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Home » Walker Art Center restaurant changing hands: Goodbye Esker Grove, hello Cardamom

Walker Art Center restaurant changing hands: Goodbye Esker Grove, hello Cardamom

5 min read

Get ready to say goodbye to Esker Grove.

The Walker Art Center’s restaurant has a new name and a new culinary team: chefs and restaurateurs Daniel del Prado and Shawn McKenzie are partnering with the museum and opening Cardamom.

“I’m excited,” said del Prado. “I’ve always respected the Walker and I’m looking forward to the collaboration.”

The restaurant will borrow overtones from the cuisines of the regions on the Aegean and Mediterranean seas and feature a menu that will focus on herbs, spices and rotisserie meats and vegetables.

Del Prado said that he’s taking Cardamom in a different direction from its predecessor.

“I feel like people went into the restaurant and thought it was a little fancy, because maybe they think that art is fancy,” he said. “I want to try another way, and make it a little more casual.”

That means a counter-service setup, although diners will also be able to order at the table via cellphone. The patio — which boasts views of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden — is getting a bar next spring.

Del Prado is one of the Twin Cities’ busiest chefs. After a long and successful stint as executive chef at Burch, the Buenos Aires native opened Martina in 2017 and Colita in 2018. During the past 12 months, he’s been on a major growth spurt, launching Rosalia and Sanjusan in Minneapolis and Josefina in Wayzata.

McKenzie was the longtime pastry chef at Burch and Penny’s before she teamed up with del Prado — the two became friends while working in a restaurant in Portland, Ore. — and opened Café Cerés in December in a former Penny’s location; a second Café Cerés, also in south Minneapolis, debuted last month in the former Lucky Oven space.

The leadership team at Cardamom will include Martina veteran Joe Doyle in the kitchen and Megan Luedke (she runs all of del Prado’s bar operations) at the bar. Sarah Khan is the restaurant’s general manager. John Gross, del Prado’s business partner in Martina, Colita, Rosalia and Sanjusan, is also a partner in Cardamom.

Cardamom will be the Walker’s fourth restaurant in a decade. When a major addition to the museum opened in 2005, it included 20.21, the work of California star chef Wolfgang Puck. In 2011, 20.21 was replaced by Gather, which was managed by D’Amico and Partners. That second-floor restaurant became a private dining facility when Esker Grove came along in new street-level quarters in 2016.

All of them are preceded by Gallery 8. The Walker’s beloved cafeteria-style restaurant occupied a minimalist, gallery-like space — complete with an adjacent outdoor rooftop patio — for more than 30 years.

Esker Grove was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s best new restaurant award, and it has been managed by Dallas-based Culinaire, which also operates Sea Change at the Guthrie Theater (which remains shuttered due to the pandemic) and Fika at the American Swedish Institute. Culinaire recruited chef Doug Flicker (Bull’s Horn Food & Drink, Sandcastle) as Esker Grove’s consulting chef.

A few weeks ago, former Esker Grove chef Denny Leaf-Smith and former general manager Kim Tong announced that they are teaming up to create All Saints in the E. Hennepin Avenue space that was formerly occupied by Bardo. That project is scheduled to debut in August.

The doors at Esker Grove will remain open through July 11, and Cardamom will be christened four days later. A speedy makeover of the space will take place during that 96-hour hiatus.

“I’m excited for the challenge of transforming the place so quickly,” said del Prado. “It’s going to take a lot of orchestrating to make it happen, but it’s going to be fun.”

Due to the tight restaurant labor market, the plan is to initially operate four days a week, with service running 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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