MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It could easily feel like a restaurant ripped from the hipster TV satire “Portlandia,” but Gyst Fermentation Bar isn’t as strange as the name might suggest.
“We’re not really a sleepy wine bar, or even a cheese bar. We’re a fermentation bar,” Mel Guse, one of the sister-owners of Gyst, said.
Mel and Ky Guse moved to Minneapolis in 2014 to open Gyst. The North Dakota-natives had worked together in food in San Francisco, and decided they wanted to open their own place with nice wine, nice cheese, and some pickles to cut the fat on their cheese boards.
They got to thinking about using local produce for the pickles and realized that wine, cheese, beer, kombucha, pickles, as Mel Guse noted, are all products of fermentation.
“We don’t use any vinegar, you submerge [the vegetables] under the brine, don’t allow any oxygen, and that allows the fermentation to take place,” she said.
Fermentation is the process that turns fruit into wine, grain into beer, and flour into sourdough bread.
“It’s like yeast in the air, plus sugar — there’s sugar in everything — equals a party,” Mel Guse said.
A lot of us use vinegar to make pickles, but Gyst uses a natural process called lacto-fermentation. Veggies, herbs, spices and a salt brine solution go into a giant jug with an airlock. The whole solution is under a weight, which helps keep oxygen out, and allows lactobacillus bacteria (which is naturally occurring on most plants) to have a party.
Dietitians have been touting the benefits of fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha as a way to improve digestion and gut bacteria.
“The more we know about soil health, perhaps we’ll learn more about the great microbes are,” Ky Guse said.
The science of fermentation is cool, but it’s the flavor of the food that’s winning Gyst so many fans. A three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich gets a dose of Gyst-made sauerkraut, an acid bite that works perfectly with the creamy, fermented cheese.
And the Sandor sandwich is a huge conversation-starter with new guests. It’s a peanut butter sandwich topped with kimchi, which is fermented cabbage and radishes.
“They’re like, ‘Ooh,'” Mel Guse said. “I say, ‘Lets talk about it.’ Think about pad Thai flavors: they’re spicy and acidic, the crushed peanuts and scallions. It’s really tasty.”
It is the most unique peanut butter sandwich you’ll ever have.
Mel Guse and Jill Mott, another business partner, are both certified sommeliers, and Gyst has been honored for the focus on naturally fermenting or wild wines. The restaurant won the Charlie Award for Outstanding Bar Program in 2015. They won the Sustainability Award at the Minnesota Business Magazine’s Community Impact Awards in 2017.
“Our success has come from farmers and growers seeking us out,” Ky Guse said.
The restaurant also is experimenting with a different business model.
“We eliminated tipping and our prices reflect what it costs to run our business,” Ky Guse said.
Reality is, with all the kraut, and cheese, and fermenting this is a restaurant unlike any other … with a smell unlike any other.
“That’s why we have the ‘I’m with stinky’ T-shirt,” Ky Guse said.
25 East 26th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55404