Red Stag: Wonder Women Rule


Imagine my surprise when I found out that the contractor who worked on my own tiny St. Louis Park house — doing everything from renovating the kitchen to replacing the automatic garage door when my teenage son backed the car through it — is also the person who’s helping Kim Bartmann — the innovative, blur-the-lines founder of Barbette and Bryant Lake Bowl — create Red Stag, soon to become the only LEED-certified restaurant in town.

Her name is Lori Reese, and she runs a funky, homegrown company called Wonderwoman Construction that specializes in flexible design and salvage. She also, I’ve recently learned, used to play rugby with Bartmann at the U of M. And let me tell you, if I saw these two women coming at me with bloodthirst in their eyes, I’d be scared. Of course, I’m about five-foot-four in heels. . . .

But I digress. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and it’s the benchmark for the building and operation of “green” buildings. Restaurants are notorious energy hogs and wasters of everything from water to electricity to food. Red Stag is being built with features such as dual-flush toilets, LED lighting, and stove hoods that turn on only when their “sensors” detect a build-up of smoke and/or heat. They’re installing post-consumer recycled carpet that doesn’t off-gas and water heaters without tanks. Food will be locally sourced — reducing travel miles — and the plate scrapings composted.

Bartmann says she loves the contrast of opening a traditional supper club with progressive values. Also, she points out, “Supper clubs are popular in rural places where people actually do care about the environment.”

She’s been scouting a location for a third restaurant for a couple years now. Bartmann almost bought Bobino, then thought about the former Boom space (now the Bulldog-NE), but when she saw this old mechanical shop at 509 1st Avenue NE, she fell in love. “It was affordable, it had parking, and it’s a really solid-ass old building,” she says.

Reese predicts Bartmann will spend a little over 10 percent more on construction than if she were using conventional materials and methods to build Red Stag. But the cost, Reese says, may be recouped in as little as 18 months, given the savings on utility bills. “It’s a longer curve for residential,” she says. “You don’t make back your investment so fast because you’re not using so much energy. But in a restaurant, the energy bills tend to be 30 to 40 percent of your overall operating costs. So everything we’re doing should make a huge difference.”

But what about the food? The actual restaurant part of things? That’s where chef Bill Baskin, formerly of the spaceship-stylish Cosmos, comes in. Here, he’s planning a menu of “contemporized comfort food:” veal casserole, chicken and dumplings, a meat plate with game cooked three different ways (e.g. fried, braised, and smoked). The bar will be all about pickles, including pickled pigs feet, which Baskin, who’s originally from Texas, says they’re going to “give a go and see what Minnesota says.”

Lunch will include a lot of quick pick-up sandwiches and salads, for the downtown working crowd. One recipe Baskin was willing to share was a “deconstructed” Waldorf salad (entirely vegan) with celeriac, julienned apples, walnuts, smoked raisins, and fried mushroom chips. He’ll be serving a brunch on Sunday that’s a bit more conventional: French toast, chicken fried steak, “and maybe” — he flashes a grin “green eggs and ham.”

Right now, the 100-seat restaurant is only a frame. But assuming Reese and Bartmann keep moving — and don’t take a break to rough it up on the rugby field — Red Stag will open to the public in early November. And I have no doubt it will happen. These wonder women seem to be able to get anything done.