By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When Chef Susan Dunlop and her partner in business and in life, Joan Schmitt, bought a former pizza place in St. Paul, they had to pick a name.

“‘Joan’s In The Park‘ sounds better than ‘Susan’s In The Park,'” Susan said.

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And they had to figure out how to cook, because they couldn’t afford to replace the pizza ovens.

Susan and Joan used to work in steak restaurants. Now they sear their ribeye in the 800-degree lower oven.

“Scallops … stay down here because they need nice high heat, and we get a really nice sear on those,” Susan said.

The only other main temperature is above, a 500-degree heat.

“You don’t have a ton of control about temperatures as far as turning down a flame or something like that, so we kind of move things back and forth,” Susan said. “This area here we’ve just started using. This stays about 150 degrees, just the top part [of the oven].”

The clever solution in the kitchen led to big dividends up front, where Joan’s was just honored as one of Open Table’s Top 100 restaurants in the country.

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“We thought that we would have great guests and, you know, really enjoy doing what we’re doing, but we’ve made life-long friends with our guests now,” Joan said.

Now it’s about pushing the limits. Susan and Joan are experimenting with monthly dinners, where they only use local ingredients. No olive oil, no lemons.

Susan makes the cheese, and even the breads come from just wheat and water — no commercial yeast.

Always, the food and service come with a large serving of love. It’s the only way Susan and Joan know.

“We drive together here, we drive home together, we spend all day together, so we’re really, really it’s going good so far,” Joan said.

Joan’s isn’t really in a park. It’s called “In The Park” because it’s in the Highland Park neighborhood.

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It’s open for dinner only, Tuesday through Saturdays.

Jason DeRusha