The other night, dining at the Lynn on Bryant, I found chic coastal cuisine wintering in Minnesota: black cod in a honey-soy-vinegar marinade paired with parsnips, kale, and pickled pear. At the next table, a man in a tie sipped a glass of red wine. But adjoining this elegant scene, in the neighboring room, diners who had arrived by bicycle were enjoying their hamburgers in full helmet hair.
The remarkable thing about the Lynn is not so much the excellence of its food, but its unassuming demeanor: the combination restaurant/café is as much a place for enjoying haute cuisine as it is for nursing an afternoon latté. A decade ago, a neighborhood’s symbol of community civility was its coffee shop. Today, that’s been supplanted by the full-service neighborhood restaurant. And for the Lynnhurst neighborhood in south Minneapolis, that restaurant is the Lynn.
The Lynn’s chef and primary owner, Peter Ireland, cut his teeth working at several esteemed restaurants (Café Boulud in New York and Blackbird in Chicago, among them) and also owned his own restaurant in Vermont before he landed in the Twin Cities a few years ago. While working at Great Ciao, the specialty foods importer, he connected with local farmers and chefs, and kept his eye out for the right business opportunity.
He found it at 50th and Bryant, in the building that replaced the one devastated by the Heidi’s/Blackbird fire. Ireland supplemented his initial funding with a substantial Kickstarter campaign—the $34,607 it raised in less than a month suggests that neighborhood interest was as strong as its pockets were deep—to convert an empty shell into a clean-lined, modern café and dining room. The Lynn’s casual café space, which looks out on Bryant, has huge windows, a large communal table, and a spare, Scandinavian design sensibility. A narrow, barn wood-lined corridor leads to the more formal dining room—a windowless gallery that displays retro-mod installation art that looks ripped from the inside of an old television. It’s Dwell magazine come to life, except the hipsters are happy.
Ireland grew up working summers on a vegetable farm, so his menus incorporate local, seasonal ingredients and the classic French influence of his previous employers. Ireland says he hopes that describing his menu as French won’t lead diners to believe it’s too fancy—most dishes share a more homey, rustic quality. The Lynn’s fare feels casual, yet sophisticated, evocative of an earlier era when Americans momentarily stepped away from their boxed mixes and canned goods and cracked open Julia Child’s first tome.
Along with French staples such as confit duck leg and goat-cheese soufflé, Ireland serves a house-made pâté that layers course-ground forcemeat of pork and fat with creamy pork liver mousse and chicken—I tasted a whole charcuterie plate in one bite. Escargots are plated with two purées, garlic and parsley, such that the snails’ pure flavor shines—they’re not so fishy as you might think, earthy enough to be mistaken for mushrooms. For my tablemates, the dish evoked memories of a romantic trip to Paris. To me, it was something of a metaphorical madeleine, recalling a long-forgotten pre-teen birthday where I’d hosted one of those murder-and-a-dinner parties that come in a box. The canned escargots my mother warmed in garlic butter—they were related to a poisoning plot—were my first taste of a foodstuff beyond Midwestern meat-and-potatoes.
The Lynn’s dishes are deceptively simple—not the sort that home cooks Mastering the Art of French Cooking would make the effort to replicate, even if they had the skill. Consider the Lynn’s veggie burger: in a genre that typically involves adding frozen patties to microwaves, Ireland’s formula is a more complex calculus. He blends a vegetable mash (butternut squash when I had it) with bulgur, as if creating a meat-less Middle Eastern kibbeh. The patties are breaded, baked, and then pan fried until a thick, delicious crust develops. The accompanying chickpea fries are more complicated, and interesting, than their potato cousins. Inspired by French panisse, Ireland makes a chickpea flour dough that’s cooked like polenta. Once it sets, the dough is cut into stubby wands, dredged in flour and fried until it resembles hummus-filled mozzarella sticks.
While Ireland certainly cooks for carnivores—he serves a grass-fed beef burger on a house-made English muffin and a lovely pork duo in a delicate cider broth—his attention to vegetarians is admirable. My favorite of the Lynn’s meatless dishes is a cute miniature pumpkin filled with chestnut custard. The savory spices of the custard complement their container’s sweet flesh and a bed of roasted cauliflower, sautéed spinach, and kañiwa (a relative of quinoa).
The only trouble I encountered at the Lynn occurred during morning hours, when, perhaps, the staff hadn’t yet had enough caffeine. At 7:30 a.m. one day, the sign on the sidewalk advertised breakfast, even though the kitchen doesn’t open until 8. Cups of coffee were available (good ones—Andrew Kopplin of Kopplin’s Coffee roasts the beans) along with a couple of house-made pastries. But the setup seemed confusing at best, a tease at worst. When I was able to sample from the full morning menu, I liked everything I tried, though eggs Florentine served in a charming canning jar looked rather unappetizing with its still-liquid whites and spinach juices blending into an algae-like substance.
Ireland hasn’t lived in the Twin Cities long enough to remember when Lynnhurst’s best breakfast option was a toss-up between a plate of greasy eggs at the roadside shack, Our Kitchen, or Edina’s AARP cafeteria, Pearson’s. Those of us who remember those days will be happy to spend a few more bucks at the Lynn to enjoy a rich, spongy gateaux de Bordeaux—a French baked pancake made with whipped egg whites—or the Swedish cream, which is basically a yogurt panna cotta and a great excuse to eat dessert for breakfast.
A French-influenced eatery puts 50th and Bryant back on the culinary map.
Ideal Meal: The escargots and the chestnut custard-filled pumpkin or the black cod. Save room for the chocolate sundae featuring house-made ice cream.
Tip: Consider the Lynn for takeout—come spring, they’ll do picnic baskets to go.
Hours: Sun.–Mon. and Thurs, 7 a.m.–9 p.m.; Tues.–Wed., 7 a.m.—5 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 7 a.m.–10 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $6–12; entrées $19-$26
Address: 5003 Bryant Ave. S., Mpls., 612-767-7797, thelynnonbryant.com
Rachel Hutton is a senior editor at Minnesota Monthly.