God save the ugly restaurants.
Bless their cracked vinyl booths and curled linoleum floors. Anoint their dated decor and dark corners. They might not be long for this world.
The four horsemen—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest—have ushered in the dawn of the #branded restaurant. Its spaces are bright, its tiles honeycomb-shaped, its countertops marbled, and its wood accents rustic. This visually curated dining appears under any number of euphemistic monikers: eatery, kitchen, food hall.
That last one is a head-scratcher if you haven’t been a loyal student of the food blogosphere. (Haven’t you?) The food hall is the mall food court’s millennial kid sister, and she’s sweeping through cities and Instagram feeds with a trail of hashtags in her wake.
Typically, food halls offer a variety of vendors and stalls under one roof, a something-for-everyone bazaar where no one has to settle. (Midtown Global Market’s warren of stalls and mini-restaurants is the prototype of the food hall in the Twin Cities.) But the Lynhall, which opened on Lyndale Avenue in June, strays from this definition. Instead of distinct purveyors vying for palates and wallets, the Lynhall offers one kitchen, in which breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, and pastries are prepared. A nearby bar serves your cappuccino in the morning and your cocktail in the evening.
This is a lot for one kitchen team to take on. Presumably, it’s why food halls welcome a collection of independent operations, to say nothing of the culinary variety that entails.
If the variety of vendors is removed from the equation, what then is the appeal of a place like the Lynhall? The communal tables? The counter service? The magic of living out a Pinterest fantasy?
Well, yes. The surrounds are undeniably pleasant, if a bit precious. Every day from morning to mid-afternoon, light floods the room and the 12-foot-long tables fill with people working on laptops and sipping coffee; the choice cafe tables by the front window hold friends meeting for breakfast, co-workers sharing a quick lunch. The service is swift and friendly. You can eat a meal alone and not feel awkward. Everyone seems content.
But there’s more. In addition to serving you every meal of the day, every day of the week, the Lynhall offers a stately private event space, an incubator kitchen, and a kitchen studio with professional audio and visual equipment. Perhaps you’re beginning to understand why the term “restaurant” wouldn’t cut it here.
There’s also the food, of course. For the average eater who isn’t looking to book a rehearsal dinner, or shoot an episode of his food vlog, or start a line of hand-pulped jams, the Lynhall is a nice stop for breakfast, lunch, and coffee.
A smoked brisket hash ($13) was straightforward and lovely, equal parts meaty beef hunks (not particularly tender, but enough so) and sweet potato, little mushroom caps, and Brussels sprouts. A creamy horseradish sauce held the whole thing together, with an assist from the yolks of perfectly sunny-side-up eggs. On the sweeter side, the French toast ($10) was excellent: two thick slices of golden brown brioche, topped with fresh berries, fresh whipped cream, and Anderson’s maple syrup.
For something smaller and even quicker, the pastry case holds the standard muffins and quick breads, croissants and cookies. They’re all made in-house—which is admirable on its own—and though we’re far too spoiled by the near-ubiquitous treats Patisserie 46 and Black Walnut Bakery sprinkle throughout the metro’s cafes on a daily basis, these are passable renditions of classics.
Lunch is where the seams of an overextended kitchen begin to show. An open-faced chicken salad sandwich (for $11, I want the other slice of bread, thank you) piles a bland, paste-like spread on a nice but flimsy sourdough slice, with only a few curls of radish and cherry tomato halves for contrast. The charred short rib sandwich ($15) with marinated peppers and pickled onions was dripping in grease, an oily film that stood between our taste buds and any discernible flavor.
A buttery velvet squash soup saved the day, with a piece of golden toast for dipping. It made a powerful duo with the root vegetable salad’s spicy horseradish dressing, though on the salad, we desperately wanted more of the promised “clothbound cheddar.”
And yet, a second visit was nearly perfect for a quick midday nosh. The French tartine ($11) with brie fondue, a poached egg, and fat chunks of juicy heirloom tomatoes was spot-on. A savory tart with roasted tomatoes had all the oomph of a killer slice of pizza in the dainty package of a French dejeuner. A farro and beet salad with the tangy pop of golden berries reminded us that the whole meal was also pretty healthy and hearty, a nice touch in a world where burgers and burritos reign.
The lunch and dinner menu are one and the same. Unless you’re getting sandwiches for supper, your dinner options are mostly meats sold by the pound or half-pound—rotisserie chicken, rosemary garlic pork shoulder, braised beef short rib—with side options. We caution against the Dinner Kit, a grab-and-go ready-made meal of rotisserie chicken, potatoes, greens, and two rolls. For $32, you’d expect more than half a chicken and just enough sides for two people. Rotisserie chickens are already a grab-and-go option at the grocery store for $5-$10, and though the Lynhall’s might be somewhat superior in quality, this bird isn’t so juicy that it justifies doubling the price. Make your own quickie sides, or even buy some à la carte here, and spend the leftover cash on dessert.
For your sweet tooth, the glass case at the counter shows off pretty little cakes and jars of custard and tarts like the chocolate pumpkin tart with two petite quenelles of cream. A “tres leches” cake was nothing of the sort—none of the telltale cream-soaked crumb—but renamed would make a nice shareable mini-cake, with pretty nonpareils and dollops of lemon curd on top. You might also cap off your meal with a stiff drink. The Lynhall has a full liquor license and is putting it to good use with thoughtful cocktails, interesting lower-proof items like a cider-IPA radler, and some non-alcoholic mocktails, which is a trend more places should embrace.
That brings us back to trends, and the question of style over substance. The Lynhall is impeccably polished in presentation (and aptly described as “almost a parody of 2017 style” by one neighboring diner). That vintage pharmacy-meets-farmhouse abstraction plays to every follower-hungry Instagrammer who walks through its doors. Cynics will want to retch.
But styles change and trends become dated; the test of time is what goes on the plate. With some exceptions, the Lynhall is serving its customers more than just eye candy. If you want proof, ignore the hashtags and order the hash.
2640 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis