The departure last week of Keg and Case anchor tenant In Bloom raised immediate questions about the future of the high-profile St. Paul food hall. But those questions were answered this morning with the announcement by Brian and Sarah Ingram (of Hope Breakfast Bar and the upcoming Gnome Pub in the former Happy Gnome space) that they will be opening a Mexican-inspired spot called Elotes Woodfired Grill with culinary direction from Chef Justin Sutherland.
Brian Ingram, who spent his 20s in Huntington Beach in Southern California, credits his time there for inspiring Elotes. “I used to spend a lot of time going up the coast of Mexico, going up to San Diego and Ensenada and Rosarito and Tijuana, just loving that food and the street tacos and that whole experience,” he says.
Elotes will offer about 100 socially distanced seats on two levels inside of Keg and Case with an additional patio build-out offering space for 120 more. The restaurant will also feature to-go options and a marketplace where customers can buy everything from tortillas to brisket and other meats by the pound to chips and salsa to go, and a new succulent wall will add a massive splash of color and border-inspired visual impact.
As for food: Ingram says he intends to take full advantage of the woodfired grill that was In Bloom’s signature element. “We’re going to do everything from a woodfire trout tostada, to fresh pork tamales with mussels and a chile serrano broth to salmon diablo with chili diablo oil and cucumber slaw,” he says.
“And then we’re going to have this really fun taqueria,” Ingram says. “We’ll have everything from brisket to cow tongue to chorizo […] we’ll have a chicken tinga where we’re flavoring it with the mesquite. We’ll have a traditional pastor where it’s marinated with chilis and pineapple, and we’ll have tacos pescado where we’ll have market grilled fish tacos.”
The restaurant will also use heavy lava rock vessels to serve up chicken tinga, roasted vegetable, and pozole bowls.
“And,” adds Ingram, “we’re going to do these really fun wet tacos where we’ll take barbacoa and make a really great meat consomme and you’re going to dip your tacos into this wet broth. It’s a thing I saw at a food truck I go to every time I go back to Huntington Beach.”
With a menu that starts around $5 and includes plenty of $8–10 options, Ingram says he hopes to bring neighborhood diners through Keg and Case’s doors. And entertainment, he adds, will be part of the plan. “We’re really excited to start activating Keg and Case,” says Ingram. “[Keg and Case developer] Craig [Cohen] has asked me to really start activating Keg and Case as a whole, so we just bought a big 25-foot inflatable movie screen and an outdoor projector, so our goal is to have some movie nights and bring some great neighborhood stuff to the community.”
A white chef/owner opening a Mexican street-food driven restaurant in a predominantly white space has the potential to raise concerns about culinary appropriation. Ingram says he and his team have had numerous conversations about the question.
“I would say it’s like when we created New Bohemia—it was never meant to be a German pub or Bavarian, it was our interpretation of an American beer hall,” says Ingram in an email follow-up. “This is our interpretation of some of our favorite Southern California and coast of Baja taco shops.”
He added: “In no way are we claiming to be an authentic Mexican taco stand. This is just the flavors we love. I’m leaning heavily on two of my favorite cooks / chefs that have been with me for the last seven years, a couple named Marcia and Guermo [Castillo] from Mexico City, who are truly magic in the kitchen.”