WHEN THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED cafÃ© formerly known as Bakery on Grand closed in December 2005, neighbors and regulars took it hard. In its prime, it had been the kind of place where you could take out-of-town visitors to dinner just to prove that Minneapolis was actually an urbane and interesting place to live, not some kind of hapless cross between the Coen brothers’ Fargo and Frostbite Falls.
Now with new owners, a new chef, a new menu, and a new name, the little neighborhood joint at 38th and Grand is once again an intimate haven of unpretentious, candlelit sophistication, the kind of place where you can take your parents for dinner, your clients for lunch, or your beloved for an anniversary. The new proprietors have knocked out a couple of walls; polished the scuffed, squeaky wood floor; and brightened the space with a fresh coat of milk-white paint. But the well-worn, well-loved feel of the place is the same. And the food is as good as it’s ever been.
On a chilly autumn evening, our party started with the duck breast-prosciutto salad and the truffle fondue. The salad was a disappointment; the fatty duck and the bitter radicchio did nothing for each other and not even a pumpkin-seed vinaigrette could convince them to get along. But the truffle fondue was a standout, a rich, creamy dunk for roasted cauliflower, Pink Lady apples, and bread (fresh from the giant, boxy oven that dominates the open kitchen). There’s a reason why fondue comes back into fashion periodically: it’s sociable and fun.
Photo by Eric Moore
Our entrÃ©es struck an appealing balance between haute and homey. The friend who ordered the buttermilk fricassee chicken was presented with two plump, moist, flavorful drumsticks, accompanied by roasted Brussels sprouts, scallions, and fingerling potatoes. “It’s country food!” he exclaimed, admiringly. The buttercup squash tortellini with goat-cheese mascarpone was rich and mellow. The savory pork tenderloin was accented by Kramarczuk’s andouille sausage, sauerkraut, and a smooth, rich, white polenta. A plate of perfectly seared diver scallops was nicely complemented by an array of corn, chard, parsnips, and gnocchi.
Grand CafÃ©’s dessert offerings are a pleasant change of pace from the seemingly mandatory crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e and tiramisu. The dense, homemade carrot cake was spiced with cardamom and lemon peel and covered with a light mascarpone icing. The warm apple bread pudding with tart cherry sauce was decadent and subtle—neither too rich nor too sweet. Those who find Death by Chocolate to be overkill will appreciate the chocolate roulade, a spiral of tender gÃ©noise sponge cake with a decadent layer of chocolate buttercream.
The Grand CafÃ©’s worldly, eclectic wine list features several unusual choices, including a buttery, rich Bodega Catena Zapata Alamos Malbec from Argentina and a bone-dry Pierre Laplace CÃ´tes du Gascogne Tannat RosÃ© “Aramis,” available by the glass or the half-glass. The half-glass is a nice option if you like to pair different courses and compatible wines without surrendering your wits or car keys.
The pace of the dinner service was slow, but elegantly so. Our table was well cared for, even though the room appeared to be a bit shorthanded. Mary Hunter—a waitress in the previous administration, who’s one of the new owners—checked in on us twice to make sure we were content. It was cheering to see that, on an ordinary weekday evening, the cafÃ© was merry and full. By the end of the evening, so were we.
3804 Grand Ave. S., Minneapolis