DeRusha Eats: Dining In A Flood Plain — St. Paul’s Red River Kitchen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It was a unique challenge: A beautiful St. Paul building, right on the river, but in danger of flooding. For decades, it remained empty. That is, until a hometown restaurant guy had a clever idea.

This morning, DeRusha Eats at the old City House, in Red River Kitchen.

There has always been something magical about the Mississippi River. A stone’s throw from downtown St. Paul, much has changed here. But much has not.

“It’s totally amazing. One of our tug boats is coming to push the barges away and down the river,” said restaurant owner and St. Paul resident Matt O’Reilly.

For more than ten years, O’Reilly rode his bike along the trail on the west side of the river, just down the hill from the Science Museum of Minnesota, and admired the old grain elevator and flour mill that opened in 1922. Now called “City House,” O’Reilly wondered: “What’s going on with that cool building? Why isn’t it in use?”

He owns Republic, a beer bar near the University of Minnesota, and the Red River Kitchen Food Truck, so he started thinking about putting a restaurant in the 7000 square foot building. But: the building is old. The pipes would freeze in winter. And it’s located in a flood plain, “in my lifetime this space has flooded six or seven times,” he said.

But to O’Reilley, the solution was obvious. Parking a second Red River Kitchen Food Truck right next to the building. A mobile restaurant, operating only in the summer.

“Why not build a restaurant you can drive away if it floods,” said O’Reilly’s partner, Chef J.D. Fratzke.

The prep kitchen is fully mobile too, all the shelves and tables are on casters, so they can roll out and be loaded up quickly onto a flatbed truck.

“I’d been working under florescent lights and in basement kitchens for decades, but to come to the river, literally the river I grew up on in Winona and cook was incredibly therapeutic to say the least,” said Fratzke.

The food is great too. A cubano sandwich with ham, pork and cheese has become the show-stopper. Fratzke’s menu includes Jambalaya with shrimp and andouille sausage; beautiful braised pork tacos, Chef JD’s menu is light and fast and feels like it belongs.

“I wanted to reflect the way that the river smelled and felt to me in the morning when I opened the garage doors and let the emotion, the feelings, and that sensation come in,” said Fratzke.

The green bean and arugula salad has a crème fraiche dressing, it’s topped with peanuts and crispy onions and sells for around $8. There’s a turkey burger, a beans and rice bowl, a wide variety of food from JD Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly’s hearts, along the river that feeds their souls.

“It’s amazing, there’s nothing like it,” said O’Reilly.

Red River Kitchen opens for the season on Monday, May 1.

More from Jason DeRusha
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