Ally Restaurants celebrates the opening of a second Rock Elm.
Belly up, Maple Grove, because our neck of the woods is about to get a little more delicious. Plymouth’s flagship Rock Elm Tavern has become a local institution, with from-scratch cooking, interesting cocktails and 30 craft beers on tap. The same team opened up the retro-chic Holman’s Table at the St. Paul Downtown Airport just before the Super Bowl.
It’s the first full-service restaurant to occupy that space—which literally overlooks the airport’s runway in a historic building—in nearly 20 years. Past flooding issues were alleviated with a removable flood wall system, and the dining room and its menu are at once old-school and fresh, laid-back yet up-scale. The Mushroom Toast has made headlines—and countless Instagram feeds—in the months since the brand was introduced. “We’re excited to help breathe some life back into the building,” says co-owner Troy Reding.
Reding met his business partner, Brad Sorenson, at church more than 20 years ago, and it was inevitable they’d become good buds and eventual business partners. They have similar values and priorities. Their wives and kids get along. They’re both avid sports fans. And they share a penchant for fine food and spirits. “I can easily say Troy is my best friend,” Sorenson says. “He’s one of those guys who will literally give you the shirt off his back.”
For years, while playing cards and during family vacations together, the two toyed with the idea of opening restaurants. In 2014, Reding decided it was time to turn his 30-plus years of bar and restaurant experience—including 24 as TGI Friday’s director of Midwest operations—into a venture of his own. “I turned 50 years old, my youngest child graduated from high school and I knew I could be successful in the hospitality business,” he says.
Naturally, he reached out to Sorenson, who replied: “Let’s do it!”
Reding handles most of the development and operations of Ally Restaurants. Sorenson—who still maintains a full-time job at Boston Scientific as senior vice president of manufacturing and supply chain—brings financial savvy and menu ideas from his extensive business travel. Now, the Ally team has done a slight pivot, dropping the “Tavern” from the name and opening a third location off Highways 94 and 610 near Maple Grove Hospital. The newest venue brings together what’s worked well at the other two restaurants while giving a nod to the hospital next door and the distinct community.
When asked what he enjoys about opening restaurants, Reding says “It’s the adrenaline of everything is new, making our own decisions of what the place is going to feel like and the ability to impact the communities we’re in.”
Maple Grove, Meet Rock Elm
Maple Grove’s own Rock Elm is set to open in September and has a similar look and feel to the Plymouth location, but “a little classier,” says Reding. He says the intent was to go a little bit more loungy, with long, back-to-back banquettes taking up the center of the main dining space. Midnight blue statement tile and feature light fixtures draw visitors’ attention to the bar, much like the blush-hued bulbous lights and contrasting, star-patterned wall tiles do at Holman’s Table. There’s a definitive sense of place, with warm woods and thoughtful design elements, but “it’s just a little less rustic” than Plymouth, Reding says.
Demographic-wise, Maple Grove is similar to Plymouth, he adds. The plan is to capitalize on the restaurant’s proximity to the high school, launching community-centric specials and building relationships with parents and school administrators. The menu was curated with an eye on the hospital crowd, too, with an amped up breakfast menu and morning happy hour for clinical and support staff coming off third shift.
The menu brings in fan favorites from both established restaurants, leaning more toward signature entrées than burgers. There will be imaginative small plates—substantial enough to mix and match for a laid-back meal—and an emphatic “yes on the Mushroom Toast,” says Reding. When asked whether the team anticipated that unassuming plate going over as well as it has, he chuckles a bit, “No, not at all! It’s just a deconstructed burger. We added roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions. That’s it!”
Rock Elm is a swanky date night destination, but also totally kid- and colleague-friendly. It’s a balance that’s gone over well in the Twin Cities so far, and the Ally team hopes Maple Grove will love it, too.
Cure What Ails You
Rock Elm offers its recipe for a popular cocktail.
“It’ll cure whatever ails you,” says Bergquist. The aptly-named Penicillin is a favorite among the signature cocktails at Rock Elm in Plymouth, and it’s sure to be a hit among the healthcare-centric crowd at the new spot in Maple Grove. It’s got a sweet and smoky taste with a cheerful yellowish color—but it packs a serious punch in the booze department. Try a taste of Rock Elm at home with this easy recipe:
2 oz. Bank Note
3/8 oz. ginger
3/8 oz. honey
1 oz. lemon juice
2-3 spritzes of Compass Box the Peat Monster
Add all ingredients, except the Peat Monster, to a shaker. Taste for balance, adjust, and add ice. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds, and serve over a single, water-clear ice cube. Spritz the top of the drink twice with Peat Monster.
For the uninitiated, Bank Note is a blended Scotch whisky, Compass the Peat Monster is noted as a blended malt Scotch whisky.