By Jason DeRusha

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. (WCCO) — Before Andrew Zimmern was famous for his TV series “Bizarre Foods,” he was a chef and a cook in Minneapolis restaurants. Nearly 20 years after he last stepped foot in a kitchen as an employee, Zimmern is opening his own restaurant, in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park.

“Overall, I’m just thrilled,” he said.

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Lucky Cricket serves its first meal to its first paying customer on Monday, at lunch. In an interview just before opening day, Zimmern conveyed his excitement.

“I can’t wait to see how customers, who are paying, react to our creation,” Zimmern said.

Lucky Cricket is a partnership with Zimmern and local restaurateur Michael McDermott (Rojo, Randle’s Tavern23).

The food is Chinese, but not like the mom and pop Chinese restaurants you might be used to.

“What we’re trying to do here is casual, approachable, everyday, honest, authentic, delicious, craveable Chinese food in a fun environment with great music, great drinks,” Zimmern said.

The design is bright, fun and exciting.

Tiki Heads frame the rum slushy machines; Chinese fish traps divide the 200 seat restaurant, making it feel more intimate.

Zimmern said he wrote the menu a while ago, using fresh ingredients and recipes he picked up in his decades of travel.

“There are 10 or 12 recipes that I learned in Shanghai, in Shandu, Hong Kong, San Gabriel Valley, in Flushing Queens, from chefs,” he said.

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The lunch menu features sandwiches (“They eat sandwiches in China,” Zimmern said) like a fried chicken and a fried walleye. The team will make fresh Chinese-style bread, reminiscent of an English muffin.

Don’t expect this to be a fancy, high-end, chef environment though.

“We understand that we’re creating food for everyone,” Zimmern said. “I want kids who don’t like spicy food to come in here and be happy. We want grandmas, who don’t like food with lots of ginger and garlic to be very, very happy.”

Zimmern’s not going to be on the line everyday cooking, or even in the restaurant all the time.

“There’s a reason we didn’t call it Andrew Zimmern’s Lucky Cricket,” he said.

But Zimmern can still cook. He demonstrated Stony’s Flyhead Lettuce Wrap, made with pork, tofu, peppers, and Chinese chives.

“They’re very chewy and springy. It’s not like the chive that grows in your garden in at home,” Zimmern said.

The Chinese chives taste like stir-fried green beans with a hint of onion bite.

If Lucky Cricket is truly lucky, Zimmern’s goal is to have this be the first of many restaurants. Born in the Twin Cities, living around the world.

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“Everybody has said you can’t do a big growth restaurant business at this size with a big beverage program and do great food,” Zimmern said. “I think I can.”

Jason DeRusha