I’ve been thinking a lot about masterpieces lately — not in the sense of super-good pieces of art but in terms of the original meaning of the word. Masterpieces used to be objects submitted by an apprentice to a guild of master craftspeople, who would then use that piece to judge whether the maker had sufficiently mastered their craft and could enter the guild. So, a clockmaker might be an apprentice for a while, then fashion a clock that shows mastery of a variety of skills, and that masterpiece would allow the individual to join the guild and eventually set up a shop. Similar apprenticeship pathways and masterpiece standards existed for bread bakers, brewers, cheesemakers, and other food artisans. I think we might be happier today if that craft sense of the word masterpiece had persisted, instead of the sense we use today, which is something like, Here’s an unattainably valuable object — admire it and pay more!

I bring this up because I want to say that new All Saints in Northeast is a land of masterpieces, except I don’t want you take this in the 21st-century colloquial sense. I mean it in that old sense: Peek into All Saints and you’ll see a lot of seasoned craftspeople who really know how to make the gears spin and ring out joy.

What kind of joy? Well, here’s one: The fried mushrooms, the fried mushrooms! Chunks of oyster, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms dusted in seasoned cornstarch, flash fried so that they’re as crisp and tender as calamari, and served with a chunky dipping sauce of hand-cut scallions, sesame seeds, fresh ginger, and a bit of oil and vinegar. They are everything a fancy restaurant bar snack should be: surprising, light, conversation-starting (are they most like cheese curds, calamari, or Japanese chicken karaage?). They’re also craveable, shareable, and interesting, and they require more restaurant know-how than most people could ever pull off at home. Dredge one bit through the scallion dip and pop it in your mouth to go on a little journey: The bright chunky garden-liveliness of scallion, the sharp salt edge of paper-thin fried batter, the meatiness of fresh mushroom — it makes you feel alive.

Pair that delightful bite with a sip of your cocktail, maybe the nonalcoholic Rose (pronounced “Rosie”), a carbonated marvel that arrives in a tall champagne flute and has a hibiscus fragrance, which is well wed to a tart grapefruit core, creating something much like a Lambrusco, but unique. Or maybe your drink is a chef-touched Gibson, double-onioned, made with vermouth rested on charred scallion, then served with a fat ghost of a balsamic-vinegar-pickled white onion, caught on a clear toothpick. Fun!

All Saints opened in late September of 2021, and the sensation of Fun! was the main thing that kept popping into my mind as I surveyed the room on the busy nights I visited. The crowd was buzzing — the new open layout of the room made sense, with a long bar between the main dining room and enormous patio — in this, one of the most hallowed and famed restaurant spaces in Northeast, formerly Bobino. The grown-up-hipster playlist (Duran Duran and Joy Division) rang throughout as fun treats cascaded from the kitchen and bar as reliably as a spray from a waterfall. Homemade pappardelle two fingers wide, tender enough to split with the pressure of the side of a fork. Chunks of hothouse cucumber seared black on one cut side, made tart with lemon juice, herbal with fresh leaves of basil, sparky with bright chili rings, and creamy and sensuous with ricotta. Each cocktail had something surprising to it — ume plum in the Japanese whiskey highball, fresh ginger and carrot in a nonalcoholic highball.

As I listened to the laughter, I kept thinking, Fun, fun, so fun! And suddenly I recalled that fun is not always accidental. At Disneyland or when watching a Broadway show, fun is what you get when high-achieving professionals are working to the heights of their abilities.

Meet the professionals! The masters at All Saints are co-owners Kim Tong, the general manager, and Dennis Leaf-Smith, chef. Tong has a fascinating biography. She is the youngest daughter of a father who was born in 1929 French Indochina where he was exposed to French culture. A career military man who was in the South Vietnamese military, he ended up fleeing to Minnesota after the war and later encouraged his daughter to study French. This led her to work and study in France and inspired an abiding love of French wine. Tong’s wine list is a little more French than anything else, but mainly shows the work of a good editor who has chiseled the available riches into a 15-some-item list. “When I go out, I don’t want to work too hard, so that’s what I try to do for guests,” she says. I particularly appreciate the combination of environmentally friendly visionary wines, like Gotham Project rosé on tap, as well as historically significant European single estates. For instance, the restaurant carries wine from Aigner, an Austrian winery going since 1773.

Tong was part of the foundational crew at Town Talk Diner, which birthed local cocktail culture. She went on to be a key figure in more iconic restaurants than we have space for, notably chef Doug Flicker’s Piccolo and Esker Grove. There she was always a cheerful force, with a spark in her eye, greeting Minneapolis restaurant folk by name and doing that thing the best general managers to: flitting from host stand to table, always everywhere, imperceptibly solving problems and fixing things.

At Esker Grove, Tong also became close friends with Dennis Leaf-Smith, one of those quiet chefs who has avoided the spotlight but been a pillar of the scene nonetheless. As a working-class kid in Minnetonka, Leaf-Smith spent his high school years jumping out from the infield, where he played shortstop, to help his dad in the family food truck. “It was an old-school food truck — popcorn and ice cream at high school ball games — not today’s food truck,” he explains. He went on to Snuffy’s Malt Shop, where he learned to track 30 burgers on a flat-top, then Café Lurcat, where he imagines he made at least 10,000 of its famed butter-shallot burgers, and then for eight years became a key support for his mentor, Isaac Becker, as a chef at 112 Eatery.

All Saints is Leaf-Smith’s first chance to bring his own interests as a chef into the public square, and his creations are a delight. His palate runs to dusky, smoky, sour, and woody flavors — tahini plays an important role paired with avocado and supporting grilled broccolini; sesame seeds, thick as batter, are laid on gem lettuce leaves for a salad that is buttery with avocado and tastes absolutely new. His cheeseburger, Peterson Craftsman Meats pattied and flat-top grilled to come out fat and thick, is clearly the work of someone who has gazed into the souls of 112, Lurcat, and Snuffy’s and understands two important things: how a burger can be a mortgage lifter and how such a blend of meatiness and comfort can act as a metro-wide magnet. This cheeseburger, topped with house-made pickled sweet peppers and a mustard mayonnaise, is served on an old-fashioned bun from Grandma’s, the White Bear Lake bakery that fuels so many old-school local eateries. I predict that once the enormous All Saints patio gets going for the summer, those cheeseburgers will become famous. As will the mushrooms and bartender Scott Weller’s cocktails.

Weller was most recently at white-hot Sooki and Mimi, after years behind the bar at Parlor. I was particularly dazzled by his zero-proof cocktails, which suddenly made me realize what most nonalcoholic cocktails lack — namely, concentration and a sense of eventfulness. A lemonade, I have now tasted, is a very different thing than a gin-and-tonic-like creation with champagne vinegar and cinchona and juniper and all the rare elements bartenders use. They’re wonderful as an option when you want to hang out a little longer while others have a third cocktail but you don’t want a third cocktail yourself. They’re exactly what you’d expect people who are masters of hospitality to offer — the restaurant gets a few more dollars, and the customer gets a little more enjoyment out of their night with rare treats.

Tong, of course, credits the current buzzy success of All Saints to the customers. “This part of Northeast has gotten thousands more homes over the last five years, and we wanted to be that cornerstone that was as accessible and approachable as possible, that people could come to for any occasion. It’s been so long since people could gather, and we appreciate them all so much. “

Leaf-Smith credits his mentors. “Isaac Becker taught me that consistency is everything. Be organized, be flexible, be reliable. Make the dish the guest likes the exact same way they liked it last time, the next 10,000 times. “

The canny words of craftspeople, as if spoken to a judging guild? If we ever want to have a national conversation about changing how we use the word masterpieceI humbly suggest we do it over All Saints’ mushrooms.

222 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-259-7507, allsaintsmpls.com


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