Walking into the former Spoonriver space, I’d almost forgotten what it looked like before it went dark in December of 2019. Lifetimes ago. It’s lit up now with a new tenant who has given it a fitting refresh, while keeping the mission the same: bring farmers and eaters together.
Farmers Kitchen + Bar will be ready to open on August 25. This is the first and only wholly owned restaurant of the Minnesota Farmers Union, which before this has really only had a foodservice presence at the State Fair (yes, they’ll still be there this year with that BLT). After delays, a pandemic, and the dissolution of a partnership with the Birchwood Cafe, the casual eatery and market is ready to have a go at it.
The front area has been transformed into a market space. Home grown meats and poultry stock the freezer, and Minnesota made products will fill the shelves. “Everything here comes direct from the farmers,” Gary Wertish, President of the Minnesota Farmers Union, told me. “They are literally driving their products to us to stock our shelves.” If the item doesn’t come straight from the farm, it’s made with ingredients that are locally grown. Many of the items you find on the shelves, are also being used in the kitchen.
The market space will also offer a coffee counter and a deli case stocked with grab-and-go items like sandwiches, salads, and baked goods. For now the restaurant will be fast-casual, so you’ll also place your order at the counter before finding a seat in the narrow dining room or at bar seating. Your food will be brought to your table.
Speaking of food, you can expect a casual menu that, according to Wertish, “should feel like something you’d be eating if you were sitting down for lunch on the farm.” I mean, if you are frying up light and perfect cheese curds on the farm, I might need to pull a shift or two. Sorry there are no pictures of the pastries that Summer Stover made, they were gone too fast. A blueberry thyme muffin made with buttermilk and lemon zest? Do you really think that was gonna make it out of my hands? Of note: her Combine Cookie with sunflower seeds, oats, wild rice, and chocolate chips is NOT to be skipped.
Chef Kris Koch got a little help from consulting chef Pat Weber in designing the menu, and the two did a farm tour so that they could cement the relationships with the growers who are going to keep this place running. “I’m just so excited to be working with these ingredients,” Koch told me, “really we are in such a great region and the diversity of food being grown is crazy, it’s really ridiculous that this is my source list. It’s been fun planning this menu.” The Hay Balers Lunch sandwich uses smoked ham, bologna, and salami from Red Table Meats, Prairie Hollow cheddar, and pairs that with pickled peppers and whole grain mustard, and fresh baked ciabatta for a winning sandwich. Look for a rustic grilled cheese, a grass-fed burger, and a Ferndale roast turkey sandwich too.
The menu that will launch next week is just a starting point, obviously this will be a pretty seasonal spot. But it will stay casual and accessible for the neighborhood. Bison wild rice meatballs with roasted mushrooms in a rosemary cream sauce hints that they are rarin’ to play with these ingredients. Down the road, when things are clicking, they hope to host meet-the-farmer dinners and other special events. There was even talk of a Sunday night church cookbook dinner series, which I am here for.
Throughout the space, you see memorabilia that the union has collected since forming in 1918. It’s long history of supporting family farms in Minnesota is witnessed in photos and stories posted on the walls. I particularly like the circa-1960s pic above when the union had their own plane and filled it with women farmers on their way to DC. When the State Fair is over, and the farmers markets close for the season, this spot in the historic Mill District may be our closest connection to the agricultural side of our state. Looking forward to see how that connection can help us as eaters and citizens.
Farmers Kitchen will be open daily, from 7:30am – 4pm for coffee, pastries, and retail. The kitchen menu will be available from 10am-4pm, and dinner will be added later.