A lot of people have told Chef Erick Harcey what he can't do. He was about to open a restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis when the financing fell through. He found a place in North Minneapolis instead. The day he opened Victory 44, someone asked if he had sweet potato fries on the menu. When he said no, they said he'd never make it. In 2010, he reorganized away traditional servers and said the chefs would serve the food. Both the press and diners said it would never work. Harcey acknowledges the chalkboard menu on the wall and the tag team service, especially when the restaurant is busy, can make for an uneven experience. Yet fans and regulars praise the ambitious, changing menu, with healthful portions of high quality food at reasonable prices.
Two years after it opened, Victory 44 is still here. Not only that, it's done well enough that Harcey and his team have the opportunity to do a few other things people say can't be done, like bring accessible, affordable, top-quality food and drink to the next-door coffee shop -- and even to the airport.
A top-quality coffee shop isn't such a strange idea. A number of Third Wave coffee shops in the Twin Cities -- including Dogwood, Peace Coffee, Kopplin's, Bull Run, and Quixotic -- serve great coffee that's carefully sourced and meticulously prepared. But the Third Wave approach can be intimidating, especially to people whose drink of choice doesn't fit within the new standards. Those who want large cups, flavored syrups, or a topping of whipped cream sometimes feel unwelcome.
Harcey doesn't think there has to be a divide between the coffee people want and coffee that's really good. Over the past year, he's spent time with the team at Dogwood, who supplied Victory 44's coffee. Recently, he bought the space next to the restaurant, formerly Steamworks Coffee Shop. Now it's becoming Victory 44 Coffee Shop and Provisions, which will offer things that many coffee connoisseurs look down on, like flavors and syrups. But instead of pouring an artificially flavored concoction into your drink, the syrups will be made in the kitchen at Victory 44 using high-quality, real-food ingredients. Both the coffee shop and the restaurant already use high-quality dairy products from Autumnwood Farm in Forest Lake, Minnesota, whose cows not treated with rBST. Harcey envisions dessert and coffee flights in addition to wine flights. Like wine, coffee can be about what you like. It doesn't have to be exclusive or expensive.
Changing expectations about the status quo is the focus of another high-profile project Harcey is involved in, the redesign of Delta's Terminal G at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. Harcey contributed two concepts to the redesign, and several other top chefs from the Twin Cities are involved, including Russell Klein of Meritage, Lenny Russo of Heartland, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, and Andrew Zimmern (of everywhere). The goal of the redesigned terminal is to provide locally grown, health-conscious food cooked by local chefs in an inviting atmosphere at a variety of prices. Minnesota Beer Hall will be a full-service restaurant with 48 beers on tap, many of them local, and a short but deep menu of well-prepared pub food, like that at Victory 44. Custom Burger will have beef, veggie, turkey and fish burgers made with high quality ingredients. The milk shakes will be made using liquid nitrogen and fried pickles will be on the menu. The project begins January of 2012.
Meanwhile, it's business as usual at Victory 44; Chef Erick's wife and four young sons joined him for lunch when I was there. I asked my server for dishes made with ingredients from local farms. He recommended the beet terrine, with vegetables from Dragsmith Farms, and the Korean barbecue dish, with pork from Fox Farms. A peachy-pink grapefruit gel brightened the taste and look of the beet terrine. The barbecue plate included a pile of homemade kimchi, a small bowl of sauce made with shrimp and scallops, a tangle of pork slices topped with crispy fried shallots, a circle of seasoned rice, and a stack of fresh lettuce leaves. I tried different combinations, and ate some in wraps and some with a fork. It was a plate full of complementary and contrasting flavors and textures so craveable I'd go back tomorrow to have it again.
A restaurant, a new coffee shop concept, and a local food scene at the airport? If this sounds impossible, feel free to say so to Harcey. Just prepare for him to laugh and begin to work on it anyway.
Victory 44 is located at:
2203 44th Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55412
Monday: 3 pm - 10 pm
Tuesday - Saturday: 11 am - 10 pm
Sunday: 11 am - 8 pm
Victory 44 Coffee Bar & Provisions is located at:
2201 44th Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55412
Monday - Friday: 6 am - 6 pm
Saturday: 7 am - 4 pm
Sunday: closed now; open this summer
Kristin Boldon is a frequent contributor for Simple, Good and Tasty, who also writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective. Her last post for us was"Feeding the Family: Spring Asparagus Recipes."