3 Twin Cities dining destinations reopening after pandemic slumber

Rick Nelson, Star Tribune
·5 min read

When the Surdyk family opened Sidebar (303 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-455-2574, sidebaratsurdyks.com) in a corner of their landmark liquor store last September, the party didn't last long.

After running for two months — the temperate fall weather led to a brisk patio business — the restaurant and bar took a pause when Gov. Tim Walz shut down the state's dining rooms in late November.

Sidebar is now coming out of its pandemic-induced sleep, with a few changes.

The restaurant's menu was originally the work of longtime Surdyk's culinary director Mary Richter.

"And it was great," said co-owner Taylor Surdyk. "But Mary wasn't in the kitchen, and we realized that's what we needed."

Turns out, their ideal candidate was right around the corner. Chicago native Randall Prudden has worked in the kitchens of some of the country's top restaurants, including Alinea and Next in Chicago, the Inn at Little Washington outside Washington, D.C., and Pinewood Social in Nashville. He relocated to Minneapolis to be a part of the Spoon and Stable opening team, then spent time at Canoe Bay, the luxury resort in Chetek, Wis. Prudden was cooking at Dialogue in Santa Monica, Calif., when the pandemic hit, and he returned home to his condo in northeast Minneapolis.

"My wife and I live maybe a half-block from the restaurant," he said. "I love this neighborhood, and Surdyk's is its anchor. I'm super-excited to build what I feel is missing from the neighborhood, which is a place where you can pop over to the patio with your dog for a burger, or go inside for date night. We also want to draw people who don't live in the neighborhood."

The plan is to start with dinner, Wednesday through Sunday, and a daytime menu Friday through Sunday.

"I'm going to avoid using 'brunch,' but it's a brunch menu, so let's call it what it is," said Prudden.

The menu includes smoked top sirloin tartare, the beef blended with bits of Alpine cheese from the adjacent cheese shop (one of several crossover items that draws on the shop's deep inventory) and served with ramps that Prudden foraged and pickled last year.

Halibut is roasted with wild mushrooms and served with a vermouth sauce ("Because you can't talk about Surdyk's without talking about alcohol," he said), and there's play on the croque Madame, using a croissant that's smashed in a panini press ("It's a super-compact flavor bomb that's presented in a new way," he said).

Other items include butter-poached mussels with English peas and watercress, snail-shaped pasta tossed with a ramp pesto, a fried chicken sandwich and New York strip steak with French fries. Top price is $25, with most landing in the midteens.

Sidebar reopens on April 23.

"We had an awesome opening in September," said Taylor Surdyk. "And now we get to open a second time. We're lucky."

Renewal in the neighborhoodMeanwhile, just down the street, another restaurant is coming back to life.

Sonder Shaker (130 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-353-6557, sondershaker.com) should be up and running by May 12.

The cozy restaurant and bar, which opened in 2018, went through several pivots in 2020 — meal kits, a walk-up window, patio service — before taking a hiatus in October. The plan is to return with a Tuesday-through-Sunday dinner schedule.

"Our menu will still feature many house-created craft cocktails and elevated gastro bar food," said co-owner Cassidy Flannery. Chef Tyler Johnson (of Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul) will be running the kitchen.

Renewal in St. PaulAfter a monthslong hibernation, the small-scale dining room at Joan's in the Park (631 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, 651-690-3297, joansinthepark.com) has come back to life.

"It felt good to have that feeling of stress and organized chaos," said co-owner Susan Dunlop.

The restaurant has operated during the pandemic, but under reduced circumstances: lots of curbside pickups, with the sheltered patio becoming a refuge during the warm-weather months and the dining room playing host to small private gatherings.

But now the dining room is open for reservations, its capacity narrowed to six tables ("It's pretty intimate," said Dunlop), and the patio is gearing up for a return engagement, as weather permits.

The menu currently follows a four-course format ($69), with a handful of options in each course.

Dunlop said that she and partner Joan Schmitt have weathered the pandemic thanks in part to the financial prudence they've practiced since they launched their Highland Park restaurant in 2011.

"When we started out, we wanted to buy our building, and the mortgage isn't huge," she said. "And from the beginning we decided that we would pay as we went. When we had to shut down, we didn't have a lot of vendors that we needed to satisfy. That helped us, a lot."

Dinner service started on Wednesday. As one customer was sipping her cocktail, she told Dunlop that she hadn't had a drink in over a year.

"And I thought, 'You haven't had a drink in over a year?' " Dunlop said with a laugh. "Especially this past year? And then she said, 'I haven't had a drink in the last year that I haven't made myself.' "