Photo by Sarah McKenzie  Credit:

Photo by Sarah McKenzie Credit:

Woodman’s culinary imagination runs wild at the Workshop

Workshop at Union
731 Hennepin Ave.

Heads up, foodies! Remember Stewart Woodman? Sure you do, and mourn the demise of Heidi’s, where the kitchen’s star-chitect crafted food combos and preps that made us go “Huh?” before going “Yeah!”

Well, he’s back, as head culinary honcho for the scenester Kaskaid group, redesigning menus for holdings that include Union, Crave and Boneyard — and, incidentally, inviting the dining public into his brain at Workshop.

It’s the newly launched showpiece of culinary adventure, open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings in the former, street-level fishhouse space underpinning Union. In fact, Workshop’s menu includes a short list of “Rooftop Classics” culled from Union’s best-loved dishes.

But the real action — and there’s more of it here than anywhere else in town that comes to mind, including video arcades and drag strips — occurs at Workshop. Let’s just add that, while it’s like the NASA of food art, it’s no deer-in-the-kitchen’s-headlights kind of place (c’mon—with tater tots on the menu?)

You’ll easily comprehend the listings, but here’s where the fun comes in. It’s one of those under-promise, over-deliver kind of places. Sure, a “jumbo French fry” — but it’s been baked, sliced, frozen, fried, re-frozen, and re-fried (TMI?) to produce this savory little success.

Listed as “tater tots with blue cheese” on the starter list ($6–$10), that item’s unannounced embellishments include pulled skirt steak livened with tomatillos and more (lots more.) The starter list also salutes winners like fried egg with ham gravy and hot sauce, which involves crumbs and foam and tasso, like something Faberge might sell. And, with its still-kinda-runny yolk balanced by the tasso’s slight saltines, it’s terrific. So is the foie gras with succotash. Well, that combo is a first for me, and it works — the diced veggies cavorting in a cherry gastrique that balances the liver’s divine fattiness.

Preceding those starters (and half a dozen more I covet) comes a list of Small Bites ($3–$4), such as beet puffs with truffle sauce — “kind of a chicherron of beets,” our server explained. Or like an Asian shrimp cracker, but of bi-colored veggies (pureed, ground, dehydrated, deepfried, etc.) with a heady hint of truffle.

You could stop right there, or continue to the main courses, all well under $20, including a miso-marinated sea bass on rice noodles, whose broth is showered tableside. The plate’s rim is painted in dual sauces: hoisin and sriracha. Or the free-form lasagna, a vegetarian role model of tender pasta with tiny herbs and veggies silhouetted right within it, coddling a kale ragout with basil gel. Oh, and the braised duck with beans and molasses sauce — call it a revised New England staple or Stewart’s vision of cassoulet: hearty, fork-tender, robust and tasty. (Next time: warm lobster salad with shaved asparagus. Or the Wagu burger withed with foie gras, a la Manhattan’s Daniel but at one-third the price.)

Desserts ($5–$7) confound, as you knew they would. And delight (you knew that, too.) There’s a beyond-pretty ice-cream sandwich — a petite, gift-wrapped bundle of peanut flavor (also praline, brittle, etc.) and hazelnut-fudge sauce — and our second go, the not-to-be-missed “coffee and donut.” A bitty espresso cup delivers espresso crème brulee with a hint of cardamom, with two mini-donuts perched at the rim (think State Fair. Stewart did.) Accessible, interesting wines, beers, and cocktails, too. Hennepin Avenue never tasted so good!