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Taking Off To The Twin Cities

The farmer and the butcher…

Two Twin Cities restaurants are romancing the dirt

Farmer and butcher. Both words, nay professions, are evocative of a bygone, sepia-toned era; bloodied aprons and mason jars, freshly slaughtered livestock and fresh vegetables caked in dirt, sweat on brows and earth under fingernails.

It’s precisely that kind of imagery that two of the Twin Cities’ hottest restaurants, The Bachelor Farmer and Butcher & The Boar, are also evoking. Both eateries are embracing pioneer techniques and ingredients in a big way. White table cloths and architectural plating aren’t in their lexicon. The folks at The Bachelor Farmer are quite literally farmers, growing herbs and produce on a rooftop garden.

Indeed, these restaurants are romancing the dirt.

Opened in 2011 by brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton, sons of current Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, and housed in a former tannery in Minneapolis’ trendy North Loop neighbourhood, The Bachelor Farmer has earned a place on multiple Restaurant of the Year lists. In 2012, Bon Appetit ranked it among its Top 10 hottest new restaurants in America. President Barack Obama has even dined there.

Chef Paul Berglund takes cues from the region’s proud Nordic heritage for his menu; Scandinavian staples such as lingonberry and pickled herring, as well as regional interpretations like pickled Lake Erie perch, have been featured on the seasonally rotating menu. For visitors, The Bachelor Farmer offers a taste of the exotic; for many Minnesotans, Berglund is breathing new life into dishes they have an emotional, familial connection to. In other words, it’s not their amma’s smorgasbord. Lutefisk is nowhere in sight.

Scandinavian sensibility is reflected on the plate and in the décor, from the rough-hewn farmhouse floor boards to the country-kitsch wallpaper festooned in Nordic folk art patterns.

An amuse-bouche of baby radishes dipped in butter and salt kicks off the meal. Borrowed from the French, it’s a simple dish that’s gaining popularity on menus throughout the U.S.

Sausages at Butcher & The Boar by Travis Anderson
Sausages at Butcher & The Boar, photo by Travis Anderson

Toasts, made from fresh-baked bread, are a menu anchor. Served with ingenious housemade condiments, diners can construct a traditional Scandinavian open-faced sandwich. Earthy beet tartare and silky fresh cow’s milk cheese, layered with a salty-savoury combination of horseradish, dill, capers and mustard, is sensational.
Rabbit schnitzel, prepared in Finnish wieninleike style, is joined by hearty white bean ragout and peppery mustard greens for a satisfying main.

Butcher & The Boar is a gleaming carnivore’s paradise in Minneapolis’ Loring Park. Chef/owner Jack Riebel’s meat-centric menu pulls inspiration from Minnesota’s rich German heritage as well as regional American cooking in its array of flavours, governed by a strong snout-to-tail ethos.

StarTribune’s restaurant of the year in 2012 is a swank chophouse-meets-trendy gastropub, with dark granite counter tops, heavy wood tables and swinging filament bulbs. In the summer, sip on local brews and fine bourbon in the 150-seat outdoor beer garden.

As its name suggests, livestock is the star here. Sink your teeth into the links of fat, housemade bratwurst-style sausages strung up by the open kitchen. Six varieties are on offer, including spicy wild boar hot link.

Brawny, Flintsone-esque entrées are enough to feed two. A thickly marbled double cut Berkshire pork chop is topped with sticky-sweet pineapple rum glaze and macadamia nut salsa, a nod to Hawaiian cuisine.

The sides, meanwhile, are straight out of the South. We hope to see blackened cauliflower crop up on more menus; with its pleasing char, this side eats like a steak.

Our visit to The Bachelor Farmer and Butcher & The Boar reveals a new generation of farmers and butchers challenging the definition of cosmopolitan fine dining to great ends. The farm has never looked so cool.