I’ve been anxiously following Nick and Eddie, the Loring Park restaurant, for the last few weeks, as most restaurant-watchers have. Why? Well, first there’s been a lot of gossip swirling for a few months: They were down; they’re heading out… But restaurant gossip is ceaseless and often wrong, so I try not to listen too closely. However, then they were ‘posted,’ an industry term for when the state announces you are behind on your alcohol taxes, and distributors are therefore legally not allowed to sell you any new alcohol. Well, posting happens a lot to restaurants; I tend to think of it like finding a lump and heading to the doctor—it might be nothing, it might be something. But then Andrew Zimmern published a blog post saying they were finished and that Steven Brown was out. That got my attention. I called Steven Brown, who told me he was in fact on his way to work, at Nick and Eddie, so I didn’t know what to think. Finally, people began posting all sorts of things in Zimmern’s blog’s comments about how the place no longer had alcohol to serve and that really got my attention. That’s bad.
So, I went in on my own to check it out and: They had no alcohol! Well, some. They had wine. But it was quite shocking to see that there were no vodka or gin bottles back behind the bar where vodka or gin bottles should be. The shelves were empty.
The day of my lunch, Doug Anderson, the restaurant’s manager, told me that they were meeting with their various partners and creditors that night to figure out if the restaurant was closing. So, I zipped in for lunch, wondering if it would be my last at the restaurant. The meal was lovely. Bialys were tender and perfect, a tuna Niçoise salad, with oil-poached tuna, was the nicest I’ve had in years, with herbal, sweet, lively, fascinatingly nuanced pale-pink (though thoroughly cooked), gorgeously tender tuna paired with fruity local summer heirloom tomatoes, pale purple hand-pitted olives, and exquisite little crisp haricots verts. Then I paid my bill, hoping my tuna Niçoise dollars would do something to help, and went home to wait. Well, finally the word has come through: As of today, the restaurant seems to be on the path to recovery.
But some limbs were lost to save the patient.
Indeed, Steven Brown and Steve Vranian are no longer cooking there. Instead, 23 year-old Derrick Moran, a formerly Brown’s sous, and a cook with a glowing reputation among the younger chef community, is now head chef. (Hey, Adam Vickerman, 24-year-old chef of Trattoria Tosca, are you sick of getting guff for being the youngest chef in town? It’s over!) Moran’s vision for the restaurant includes lots and lots of scratch cooking; the restaurant will soon make their own Irish bacon, and he’s even going to be making his own hot dogs, which will be paired with hot dog buns baked by Jessica Anderson—renowned local baker and now Nick and Eddie’s sole proprietor.
“We’re going to run it all a little more family style,” Jessica Anderson told me. “Simpler food, much simpler. The spirit of the place is very much a bar, and that’s what we’re going to be. We don’t need a maitre d’ sitting in the front of the house. We have to run it more like a family restaurant in Europe, just simple good food. I’m talking to you as I’m baking, and I’m really looking forward to the next phase. It’s a good excuse for me to be here all the time, to watch how people work, and make sure everyone does things that are only good and simple.”
And so the next phase begins! Okay, okay, yes. I too was curious about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the big names going, but everyone on staff sings the praises of both Brown and Vranian, and speaks of their leaving with great sadness. The core issue seems basically to have been this: Half the restaurant’s gross receipts were going to payroll, and there were too many adults drawing their livelihoods from the restaurant to make the bottom line work. So now it’s basically an owner-operator, a young chef who’s essentially going to be paid with the chance to make his name, and a couple line cooks, dishwashers, servers, bartenders—and that’s it. The plan going forward is to get paid up with the state by the end of the weekend and start restocking the bar after that. Till then they’ll be serving the wine they have left, or, if you want to bring in your own, you can do that with no corkage fee (the fee restaurants typically charge to bring in wine). Yes, free B.Y.O. wine!
For some people this will be a chance to trot out some of the gems or unknown quantities in your cellar; for others this will be a chance to stop at Trader Joe’s and buy a $5 bottle of red. Whatever it is, Nick and Eddie staff tell me they will be very happy for your business, so if you’ve ever felt awkward about bringing wine into a restaurant, don’t—they’d consider it a great vote of confidence and a friendly face in a stormy sea.
Nick and Eddie
1612 Harmon Place, Mpls.