For a restaurant company that’s built a small empire in the Twin Cities, it’s almost funny to hear their latest venture was introduced over beers during a summer music festival.
Stephanie Shimp, half of the duo that leads the Blue Plate Restaurant Company along with partner David Burley, said the idea for their new spot came during Rock the Garden in 2012.
“We were probably over-indulging, I’m sure, at this point of the evening and Trampled by Turtles was playing and I remember the moment, I don’t remember necessarily how we conceived every restaurant but I remember this one,” she said.
A mutual friend asked a simple question that would eventually launch their new North Loop digs, “Have you ever thought about doing a brewpub?”
With that, the ball started rolling, discussions about the booming craft beer scene took over and the ideas began popping.
“It was kind of one of those literally sitting-around-drinking-a-beer moments,” Shimp said.
Burley began researching brewpubs on the west coast, while Shimp took the east coast, weighing options, taking photos and researching for what their brewpub could be.
“We literally met in the middle,” she said.
A year and a half later, The Freehouse was born.
The name Freehouse, a nod to Burley’s Australian roots, also encompasses their mantra.
“In those commonwealth countries, they have free house or tied house — if you’re a tied house, you can only do beers, spirits and such from one place or serve one type. And in a free house you’re able to do whatever you want,” Shimp said.
As printed on their growlers, The Freehouse believes in a welcoming attitude where the beer is not exclusive.
“We wanted to be not just a brewpub that served only its beer, because we respect the beer community locally,” she said.
After having their opening delayed by the government shutdown, Shimp said they had plenty of help from local breweries to help them get started. Keeping those relationships strong with the Twin Cities brewing community was essential, she said.
When it opened Dec. 16, Freehouse was not only the restaurant company’s largest, by far (13,000-square feet) — it was also the most adventurous. The brewpub encompasses all the “it” qualities of a 2014 establishment — local ingredients, an expansive brewery producing inventive craft beer and elevated bar food that dips its toe into a modern menu while staying true to the Blue Plate formula.
As stated in their slogan, another important component that Shimp and her team are bringing to the North Loop is the breakfast concept.
“There aren’t many breakfast places down here and there’s a lot of people living here now,” she said.
They approached the menu using everything at their disposal — making use of spent grain from the brewing process as an additional ingredient. You’ll find it in their homemade (and dynamite) English muffins, pancakes and bircher museli (a play on traditional oats, topped with Fruity Pebbles just for fun).
Shimp said some of her favorite items on the menu include the spicy Banh Mi and the Pickle Sandwich, a combination of goat cheese, kimchi, hummus (with hops), deep-fried pickles and naan-style bread.
Shimp said the 1,000 Dollar Burger has been one of the top sellers (actual cost $15), which features short rib, brisket and sirloin from Peterson Limousin Beef out of Wisconsin and duck fat on their house-made English muffins.
Other local favorites include the selection of jar offerings — trout dip, bison tartare and toast skagen, the housemade veggie burger (not just for vegetarians) and the Boardwalk Kale Salad with rotisserie chicken.
Their approach to their new craft beers is much like their food menu.
“Our philosophy is that our beer is approachable and true to its flavor profile and true to its identity. And that pairs well with our food,” Shimp said. “What we’re not, is beer that will smack you in the face or be overly hoppy or overly assertive.”
The beers come in three sizes — the $2 Pony (3 oz.), the $4 Middy (half pint) and the $6 Pint. Currently there are four varieties, with simple, straight-forward names — the No. 1 Kölsch, the No. 2 IPA, the No. 3 Brown and the No. 4 Stout.
Eventually they’ll add a breakfast or coffee stout, a rotating wheat beer and a rotating IPA.
“Hopefully we will grow to 10 beers,” she said.
Soon enough, diners will also be able to find Freehouse brews at any of their Blue Plate restaurants. They’re also looking into selling 22 oz. bombers, beyond the growlers they currently sell.
With all of this on tap (pun intended) and ideas still circulating, Shimp said they’re hoping to take a mini break once the dust settles. However, the key word here is mini — the group has been approved to serve at their first Minnesota State Fair this summer with a brand new booth in the new West End Market (formerly Heritage Square).
“After that I think I’m going to turn my phone off for all of September,” Shimp said, with a laugh.
For now, they’re focusing on their newest baby — and getting acquainted with a community where they feel they’re fulfilling a need.
“We love this neighborhood because it’s a neighborhood,” Shimp said. “We want to be the neighborhood place. The place you can come back to and it doesn’t have to be just the place for special occasions.”
COMING THIS SUMMER: Freehouse will have an outdoor patio, most likely pet-friendly. Shimp said she’s even brainstorming ideas on how to make use of leftover marrow bones for visitors’ four-legged friends.
The Freehouse is located on 701 N. Washington Ave., Ste 101. For their hours, full menus and more information, check out the website.