The Oak Grill Closes
An ode to the Dayton Institution
Oak Grill's signature popover
photo by tj turner
By the time you read this, Macy’s Oak Grill will have served its final meal, vacuumed up the last few popover crumbs, and, after nearly 70 years in business, concluded its tenure as one of Minneapolis’ most iconic restaurants.
The Grill, on the 12th floor of what was, for decades, Dayton’s flagship department store, was founded in another era entirely. The easiest way to illustrate this is with its original name, Men’s Oak Grill, and the fact that women diners were only allowed admittance in male company until the late 1960s, when the gender signifier was dropped.
Some combination of the Grill’s dark oak paneling, ornate fireplace, and rich carpet made the place feel clubby and timeless. (So much so that one of its regulars ate lunch at the Grill nearly every day for 50 years, and lived to see 100—if that’s not an endorsement for a regimen of turkey sandwiches and wild rice soup, I don’t know what is.)
When I was a girl, my grandparents rarely came to the city, and we didn’t often go to fancy restaurants, and yet I can’t help but latch onto an image I imagine has become part of many longtime Minnesotans’ collective memory: multi-generational family celebrations where Nana and Pop-Pop bought lunch at the Grill, then descended the escalator to outfit the little ones in a new set of Sunday’s best.
On my final visit to the Grill, we ordered chicken pot pie and Swedish meatballs, which possessed none of the flash but all the care of a modern, high-end dining experience. We were most charmed by the Oak’s signature popovers, gifted to us, still hot, from a napkin-padded basket.
These old-timey pastry puffs keep like butterflies; they must be eaten in an instant. Tear into the bulbous crown, release a wisp of steam, and wait a second for your slather of honey butter to melt into its crisp-skinned, spongy hollow.
A few moments later, all that remained were a few oily drips and pastry flakes dotting the white tablecloth between us, as if we were trying to leave our mark on a place that had left such an indelible impression on us.
Photo by erika ludwig, hair and makeup by margo gordon