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Nick and Eddie owner marches to different beat

There isn’t much that’s Swedish about hit Minneapolis eatery Nick and Eddie. Then again, just because co-owner Doug Anderson is a Swedish-American doesn’t mean he has to open a Swedish restaurant.

L-R: Doug Anderson, Jessica Anderson, Chef Steve Vranian,
“I don’t know if there is a Swedish connection,” he said. “Both my grandparents came from Sweden and settled out in Minnesota. I have blond hair and blue eyes and fit the part of the Midwestern Swede, but I lost my Midwest accent and the last thing I wanted to do was open a Swedish restaurant. Aquavit tried to fill that need.” [Aquavit closed its restaurant after struggling for but a few years in Minneapolis.]
Still, Anderson admits his hit eatery at 1612 Harmon Place near Loring Park has something of a “Scandinavian simplicity” to it.
“We have an American menu,” Anderson said. “Some of the dishes are more Scandinavian in their simplicity, but Nick and Eddie is simply a very straight-forward American bistro with great music and very good food that’s inexpensive. When opening a restaurant, what it becomes is up to you.”
Nick and Eddie owes much of its success to its combination of owners. California-trained Albanian chef Steve Vranian and Anderson’s wife, Jessica, each bring his and her own influence to the popular bistro.
“It’s easy to get egomaniacal in this business,” Anderson said with a laugh. “My wife keeps things easy. She’s very easy to get along with and very pleasant.”
Jessica Anderson started as the main pastry and bread chef at the restaurant. She began by making her own bialys, Parker House rolls, and semolina breads. Her talents quickly became a not-so-well-kept Minneapolis secret and she soon hired her own crew of French-trained bakers to help.
“Now she helps out in the front of the house more than she bakes,” Anderson said.
In many ways, it was the “front of the house” or the maître-d position that brought the Anderson family together and gave the Minneapolis Nick and Eddie its name.
Back in the 1980's, Anderson was part of the New York restaurant scene, where he experienced the original Nick and Eddie, the legendary SoHo eatery, up close. He said one of the more “colorful” regulars at the original Nick and Eddie was famed transvestite Dame Margo Howard, who introduced Anderson to his wife.
“She was one of my best drinking buddies,” Anderson said with a laugh. “She could never understand why I wasn’t interested in her and I would tell her one, you’re a man and two, you’re 70 years old.”
Jessica Anderson was a budding pastry chef originally from Sussex, England, when Anderson met her in New York. The two married and moved to Minneapolis 12 years ago, where they opened the New French Café. Anderson built on that first restaurant concept to create Nick and Eddie. He got permission to use the name and pried Vranian loose from the San Francisco restaurant scene, where he worked under renowned chef James Beard. Together, the trio came up with a menu and style that was decidedly different from anything Minneapolis has seen.
Anderson said that one was one of his goals.
“Minneapolis has changed a lot since I was a kid,” he said. “Back then, all you saw was the stereotypical Midwestern Scandinavian – blond hair, blue eyes. Twenty-five years ago the most exotic person you might see was a Jew. Now, Minnesota is quite diverse.”
Anderson and Vranian made sure to appeal to the diversity when they came up with their menu and design. Vranian handled the food, melding California simplicity with traditional Midwestern flavors, mixed with a dose of Swedish mom.
“Swedish food is not that radically different than traditional American Jewish cooking,” he said. “There are lots of equivalents in Swedish cooking to Jewish cooking -- from breads to smoked fish spreads.”
Cutting-edge dishes sprinkle the Nick and Eddie menu, from braised beef cheeks with mashed parsnips to Nick and Eddie’s spicy steak – “a holdover from New York City,” Anderson said – that Vranian marinates with peppers then sears and serves with mashed potatoes, collard greens, and a reduction of the marinade and braising juices.
“We have people that come in here with high expectations,” Anderson said. “What we do is go high and low. It’s almost working-class food that we bump up with a great bottle of wine. It’s very, very simple and great stuff.”
Although the menu is decidedly un-Swedish, Anderson says there are times when it’s impossible to shake his roots, especially during the holidays.
“We have gravlax and serve glögg at the bar,” he said. “This year we were thinking about doing the whole smorgasbord thing.”
Still, there is little conventional about Anderson or his restaurant. Even Anderson’s unofficial title is different from the usual restaurateur.
“Don’t call me an owner, I’m the curator,” he said. “I did all the design work and it just kind of ended up my watch. All the music we play is my music and we have some very striking paintings and photographs. That becomes my job. That’s why I get called the curator.”
While the menu is simple but sumptuous and the music and art is eclectic, there is one thing that is a staple at Nick and Eddie: Foodies can stay home.
“Those people are self-righteous ninnies that make demands not based on any experiences,” he said. “It’s a new sort of culture. The whole cycle is based on consumption then disclosure. It becomes a status thing that I can’t stand to watch. It’s like music. There was secret music out there. You had to look for it and got rewarded for going to dingy, nasty clubs. Back in 1977 we found the Sex Pistols and we’ve been paying the price for it by listening to The Knack and Green Day.”
In the end, what Anderson and his partners created in Minneapolis is a true bistro. It’s a reflection of Anderson, who said he believes the “foodie culture” is, in many ways, a sign of what’s wrong with the modern restaurant scene.
“Who needs them?” he said. “Life is difficult enough. I always wanted to have a place where you could have a great bottle of wine, talk to the people you’re with, and maybe even talk about your life, not what’s on the plate.”

Written by Chipp Reid
Photographed by Henrik Olund

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