Tom and Brian are back.
Tom Quanrud and Brian Schneider had one of the best little coffeehouses anywhere from 1998 to 2008, just down the street from the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing. Lily’s had great sandwiches, plenty of bakery treats, espresso drinks and fresh flowers and gifts to go with the arty, historical atmosphere.
They sold it and opened a flower shop and home design studio elsewhere in downtown, but people kept encouraging them to get back into the restaurant business, Tom says, and that led to Oliver’s Wine Bar, which opened a month ago on Bush Street, a block from the St. James Hotel and a block from Lily’s old location.
“People have been thrilled,” Tom says. “They loved that there’s a place to come to, right in the heart of downtown.”
They opened in the former Hallmark shop, at Bush and Third streets, after about a year and a half of remodeling and prep work. They hoped for a quiet, low-key maiden voyage, but word got around, and the place was jammed all that first week, Brian said. I was there at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday in their second week, and the dining rooms were full.
Only about half the menu was available at that time, but they’re 100 percent up and running now, with casual comfort food, from Spanish tapas and Italian pasta to true-blue Minnesota hot dish.
The bar is one of the coolest in the area, with pressed tin on the front of it, galvanized pipe for the footrails and antique light fixtures. The dining rooms are full of local art, including some big canvases with iconic images of the city.
About 10 reds and 10 whites are available by the glass, including two from Alexis Bailly Vineyards in Hastings and a white from Red Wing’s Falconer Winery. The wines tilt American but aren’t just from California, and the imports include selections from Spain, Chile and Argentina — there’s only one French wine in the bunch. They’re also reasonably priced, $7-$10 for the most part. The beer list includes four on tap (three of them craft and imports) plus some hard ciders.
The menu has a range of small plates — olives, garlic mushrooms, cajun peppered shrimp — that are just right for wine sippers, but you can eat heartier with a surprising array of classic hot dishes, including my mom’s favorite, tuna noodle. Along with Cowboy Jack’s and the Crooked Pint Ale House in Rochester, among a few other places I know of, I think it’s just about time to write a Four Stars of Hot Dish column.
Tom, 53, is from Minneapolis, and Brian, 48, is from St. Cloud, but Red Wing is definitely home now.
The river town is getting its dining mojo back, after a few years of losses and vacancies. Along with the recently added Staghead Gastropub, nearby on Bush Street, Oliver’s is a part of that renaissance.
The wine bar and restaurant opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and the kitchen closes at 9. For more, call 651-388-8743.
Four Stars of Spam
Last week, I mentioned that Spam burgers as the quintessential Austin sandwich. To finish out that thought, I have a column coming up on the Four Stars of Spam — places that know how to cook it up right, such as the B & J Bar (Spam burger) and the Old Mill Restaurant (Spam dunkers), both in Austin. If you have tips, tell me, and I’ll write that next month.
Next up for Four Star awards, though: I’ll reveal the Four Stars of Flaming and Smoking Food. Use your imagination here, but I know of four places in the area that serve food and drinks that either are on fire or generate smoke. Hint: Japanese hibachi steakhouses are eligible. So are smoking martinis. Again, if you have a tip, call me at 507-285-7742.
That’s coming up in 507 on May 21. Next week, so you can plan your reading: I’ll have notes on a casino restaurant in Iowa called the Woodfire Grille — but it’s not the one in Northwood that has harvested several Four Stars awards — plus notes on a new dark beer from Schell’s in New Ulm.