Do you find yourself whining about winter? You’re in good company, Minnesota in February becomes a land of complaining, and a land of complainers complaining about all the complaining, and a land of complaining about the complainer-complaining complaining, and so forth and so on. And yet, in a few weeks, spring!
Which makes an inquiring mind wonder: What about the park concession at Lake Nokomis awarded to our own piper of small-plates, Chef Doug Flicker?
It’s coming. I talked to Flicker, and his wife, Amy Greeley, to get all the scoop. But why his wife? Turns out that Greeley has quit her job representing outstate universities at college fairs and the like, and is taking on the job of supervising construction, licensing, hiring, and so on at Sandcastle, and will be running the little barefoot sister to Piccolo.
Out of high heels and into walk-in scrubbing? “Restaurants have been this thing I’ve been outside of for a long time,” Greeley told me. “There are a lot of things that seem really admirable about it—the fun they have, the camaraderie, the hijinks. I’ve had to sit at a desk every day. I’m hoping it’s a way to make real change, and have some real fun.”
Real change: They’re hoping to be nearly zero waste, with food, construction, and everything, Amy has been training with a master recycler (that’s a real thing), and has so determined that everything at Sandcastle will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable—so compostable bamboo service-wear, refillable wine-kegs for the wine, a vertical windmill (they look like 3D barbershop poles) for some sustainable power, and all manner of recycling-minded construction issues.
Speaking of construction, Greeley guesses that they open in May—though it’s complicated, because the Park Board is responsible for some elements of the construction, like modifying the park building for seating, and without the seats they can’t get their liquor license. Greeley has also been thinking about nuts and bolts operational things, like having multiple order-lines, including a quick grab-and-go line for people just looking for an ice-cream or popcorn, and not a full cook-to-order meal.
But what of those cook-to-order meals? The menu that Flicker and his wife, and business partner Chele Payer presented to the park board, has distinctly intriguing elements—such as an American Indian Fry bread, a recipe inspired by the cooking of Payer’s Native American family, and, here, topped with bison. There’s also a Doug [Flicker] Dog, topped with kimchee, cilantro, and a fried egg, local Callister Farm chicken wings, and gazpacho. Aside from the gazpacho, none of this sounds very much like Doug Flicker food.
“I love chicken wings!” objected Flicker, when I said that out loud. “I love cheese curds. I like to cook barbecue. It’s just that no one has ever had my cheese curds or barbecue. What this is, first and foremost, is an opportunity. An opportunity to be something iconic, like Sea Salt is, to be a concession stand which can redefine that midpoint between a restaurant, and a grab-and-go.”
Well then you need a burger, I said. And we spent the next fifteen minutes arguing about the essential bedrock of Minnesota eating, which I put forward is the burger. Flicker argued that with a hot dog, cheese curds, and a pulled pork sandwich on the menu, a burger could be redundant. And I countered that a burger would never be redundant, and that Minnesotans, in our heads, largely divide the world into a place with burgers (most everywhere) and a place without (pizza, sushi, or suspiciously fancy.) At which point we discussed New York’s Shake Shack, and it was suggested that my burger fixation was a heathen holdover representing everything wrong with the world. Well, not that Flicker said that, but it was in the air.
So what do you think? Burgers: Necessary at park concessions, or have we, as a dining culture, evolved beyond the burger? All responses will be read and entered into the permanent record. So, picture yourself overlooking beautiful Lake Nokomis, and biting into your lunch from the park concession. What is it? The answer you give could soon become reality.