How does a restaurant become the most talked-about spot in town? A day behind the scenes at The Bachelor Farmer reveals the recipe for instant success.
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The kitchen is running full tilt. Eggshells pile up. A stove burner flares. The cooks fill the pass with plates and servers rush to distribute them. Meanwhile, in the relative serenity of the basement cooler, Paul deconstructs the pig carcass with a hacksaw.
In the dining room, guests appear rapt in conversation, enjoying the evening and blissfully unaware of all these activities. The lights are low, the music is soft, and wine glasses cover nearly every table. Diners may never make a conscious note of all the tiny details that made their meal great versus simply good—the house-butchered pork, the hand-chipped ice, the plating of the pâte de fruit, the minute difference between a “microplane-microplane” and a “large flake.” When they next recall this meal, all they will remember is that they ate well and enjoyed themselves.
In fact, The Bachelor Farmer’s secret to success may be that its food isn’t necessarily the star: the cooking is novel enough to discuss, but not at the expense of other topics. It’s the restaurant’s vibe—its contemporary spin on nostalgic comforts and Volvo-like sense of understated luxury—that accounts for its enduring appeal. Sure, a few guests may have been hoping to rub shoulders with politicians and scions, but mostly they are drawn in by the way the place reflects their own sophisticated populist sensibilities. And besides, who doesn’t love the idea of hopping from shop to restaurant to bar without the hassle of re-parking the car?
Eric and Andrew finally sit down to eat dinner in the Norsten Bar. Paul comes in to say goodbye, sporting a new Band-aid on his finger—he pricked himself with the giant syringe he was using to pump brine into cuts of pork. Trying to brine himself, it seems.
Eric stops in the kitchen and says goodnight. Andrew will leave a few minutes later and both will be back tomorrow morning by 10 a.m. to open Askov Finlayson. The cooks clean up as the servers start to cash out, counting their tips and dispensing a few appreciative bills to the hostesses and food runner.
12:05 a.m. Sunday
A guest is upset that his party can’t get into the packed Marvel Bar and a couple staffers gracefully smooth his ruffled feathers. Restaurant diners are given priority access, but walk-ups must take their place in the queue—no VIPs, no favorites. Supposedly, even Governor Dayton doesn’t get to cut the line, but that scenario has yet to arise.
The Marvel Bar’s last patrons head out the door and someone flips on the lights. A bartender pours a round of beers and passes out a loaf of homemade banana bread. (The only food the bar serves is Cheetos, and often the bar staff doesn’t stop to eat during their shift.) After nearly 12 hours spent thinking about booze, two devoted bartenders discuss the merits of 110-proof gin as they clean up.
The last of the crew bundles up—one bartender pulls on an Askov Finlayson sweater—and spills out into the cold, dark night. The kitchen emits the same florescent light it did 20 hours earlier, a reminder that in roughly four hours, the cycle will start all over again.
Rachel Hutton, a Minneapolis freelance writer, is a former City Pages restaurant critic and co-editor of Before the Mortgage, a collection of essays by twentysomethings.