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First Look: Cafe Minnesota at the Minnesota History Center

Chef Christian Pieper serves up sustainable food at Café Minnesota.


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short ribs by chris tutolo

Minnesota history now comes served with a meal. As Chippewa artist George Morrison’s Modern Spirit displays at St. Paul’s Minnesota History Center, the museum’s Café Minnesota will feature a menu of locally sourced and inspired dishes.

Café Minnesota’s newly acquired Executive Chef Christian Pieper honed his craft in New England, where he spent 14 years as a chef in Providence and Boston—not to mention sharing an alma mater with Spoon and Stable’s Gavin Kaysen—both attended the New England Culinary Institute.

Pieper’s collaboration with “Sioux chef” Sean Sherman this month features a fusion of pre-colonial cuisine (an uncharted genre on the cusp of national trend-dom) with Pieper’s molecular French cooking: Ojibwe fry bread with northern chokeberries, Leech Lake wild-rice pilaf, and Dragsmith Farm braised rabbit stew are all on the shortlist.

Bon Appétit, the company behind the cafeteria-food revolution at Google (where professional-grade espresso makers and popcorn poppers are the norm) and a number of universities including St. Olaf and Macalester, again rethinks the quick-service menu with light fare that changes weekly and highlights local farms.

The root beer braised short ribs are sure to be crowd-pleasers: tender beef cuts sweetened with a taste of Ely, swapping out red wine for Dorothy’s Root Beer, and paired with a helping of buttery Yukon mashed potatoes to boast Pieper’s penchant for French cuisine.

A hunter and fisherman at heart, Pieper lays out future plans for elk and venison as meat-heavy menu options. Smoked whitefish pâté and chicken-and-wild-rice soup are constant choices as the restaurant’s thematic unveiling continues. Museum exhibits and menus will shift to a Hmong theme come March.

Café Minnesota’s 5 p.m. closing time ousts it from potential dinner plans, but the Capitol Hill location offers a convenient lunch spot for those with offices nearby. While a museum café may not be a typical foodie destination, the standout Swedish food at FIKA, the American Swedish Institute’s much-loved restaurant, has set a bar in town for which other museums can strive. And with Pieper at the helm, the History Center may be well on its way.

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