Something to Talk About

New style at the old-school Town Talk Diner.

For more than 60 years, the Town Talk Diner was a Minneapolis institution, beloved for its $1.99 breakfast combos and its plate-sized pancakes made from the secret family recipe of owners Barb Link and Vickie Brever. Vacant for several years after they closed it, the Town Talk (2707 East Lake Street, 612-722-1312) is back—with new owners, a new concept, and an expanded dining area.

 

There’s no breakfast service anymore, but at brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, you can order Bananas Foster French Toast or Pulled-Pork Pepper Hash and a Bloody Caesar cocktail to wash it down with. (The legendary pancakes? They’re still on the menu, even for dinner. An anonymous sender supplied what’s believed to be the original recipe.)

Sit at the old fountain-style counter if you like, but the new Town Talk is not a “short-order cook” kind of place. Heading up the kitchen is Executive Chef David Vlach, a talent who’s cooked at the French Laundry in Napa, Aquavit in New York, and locally at Levain. His flights of fancy include “frickles”—addictive, thinly cut slices of tempura-battered homemade pickles served with a mustard dill sauce—and deep-fried Carr Valley Cheese curds coated in a scallion and caper batter and sided with a tangy house ketchup. Both are state fair ought-to-bes not to be missed.

There’s an assortment of burgers, hot dogs, salads, and sandwiches, including a terrific barbecue pulled-pork option. Those share the menu with more substantial entrées and a nightly short list of market-inspired specials—lately including a “Norwegian sushi” of smoked salmon rolled in lefse.

If you aren’t satisfied with what you’re served, you shouldn’t hesitate to tell Tim Niver, the gracious and gregarious former manager of Aquavit in Minneapolis, who seems to be everywhere at once. There aren’t many better front-of-house veterans around. Niver and Vlach are partners in Town Talk with Aaron Johnson, until last year the restaurant and bar manager at Cosmos in the Graves 601 Hotel.

Don’t let the “diner” appellation fool you. Besides martinis and other classic cocktails, there’s an extensive and well-priced wine list, a couple of dozen brews, and alcohol-spiked “adult” malts and floats. As Niver describes the new Town Talk, “We want this to be the kind of place where you can snack on an inexpensive glass of cabernet and a platter of cold cuts and cheeses, or indulge in a grilled tri-tip beef steak with a bottle of vintage Meritage.” Town Talk is totally retro and totally fun.