Recently, when The Harriet Brasserie agreed to my request for an interview, it felt a bit like sitting down with one of my favorite celebrities—Eddie Redmayne, for example. Who wouldn’t love to know what makes talent like that tick?
I’ve been crushing on the Harriet for a few years now; dinner with friends, lunch with my mother, dessert with the kids, beer, and fries (with béarnaise for dipping) at the bar with my husband. If anyone asks about my dining preference, the answer is compulsory:
The Harriet, of course!
During the interview, my interaction with the Harriet staff moved beyond the, “How does one pronounce c-o-x-i-n-h-a?” type questions I’d always asked as a patron. (For those who may not know, this beautifully-syllabled word rolls off the tongue thusly: co-shee-na.)
It was a dialogue about the heart and soul behind it all.
Which felt like an absolute honor.
Especially because I am not a foodie in the way that many foodies are. An enthusiastic partaker of nearly anything edible (at least once), yes. But I haven’t learned how to dissect the elements of a dish with the precision of a brain surgeon, nor have I tapped into the muse that inspires colorful passages of food-rotica. I often drink wine out of a box. I serve my family tator-tot hot dish (even though I do think its gluey, corn-freckled underside borders on immoral.) I also have a paltry food-cabulary and rely heavily on the recommendations of my more fluent acquaintances.
But I do love a good story.
And the human stories behind the talent, the ingredients, and the cultures that comprise the Twin Cities’ culinary avant-garde are irresistible, even to an outsider like me. Hearing these stories takes the dining out experience to a whole new level of engagement.
I always suspected the Harriet Brasserie had a deeply human story: one senses its undercurrent watching owner and chef, Fernando Silva, and his staff interact with each other, with customers or with the well-dressed wine reps often seen at the bar. It’s also evident in the menu, which is varied, sophisticated, and garden-fresh.
The manager, Amanda Jacobson, who worked in the restaurant industry for years before joining the Harriet, admits there’s something special about Silva’s team that she didn’t always experience earlier in her career.
“It’s a very positive and inclusive place to work: everyone helps in every aspect. Everyone does dishes, even the chef, which comes very much from Fernando’s core values.”
Values, I learned, that are rooted in Fernando’s formative years on a farm in Brazil where he grew up cultivating and preparing fresh food. He eventually attended the University of Minnesota to study agricultural chemistry and to further develop his expertise in the science of food and sustainability. A background that lends him the unique ability to understand how a food source’s soil determines its level of consonance with other ingredients. Before opening the Harriet, he provided freelance consulting in the food industry and helped open other notable Twin Cities eateries such as the French Meadow Bakery and Eat Street Social.
When the Harriet opened in 2012, Silva’s agricultural mentality was foundational for the menu which was created by the mantra, “A dish should fall into place naturally.”
Carried by this philosophy, the menu feels like an invitational, featuring several Brazilian-inspired dishes such as ropa veija and duck tacos. Other offerings include a rich bison tartare and—a personal favorite of mine—lamb hash rich in both mint and hollandaise.
All of which are primarily created from locally grown, organic ingredients.
I was curious.
“The mussels are great—and the coxinha. But those are so hard to make—they take a lot of work—so we try not to eat too many of them. And, of course, the tres leches cake.”
I try not to interject a howl of excitement at the mention of my favorite indulgence.
When it comes to the coconut tres leches cake, both staff and patrons exude an almost a tender regard. Created by Silva’s wife, Kalinka, there is something special about this pretty little darling reposing in the center of a creamy moat of sweetened milk.
After the interview, I thought about why my heart beats for the Harriet. Beyond the staff’s commitment to freshness and sustainability—beyond the wine list and even the tres leches cake—my enthusiasm is admittedly egocentric: I love how I feel when I am there.
Which, according to the Harriet, is exactly what they strive for: “We are very neighborly—not pretentious at all—and yet we want to give people that accessible casual fine dining experience. It’s really about how you feel when you are here.”
There is great food to be had city-wide; I used to believe that I wanted to experience it all, one happy hour, one lunch, one dinner at a time.
But then I had a revelation: it’s not just about the food.
It’s also about me.
Me having the opportunity to connect more deeply to a truth that maybe I’ve forgotten or stopped hearing through the noise and mundanity of daily life.
Such as how much enjoyment is experienced by simply spending time in a beautiful, old building.
A firehouse in bygone years, the Harriet’s space presents a timeless, understated elegance that is anchored by architectural detail. Bright and airy, the high white walls and coved ceiling are weighted by a ponderous marble bar, warm hardwood floors, and cozy built-in booths. Natural light filters through the panes of a floor-to-ceiling window. On the other side of the window lies a front patio which, during the summer, is fringed by fresh herbs grown for the kitchen.
Another truth I sometimes forget? That extra surge of inspiration that comes from fueling work with pleasure. Whoever said it shouldn’t be so?
At the Harriet, the environment is engaging and yet quiet enough so that I can sit for a few hours midday, working on my laptop.
Meanwhile, my coffee never grows cold, and a fortifying brunch (I did mention the lamb hash, right?) is prepared and served with such relaxed sophistication, I wonder how likely I am to ever attempt a “working lunch” at a chain coffee shop or deli again.
Not as long as the Harriet Brasserie keeps doing what it’s doing.
If You Go
2724 W 43rd St,
Minneapolis, MN 55410
Photos by BirdDog Creative