I just can’t figure it out. Doug Anderson’s new restaurant, Nick and Eddie, manages to radiate hipness – even uber-hipness, but I can’t put my finger on just what does it. It isn’t actually Doug’s restaurant – officially, he’s the head waiter. Seems that there were some financial issues that Doug isn’t at liberty to discuss, that led to the abrupt closing of his last venture, A Rebours, so Doug’s wife Jessica, and the chef, Steve Vranian, are the owners of record. But Doug seems to be the creative force behind the new Loring Park café and bar.
At any rate, explaining the hipness: It certainly isn’t the décor – bare white walls, Formica-style tabletops and a few yards of velvet wallpaper thrown in. It can’t be the menu, which reads like the opposite of hip: chopped chicken liver ($5), potato pancakes with smoked whitefish salad ($5), braised beef cheeks with parsnip puree ($15), poached salmon with sauerkraut and brussel sprouts ($18) – you get the idea. My esteemed colleague Ann Bauer says it’s the sound system, which is supposed to be a high-tech wonder, but the night I visited, we could barely hear the tunes above the din of diners.
Maybe it’s the staff. The servers, all dressed in black, definitely contribute to the cool factor. On my most recent visit, we were waited on by Daniela from Brazil, with a hint of samba in her voice, and Ian from Ireland, whose roguish charm and musical brogue was one of the prime attractions of the late, lamented Emma’s Café – especially for the ladies.
Anderson has assembled a stellar team to run the new operation. In addition to Jessica Anderson, who doubles as baker and pastry chef, there’s chef Vranian, whose resume includes stints at the California Café, Murray’s, North Coast, and Jeremiah Tower’s Star’s in San Francisco, where Doug and Steve met. General manager Scott Ida worked with Doug at Aquavit, and has also worked at other top houses, including Goodfellows and the 510 Restaurant.
The food may not be hip, but what I sampled was impressive. Call it comfort food with a twist. The beef and cabbage borscht added just a hint of spice to a very flavorful meaty broth, while the Belgian endive salad with persimmons and hazel was refreshingly light and playful. And I loved the beef cheeks – the tenderest meat I’ve had in ages. My wife, who doesn’t eat meat, was less impressed with the only vegetarian entrée, billed as wild rice and hominy with parsnips roasted beets and Swiss chard. I actually liked that dish, too, but it probably would work better as a side dish than as an entrée. But we both loved the dessert, a chocolate Ho-Ho, that was just like the real thing, only better.