DeRusha Eats: Spoonriver Restaurant

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The vegetarian food trend is going to top many food research firms’ and food journalists’ trend lists for 2016.

But for one Minneapolis chef and restaurateur, it’s not a trend but rather a way of life. Chef Brenda Langton has been cooking vegetarian friendly fare for  more than 40 years.

“I like to say it’s the best insurance policy out there: to eat well,” Langton, chef and owner of Spoonriver Restaurant, said.

Langton first experienced vegetarian cooking when she was still a teenager.

“I started working in the vegetarian co-operative restaurant in St. Paul when I was 16,” Langton said. “It was super-hippie, it was the 70s. But it was awesome and it gave me my roots.”

It’s hard not to think of Langton as the godmother of vegetarian cooking in the Twin Cities. She ran St. Paul’s Cafe Kardamena as a 21-year-old. She then launched the all-vegetarian Cafe Brenda in Minneapolis in 1986. And in 20015, she opened Spoonriver near the Guthrie Theater.

“We’re not interested in being perceived as some vegetarian restaurant, that’s not who we are,” she said.

Yet, “Vegetarian is about 25 percent of our food,” she said.

Her menu includes burgers, grass fed steak and sustainably-raised fish.

“We sell a tremendous amount of fresh seafood and meat. When you come and have our meat, our steak from Brocker Farms, it’s the most delicious,” she said.

In fact, Langton converted from being a vegetarian when she opened Spoonriver for her own personal health reasons.

“I needed it. I needed the iron, I needed the nutrients,” she said,

While supporting the diet, Langton did note that she worries about younger vegetarians who aren’t getting enough nutrients.

Her staff is incredibly loyal. Chris Bundy has been cooking for her since Spoonriver opened, Liz Brockie has been with her for 29 years.

“I love the food. I love the wholeness of the food that we prepare and knowing it not only makes people feel good but it’s good for you too,” Brockie said.

The food is great; the vegetables are almost unbelievably crispy and vibrant. The winter menu features the return of a rich comfort food, with dishes such as the noodle salmon Okisuki soup with a savory ginger broth and a poached egg.

In her soul, Langton is a teacher.

She teaches classes and she’s shared her recipes in the Spoonriver Cookbook in 2012. She’s also sharing her love of farmers with the Mill City Market, which she founded ten years ago.

“It really helped for people to connect our farm-to-table relationship and why it is we cook healthy food. Because food is medicine,” she said.

Langton’s food is delicious, but her lesson is even more nourishing.

“My goal is to educate people on how to eat well,” she said.

Spoonriver is located at 750 S. 2nd Street in downtown Minneapolis.

They are open from lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 – 2 p.m. and dinner Tuesday through Sunday 5 to 9 p.m. They are also open from brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

They are closed Monday.

More from Jason DeRusha
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