Salty Tart is so close to opening in St. Paul -- with its biggest cafe menu yet.
The bakery spearheaded by James Beard Award-nominated chef Michelle Gayer will soon debut its third location at Tim McKee’s Market House Collaborative (Fifth Street East and Broadway Street), in the space that formerly housed Lenny Russo’s Heartland market.
But during a mid-November visit, the 1,500-square-foot spot is far from ready for customers. Gayer’s had to delay her opening -- which she’d hoped would be this month -- to December 1.
She’s disappointed but plowing ahead, as she tends to do -- the intense-eyed brunette with a no-bullshit attitude has been “100 percent” involved with designing the new space, and even in a state of remodeling disarray, the St. Paul location’s potential is palpable.
“I want to be present in this process and just really enjoy it,” she says. Her partner in design is Liz Gardner from Bodega Ltd. “She’s magic,” Gayer says.
The room is wrapped in massive windows; one side of the building overlooks the Farmers Market, the other CHS Field, home to the St. Paul Saints. Gardner describes the space’s aesthetic as “chic yet feminine,” with a Parisian vibe. “We’re trying to capture the old-world vibes of this building,” she says. A grand iron staircase lit with an oversized light fixture is the pièce de résistance of the exterior.
Inside, the existing bar will be replaced with a heavily patterned marble. A curved glass case will enclose items like Gayer’s flaky, buttery croissants and notoriously gooey grab-and-go ham-and-cheese. A separate bakery case will house dainty tarts and decadent cakes. A credenza or armoire (yet to be purchased) will display the coffee accoutrements. Plants will fill the space, and brass elements should add a modern touch.
Gayer plans on 50 seats divided between marble high-top seating along the windows and vintage velvet banquettes against the back wall. Those walls will be white, floors will be cork board; the overall color scheme is cream and natural tones. She’s also reusing some of the furniture and equipment from the former Heartland.
The St. Paul location is a fast-casual, counter service concept. Five employees per day will be on hand: a barista, a cashier, a hostess, and chef Adla Britton on food prep.
Interestingly enough, there are no ovens at Salty Tart’s St. Paul outpost. That’s because earlier this year, Gayer purchased a 4,000-square-foot commercial kitchen space on Harriet Avenue in south Minneapolis. “The idea, by buying this production space, is that everyone is centrally located, all doing things all the same way, where we can have more control over the product, the ordering, all the things, and then it can just get farmed out to the different locations,” she says. “And, because, to open up a cafe or anything and put hoods is $80,000. We’re trying to go at it as efficiently, financially, as possible.”
Because there are no ovens here, Britton will rely on a Turbo Chef, a machine that Gayer says she is “oddly obsessed about.” It uses several forms of heat -- including microwave and conduction -- to cook food. “It’s so precise and it’s so accurate, it’s stupid,” Gayer says. “Ten line cooks couldn’t do the job and do it exactly the same.”
Britton will also use a panini machine and “some other cooking methods that don’t require hoods, so that we’ll be able to execute as much hot, delicious, sexy food as possible,” Gayer says.
The full cafe menu will be seasonal, with a French-California vibe, including savory items like sandwiches, soups, shirred eggs, and fresh-baked rustic loaves. Of course, the irresistible sweet stuff will be here, too: sugar brioche, fruit-filled turnovers, coconut macaroons.
Given that Salty Tart’s other locations currently only serve pastries, I asked Gayer if she’s nervous about the expansive hot food menu. “Yeah, I’m scared out of my mind,” she replies, although she appears completely calm. “This is the facade. You didn’t see me at 4:30 this morning, stewing and brewing.”
Speaking of brewing, the newest Salty Tart will feature True Stone coffee in all your favorite variations: cortados, Americanos, lattes, espresso.
Hours at the St. Paul location will be from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. – not because St. Paul tends to be dead after sundown, but because “I feel like if I’m open at night, it makes this more of a restaurant, and I’m not trying to be a restaurant owner,” Gayer says. “That’s never [been] my passion. I’m a pastry chef that enjoys cooking savory food.”
After a moment, she adds with a laugh, “But it seems to be turning into a restaurant.”
Salty Tart also has locations at Midtown Global Market and MSP International Airport. Gayer’s Power, Corruption, and Pie pop-up happens monthly and will eventually be a pie shop at the commercial kitchen location.