French Meadow Bakery & Café had a problem. For some time they had served dinner, but all anyone would talk about was their pancakes. Owner Lynn Gordon would tell people, “You know we have dinner too,” and they’d say, “Man I love your pancakes.”
She told me her other problem was her big building at 26th & Lyndale Avenue S. in Minneapolis. When she moved her catering operation out, she was left with a lot of space, a lot of property taxes, and a lot of questions. Big footprint, ignored dinner service, hugely popular breakfast and lunch.
So she rebranded, relaunched, and restarted with Bluestem Bar & Table. There’s been some finger-wagging over the name Bluestem, which is the same name as a James Beard-award-winning Kansas City restaurant. I write about restaurant names in an upcoming issue of Minnesota Monthly, and I think naming a restaurant is different from naming a rock band or a painting. Almost every name is taken, and if the name isn’t in use in your city, I think it’s fine.
Anyway, I’ve enjoyed Executive Chef George Lohr’s food at a couple charity events in town, but at French Meadow he was constrained by the expectations that come with a restaurant that’s been successful for nearly 20 years.
So I love how Lynn Gordon is reinventing the space, reinventing the restaurant, and turning Chef George loose at Bluestem. First of all, the remodel is absolutely beautiful. It’s just behind French Meadow, attached to the same building. It feels fresh, bright, and Minnesotan.
She’s hardcore about the message that comes with her food: French Meadow was always a real leader in organics and sustainable agriculture. In 1985! No one was talking about this stuff back then. Now, she’s talking about the next step: restorative agriculture. Bluestem is a native Minnesota prairie grass, and there’s educational displays as you walk in the door and as you wait for the bathroom.
Which is nice–but how’s the food? I had a menu tasting at Bluestem, so I didn’t experience the same thing that you might, but my first impressions are very promising. The pimento cheese croquette with cheddar and watercress salsa verde ($8) was delightful. Decadently cheesy but balanced with the earthy watercress green sauce.
pimento cheese Croquette green coconut Curry
I loved the green coconut curry with organic brown rice and crispy tofu ($14). The curry was bright, and the crispy tofu was delicious.
The star prairie trout is also excellent ($15), with a tasty romesco sauce on top of sliced radishes and carrots. There’s even a steak frites dish (yes, French fries at French Meadow! Imagine that!). For $21, it was pretty darn good!
I was impressed with the price points (almost everything is in the $12-16 range) and the flavor in the dishes. Chef Lohr is quite promising. His special Vegan Heirloom Tomato gazpacho ($8) was truly fantastic, and I don’t generally like gazpacho. True to the mission of French Meadow, Bluestem is organic, sustainable, and offers lots of vegan options.
There are wine flights and happy hour specials (a turkey burger for $6, for example), and I think Bluestem is the kind of restaurant that could do well for the neighborhood.
My initial verdict: Bluestem is one of the more interesting café-style restaurants to open in awhile. I’ll be back, soon.
Steak frites vegan heirloom tomato gazpacho
Bluestem Bar & Table
2610 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis