When 6Smith owner Randy Stanley first moved to Excelsior, he admits he was stymied by the geographical—and culinary—void that existed in the suburban space between Minneapolis and Maple Grove.
“I was more of an urban person—I didn’t ‘get’ Wayzata,” says Stanley. But he remembered a property that had come up a few times in his then-20-year restaurant career, and he began to imagine new possibilities for the spot. “I decided to take a swing at it.”
There were 150,000 people within a 10-minute drive—70 percent of them between ages 30 and 55—a mix of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers with varied needs for a destination eatery. So flexibility was at the heart of the 6Smith brand from the beginning. The hope was that guests wouldn’t have to worry about seating options and noise levels, and “just eat,” Stanley explains. And that went for clients looking to graze on appetizers, split some entrées with a group or go all-out with a four-course fine dining experience. The team designed a roof-top patio—the only one in the western burbs—with a dedicated kitchen and “pub-grubby” menu, which includes small plates for sharing. There’s also a lakeside patio, private dining spaces for 10 to 70 guests, and a casual dining room alongside two formal ones.
“They can eat. Graze. Dine,” says Stanley. “At any given time, at any given table, you might have classic dining right next to casual tasting or experiential dining.” The early-1900s space on East Grove Lane features 30-foot clerestory windows that let in ample natural light and surfaces that add to “the old-made-new look,” says Stanley. “We wanted to be respectful of the original architecture. On the lake there is, of course, this implicit temptation to do something nautical. I resisted that.”
While Stanley calls the space “the most concepted ‘non-concept’ I’ve ever done,” he says that, when it comes to the food, “everything we do has a story,” and top-quality ingredients are at the heart of every dish. The menu features artful takes on Bell & Evans organic chicken, Duroc pork, certified Angus beef and sustainable fish and seafood such as diver scallops and Nova Scotia salmon.
Through partnerships with like-minded, mostly local producers, the culinary team has put together dishes that lean heavily on old-school cooking techniques including brining, searing and braising that bring out the simple flavors.
A chilled lobster roll—dubbed the “Midwest lobster roll”—is laced with tarragon and mustard mayo that plays nicely off celery, lettuce and a brioche bun. “Our taste buds freeze all winter,” laughs Stanley, so the dish has a depth of flavor that will wake up your senses after the long season of doldrums.
So what does Stanley order? He’s partial to the tamarind-braised short rib. It comes with a bright pickled mango salad and takes days of smoking before it’s on hand to arrive on your plate. The venison and Kobe Juicy Lucy is another standby. It’s cooked medium rare, overflowing with smoked gouda and piled high with jalapeño, oyster mushrooms, bacon and caramelized onion on an aioli-toasted pretzel roll. “Oh, and I can’t get enough of the fresh French fries—that’s why my pants are so tight,” adds Stanley.
Anytime you mention gouda, Kobe, or mustard mayo when ordering your meal, it calls for a delicious drink. Mixologist Marlon Hanson dreams up macerations, infusions and reductions that elevate cocktails to elaborate concoctions. If artisan cocktails aren’t your thing, there’s an extensive wine and beer list with a whole slew for any palate or to match with any plate.
Executive chef Angel Luna has been with the restaurant from the very beginning, when he and his wife, Finesse, the general manager of 6Smith, were asked to help build the business. Luna had culinary chops of his own, with more than a dozen years in the business under his belt. He worked his way up through the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group in Chicago, and then did a stint in construction before following his heart back to the kitchen.
“I love the whole restaurant business. I love cooking. I love the energy a restaurant carries,” says Luna. Just like Stanley (who is Luna’s father-in-law), he realized over time that he’d much rather have a hand in leading a restaurant, even though that sometimes means long hours and a chaotic schedule. “I’ve fallen in love with what we do at 6Smith,” says Luna. “I love the challenges—the difficulty of the preparations. You have to watch every step. It’s very exciting.”
Although Luna says choosing a favorite 6Smith dish is a little like choosing a favorite child, his go-to orders are the hanger steak chimichurri, tuna poke, beef and pork meatballs, seared jumbo scallops, or potato gnocchi. (That’s the short list.) For this spring, he’s excited to bring more fish and seafood into the menu, and he’s constantly deepening connections with local farmers and the dishes that showcase their product. While remaining true to the ingredients—and their origins—he’s hoping to continue to test the limits of familiar comfort food.
“I want to refresh those classic flavors from years ago—with a little tweak on them. We’re creating unique, rich, comfort food with a twist,” says Luna. But don’t think that’s limited to simple meat-and-potato dishes that Grandma used to make—we’re talking borderline-obsessive attention to every detail in every dish. The bacon and bourbon small plate, he says, takes seven days of prep and then eight hours in the oven to create a deep and layered flavor. The bacon is house-cured and smoked, and then served with bourbon-infused cherries. It’s a dish that takes a major commitment of cooler space and time to reach perfection. But it’s a labor of love, and 6Smith would have it no other way. “We take the time to get it done right—great flavor is the result!” says Luna.
As for the alphanumeric name? Says Stanley, “I was struggling to find something that would bring together the craftsman, artisan components to the restaurant in a name without getting too stuck in something.” In London, 6Smith is a street name connected to old-school English craftsmen who made sickle blades for harvesting wheat. “I liked it for a few reasons. First, it brought together the artisan-craftsman connection and second, because the word was dead, no one would know what it meant and I could reinvent it. The word would be ‘us.’ I wanted the first visit to 6Smith to be a surprise. Best part? It worked.”