Kitchen Confidential

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April 26, 2010 // UPDATED 10:36 am - April 26, 2010
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
Can I say just one word? Popovers!

That’s one big reason (and “big” is the principle in operation here; they’re the size of your head) to dine at the Normandy Kitchen. They’re bundled in a napkin to keep them steaming hot, just begging to be ripped open and caressed with butter.

And Innkeeper Mike Noble, whose grandpa opened the Kitchen of the Normandy Inn in 1941, known as “the steakhouse without liquor,” is a stickler for tradition — so those legendary levitations from the original oven remain a menu icon. (Well, some traditions are worth saving and some are not, as we discovered while sipping a margarita and later a classy glass of Pinot.)

In fact, the wine massaged another “since forever” menu standby, the Henry VIII hamburger, “fit for a king.” The original anti-slider, it rivals those popovers in size —formed of tasty beef and thick enough to remain blush-pink in the middle. It’s delivered in a substantial, house-made bun with all the trimmings, plus your choice of fries or salad: a 12-buck culinary orgy that numbers you among the masses who’ve enjoyed it in the Good Old Days.

Speaking of which, President Ford and comedian Red Skelton partook here, and rival round tables of breakfast regulars held city politicos (Mayor Don Fraser was a fan) and the Minneapolis version of the Mafiosi, squaring off over stacks of pancakes.

Today those generous tables and well-padded booths lining the warm, wood-paneled walls maintain the Kitchen’s motto: Timeless food, classic cocktails, comfortable atmosphere. But the current chef’s not content to phone in. He’s added updates, such as the obligatory roasted beet salad — here, a multitude of cubed root veggie amid scant goat cheese and just-born beet leaves, all sparked by an orange-scented hazelnut vinaigrette. True to theme, it’s definitely sized for sharing.

The shrimp devilled eggs, also served on micro greens, missed the mark, however — under seasoned and underwhelming. But never mind: Another app, the crab cake, more than made amends. It’s thick and moist and meaty and sits upon a sweet corn-mushroom ragout, skip the customary remoulade. A squeeze of the accompanying lemon made it perfect.

So’s the walleye. Two tender fillets of delicate flavor came dressed for success in a light potato-horseradish crust, lounging on a bed of spinach-brightened rice pilaf. Or head back to the future with the kitchen’s signature meatloaf with its mushroom diadem served with mashed potatoes — or a turkey pot pie slated for a return appearance. And the more-recent salad Niçoise is a work of art. Choose a fork or a brush and easel and enjoy.

Normally, I’d caution you to save room for dessert — but, not so much. Scratch-made sweets include a shareable apple tart of fruit-filled puff pastry topped with caramel sauce and Sebastian Joe’s prime vanilla; a straight-arrow crème caramel; same for the profiteroles, drizzled with a nicely non-sweet chocolate sauce. True to the former days of swivel stools at the counter, the Kitchen also serves fountain drinks; so next time, I’ll go with the root beer float before I float out the door, happy to be back.

Normandy Kitchen  

405 S. 8th St.