Esker Grove Duo Promises Vegetable-Forward Menu at All Saints

The restaurant takes over Bardo’s old space in northeast Minneapolis
Kim Tong and Denny Leaf-Smith will lead All Saints in northeast Minneapolis

Mark Brown/Twin Town Media

After a year of takeout burgers and fried chicken sandwiches, Denny Leaf-Smith and Kim Tong decided it was the right time to give vegetables a starring role on the plate. When their new restaurant All Saints debuts in August, that vision will become a reality.

“We focus on how to make vegetables more prominent,” Leaf-Smith says.

In other words, while there will be seafood and more traditional protein-based items on the menu, the northeast Minneapolis restaurant brings to the table adventurous preparations with vegetables.

The happy accident follows a summer of quasi-vegetarian cooking for Leaf-Smith, a veteran of Esker Grove at the Walker Art Center. Throughout the pandemic, greasy meals delivered to doorways were convenient but dull. To keep things fresh, Leaf-Smith would fire up the Weber and grill seasonal vegetables for his family.

“I’ve got a three-year-old daughter who is kind of a budding vegetarian,” Leaf-Smith says with a laugh. “She’ll eat beans and broccoli, but she doesn’t really eat chicken.”

With his daughter in mind, All Saints’ goal is to be a neighborhood cornerstone restaurant, with a menu that is accessible to everyone, Leaf-Smith says.

That includes focaccia with roasted scallion butter, toasted to perfection over a wood-fired grill.

“We’re gonna make the focaccia in-house … and it’ll have a nice char and little bit of a smoke flavor to it,” Leaf-Smith says. “It’s a very updated bread and butter service for dining, and that I’m really excited for.”

At least one component of every dish at the restaurant will come from that grill. The smokiness enhances the flavors in a way that would be difficult to recreate from home, Leaf-Smith says.

Although the menu is not quite set yet, also in the works are dishes like seared scallops and carrot hummus with walnut tabouli, grilled New York strip steak with golden fingerling potatoes, crispy tempura snap peas and roasted beet carpaccio with toasted hazelnuts.

“We’re working on switching more to a late-summer menu, so replacing peas and asparagus with peppers, tomatoes and eggplant,” Leaf-Smith says.

These items are familiar for Tong—known for working front of house at Masu Sushi & Robata as well as Borough—whose ratio of protein to vegetables was different growing up.

“It was more vegetables than protein,” Tong says.

No longer relegated to side dishes and appetizers, Leaf-Smith and Tong hope vegetables at All Saints brighten the palettes of hungry guests.

“We’re looking to be comfortable, casual but also refined,” Tong says. “If you’re just walking down by the river and want to stop down and have a drink, or if you want to celebrate a special occasion … we’re really focused on hospitality.”

All Saints will undergo some renovations before opening in August.

Mark Brown/Twin Town Media

All Saints will occupy the building most recently home to Bardo, which closed in September. Wittkamper Studio is leading a redesign of the space.

It is a bit of a gamble to open a new restaurant during COVID-19, Tong says. The pandemic has not only shaped chefs’ views on the ingredients they use, but on the business models they choose to employ—particularly the traditional tipping model versus service charge.

“That’s been a hot topic of conversation in the hospitality space,” Tong says. “How do we recruit and retain talent, both front and back of house?”

In speaking with other restaurant owners, clientele groups and those in the industry, Leaf-Smith found the job market has shrunk in size.

“We’re finding a way to close that equity gap and retain valuable employees who share our vision and excitement for the space,” Leaf-Smith says, adding that he has not decided between the tipping or service charge models.

With a return to normalcy for some restaurants on the horizon, Leaf-Smith and Tong expect an eager crowd on opening day. For those seeking to rediscover the joys of community and fine dining, All Saints will offer space indoors and on a renovated patio.

“It’s been a hard year of not being able to see people and get together. I’m looking forward to bringing people back together again,” Tong says. “Take a break from all of the cooking. All the dishes can be taken care of.”

All Saints 222 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis.

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