Do you ever think people are a little like Russian nesting dolls, our past selves all layered inside, our present selves walking around talking to other people’s present selves as if they too weren’t full right up to the skin with yesterdays?

I think this sometimes — particularly one night at the bar of brand-new Mr. Paul’s Supper Club, the hottest new thing in Edina. It was a Saturday, and I only got in by waiting outside in a stylish scrum of air-kissing blondes in high boots. The whole pack of us streamed in the second the door opened, snapping up first-come-first-served bar seats like starved piranhas after beignets. Crisp cocktail menus clapped down like cards from a blackjack dealer, and all around you could feel, as palpably as the chill of the wide white marble bar top, the past selves of everyone — the recently stuck inside, pandemic-terrified versions of past selves —Absolutely grabbing with two hands on to living, living, living. Get everyone the biggest Hurricane cocktail and a relish tray wide as a Mardi Gras parade headdress! One moment there was too much music for an empty room; the next, the room was somehow full, meeting the energy with energy. The 160-some see-and-be-seen seats of the big open dining room filled rapidly with extended families at long tables pushed together to hold 18, couples doing date night in half-circle booths, and pairs simply gazing in from the cozy wingback chairs in corners. It was the first time I saw with my own eyes our long-hoped-for Roaring ’20s, when, just like the generation a hundred years ago, we take the difficulty of everything we have endured and roar—The joys we reach for in the present fueled by the demands of the recently sequestered selves nested inside.

The present joys at Mr. Paul’s are great in number. The Pickles and Popovers spread is a hot basket of popovers and a relish tray for sharing, filled with a rich and tangy pimento cheese, pickled green tomatoes, olives, veggies both fresh and quick-pickled, and half a dozen “Cajun firecrackers,” saltines glazed with olive oil and Cajun spice, baked till crackling. Dig in, and you get a little spice, a little richness, a spontaneous informality that says: Bounty . . . now relax. Follow that with grilled oysters, if you’re in a steak house mood. They arrive exactly as they should, hot and fresh and gilded with garlic-parmesan butter. If you’re feeling more Low Country, get the crawfish gratin. Like artichoke dip or crab dip but Cajun, it’s a smart dish for a Minnesota audience, familiar but with a bit of kick and surprise.

For diners who know chef and majority co-owner Tommy Begnaud for his recent stint running Butcher and the Boar, there’s a distinct similarity in spirit and execution between the two spots: Steak house, but lively. Steak house, but southern. Still, you really can’t understand this new party palace without looking into a much older self of Begnaud, spied most nights dancing between cooking line and bar, adjusting, touching, coaching, ever moving. This agile chef was once a boy, second oldest of five brothers, son of a switchman, often in the back seat of his family Volkswagen as the family made the pilgrimage home to Lafayette, Louisiana. Begnaud’s paternal grandfather, the restaurant’s eponym, was the go-to man in the state for those 25-foot ornate draperies that defined so many New Orleans Garden District mansions and hotels.

Often Known as your biggest regret the morning after Mardi Gras, Hurricanes at Mr. Paul’s are terrific.

He was artful and flamboyant in his home life, too. He Mr. Paul’s old family farm in Scott, Louisiana, just outside Lafayette, after parcels were divvied up among the siblings, he designated an old unheated farmhouse as party central. “We called it the White Castle, and it was essentially a party shed,” recalls Begnaud today. “There was a patio where most of the cooking was done — huge, huge cauldrons of whatever we were eating that day. My great-grandmother raised laying hens; she’d pick out eight for the gumbo. That was always the saying: You need an old laying hen for gumbo. ” They would also slaughter a hog. In Scott, jambalaya was just rice and pork, Begnaud says, and it had been that way since his ancestors came down from Canada in the original French Acadian migration that created Cajun culture. Zydeco musicians would start to arrive around suppertime, the kids would muck around the creek seeking crayfish, and then the party really began. “Two, three hundred people dancing, eating. I stayed up till 6 in the morning dancing plenty of times myself. ”

Aimless after college, Begnaud spent a few years living in the mountains of Colorado. Then came his epiphany: “You know who’s actually awesome? My grandfather. ” Inspired by memories of those festive, food-filled childhood experiences, he headed off to cooking school.

Once imbued with knife skills, Begnaud ended up at the now legendary Town Talk Diner, the historic spot that launched Twin Cities modern cocktail culture and the point of origin for a dozen of the most important culinary and cocktail trends of Minnesota’s last decade. This incomplete list of Town Talk spawn includes: the restaurants of general manager Tim Niver (Saint Dinette, Strip Club, Mucci’s), the bars and companies launched by founding bartender Nick Kosevich (Bittercube, Eat Street Social, Can Can Wonderland), and bars and companies launched by bartender Jesse Held (Parlor, Earl Giles), not to mention Town Talk second-generation megatrons like Tattersall, founded by Dan Oskey, bartender at Strip Club.

Speaking of past days, nested selves, and Town Talk: How many of you once drank at Town Talk? Counting all the bartenders and all the bar products launched from that old diner counter, an argument could be made that we’re all drinking at Town Talk forever, whether we know it or not. To really understand and appreciate Mr. Paul’s, you also need to consider managing partner Nick Kosevich’s history at Town Talk as well: “I had been in school for theater, left to be in a band for five years, started school again to be an English teacher, and started working at Town Talk just to pay bills, ”recalls Kosevich now. “Tommy [Begnaud] and I became inseparable. He would pick me up at my house, we’d work together all night, race to Azia to have some wings, he’d drop me back at my house, and the next day we’d do it all over again. Town Talk is where I learned I could entertain guests, be creative, do just about anything I could imagine. “

Kosevich began winning notable bartending competitions. He also met Ira Koplowitz, an important bartender with whom he put together bottles of bitters, under the name Bittercube, to sell on the sidewalk in front of the New Orleans hotel hosting the bartending conference Tales of the Cocktail. Bittercube, of course, grew into one of the country’s most important bitters companies, and Kosevich ran the consulting arm of it, writing cocktail menus and training bartenders across the nation. During the pandemic, Kosevich and Koplowitz amicably parted ways, Koplowitz taking the bitters manufacturing, now located in Milwaukee, and Kosevich taking the consulting, nonalcoholic mixer production and some cash, which he used to buy a house in the Twin Cities where he could raise his newborn daughter. He is, as of this writing, working to formally merge his nonalcoholic and bespoke mixer business with Earl Giles. This is important not only in terms of the evolving Twin Cities cocktail culture but also to anyone drinking at Mr. Paul’s, where I imagine the number one comment of casual drinkers is going to be, “It’s the first time in my life I had a Hurricane that wasn’t gross!”

OK, let’s talk about the Hurricane. Often known as your biggest regret the morning after Mardi Gras, Hurricanes at Mr. Paul’s are terrific. Made in the style of a collins, Mr. Paul’s features good rum, a passion fruit liqueur from the Dominican Republic, and a tart Earl Giles citrate made with pineapple and mango. It’s garnished with a glittering cherry dipped in luster dust and reads on the palate as no sweeter than an old-school old-tasty fashioned and is just generally and surprising in that new-old way, like something you thought you knew, entirely reinvented.

It’s the Sazerac, though, that Mr. Paul’s will no doubt be known for, just as much as the first generation of Town Talk bartenders turned this into a city of dry old-fashioneds. Made with rye whiskey rested with cognac and piloncillo, the Mexican brown sugar, it’s served with a lot of razzle-dazzle once you order one — the glass is rinsed with liquid nitrogen and sprayed with a fragrant super-cold mist of “cocktail enhancer, ”Which froths over the glass like something from a vampire movie and leaves behind a fragrance of citrus and fennel. Is it the best Sazerac in town? By a country nice. More significantly for the Cities, because Kosevich has an ownership stake in Mr. Paul’s, it is finally the local spot this star bartender won’t leave once his consulting contract is up. And it’s finally the place he can try out his wildest bartending imaginings without a client saying, Well that’s crazy.

What is the outer limit of bartending fun, technical experimentation, and boundary pushing? That’s what’s going to happen next at Mr. Paul’s in the back room po’boy shop. Yes, you heard right: Mr. Paul’s Po’Boys and Jams is the adjacent sandwich shop. Now, food-wise, please know that one of my own past selves once spent a week in New Orleans for a national magazine, learning to cook Cajun by night and trying just about every notable po’boy by day. I learned that some po’boys have the freshest imaginable seafood, some are delectable sloppy pot roast sandwiches, and some are just sandwiches. The oyster po’boy at Mr. Paul’s is one of the best po’boys I’ve ever had, anywhere. Fresh oysters, crisp in super light batter, simply served with shredded lettuce and good tomatoes in one of those ethereally light Trung Nam baguettes that everyone in town uses for banh mi. Crisp, fresh, light — there’s no more to say. It’s all those things, times a thousand, condensed into a small area, like a star.

In the future, Kosevich will turn this sandwich-spot-by-day into the Balloon Emporium for ticketed events, maybe four a month, where he’ll explore ideas like edible bubbles that are Sazeracs, cocktails delivered with a helium balloon, and more . As he says, “Every out-of-the-box crazy experimental thing I’ve ever dreamed of -— this will be the pinnacle of that.” Dreams of a past self, attached to balloons, floating your way? Anything’s possible.

Mr. Paul’s is ultimately such an interesting and fertile and promising place because of the way all of these past selves of the principals, and the customers and fans of their past efforts, bump shoulder to shoulder. I feel like there was a time pre-pandemic when restaurants were more cynical. Rich people like Tuscan short ribs, so behold! We made a rich-people Tuscan short rib restaurant! But in tough times, we only have ourselves — our first principles, our pasts, our dreams, and each other. Now, we also have a bar that can seat them all together.

3917 B Market St., Edina, 612-259-8614,


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