By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For more than 20 years, Tracy Singleton’s Birchwood Café has been a trendsetter.

“The original vision was a neighborhood restaurant…with the same quality food you’d find at Lucia’s and at Alma,” Singleton said.

Opened in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis in 1995, the vision was to serve locally-sourced – and often organic — food in a casual, lower-price environment.

That kind of food was “a little niche” at the time, said executive chef Marshall Paulsen, who’s been in charge at Birchwood’s kitchen since 2006.

“When we started, we were the only casual, counter-service type of place where you could get the kind of food we serve,” Singleton said.

“Real Good Food” is more than a slogan. Birchwood carefully selects every supplier, every farmer. It’s so much work to source and track that Birchwood has a full-time staffer watching their more than 500 ingredients.

“I trust the food, trust the practices, trust the way they’re treating the soil, the way people work on the farm, when I know who’s growing the food,” Singleton said.

The Birchwood team visits those farms, taking field trips to help harvest and learn called a “Crop Mob.”

It’s organic, it’s sustainable, it’s delicious.

“If it wasn’t morally sourced, we wouldn’t serve it,” Paulsen said. “If it wasn’t delicious, we wouldn’t serve it. So it goes hand in hand.”

The savory waffle is the No. 1 seller at Birchwood, they go through 400 or so a week.

“It’s a cult classic,” Singleton said.

It changes with the seasons. Right now, it’s red onion jam, apple cinnamon butter, bacon lardoons, and a sunny side up egg. It’s inspired by Marshall’s childhood.

“I would wake up, watch ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ and have Eggo waffles with eggs and bacon,” he laughed.

The customers are so loyal to Birchwood that they helped fund a Kickstarter campaign to pay for an expanded kitchen and community room. They begged for a book of recipes, and Paulsen and Singleton just published it.

“It really was quite a project,” Singleton said. “It feels really good having that out in the world.”

One of the recipes in the book is a pumpkin hand pie: It’s quintessential Birchwood — simple ingredients, put together to create beautiful flavors. A crust made with butter, flour and cream cheese; a filling made with squash and turnips.

Marshall’s pure, clean flavors led him to a gig as private chef for Woody Harrelson, when he was in Minnesota shooting the film “Wilson.” The actor only eats raw, vegan food.

“It was great, everything about it was great, but it was a lot of work,” said Paulsen. “It was amazing to delve into a world of food that we hadn’t yet.”

When asked, Paulsen said he didn’t hesitate.

“I dressed up like Roy Munson for Halloween one year [Harrleson’s character in the movie “Kingpin”] and now I’m making food for him!” he said.

But you don’t have to be a celebrity to enjoy Marshall’s cooking, or Tracy’s hospitality. The Birchwood Café has 20 years of bringing the neighborhood and beyond to the table…and counting.

“People are realizing what we take into our bodies and make a part of us is really important,” Paulsen said.

“It is a neighborhood restaurant, but people drive to it from all over,” said Singleton. “I love this!”

Birchwood Café
Monday-Friday 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Saturday/Sunday 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
3311 E. 25th Street, Minneapolis MN 55406
www.birchwoodcafe.com

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