Sneakers Not Required: Good, Local Food Provides Inspiration in a Suburban Health Club

Try to guess what suburban restaurant serves locally-raised, grass-fed, beef short ribs with caramelized-onion potato puree, and horseradish gremolata;  baked, free-range, Larry Schultz chicken with herb filling, wilted spinach, and caramelized-shallot, marsala, pan sauce; pastured pork, braised in apple cider and served with red cabbage, local apples, and ginger yams -- plus three kinds of burgers: bison, yellow-fin tuna, and walnut wild-rice.

Marsh Restaurant executive chef David Owen-Jones.Marsh Restaurant executive chef David Owen-Jones.Would you have an easier time guessing if I told you this restaurant is located inside a health club?

No, I didn’t think so. Give up?

I’m about to reveal one of the best-kept culinary secrets of the Twin Cities’ western suburbs. Drum roll, please.

It’s called... The Marsh.*

The Marsh: A Center for Balance and Fitness was founded almost 25 years ago by Ruth Stricker Dayton, who created, what was then, a new kind of health club (she prefers the term "wellness center") that was less about deprivation and more about inspiration. Original paintings and sculptures line the walls outside the fitness classes, a grand piano occupies a corner of the reception area, and a sweeping view of grassy wetlands can be seen from almost every room.

In the restaurant, the inspiration comes from the food. Like the eating establishments at most other health clubs, The Marsh Restaurant serves smoothies, but that’s where the similarities end. Executive chef David Owen-Jones has created a menu that transcends traditional “health" food, by focusing on fresh, local, “real” food, like Hope butter, Cedar Summit milk, Stickney Hill cheese, Riverbend Farm produce, and Summit beer.

“It’s almost a full-time job just trying to source all those ingredients,” explains Owen-Jones. “But we take pride in the quality of our product.”

He adds, “But what I’m most proud of is how much value we offer. Our highest priced dish, the short ribs, is $18.95. At every other restaurant in this area, you would easily pay $25 for the same dish.”

Many of his customers, though, go for the simpler fare: soups and salads. The Marsh’s version of chicken-vegetable soup is its biggest seller; it’s made with Larry Schultz chicken and local vegetables, whenever they’re available, at just $4.95 for a large bowl. The beet salad is another popular dish, made with a variety of beets, arugula, chevre and lavender sherry vinaigrette for $8.50.

On Thursday evenings, you can invent your own pasta dish and it will be prepared to your specifications. Friday nights are all about fish with four sustainable seafood dinners to choose from. And on weekdays, from 4:00 to 7:00, The Marsh offers its own version of “happy hour,” with specially priced wines – some local, some organic – as well as a variety of hot and cold appetizers, like olives, mussels, and flat breads.

I’ve spent many an afternoon at The Marsh writing my Simple Good and Tasty blog posts. Not only does it fulfill my desire for good, conscientiously prepared food; a quiet, welcoming atmosphere; and 20 percent off of coffee and tea when I bring my own cup – it has free WiFi!

Restaurant manager Jorge Correa says they’ve tried to make it a “quiet escape from the world,” where the food and flavors “speak for themselves,” and the relationships are “what's most important.”

Owen-Jones agrees: “Because of where we are, we're somewhat limited in how much we can do,” he explains. “But what's most important to me are the relationships -- the relationships with the farmers and the local suppliers and artisans that we do business with -- and the relationships with our customers, who appreciate the quality we deliver.”

The Marsh Restaurant is open to the public, seven days a week, for breakfast, lunch and dinner:
Monday through Friday -- 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Saturday -- 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Sunday -- 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

The Marsh is located 1/2 mile west of 494 at 15000 Minnetonka Boulevard, Minnetonka, Minnesota.

*Full disclosure: For the past five years, I have been employed by The Marsh as a part-time fitness instructor.