Restaurant Alma served the last dishes from our original dining room on Friday, August 12th. 

Our anticipated reopening, to include Café, Hotel and Restaurant Alma, is early November. 

Stay tuned to this space and also our blog, http://bit.ly/ALMAblog, for updates on our construction and development. 

Thank you and we look forward to serving you in November. 


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Since 1999, Restaurant Alma has been welcoming guests with authentic hospitality and diverse, ingredient driven cooking.

The Restaurant Alma dining experience is built around a seasonally changing prix fixe three-course menu and a wine list carefully selected to compliment every dish we serve. We feature many local and organic products, stocking our pantry with the same traditional foods that have well-nourished people for generations. Our entire menu is handcrafted using both timeless and innovative cooking techniques. To put it plainly, the food we create reflects excellence in all stages of preparation and is simply delicious.

Our approach towards the operation of the restaurant is truly collaborative, and we believe that every single member of our team is integral to our success. We are committed to creating a learning environment where all staff can thrive, receive competitive living wages, and have access to meaningful benefits.

Hours & Location

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528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414


We open for dinner service at 5pm, 7 nights a week.


Private Dining

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Overlooking the restaurant dining room, Alma’s semi-private mezzanine is the perfect setting for intimate celebrations, professional gatherings, or small parties of up to 16 people. We offer a seasonal, 3-course prix-fixe menu tailored to your preferences beginning at 5pm Sunday through Thursday evenings.

For More Information: Please contact Hannah Bredahl at events@restaurantalma.com or 612-940-6192


With a variety of accommodations for up to 60 people, Restaurant Alma offers a warm, intimate space for private events. Our dining room features high open beam ceiling, exposed brick columns, banquette seating and concrete floors. Full buyout is available seven nights a week.

Restaurant Buy-out: 60 seated

For More Information: Please contact Hannah Bredahl at events@restaurantalma.com or 612-940-6192

Events Inquiry

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Chef Alex Roberts plans boutique inn above his Restaurant Alma

Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal

Easy Pheasant Hunting

Minnesota Monthly

2015 Best Restaurants

Mpls St Paul

City Guide: Minneapolis

A Cup of Jo | May 12, 2016

Alma Bakery Pop Up Makes Glorious Holiday Return

Eater Minneapolis | Dec 16, 2015


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Sunday, September 18th, 2016 

G I V I N G   B A C K : 

E X P L O R I N G   A L M A ' S   C O M M U N I T Y   P A R T N E R S H I P S

W I T H   A S H   R E Y N O L D S

To know Ash Reynolds is to know a truly compassionate soul - she’s warm, funny, a keen listener, and generously aware. After spending years as a server and supervisor at Restaurant Alma, Ash helped to open Brasa St. Paul, and then built the Brasa catering department from the ground up. Now she’s the Manager of Communications & Community Relations for the Alma Group, and Ash has dedicated herself to using the resources of three successful restaurants to give back to the community that surrounds us. The Alma Blog accompanied her on a trip to the headquarters of Youth Farm - one of the main organizations the Alma is partnered with. We took a walk around South Minneapolis, exploring the Youth Farm gardens and talking with staff, and learning about what it truly means to help enrich the community you’re in. 

AB: Where did Alma’s community partnership program start? 

AR: When we opened the doors in 1999, it felt innate to support the community we were working in. So from the very beginning we started supporting Marcy Open school, which is the closest elementary school to Alma, with any sort of donations they asked for. Then over the years that’s grown to where we are now the main caterer and provider for their Arts Gala, and that Gala feeds six hundred people a year. 

AB: And now we work with a lot of schools, yes? 

AR: Our involvement with Minneapolis public schools is substantial, and it gets to the root of our philosophy on nourishing people: they feed thirty-four thousand kids a day. We have an involvement with them on building relationships with local farmers, taste testing, and doing focus groups with kids to taste new recipes they’re working on. The Brasa curried chicken bowl is currently on the menu at Minneapolis public schools, and we know that by being involved with them we’re able to lend a different kind of credibility to the food and endorse what’s going on there, because everyone thinks about school lunches as being kind of...you know. Not very good. But they’re really changing that in Minneapolis. A lot of the same vendors they use, like River Bend Farms and Dragsmith and Open Hands, are vendors that we use too. We’re able to support getting that level of food quality to kids, which is significant. And really enjoyable. 

AB: When did your role start to emerge, as someone who is dedicated to the giving side of Alma? 

AR: My role started about seven years ago through Brasa’s catering program. As I was handling the donation requests that were coming in, we decided to formalize what our donation program would be going forward. We really wanted to focus our non-profit involvement locally - mainly with organizations that work to promote sustainable farming, farming education, land stewardship, hunger relief issues, and the wellbeing of children. In 2013 we began a relationship with Minneapolis public schools and their True Food Chef Council. The initial project was putting salad bars in what I think was eight elementary schools, and so we did fundraising in both Brasa locations for that. We also decided, during that fundraising project, to donate a dollar from every Alma tasting menu to the effort. What was amazing was that it invigorated the staff so much - to be able to give back in that way and have a tangible part in providing good food to kids, that we decided to roll it out into a monthly program. Once that happened, we decided we needed somebody dedicated to it, who is connecting the non-profits and promoting it socially, so that our customers can know about it. 

AB: So that was where the “Giving Program” that we know today came from? 

AR: Right. So in January 2014 it was officially launched, and since then we’ve worked with about twenty local non-profits. We also work from the ground with organizations like the Sustainable Farming Association and the Farmer’s Legal Action Group. The Farmer’s Legal Action Group provides legal assistance to mostly immigrant Farmers who are trying to work land and finding resistance from the communities they’re in. We work with them, we work with food groups trying to get fresh fruit and vegetables to the food shelves, we work with youth development organizations...as of August 31st of this year, we’ve been able to donate seventy-nine thousand dollars. Now that we’ve extended the program to Brasa (fifty cents of every cornbread at both locations of Brasa are now included), we’re hoping the effort will increase the donation amount to about five to six thousand dollars a month. 

We learned that small non-profits, like Appetite for Change, which is based in North Minneapolis - are on a shoestring budget. The first year we worked with them, they were able to hire a bookkeeper to get their books in order for their kickstarter. We now understand that even relatively modest sized donations can really help.

AB: I know Alma has events with these non-profits several times a year - can you talk about those? 

AR: Well, on Sunday is the third annual Taste of the Farm Dinner, which is Youth Farm’s largest fundraiser of the year. It’s held at the home site of Youth Farm. There will be tours to some of the farms by the students, since there are three farms within a three block radius of the headquarters. Brasa & Alma will be providing food, and we’ve also been working with wonderful local companies like Able Seedhouse Brewery, Tattersall Distillery, and Dogwood Coffee as event partners to bring all the necessary pieces together required to create a great dinner event. Other things we do are setting up field trips. So we can actually visit a Youth Farm site in the spring and help clean up the garden beds with the kids and team leads Or we go to one of the small communities that the Farmer’s Legal Action group may be working with to see the Hmong Farmer’s Association in action. These events are important because in addition to our support, we’re networking for these non-profits, helping introduce other restaurants and organizations to hugely important work and organizational missions. All these organizations inspire us, and we want the public to know about them, and to learn about them. 

Youth Farm’s Markus Kar and Jesus Perez in one of their gardens.

AB: What is the vision behind the giving program itself? 

AR: At the very core of our philosophy at the restaurants is that our purpose is to nourish well being. We nourish people at the restaurants with the food that we put on the table. Food that makes you feel good, food that will help people thrive. Our donation program is all about nourishing well being in the community - whether helping bring fresh, local produce to kids in a public school salad bar to supporting larger systems that will care for the soils that feed us all.

AB: What are some of the hopes for the program in the future? 

AR: I think our real goal is to build the awareness of these small organizations that are working in the Twin Cities. We have a platform - both from Alma and Brasa - that gives people an opportunity to hear about these non-profits where they otherwise would not. And maybe three people who read about Urban Roots at Brasa tell three more people, and it snowballs from there. If we can continue to broaden the awareness of Appetite for Change, of Youth Farm, of Gardening Matters, of the True Food Chef Council, we know we can make an impact on the bottom lines of these groups. 

L-R: Youth Farm Director Gunnar Liden, Associate Director Amanda Stoelb, Ash Reynolds, Brasa St. Paul General Manager Megan Gall.

C O M M U N I T Y  P A R T N E R: Y O U T H  F A R M

Executive Director Gunnar Liden and Associate Director Amanda Stoelb: 

AB: What is the impact of working with Alma and Brasa on Youth Farm? 

GL: It’s amazing having leaders in the restaurant industry be a part of not just the “volunteering/ feel good” aspect of things, but really being involved in our mission in supporting young people and food for change in the world. That’s what we’re trying to do, and it’s what Alma and Brasa are trying to do, in the different ways, but to the same end. Alma and Brasa have been instrumental in supporting that work, but also in helping us do the things that we’re not good at - not in a weird way, but because it’s not what we do. I get that lean-in aspect from Ash, where she says: “yes, we know how to do this, and we know how to do this well, and we care about what you’re doing, and we want to help you make you make an impact.” She always leads with “How can we help?”, which is not always the response you get. 

AS: That’s a very unique question when someone approaches us and wants to partner. Very rarely do we get asked what we need. A lot of people come in with how they want to help, and I feel like the Brasa/Alma partnership - and also the additional restaurant partners their partnership has brought in - is really authentic. We really get heard when we say what we need, and when we come back with ideas, the response from Ash is, ninety-nine percent of the time: “Yeah, let’s see if we can figure it out.” 

GL: We have other great partners in other places, but I feel totally respected from Alma and Brasa and the staff, from people who are at every level of the organization, and I appreciate that. A lot. 

AS: I appreciate that Alma/Brasa walks their talk in terms of supporting local food in a way that’s also really unique. It’s easy to talk. And you can walk that talk within your restaurant space, but it’s an entirely other level to actually go out into the community and take it to the next level, finding people who are doing work that you’re not doing, to help create this really holistic system. The on-the-ground impact, really practically, is huge. We’re able to raise money in a way that fits with us. We’re a small non-profit. Pulling off an event like this [the Youth Farm Dinner] is not easy. 

GL: This event is going to raise close to forty thousand dollars for us, and then we have the other money that Brasa/Alma raises for us. We never ear mark that money ahead of time - but that’s almost a full time staff person’s salary! That pays for our high school interns throughout the school year. 

AS: The money is important, but there’s also another factor - we’re an organization that really values transparency. It’s amazing to not only have partners that will raise money, but who will actually come out here and do farm work! Everyone on our staff knows Ash. That’s a big deal at Youth Farm. Because we have that culture of ownership, our staff feels like they own every piece of our work, so if they didn’t know Ash - it would be weird! Our staff knows that they can call her with questions. So there’s that very tangible forty-to-fifty thousand dollars a year impact, and then there’s these softer things that are really important, and really valued.

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

W O R D S  O N  W I N E: A N  A F T E R N O O N  W I T H  J A M E S  H I R D L E R 

Anyone who has sat at Restaurant Alma’s bar in the last sixteen years already knows this, James Hirdler is the easiest person to talk to in the universe. Last Saturday the Alma Blog got to sit down and chat with him about wine lists, training servers, and how you can order wine that pairs well with food - and makes you sigh with happiness - even if all you know about wine is that it comes from grapes. We’re not quite sure whether it’s his soothing voice, his vast expanse of knowledge, or his completely unpretentious approach to wine, but hanging out with James Hirdler is like hanging out with your favorite professor from college who also happens to be your favorite older brother.

James has worked at Alma since 2000. He started as the Service Manager, learning about wine from his mentor, Jim Reininger, and then took over the wine program when Jim retired in 2008. He’s mentored generations of Alma front-of-house staff, and his passion for creating a healthy work culture and the pursuit of knowledge shine through in every question we asked him. We hope you enjoy these words from James and much as we did.  


AB: Tell us about how you came to Alma.

JH:  I had previously worked with Jim Reininger [the former co-owner of Restaurant Alma] at Lowry’s. I was going to meet an old friend at Dunn Bros, which is what this space [Café Alma] used to be. We peeked into Alma – they had just opened – and I saw some of the original staff from Lowry’s, so I stopped in to say hi to Jim, who offered me a job on the spot. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to waiting tables, so Jim said: “well, why don’t you just run the front of the house?” And that was that.

Jim, Alex and I worked together to put systems in place to help things run better. We were surrounded by talented people, but when it got busy, I learned we couldn't rush our way of cooking. What I really liked from the beginning was that Alex wasn’t going to put a single thing out of the kitchen that wasn’t up to his standards. So if we got really busy, there was a wait. It was nice that there was never an issue, at any point, with food. We didn’t have to think about that – it was always going to be good.

AB: How did you learn about wine? What was different about Alma’s wine program from the other places you worked?

JH: Well, first of all, early in my career I learned everything from Jim [Reininger]. When I first met him in the late 80’s, he worked at Sherman’s Café –  they didn’t serve wine, but he instilled knowledge in us, having us over to his house to share wine and talk. He did wine programs at the New French Café, and then at Lowry’s – where I really started to learn from him. I then worked at a couple places where Jim wasn’t, and I got to see what didn’t work in a wine program: where everything is about price points, buying the cheapest wine for the cheapest price and then selling it for the highest amount possible. Then I went to the 510, where the owners were very versed in wine. They specialized in Bordeauxs and wines like Opus One and various other hundred dollar bottles, which at that time in this area, was very cutting edge. That’s where I learned about higher-end wines and got to taste them. But I realized what I really wanted was more of the stuff I learned from Jim at Lowry’s, so when I found this place [Alma] it was perfect.

The things Jim liked about wine are the things I appreciate in everything: he liked wine to be charming, and he liked it to be distinctive. The same goes for people and food. What he liked about wine was reflected in how he lived his life. It was very cultured, and that didn’t seem like the traditional restaurant I had seen. There was something going beyond. The main thing about Alma -  the wine, the food, the people – is that it was healthy right away. When I thought I didn’t want to go back to a restaurant job, what I really was looking for was a healthy organization of some kind. Wine had been my number one passion in my professional life, and learning about it was hard to do in the Midwest. It was either this, or I would have gone to New York City or San Francisco. Alma was a little slice of all of that: little bit of San Francisco, in the atmosphere, New York in the cooking, and it was still Midwest – friendly, and healthy. A great combination of everything. In the end, I knew I would be a better person for working here.

AB: What was your journey at Alma in regards to wine?  

JH: When I first took over the wine list, it was huge. I wanted to put everything on it, I was so excited, and the wine list had no focus. Eventually it was like: “wait a minute, that costs money, and you have to sell it!” If you don’t sell it – you can’t really carry it. There was always an emphasis on working with what we had. We had this much space, we had this much money for inventory. It’s valuable to see the genius in working within your means. Alex was always clear: “We’re not going to buy a fancy light fixture until we have the money to pay for it.” The same went for wine too, and it was a great lesson.

Also, I always wanted to see if I could get the best of something. To this day I am always searching for the best wine from the best region at the best price – can I find that one wine? When I finally get that bottle in my hand, it feels like such a success. Usually the best wine is not the most popular or the biggest name. Making a connection through introducing a great wine to people is such a joy, and once they taste a wine they love, it gives credit to everything else on our list. There’s a lot of really good wines for thirty dollars. I don’t like overcharging, and I am determined to keep wine interesting. 

AB: So how do you put together a wine list? 

JH: I am lucky enough to work in a place where the dishes are eclectic. If you work at steakhouse, you buy those big cabernets and burgundys, because you do want to buy towards what the kitchen tends to make. Here, every component of each dish is well thought out, so you can pair the wine with any of those components, which gives you freedom. It’s also fun. I like a little bit of everything, and the wine list reflects that. Alex finds inspiration from everywhere, and you can’t find a single category, really, for the food. At first, all I could do was taste the sauces and look to traditional pairings, but I learned we couldn’t have just one style of wine to go with a dish. We had to have a variety. It’s good to use the traditional “101” wine and food pairings as a guide, looking to the flavors of each component in a dish as a guide, but at some point you need to let your taste buds take over. Nobody likes the term “think outside the box” but you have to put your own stamp on something. 

As I spent time on the floor, I found a lot of people wanted to start their meal with a white and move to red wine for the entrée, and there was a lot of seafood on our menu, so then I had to find reds that pair with seafood. For a long time that went against tradition. Of course it's hard to beat a Chablis Premier Cru that pairs perfectly with seafood, but If you pair white wine with seafood because just because you think you are “supposed to” you might encounter a strange acidic component that makes some fish taste sour, or even metallic. You have to look at wines individually. Pairing red wine with seafood is commonplace now – light bodied reds, because you’re usually not just getting a piece of fish on plate – there’s other things with it. You’re pairing the components – not just the protein (with the exception of richer meats - you allow the natural fats to bring out new tastes in the wine and favor the protein over the components). 

From the start, the main point of what I learned from Jim was that food and wine will taste completely different together. Food doesn’t taste the same without wine, and vice versa. If you’re just having a glass of wine at home by itself – which is great – it’s going to be a different taste experience than alongside food. Both are good. Wine should be fun, just have fun with it.

AB: So how do you pair? How do you do it at home? Is it technical or intuitive?

JH:  Like in just about anything, it’s nice to understand traditions. It makes it even more worthwhile when you find something surprises you. The first person that had foie gras with sauternes – a dessert wine, in the middle of the meal – was like: “bingo! Eureka!” There’s different methods. The traditional method is if something was grown in a certain place (and there was limited transportation back then, they grew the wine and the food next to each other), you’d pair those. You’d have briny white wines grown in the Loire that go with shellfish because that was the diet. Same with Spain: maybe you’re in Priorat, you’re in the middle of a desert, and all you have is this type of food, and the wines that you grow inherently go with it. That’s how it was way back when. There’s a legitimate thing about that. Then we got better at cooking and better at growing wine, and everything now is a little bit subtler. Knowing the basics is good. Let’s call it respecting tradition.

If you are at home and you want to pair something, there’s actually something really exciting about trial and error, because there’s no such thing as “right” and not everyone has the same palate. Our relationship with wine is evolving with the world of food. We now have an opportunity not to grow our food and our wine next to each other. We’re surrounded by so much that I recommend taking advantage of it. Find your own tastes. Try the traditional pairings and learn from them. Most people would never drink Australian Shiraz without a big, fatty lamb shank or something like it, and that’s a shame because as time goes on, the Shiraz from Australia has gotten subtler, the wines deserve to break away from some of the tradition that’s trapping them in a single role. Besides, some traditional pairings might not work for people. You don’t have to like Cabernet! Find something else that pairs with your steak! Who knows, it might be perfect.

AB: What are some good resources to learn about wine? Especially for people who don’t work in the Restaurant industry.

JH: Let me tell you, the best invention ever for anything, and it might be the world’s downfall – is the internet. I gotta say, it’s a lot of fun buying wine books, and I do it all the time - I love books. But if you’re making a dinner, and you don’t want to spend two weeks reading a book, you can go to the internet and search “Pheasant pairings” or “sauce pairings”. It seems like that would be the lazy way out, but what’s fun about that is there’s a lot of different opinions. It’s fun to read different people’s takes on the same thing. I don’t mind learning from anyone. So, short term, I would definitely recommend the internet, and then everyone should get a copy of Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible. It’s two things: it’s very easy to read, and it’s Danny Meyer’s favorite wine book, and I respect him. It was Jim Reininger’s favorite wine book too, and you can put it on the coffee table and just page through it because every page has something. She talks in such an entertaining way that even if you don’t like reading about wine, you can enjoy it.

I want to go back to wine being for everybody, and a lot of wine writers are determined to make it an “exclusive wine club” thing. It shouldn’t be that way, it should be friendly. Karen makes it friendly.

Another great resource is Twin Cities Wine Education. They put on wine classes twice a month and they’re great. Classes are fun – you get served wine and then you talk about the wine, and not in a condescending way.

AB: How do you order wine at Restaurant when you don’t know that much about wine? How can you help a server help you find something you like?

JH: If you have any idea of what you’re looking for, or even if you don’t, I would recommend having an open mind and letting the server guide you. It’s like getting your car fixed: either you’re the person who’s like: “I need to know every little thing you’re doing”, or you let the people who fix your car... fix your car. You’re there to experience what the place has to offer. Trust your server to guide you to something. If you want to bring a question – because you don’t want to get a Sicilian wine that tastes like pickle juice – you’d want to say something like: “Nothing too experimental”. But when I go out to eat, I don’t want to do too much thinking. I want to enjoy the night and the person I’m with. Have an open mind, trust your server, and if you’re looking for something specific – bring one quick question about body or flavor. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you like. If you like sweet, there might not be a ton of options, but we’ll find something for you. Never let the stigma, or the fear of someone being patronizing get in the way of drinking something you enjoy. No one should ever be patronizing when they talk about wine.

My last piece of advice is when you get a wine, don’t be afraid to say that it's not really what you’re looking for. There’s a thing these days where people get a dish and if they don’t like it, they won’t say anything, which is crazy. It’s the same thing with wine. If you don’t like it – send it back. It’s absolutely not a big deal. We’ll either serve the rest of the bottle as a special or we’ll send it back to the purveyor if it’s corked. You can send anything back. We want you to have something that you really like. Period. That’s it. Don’t even assume: “well, if they recommended this, it must be good”. None of that. If you don’t like it – send it back. You only have so many years in this life. You shouldn’t have to suffer through somebody else’s tastes.

AB: Can you talk about training servers in wine knowledge?

JH: This place is about explaining everything, influencing, teaching, and coaching. We don’t hire anyone who doesn’t inherently love food and wine. So usually they come with their own questions. If you find someone who is excited about the subject, they’ll have no problem learning how to describe it. During training, you want to find ways of talking about things that are exciting and engaging. If it’s not exciting or engaging, we need to discuss it – how can we make this better, together? That’s an essential part of the process. No one does anything really well when they don’t like it. People perform well when the highest expectations come from themselves. You want the server, by the time they hit the floor, to anticipate more questions than you even realize. Any question: “What’s good?” – they can work with that! Servers should be able to take a question and have at least three answers. When a guest asks for a certain type of wine, a server should already have several suggestions on hand. That comes from service staff tasting all the wines, several times, and giving them confidence to be able to say: “I totally get what you’re saying, and I’ve tried this, and I love it, and I think will you, too.”

AB: What wines are your current favorites when you drink wine?

JH: My preference is complicated, but easy too. I like simple things that are elegant. Right now for whites it’s Savennieres, which is a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc. For reds, I like Barolo. I like Italian reds. Traditional, simple, elegant, romantic. There’s something romantic about wine anyway, but there’s definitely something romantic about traditional wines.

AB: How can people who may not know that much about wine go to the wine store and get something they like for a reasonable price?

JH: It starts with, number one, finding a person that knows what they’re doing. Keep going to that person, ask them questions, and let them guide you. Usually wine stores employ people who are knowledgeable and love wine, and they don’t have an incentive to sell you anything in particular. They want you to experience, the same way I do when you come to Alma. Also, do a little bit of your own research and have a direction. Research, combined with trial and error are building blocks for good questions. If you try something you like, whether that be at a restaurant or at home, write it down and then bring it to the store: “I liked this, what do you have that’s similar?” That’s how you get to know your own palate, and you can gain more independence in your choices as you go on. When you go to a wine store, skip the description on the back of bottle, skip the wine score, skip the recommendation from some wine article, go to whoever is working there and trust in the experience and passion they have.  Never be afraid to make a mistake. Never be afraid to try something new. If you don’t like it? It’s just an experience. At the very least, you’ll have a story.

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

H E A R T  &  S O U L:  A L M A,  U N T I L  N O W

“‘...so the question is, how do you give directions to someone without landmarks?’  Personally, I suspect that the problem will soon take care of itself: This neighborhood jewel seems to be well on its way to becoming a landmark in its own right.”

-  CityPages Review of Restaurant Alma, February 2000. 

Shoveling the walk: early 2000's. 

The year was 1999, and the idealistic, twenty-something Alex Roberts had returned home after a long stint in New York City, where he had been cooking in the kitchens of Gramercy Tavern, Bouley, and Union Square Cafe. This was right before the release of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, the very cusp of the “Celebrity Chef” era, and the exact moment before Reality TV became obsessed with cooking - but still at least five-hundred miles away from the popularity of Food Blogs, Food Tourism, Foodstagrams, and even regular use of the term “Foodie”.

The words “Farm-to-Table” weren’t yet commonplace. In fact, they were rarities. The opulent fine-dining era was beginning its slow unraveling, but it was still long before the casual fine-dining establishment that sourced locally and ethically became ubiquitous, especially in the Twin Cities.

Alex Roberts was significantly ahead of his time when he partnered with Minneapolis restaurant stalwart Jim Reininger (Co-founder of Lowry’s, Co-owner Sherman’s Bakery, Chef at The New French Cafe) to open the very modestly-sized Restaurant Alma, in a neighborhood previously completely unoccupied by any sort of ambitious dining project. The idea was simple: serve delicious, nourishing, real food to both neighborhood folk and those celebrating a special evening. Alma was food for everyone, but it encouraged people to challenge themselves and try new things. 

The pairing of Jim’s veteran business management experience, unique approach to wine, and baking talent, along with Alex, working for the first time as a Head Chef/Operations manager, created an environment that has mentored generations of staff (some that still work at Alma, sixteen years later). 

With Alma's twentieth anniversary just three years away, and the expansion from a Restaurant into a Restaurant, Cafe, and Small Hotel ahead this year - it’s fun to reflect on the journey. 


Jim, with some samples from his wine list. 

Jim, on the difficulties of opening Alma: 

“To obtain the license to open, we had to appear at a public hearing, the purpose of which was to secure “the grandfathered rights”.  An announcement was sent, at our expense, to all those who live within a certain radius of the property. On the scheduled day of the hearing, we were informed by the city that it could not take place because they could not find our "file." ...later that day they found it on top a filing cabinet. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. On the day we were to open, we were informed by Licensing that we could not open because we were in a residential zone and could not operate a commercial business that served wine. I contacted the City Attorney, reminding him that very recently the voters in Minneapolis had passed a resolution allowing such businesses to open in restrictive areas that lay outside the zone in which such places could operate. I asked him: “so what did this passage mean to you folks in City Hall?”  He got back to me one day later and said that an Alma is precisely what the voters had in mind. He then contacted licensing and everything proceeded as planned. Blake Edwards of the Pink Panther fame would have loved this story.”


(Mentee of Jim Reininger, Restaurant Alma Maitre’d and Wine Director) 

James and Alex, circa early 2000's. 

James, on Jim Reininger: 

“I remember one night: it was a winter night and I was bartending. It was kind of late and the bar was full of employees sitting finishing side work and having an “after work” glass of wine. Jim came in from the cold, glasses fogged over and wasn't happy that it looked like we were sitting around drinking all the profits. He told everyone that it was getting late, and we should drink up and head out. When his glasses cleared up, he realized that there were still guests finishing dinner in the restaurant and they thought he was talking to them. So they all started to leave and Jim had to explain himself.  We all had a laugh. I poured him a glass of wine.” 


Alex and his (then-girlfriend, now-wife) Margo

Alex, on Alma traditions: 

“One of my favorites is how we started the tradition of dumping water on chefs in “sneak attack style” when they decide to move on. It’s a slightly twisted way we celebrate a person’s contributions. In the early days, one sous chef was invited to come to my home for a farewell party after work, when he arrived a group of us warmly greeted him outside his car then proceeded to carry him like a canoe and toss him into a portable hot tub waiting in my backyard. You should have seen his wife’s face! The next sous chef departure involved an early morning water balloon ambush during a dog walk. Let’s just say the tradition is still alive and well.”

Life on the line. 

Aaron Roberts (Alex's twin brother) contributed his carpentry skills to the building of Alma and many, many hours helping in the early days. Shout out to those 2000’s shorts! 

Margo Roberts, killing it in a leather jacket on a snowy winter night. 

Many thanks to those who have made the journey to Alma in all kinds of weather. We owe everything to you. 

All photos in "Heart and Soul" thanks to the generosity of James Hirdler. 

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

S E A S O N A L I T Y:  T A L K I N G  W I T H  C H E F S  M A G G I E  W H E L A N  & L U C A S  R O S E N B R O O K

Maggie Whelan and Lucas Rosenbrook (Sous Chef and Chef de Cuisine of Restaurant Alma, respectively), are refreshingly down-to-earth about food. They wax on about cucumbers instead of complicated gastronomy, holding a deep respect for the natural state of things that come from the earth. Both humble and easy to laugh, Maggie and Lucas sat down with the Alma blog this week to chat about seasonal cooking – what it is, what it means to them, how it plays into Alma, and who makes it all possible.

AB: So let’s start with the basics – what exactly is seasonality? It’s a buzz-word you hear a lot these days, in restaurants and in the food world in general.

LR: Seasonality is using what you can source from local and regional communities. In Minnesota, it’s kind of difficult, because our true “season” for produce is only four or five months out of the year. So we get very excited for springtime and everything that comes with it: ramps, morels, and foraged greens. We’ll get farmed lettuce, radishes…

MW: And asparagus! Asparagus was huge for us this year. We got it from a local guy -

LR: We got over 1200 pounds of asparagus!

MW: We had it all over the menu, it’s from this man named Scott who grows it. We got so excited about it. It was beauty.

The cool thing about seasonal cooking is that we can take advantage of things that we only get in Summer, and preserve them to use in the Winter. So it’s still local stuff: stuff like tomatoes that come from Twin Organics, or Riverbend Farms, that we roast and mill – and then we use them in tomato sauce all winter long.

LR: Last year, our preserved tomatoes nearly got us through the whole winter.

MW: You get everyone into it. We all compete to see who can roast more tomatoes. As long as they bring them to us, we can take care of them.

AB: What are some other examples of seasonality at Alma?

LR: We’ve, in the past year or two, developed a menu that has interchangeable ingredients. So we have a crepe that started off as a “spring greens buckwheat crepe”, and by the end of the year it was a “summer vegetable buckwheat crepe”, because those nettles and asparagus go out of season. We can have the same dish with different seasonal ingredients. Some people say they like the spring one better and some people say they like the summer one better. That’s something, moving forward, that I’m looking for. Looking for a main dish – like a crepe – starting from point A and three months down the road it’s a completely different dish.

AB: That’s really interesting – can you talk more about like “evolution” of a dish?

LR: So when a dish comes on the menu, we try to keep it as simple as possible: for example, two main elements. For example, a main: fish, and some type of a seasonal vegetable. We had this striped bass dish that started off with braised beans and peppers. When it first came on – of the eight ingredients, three of them were local. As the dish evolved and the season became more fruitful, by the end, we had local peppers, local beans, local cherry tomatoes – everything was local.

MW: As the order lists come out from the farmers, it’s really fun seeing what else we can make local on a dish. It’s a nice challenge. How many components on the menu can we source from here?

LR: It begins with me and Alex [Roberts, Executive Chef/Owner] talking about an idea. I’m a nerd, and whenever he’s around, I make him try the food. He’s got one of those minds where he can pick out exactly what the dish needs or he’ll say: “it’s a great direction, but let’s take a left here instead of a right”. It’s very rare that we have to take something off a dish, because we start so basic.

MW: And that lends itself very easily to putting more seasonal elements in as they present themselves. It allows a sense of flexibility for the changing seasons and what they offer.

LR: We started out a pork belly dish with fava beans in it, and ended up putting zucchini in it. What we found out was the zucchini worked even better than the fava beans, and we also realized that –

MW: Zucchini and Clams! They taste so amazing together.

LR: Exactly. Zucchini and clams. It taught us something watching the different vegetables change the dish and letting the flavors talk to us. It wasn’t intentional.

MW: Now we will always know that zucchini and clams are something that we can go back to.

AB: Can you talk about Alma’s relationships with local farmers?

MW: I had the opportunity this year to be in charge of the farm order, and I learned how to order produce and even proteins. Lucas and Matt [Sprague, Chef de Cuisine of Café Alma] taught me. We all [the Chefs] get the farmer emails and discuss it during the week, and then it’s on me to actually sit on the computer and map out what a week and a half of vegetables look like from different farmers.

LR: In years past, we would really focus on one or two farms. That worked really well and was very streamlined, but it makes the availability a little smaller than it could be. The last two years we went from three farms to more like six or seven.

MW: Last summer we had nine at one time! It was a little crazy and so fun! But we’ve always ordered from Greg Reynolds at Riverbend farms. Alex started working with him back in the day. Greg has always had a presence in our kitchen. He brings us the tomatoes we like!

LR: When Greg came in a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty awesome listening to him and Alex talk about how before the farm-to-table movement (when Alex was cooking in New York), you would go to the farmers’ market to get your vegetables. You wouldn’t necessarily have farms come to your restaurant. In Minneapolis, you had early adopters like Brenda [Langton, of Café Brenda/Spoonriver] and Lucia [Watson, of Lucia’s]. When they were doing it, it was considered a very progressive thing. Alex started working with Greg shortly after opening in the late 90’s, and we’ve continued to work with him. At that point [when Alex opened Alma], Greg was a young farmer. Now he’s starting to evolve his farm into less of a place for production, and more of a seed-saving and educational project.

This year, we worked a lot with Twin Organics –

MW: And he’s [Jacob Helling] one of Greg Reynolds’ protégés.  

LR: It’s really cool sort of carrying the torch, continuing to use the seeds that Greg gave to Twin Organics. It’s the same seeds. It’s essentially the same produce we’ve had since Alma opened.

MW: We started this year getting greens from him [Jacob Helling of Twin Organics], which turned into squash, and eggplant. We put an eggplant side dish on the menu just to get his fabulous eggplant in. That’s really fun – getting samples of things, being creative with them, and showcasing the variety in our side dishes. It turns into a really fun game: I think in week-and-a-half increments, figuring out what the kitchen needs, ordering enough so everything comes in on the right day but nothing ever goes bad. It’s strategy. Just like you do when you grocery shop at home – figuring out how much lettuce your family is going to eat before it goes bad in the fridge. We do that too. Just on a larger scale.

AB: What other produce farms does Alma work with, in addition to Riverbend and Twin Organics?

MW: Heartbeet farm was a big one this year. We worked with Dragsmith and Hidden Streams as well. They were all so great to us.

AB: Going forward, what’s the goal for Alma in terms of seasonality and locality in the future?

MW: I would like to see to streamline our ordering to order everything for the restaurant and café together, and support the local farmers even more. Ordering in larger quantities, and being more creative with our winter vegetables. Being able to preserve and get through the winter in more creative ways.

LR: That’ll be the biggest thing, I think. Having the expanded space to do more preserves and storing of food. If that’s making sausages or mostardas, or doing vinegars or sauerkraut. Next year, I hope to get an ingredient forecast where we can say “in August, let’s order all the cabbage and make sauerkraut”, so in November, we have house-made sauerkraut for the whole season.

MW: I want to be able to spend more time trying to source as intentionally as possible. As much as we can get from the farmers, we’re going to get. It’s so rewarding. Hopefully we’ll also get to do more farm field trips. It’s so fun when us cooks can see all those rows of eggplant lined up.

LR: We want to preserve what we’ve been doing for so long. Nothing is going to change where all of a sudden Alma is a modernist restaurant. We want to do what we do even better. The food will evolve naturally and hopefully, speak for itself.

AB: How can people who don’t work in a restaurant – people with home kitchens – cook the way Alma cooks? What can they do to replicate the seasonality and locality Alma practices?

MW: You can get a lot of the same stuff that we get from Riverbend at the co-ops. I know Greg supplies Seward and the Wedge. That’s the stuff we use, available to everyone. I think it’s really cool that people are more and more interested in it these days. When you eat at Restaurants, you can find out what you like and what interests you. Then you can go pick out those things that excite you at markets: whether that’s tomatoes or peppers or corn. The way things are displayed at farmer’s markets is so beautiful – it’s like a jewelry case.

LR: I think learned the most about seasonality and what to do with things by having a garden. If you grow tomatoes and cucumbers – it’s fun to grow it, but once it’s ready, you need to have a plan for it. You think: well, I can only eat so many cucumbers in my salad. At some point, you have to either give them away, or pickle them to preserve them. Same with tomatoes. You can only eat so many caprese salads.

MW: I don’t know – I haven’t found my caprese limit yet.

LR: Seeing what truly happens here, in Minnesota? That happens in a garden. Having a plan ready to preserve something and making a project out of it.

MW: Enough people have learned stuff these days that you can sort of ask around when you have questions. This is only my second year having a vegetable garden. You mention that you’re doing potatoes for the first time and three people come to talk to you with three different methods. It’s crowd-sourcing your information. Everyone has their favorite market, their favorite book on preserving. Bringing it up and asking questions is the way to find things out.

LR: I talked with Alex a while back about how our food comes to the plate at Alma. What it is – essentially – is a collection of really good cooking techniques that harmoniously bring separate ingredients together. With the food at Alma, the individual cooking techniques we use aren’t too involved. But being able to bring four techniques together in just right way, at just the right time...is. For example: we have a crispy poached egg dish featuring rajas, arugula and smoked mushrooms. So that starts with poblano peppers: peeling them, roasting them, then simmering them with sweet onions, marjoram and crème fraiche – just for the sauce. There’s smoked mushrooms: Portobello mushrooms need to be cleaned, smoked, roasted, and sliced. Then poached eggs that are trimmed, breaded, and fried at the last moment. It’s three elements that, if done at home, would take half a day. It’s pretty involved. As you master each element, like rajas, they become building blocks for future dishes. For example, rajas is great with scrambled eggs and corn tortillas and also great with grilled steak. By latching onto one or two cooking techniques, you can also apply them to different foods too. If you have a marinade you like on zucchini – try it on a different vegetable! Use it on eggplant, or butternut squash. That’s how you learn to cook intuitively.

The eggs and rajas dish. 

It’s been interesting working for Alex for so long, because people learn the “Alma way” of doing things. If you say “roast mushrooms” in the Alma kitchen, you could pick anyone to do it and they would all come out exactly the same. There’s technique, and a new cook here will have to learn how to do that. But that’s what defines a restaurant – each one has its own language. Food language.

Friday, August 19th, 2016

F L O U R / W A T E R / Y E A S T:  T H E  A L M A  B R E A D  P R O G A M

Meet Tiffany Singh. Before joining team pastry at Restaurant Alma, she worked under Steve Horton (Rustica) and Solveig Tofte (Sun Street Breads), learning the crumbs and crusts of professional bread baking. Tiffany isn't discriminatory in her tastes: she loves quick breads, sweet breads, slowly fermented sourdoughs, and alternative-grain loaves. She sat down with the Alma Blog this week to talk about the past, present, and future of Alma bread.

AB: Let’s start with starter. How do you begin when you’re baking a loaf of bread?

TS: There are so many ways you can start a bread. The most common examples are a traditional slow starter with flour and water that ferments over time using wild yeasts, like a sourdough, or commercial yeasts for a quicker bread, like a foccacia. 

AB: Don’t you have to feed a starter every day to keep it going?

TS: Yes! The starter we have right now at Alma we’ve had for about two years. We’ve named him Chauncey and we’re very dedicated to keeping him alive while our kitchen is closed. Me, Carrie, and Alyssa [the other members of the pastry team] have split Chauncey into thirds and we’re all in competition to take the best care of him in our own kitchens before we can move him into his new home.

AB: What your favorite types of bread to bake at Alma?

TS: We do a combination of breads that are straight doughs – those are breads that are mixed and baked the same days. Good examples of these breads are a country-loaf white or focaccia. Straight doughs are also great for using the products that are available to you that day (like nuts, seeds, or fruits). We also like pre-ferments, where you have to add water and salt to a percentage of the flour the day before – this adds a different flavor complexity and texture. The last type of bread we’ve loved including are naturally leavened breads: this is where Chauncey gets to be a star. We give these a long time to ferment, which creates even more complexity in texture and flavor - the bread most associated with this method is sourdough. 

AB: What about in the future? What can you do with the new space?

TS: The deck oven is coming very very soon. The ovens we had previously at Alma, which we’ll still keep, are conventional gas ovens, are like the ones you probably have in your kitchen at home. That limits the types of breads you can make. We’ve had a lot of success and perfected our methods as much as we can, but a deck oven has steam injection, dampers, and bells and whistles – that’s for real – and will really expand our options and what we can offer. What you'll see at the Cafe is beautiful color, good oven spring, and gorgeous crust. In addition to the new oven, we'll also have far more work space to experiment and invent. 

AB: The philosophy of Alma hinges so much on history and tradition. What influences do you pull from that? 

TS: Grains are a cornerstone of how societies live and are shaped, and we try to use different historical techniques combined with modern sensibilities to make all different kinds of bread. I have memories of baking with my mom, and I think everyone has those memories, or some memories associated with a loaf of bread. I think we all connect bread with some aspect of growing up, and I love tapping into that when I bake. One of our pastry chefs is from the Iron Range and has a recipe from her family for a thinly rolled-out yeasted sweetbread layered with a walnut filling and rolled up into a tightly shaped round. That's a great example of tapping into the mixed backgrounds and heritage of everyone at Alma to keep things fresh and gain inspiration. It's also a way to honor  the cultures we come from. We’re starting to really ask ourselves: how can we do more? That's endlessly exciting.   

AB: What about locally milled flour? Are you planning on using any of Steve Horton’s (of Rustica, who has recently opened up Baker’s Field, a new grain mill in North-East Minneapolis) flour?

TS: What Steve is doing has opened up a new world of freshness and locality to the Twin Cities bakery scene. We were lucky enough to work with his flour for a good amount of time before our original kitchen closed last week, and it was enlightening to see the changes in flavor, texture, rate of fermentation, and all the other variables derived from using flour that’s so, so fresh. It’s really special, and we plan to use Baker’s Field in many of our breads in the future.

We also have our own little grain mill at Alma, which we can use as farmers provide different grains to us for specials, which is also very exciting.

AB: Many people avoid gluten, or allergic to it. Is it a part of the Alma bread plan to include gluten-free breads?

TS: We’re very sensitive to those who have Celiac disease, and we understand it as a very serious allergy. Because we take it so seriously, we can not guarantee that Alma will be able to offer a totally, one-hundred percent, completely gluten-free bread option. This is just because of production space: if anyone has spilled flour anywhere in the workspace, that micro-dust is in the air and we can’t control whether it does or does not contaminate any gluten-free bread. We’d never want to produce a product that claims to be gluten-free and isn’t completely and totally safe for those who are allergic. That being said, we do hope to create some options for those who are are gluten sensitive and will continue to work to making bread (and pastries) that are delicious and available to all. 

AB: What are some types of bread that people can expect to see at the Alma Café? What will be new and exciting?

TS: We will definitely have an assortment of different sourdoughs, breads with flours from Baker’s Field and those milled in small batches on-site. We’ll be honing in on our own signature baguette, and whether it’s seasonal breads, holiday breads, or heritage breads – we hope to be continually striving to represent the evolving tastes of our community. Simply put: it’s bread for everyone.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Welcome to Alma: The Restaurant, Cafe, and Hotel! 

We are proud and excited to announce that we are well on our way to completing the new Cafe and Hotel spaces. While Restaurant Alma closes for three months to complete renovations, we are keeping our proverbial doors open: inviting you to read a weekly blog that will chronicle construction, design, planning, and profiles of our amazing team.

The concept of a cafe with a small hotel above is nothing new -look no further than classic English literature to see the foundation- but we are doing it in a modern, accessible way. The ultimate goal: serving delicious, seasonal food and top-quality beverages in a casual and welcoming setting. The cafe will offer both sit-down table service and a daytime bakery/counter area where you and your laptop (or favorite book) are welcome to accompany our food and drink.

Clockwise from left: Alex at the top of the front entry stairs where guests will be guided up to their rooms after being welcomed by our host staff; explaining the divide of spaces on the first floor; the café bar area. 


L-R: Cafe Alma Chef De Cuisine Matt hanging out in the future Cafe counter area; Restaurant Alma Chef De Cuisine Lucas and Sous Chef Maggie planning kitchen layout with Alex. 

The cafe bar will feature 10 taps (rotating beer, keg wine & cider selections), a wine list of carefully selected bottles & glass pours by Alma beverage director James Hirdler, as well as drinks created in collaboration with local cocktail craftsmen Bittercube. Locally roasted and sustainably sourced coffee will be from Twin Town Roasters, with a full range of espresso drinks available all hours of the day.

Notes from the construction crew. 

Alma General Manager Mike taking a look through the construction zone

The backroom of Cafe Alma will connect to Restaurant Alma and double as a private dining room. 

After significant adaptation to the original firehouse building, all the Alma spaces will be fluidly connected for both dining and work spaces alike.

A view into the open cafe kitchen and bar area from the backroom.

From L-R: the back stairs leading up to the hotel; wiring and panels that make it all possible; Alex sharing his enthusiasm about 
our future bread & pastry production capabilities.

Team Pastry (Carrie, Alyssa, Tiffany) eagerly explore their new workspace. 

Alex in what is currently labelled “Room 7” of the hotel, our only guest room located on the ground floor. Great care has been given to hotel construction and acoustics, including double-walls and insulation, to ensure that guest rooms are as comfortable and calm as possible. 

The upstairs “suite” is our largest guest room, with a private outdoor patio featuring views of downtown Minneapolis. The suite can be used for small events and is an ideal location for a cocktail party. 

Food and beverage service will be available to all hotel rooms. Hotel Alma will have two rooms with king size beds, four rooms with queen sized beds, and one room with two full size beds.

Pretty soon the bones of the operation will be walled-in, finished, and ready for your getaway. 

Hotel Alma will be an ideal destination for business travelers, anniversary celebrations, stay-cations, U of M guests, sports fans, out-of-town foodies, and anyone that values high quality food and inspired hospitality. 

We are very excited to share our journey through the final stages of remaking A L M A into a restaurant, cafe and hotel under one roof.

With love,
The Alma Team. 

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Coming Soon: The Alma Blog 

We invite you to check back in the coming days to see the launch of our new blog. The ALMA blog will chronicle construction progress, special events, design, menu development, hiring, and profiles of our dedicated team while we prepare for our first day as a restaurant, cafe and hotel.


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