“I credit my mom with the name,” says Eric, 32. The governor’s former wife, a resident of Afton, near the Wisconsin border, refers to her neighbor as “an old bachelor farmer.” The folksy name benefits from its whiff of Garrison Keillor humor.
The restaurant concept, inspired by a trip that Eric and his fiancée-turned-wife took to Scandinavia five years ago, is by turns homespun and stylish. Cheery blue-and-white awnings welcome diners to the sprawling corner property, which factors in a clothing store up front (the focus of Andrew, 28) and an underground cocktail lounge, Marvel Bar, in the rear. Bridging the two concepts is the 92-seat restaurant that its owners hope will deliver “the best that Minneapolis has to offer,” says Eric, referring to the top local talent he has recruited, including master mixologist Pip Hanson and chef Paul Berglund.
Though Berglund flags the distinguished Italian restaurant Oliveto in Oakland, Calif., on his résumé, the 35-year-old chef came to his current roost from Heartland in St. Paul, a standard-bearer of Midwestern cooking. Interviewing good home cooks helps his cause, too, as when he practiced making spritz cookies with his wife’s Aunt Marge Peterson in Fort Dodge, Iowa, last year.
“Bread is a pillar of Nordic cooking,” says Berglund, pointing to Danish smorrebrod (open-face sandwiches) and Swedish smorgasbord (buffet with breads). The Bachelor Farmer devotes a menu category to toast, an idea that deserves wider attention. The kitchen bakes two kinds of bread — whole-wheat sourdough and an egg-enriched white loaf — that become vehicles for toppings as diverse as rolled roasted pork belly with English pea puree, Camembert with vegetable salad and herring from Lake Superior. The delivery of the thickly sliced warm bread is as impressive as the spreads. Online, the Daytons found a Texas couple eager to offload 100 silver-plated toast caddies tucked away in storage after their tea shop closed. Sold! The Bachelor Farmer also makes softball-size popovers, which locals figure are a nod to the signatures served at Dayton’s onetime department store. Not so, says Eric. “I just really like popovers.”
As at all conscientious restaurants, the menu changes with the seasons. The braised red cabbage with walnuts and lamb sausage that I caught in late April has since given way to chilled walleye mousse and Finnish breaded pork cutlets. On the roof of the Bachelor Farmer is a garden from which Berglund plucks radishes, turnips and herbs that dress his plates below.