New Restaurant Review: Nouvelle Brewing

Can the team behind Travail re-create the original magic at this Robbinsdale gastropub?
Pub mussels and frites
Pub mussels and frites

Photo by Kevin Kramer

It has been more than a decade since three Twin Cities chefs armed with hammers, paintbrushes, and about $2,000 changed the face of downtown Robbinsdale. Travail 1.0 was cutting-edge: The chefs were also the servers; multicourse fine dining was wild and crazy; and chefs’ tables in the middle of the kitchen meant a whole new experience for some diners. 

But over time, Travail became 2.0 down the street, then a gorgeous multi-million-dollar Michelin star-chasing 3.0 building across the street: new ambitions, new audiences, and new price tags. Tasting menus at $135 per person are not what Travail originally aspired to be about. Travail’s nearby Pig Ate My Pizza concept (which replaced Travail 2.0) tried to keep the party vibe, but the pizza focus was also limiting. So the chef-owners Mike Brown, James Winberg, and Bob Gerken did something bold: They shut down PAMP and launched a gastropub in the same space, Nouvelle Brewing.

“People would ask us, ‘Where’s the old Travail?’” Winberg says. He reminded me that Travail started without those tasting menus. “We were just an eatery, a beer hall that served good food.”

The dining room at Nouvelle Brewing
The dining room at Nouvelle Brewing

Photo by Kevin Kramer

And so the new Nouvelle Brewing begins with beer, and it’s impressive. Head brewer Andy Goettsch was the chef de cuisine at Travail Kitchen and a homebrewer on the side. Luckily Goettsch isn’t one of those guys pushing their horrible IPA on you as you slowly back out of their garage looking to escape. Instead, there are 26 rotating taps that touch all the beer styles: light, hoppy, malty, and sour. Order a flight of each category. I particularly enjoyed the crispness and clean bite of the Large Fries pilsner.

Beef tartare
Beef tartare

Photo by Kevin Kramer

As Goettsch creates new beers, chef Nate Moser works on a changing menu. Some things will always be there: The same burger that was a cult favorite during happy hour at PAMP is on this menu. But there’s also a tartare—a version of the steak tartare that was part of Travail’s beginnings that is served almost like a bruschetta, except on this buttery, airy, crispy, heavenly focaccia bread created by Travail’s head pastry chef, Alex Althoff. Nate and Alex are married, which is one way to achieve work-life balance. 

Nouvellian dunkers
Nouvellian dunkers

Photo by Kevin Kramer

The tartare is a real celebration of contrasts: the raw meatiness of strip loin with a Dijon-and-garlic aioli, balanced by the acid from cornichon pickles, capers, and shallots. This is a $17 bar snack you’re going to love. You’re also going to get the cheesy garlic bread. The Nouvellian dunkers ($16) are a pure throwback to school cafeteria Italian dunkers, except on a Pizza Hut-inspired doughnut brioche dough the team used to make the pizza at the old restaurant.

Goettsch’s Pigasus blonde ale features prominently in the pub mussels dish ($17), adding a richness to a creamy garlic serrano broth. They wisely give you a side of fries to dip right in there.

Dishes that are accessible and familiar to us as diners are creative challenges for the chefs. They create plates using the triple-deck pizza oven, and that’s all they have to work with. You’ll see rotating “sizzler” plates, including a fantastic crispy pork belly ($18) sauced with coconut green curry, or they may come up with a creative way to play with shrimp or chicken thighs.

If there’s one dish I crave from our visit, it’s the vegan chili. I know—I was surprised, too. Made with Impossible meat, it’s an impossibly large and impossibly flavorful cast-iron pot of magic. There is so much depth in this chili broth thanks to tomato, garlic, and intense spices, that I wouldn’t have known it was vegan if they didn’t tell me.

The brownie croissant with a Bird Town Road cocktail
The brownie croissant with a Bird Town Road cocktail

Photo by Kevin Kramer

Desserts here are so good, too. The brownie croissant isn’t a very exciting name, but, oh my, this slab of chocolate ganache on a crust of layered dough had me swooning. A subtle sprinkle of sea salt on top completed a great dish ($8).

So does this new establishment capture the spirit of the original Travail? The service reminds me of the early days of Travail—but that’s not necessarily a good thing. On our visit there were long waits for people looking to order at the understaffed bar and a jarring metallic sound as someone decided 7 p.m. was a good time to fire up a machine that cleans silverware.

But the spirit of experimentation and high-quality food is in high supply here. It’s a place where you feel welcome the second you walk in the door, which makes it a true neighborhood restaurant in every sense of the word. Travail’s team never stops evolving, and Nouvelle Brewing is a welcome addition to the dining scene.

Nouvelle Brewing

4124 W. Broadway Ave.,
Robbinsdale, 763-537-7267,
nouvellebrewing.com

Reservations: Walk-ins only

Hours: Wednesday-Thursday, 3-9 p.m.; Friday, 3-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m.

Instagram Star: Tots loaded with pork pastrami

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