Foie Gras Hot Dogs? Don Saunders In Stillwater?

I called up Erick Harcey, chef and owner of Victory 44 and Stillwater’s The Kitchen, to chase down rumors I’d heard that half the cooks up there had departed to open their own place, and learned yes, the rumors are true. James Winberg and Mike Brown have left to start their own restaurant up in Robbinsdale—suddenly the near north section of the city is getting a restaurant row! Hooray! (When? Probably not till the fall; they have to do a full build-out.)

Fear not, however, the concept of Victory 44 remains the same—chefs cooking and running food to the tables, the menu as chef driven as it gets—and Harcey has brought back one of the original cooks who helped him open the place, Kevin Guthrie, to cook alongside him and Jeff Houseman (who will likely leave to join the new restaurant). He also brought in Derrik Duffey, who cooked at the Dakota.

What will these new cooks be cooking? Hold on to your hats: How about foie gras hot dogs! No kidding. For $9 you get a hot dog made in Harcey’s other restaurant, The Kitchen in Stillwater, topped with pickled ramps and apple relish, mustard made with Stillwater Lift Bridge beer, and slices of bacon-cured foie gras torchon. On the side, a big pile of their famous bacon French fries—that is, house-made French fries drenched in bacon fat and dusted with fresh-cut herbs. Foie gras hot dogs! These hot dogs were sold on Jim Kyndberg’s truck, at the very exciting “Barbecue Throwdown” on Saturday in Stillwater. If anyone tried one, please, please post your thoughts in the comments. (As always, Victory 44 also has spectacular vegetarian offerings, including, Harcey tells me, a “killer” spring pea risotto and a beet terrine with mascarpone.)

Speaking of Stillwater, hold on to your hats again, because guess who’s in the kitchen at The Kitchen? Don Saunders, of Fugaise fame. He just started Wednesday. When I called, the guy who picked up the phone said: “Don or Dawn?” at which point a voice behind him piped up: “He’s the new chef.” Saunders told me that he is no longer involved with the lodge at Stout Island and that because, as I predicted, if there is going to be a restaurant at the Commodore it’s not happening anytime soon. So he’s looking for his own place. What city? Could be yours!

“I learned a lot of good financial lessons from Fugaise closing,” Saunders told me. “Part of my plan this time is to be really patient and wide open. I have some things I want to do, but depending on what neighborhood I end up in and who lives there the concept could be different.” Till he finds something he’ll be helping out as a line cook in The Kitchen. “I’m mainly an appetizer cook,” said Saunders, who pointed out that the chef de cuisine at The Kitchen is actually an old sous chef of his, so they have an easy working relationship.“ I didn’t really need much training, it’s an easy fit. And being a line cook is cool with me. I wouldn’t sign on with a management position knowing in a month I could jump off and bail. And they get so busy out here with the [awesome] patio that it’s a win-win.” Indeed! Old Fugaise and Au Rebours fans, if you want to catch Saunders, act now!

Everybody else, please note what a nice, supportive community of chefs we have here. Jim Kyndberg (see last week) found safe harbor at The Kitchen, then jumped back in and out of The Kitchen; the chefs leaving Victory 44 left no bad blood behind them; Don Saunders is poised to jump in and out, and Erick Harcey, who has four children under five (seriously, he has a four year old, a three month old, and two between there), keeps all his kitchens firing on all cylinders. “I’ve got a good crew in both restaurants,” Harcey told me. “Everyone tries to look out for everybody else’s time and well being. I get some family time too.”

Hooray for that! Hooray for men helping each other realize their career goals and have family time too. Hooray for having good values, hooray for foie gras hot dogs, hooray for Minnesota, and hooray for all of us! Hope you had a happy Memorial Day weekend everyone, and hope you got some something spectacular in a bun—and family or fun time, too!

Victory 44
2203 44th Ave. N., Mpls.

The Kitchen
324 Main St. S., Stillwater