Charcuterie Magic Moved? Travail Burn-Out? Rye Update; Come See Me & Fran Lebowitz!

Lot of news this week. Like, I’m sick. But I will find my strength so that I can fulfill my lifelong dream of talking to Fran Lebowitz!

No seriously, I’ll be interviewing her on stage at the Pantages.

Come! Fran Lebowitz, the comic author, is one of my lifelong heroes. She is one of the funniest American prose writers in the entire history of American literature—I’ve probably read The Fran Lebowitz Reader two thousand times. It’s been at my desk-side with my S.J. Perelman anthologies for my entire writing career, teaching me how to get from paragraph to paragraph, and reminding me that if you can’t be funny, useful, or effecting, go home. The plan is that I’ll interview her on stage for a half-hour or so, and she will then take questions from the audience. So, if you want to be the one to ask her how her novel, now 30 years late to Knopf, is going, you can do so. I may not have the bravery to do so. Or I may! Come and find out.

If you do, find me after the show and ask me what’s going on at Travail, the hottest restaurant in Minneapolis, especially after Bon Appétit magazine named them the fourth-best new restaurant of the year, and Good Morning America came to call, and the lines outside stretched to several hundred people a night—when the restaurant only seats 60.

“About a third of the people get totally mad, and are like: ‘The hell with this, I’m out of here!’” chef and co-owner Mike Brown told me. “Another third are like: ‘We’ll come back another time, you seem so nice,’ and the rest wait. It usually takes about two hours till they get to sit down.” To ensure your table, Brown says you should start waiting outside by around 4:15 or so. Or, you should show up at 9:30. But don’t try to come for lunch; they stopped serving that when they came back from their summer break, about the same time they lost Geoff Hausmann, the exuberant chef with the Star Wars tattoos. Hausmann moved on to the Kim Bartmann empire. He now makes charcuterie for both Café Barbette and the brand-new Pat’s Tap.

I love his Buffalo chicken terrine at Pat’s Tap—it’s the most clever bar-food, a pink slab of terrine delicately cooked with herbs and Buffalo-chicken-sauce powder, then served scattered with blue cheese, a ranch sauce, paper-thin slices of celery, and celery leaves. Spear a bite at the end of your fork and you’ve got all the spice, vinegar, and richness of the classic bar food, in a neat, tidy, oh-so-now, and utterly new guise. I called Hausmann to ask him about this remarkable dish and he told me that if I really wanted to see all the charcuterie wonders he is capable of, I need to go to Café Barbette on a Friday or Saturday night, where he’s working the line and plating all the patés and salamis he spends his week making. In the course of our conversation, Hausmann mentioned so many non-pork charcuterie options—duck liver with cherries, beef tongue wrapped liverwurst, lamb head-cheese—that I asked if it would be actually possible to get a charcuterie plate at Barbette that was pork-free. He said it would depend on the week, but that anyone so interested should ask when they’re there, it’s entirely possible.

Of course, Hausmann was known for his work with charcuterie at Travail, as well as his role as the most friendly and outgoing of all the cooks. He was such a constant, engaged, and super-cheerful presence there it’s hard to imagine the restaurant without him. Why did he go? “I’m an old man compared to those kids,” Hausmann told me. (He’s 36, and four of the current employees at Travail are so young they’re still on their parents’ health insurance plans.) “I needed a night off. I see my wife a couple times a week now. It had to happen.” 

That, I think, is the big worry for Travail, that the candle that burns five times as brightly burns out. I had to ask Mike Brown of Travail if they were in danger of burning themselves out, working a ceaseless string of 14-hour days, and still laboring on without health insurance. “Never!” he told me. “This thing is a monster, but we have to jump on this monster. At Thanksgiving we will close for a full week, then close for two weeks at Christmas, and close for a week in the spring, for a month in summer—it’s set up like school. Actually, we just got lockers in the basement, so, it is school. But it’s just like school, you’re freaking out, it’s midterms, you’re so stressed out blah blah blah—but you’re learning, you’re learning, you want to learn more. At the end of every break we’re dying to get back in the mix.” He then went on to describe a number of forthcoming Travail innovations, like plating amuses on your outspread hand, while your eyes are closed, and stabbing a quail with a larding syringe at the table and filling it with gravy, in a tribute to Pulp Fiction. “So you’re looking at a bird that’s bleeding gravy, it’s super good.”

If you insist. Not super good? Grass-fed pastrami. Or so Tobie Nidetz told me when I talked to him this week for an update on how things are going at the forthcoming Minneapolis delicatessen Rye: “Grass-fed pastrami failed,” Nidetz told me. “It just doesn’t work well when it’s brined and smoked. The texture was fine, it had the right amount of fat, but there was a flavor we didn’t like.” So they’re going with meat from antibiotic-free, hormone-free local grain-fed cattle. Nidetz also said the new opening date is mid-November, and a baker has been hired. She reportedly dazzled them with her hammentashen.