What better place for inspired food and art to intersect than a world-class art center? And who better to curate this fresh, exciting new restaurant than celebrated Twin Cities chef Doug Flicker, a five-time James Beard semifinalist? Flicker, the founder of Piccolo and Sandcastle, has been selected as executive chef of the Walker’s new restaurant, Esker Grove, which opens to the public in early December 2016. Flicker will create the menu, recruit an elite culinary team, and develop a seasonal cuisine that is locally sourced and regionally influenced.
Blessed with a natural talent and a passion for the craft, Flicker possesses a humble assuredness that comes with years of hard work and dedication. Leading the Minnesota culinary community in forward-thinking, cuisine-focused dining experiences, Chef Flicker shines as a restaurateur and culinary artist. He rose to head chef at D’Amico Cucina at the age of 23, and when he saw a niche for a restaurant owned and operated by chefs and focused almost entirely on the food itself, he opened Auriga in 1997. After his critically lauded tenure there, which ended in 2007, Flicker spent time as head chef of Mission. He opened Piccolo in January 2010 to critical acclaim, receiving four out of four stars in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Best New Restaurant in City Pages (the paper named Flicker Best Chef in 2014, writing: “What makes a great chef? Is it a galaxy of starred reviews? Is it someone who inspires other chefs to stretch their skills and push the bounds of innovation? Or is a truly great chef someone who consistently raises the bar for not just compatriots and diners, but the culinary landscape of an entire city? Whatever your answer is, Doug Flicker fits the bill.”) In 2013, he and his wife opened a second restaurant, Sandcastle, on Lake Nokomis. Here they bring fun and fresh scratch food to the masses in a Minneapolis public park.
“Look at the expansion of our restaurant scene in the Twin Cities in the past five years,” Flicker says. “We want to be another one of the building blocks of the scene.”
While always nudging people to expect more from the dining experience, Flicker fully intends that Esker Grove will welcome museum visitors, neighborhood friends, and local foodies to relax and enjoy artfully prepared edibles seen through Midwestern eyes. Esker Grove will feature a modern, but unfussy, approach to vegetable and grain-focused cooking using classic techniques. The restaurant will offer craft beer, crafted cocktails, and a tightly focused coffee menu.
“I don’t know if I have a food philosophy,” Flicker says, “but I believe that cooking for someone is a gift that needs to come from the heart or it is meaningless. One must cook with integrity; otherwise it’s a lie.”
Designed with an indoor seating capacity of 94, Esker Grove offers express service for lunch and table service in the evenings. A 60-seat outdoor dining terrace provides a dining experience under a canopy of honey locust trees. Designed by HGA and Amsterdam-based landscape firm, Inside Outside, Esker Grove features wooden floors, expansive skylights, a cozy bar and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and Minneapolis skyline. It will be conveniently and centrally located near the new Vineland entry, Bazinet lobby and parking ramp.
Esker Grove will feature abundant daylight inside the restaurant from continuous floor-to-ceiling windows and an angled ceiling rising up to a large, skylight over the main seating area that washes the space with daylight.
A sound-absorbing plaster ceiling will provide a comfortable environment for a relaxed dining experience. The focal point inside the restaurant will be a 40-foot long wall showcasing art on a rotating schedule. Natural materials including walnut flooring and back bar provide warmth inside the restaurant.
Sitting at the base of the Walker’s new hillside addition to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the new restaurant is a natural bridge between the outside and the inside, providing Walker visitors a chance to relax, chat, and enjoy chef Flicker’s cuisine. The name Esker Grove refers to two geological aspects of the restaurant’s setting: “Esker” being a serpentine ridge of soil, gravel, and earth deposited by streams of meltwater left from the slow movement of glaciers over time; and “Grove” referring to the newly planted groupings of trees on the hillside, including one that encompasses the restaurant’s natural outdoor seating area.