I’m sitting on the patio of ninetwentyfive in Wayzata on a Sunday afternoon. The sky is perfect, and so is the breeze. It’s exactly the kind of day I’d want over and over in my weird futuristic weather-control done. With one hand, I steer a black hole around on my phone screen and eat buildings. My other hand guides a cocktail called “There Ain’t No Sin and There Ain’t No Virtue.” The drink is unabashedly boozy with a hint citrusy undertone. This cocktail is doin’ it for me.
The restaurant ninetwentyfive is at 925 Lake Street, inside is the Hotel Landing. The Landing was the first hotel to open on Lake Minnetonka in over a half-century. It’s hidden, as far as hidden goes on Lake Minnetonka. It’s cut off from the rest of Wayzata’s bustling Lake Street by The Promenade of Wayzata, a brick mini-city loaded with retail space and luxury living. I’m facing the other direction, and I see green: tall, grassy pond weeds; trees of various heights and densities; and a BIKE ROUTE sign. I can’t see Lake Minnetonka from my table, but I can feel its presence. Other than chatter from a nearby table and the occasional spinning of bicycle tires, though, I hear nothing.
The Hotel Landing and ninetwentyfive have been open for just over a year now; yet, most of my circle hadn’t heard of it before I told them. Maybe this is related to Hay Creek Hotels’ hiring of an all-star cast to run the kitchen and bar this year, maybe not. Whatever the case, this relative unknown has become the reboot of chef Lenny Russo’s unexampled Heartland restaurant and former North Loop cocktail goddess Trish Gavin’s new mixing grounds. And if you know these two from previous chapters, I can tell you their latest works aren’t to be missed.
Lenny Russo says love first brought him to Minnesota in the early 1980s.
“One girl got me here, and another girl kept me here,” he says.
Russo is originally from Hoboken, N.J., where he made his first meals at just 10 year old. Dishes like red sauce and chicken cacciatore were the first things he learned after watching his mother and grandparents in the kitchen. He got his first restaurant gig as a college kid in south Florida, when he walked into a French restaurant during a managers’ meeting and asked for a job. He told them he would do anything and could start immediately; they tossed him an apron, and he started immediately.
Russo has been a part of the Minnesota restaurant scene since 1985 but is most recently known for this work at Heartland, the restaurant he and wife Mega Hoehn opened in 2002. His work at Heartland produced a number of awards and “Best” distinctions most mortals would need fingers or a calculator to add up accurately. After 14 years, six James Beard Award nominations, and Russo having written a book bearing its name, Heartland served its last meals on New Years Eve 2016.
The opportunity to reboot the Heartland concept was one of the major reasons Russo points to for joining ninetwentyfive. Daniel Cataldo, ninetwentyfive’s former sous chef, was promoted to chef de cuisine during the revamp. Diners familiar with Heartland would expect a Russo-led restaurant to focus on local sourcing, but messages on the menu spells out the mission for anyone who might not know: telling the story of Lake Minnesota and sourcing the majority of their ingredients within 200 miles of the restaurant.
I had a cut of rabbit nested in barley, bacon, and mushrooms one night. By the end of it, I was nibbling every sliver of meat off that rabbit bone in front of a full bar and scraping the bowl clean of barley and mushrooms. Rabbit isn’t on the current menu, but there is a prime rib with summer squash ratatouille; a 24-ounce T-bone with mushroom sauce and duck fat potatoes; and freshwater bass with caviar, cucumber salad, and carrot yogurt sauce.
Their all-day menu is where you’ll find their ninetwentyfive burger. You’ll press everything down to mouth height, tear through planks of pork belly, and probably have a little watercress leaf poking out of your mouth as you chew. What do the pastel button-up-wearing businessmen a few seats down think of your show? Who cares.
An artisan cheese sandwich is toasted honey wheat packed with mozzarella, cheddar, and Parmesan. You can pull it a foot from your mouth before the cheese breaks if you bite into it right. There’s a charcuterie plate that changes daily. If you’re like me and your friends step out for a smoke right before it’s set down, you’ll make them regret that.
Breakfast starts at 6:30 a.m. with omelets, benedicts, and pancakes. They serve lunch and brunch, too. You can find all of the menus here.
“I’m just a geek who plays with booze,” says Trish Gavin as she stirs a cocktail, traps a little bit in the end of a straw, and samples it.
You know Gavin, of course, as the mixologist who helped bring the North Loop’s Tullibee into the national spotlight. You also know her from my podcast, back when that was a thing. Gavin has been making cocktails ever since her uncle handed her a jigger at 16 years old and told her to “figure it out.”
It’s safe to say she has. Five times, she was regional finalist for Bombay Sapphire and GQ’s “Most Imaginative Bartender” award. In 2017, she was named Best Bartender by the City Pages. Now, she’s turning what was an ascending cocktail scene in Wayzata into a full-on powerhouse.
Gavin was hired by ninetwentyfive to lead the bar; and Peter Plaehn, Minnesota’s first sommelier to earn the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced certificate, is the restaurant’s beverage manager. Gavin admits the clientele out this way is still getting used to the level of potables she and her peers are perfecting, but exposing them to it has so far yielded a good return.
As it was at the Hewing, the Old Fashioned is where you should start. Gavin employs a triple whiskey blend: Buffalo Trace offers the drink a strong backbone, with Vikre Honor Brand Hey Sunshine mixed in to soften it and and Jim Beam Rye to give it some heat. Piloncillo and Trinity bitters from local makers Bittercube round out the mixture.
“I made it over and over again until it tasted right,” says Gavin, and the work pays off. It’s the kind of Old Fashioned I’d sing about if I had Dean Martin’s voice. I don’t, but catch me on the right night and I might anyway.
“There Ain’t No Sin and There Ain’t No Virtue” is Gavin’s ode to a Manhattan but she also called it a riff on a Brainstorm: rye whiskey from locally-made Bar and Tender, Old Overholt Bonded, and Dolin Blanc vermouth to preserve sweetness. Benedictine and orange bitters round this one out.
You have Instagram, right? So you probably recognize Good Enough to Eat. It’s the cocktail Gavin tops with all the berries, the one that would look at home in a cereal commercial as part of a balanced breakfast. Think boozy fruit juice. It’s not my jam (no pun intended), but a lot of people will have fun with this cocktail.
Gavin also has four non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu, blueprinted with the same level of detail as the headliners. Non-alcoholic cocktails have become essential in a good cocktail program, she says, and called bars without them “dated as f*ck.”
And since you were wondering, yes: ninetwentyfive has rosé on tap, and it’s only $5 at happy hour. When I’m in that mood, I get Muscadet. It’s a white wine, about the dryest I can handle. I find it pairs well with French fries. You can see the whole drink menu here.
The restaurant was practically empty during my first couple of visits, but momentum is building. Its wine list was already voted best in the suburbs in a poll conducted by Twin Cities Wine. I already bothered one prominent food Instagrammer at the bar there, and I’ve joked with a few obviously-just-off-the-yacht businessmen. Sometimes I see people drinking wine at the bar by themselves for an hour or two. Sometimes I am that person.
More information can be found on the nine twenty five website. Happy hour runs every day from 3-6 p.m. with discounted food, draft beer and wine, and certain cocktails. Dogs are welcome on the patio. It’s still a good hiding place for now, but getting a shaded patio table and swallowing buildings in solitude will undoubtedly get tougher as the days pass.
RELATED: On the other side of Lake Street is 6Smith Wayzata, and I wrote my first post about them in 2014. You can also check out my story about mornings at Gavin Kaysen’s French bistro, Bellecour.