabbit was pleasant, we found the meat a tad dry.
Better was the Atlantic Char ($25) – fully cooked yet still melt-in-your-mouth, the fish was served with sweet corn on a bed of heirloom tomatoes. The components offered a nice, savory spice balance without being overwhelmed by the dill.
Though the thyme-scented young carrots ($6) were solid (sweet, buttery, lightly crunchy), the true winner was the Seasonal Greens ($6). Long ribbons of warm kale ensconced in a rich, buttery-verging-on-cheesy sauce made these the naughtier cousin of the tastes-like-health-food kale soup.
Packed stomachs aside, the desserts are, believe it or not, worth it as well. The Swedish Pancakes ($6) were a well-done rendition, with a small, cylindrical stack of the traditional light, thin-as-a-crepe pancakes, a small dollop of lingonberry sauce, and a small scoop of ice cream (in case you didn’t pick up on the “small” theme, this dessert is perfect for one, but probably too small for sharing).
An equally delightful blackberry tart with almond whipped cream tasted like summer, with the fresh, tangy berries artfully playing off the sweet whipped cream. Even the chocolate sorbet / orange-cardamom cookie sandwich was pleasant, striking a balance between the predominant cardamom-flavored soft cookie and the not-too-sweet sorbet.
All in all? A number of hits with few misses – and none of them were far off the mark. Between the solid food, chic-yet-down-to-earth atmosphere, and friendly, attentive service, it’s clear that The Bachelor Farmer is a worthy visit. Just make sure you write down the address.
BEST BET: The meatballs for a main, and the seasonal greens (the buttery, indulgent kale, if you can get it) for a side.
The Bachelor Farmer
Upscale Scandinavian in the Minneapolis Warehouse District
50 North 2nd Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55401
CHEF / OWNER: Paul Berglund / Eric and Andrew Dayton
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $17-25