What was most recently The Station Pub has undergone a renovation in both dining and atmosphere under new owners Brian Johnson and chef Andrew Benney, and is now the Manitou Grill & Event Center.
The restaurant was opened as Manitou Station in 2009 by Brian Farrell and Jake McKeague, and after a name change to The Station Pub a few years ago and a successful run as downtown’s Irish pub, Johnson says that McKeague and Farrell decided it was time to go their separate ways.
Johnson, whose sister is married to Farrell’s brother and business partner, Rich, says the idea of him taking over the restaurant has come up several times over the last few years.
“I’ve been in this business 25 years,” he says. Previously, he was general manager at Dave and Buster’s in Maple Grove, Seven Sushi and Steakhouse in Minneapolis, and at various restaurants through Parasole in the Twin Cities. It was with Parasole, as general manager for the Living Room and Prohibition bars at the W Hotel in Minneapolis, that he met chef [Andrew] Benney, who was running the bars’ kitchens.
“He’s the first person I called” to run Manitou’s kitchen, Johnson says. It’s Benney who is reinventing the menu for the “modern American casual” restaurant. Everything on the menu has changed, Benney says, though items are still approachable—classic comfort food like pot roast, meat loaf, macaroni and cheese, and fettuccini will be on the menu. But new entries, like high-quality steaks and bone-in pork chops will be apparent. “We’ll have two different sizes of filet mignon on the menu, and we’ll have all kinds of seafood,” Benney says. “Tuna, salmon, mahi mahi, scallops, shrimp, fresh oysters on the half-shell—and that’s in appetizers, salads and entrées.”
“We want to have a nice restaurant with good food that appeals to everybody,” Johnson says. “Irish food is OK, but I don’t think it appeals to everybody.” The drink list has been overhauled as well, starting with the beer list with almost all tap beer from Minnesota breweries.
One of the first questions Benney got from a guest when making the rounds in the dining room last fall, “Are there going to be better wines?” was answered with “Absolutely,” he says.
They’re building a bourbon and scotch list, as well, Johnson says, and the cocktail menu has been redone with good, simple cocktails “that are really tasty.”
As for atmosphere, many changes there, too. Live music is off the table; lowered, draped ceilings will absorb chatter, making it easier to converse with your dining companions. A fireplace, new booths and glass dividers make dining more intimate.
Both Johnson and Benney have worked in well-respected restaurants, but Johnson says this is exciting because “it’s the opportunity to finally do something for myself.”
“It’s a menu that I want—that we want,” Benney adds. “It’s not someone saying, ‘This is what you’re going to cook, make the numbers line up.’ It’s an exciting opportunity, and it’s an opportunity that a lot of people don’t ever get.”
Meet the Chef
Andrew Benney graduated from the Art Institutes International Culinary School in downtown Minneapolis in 2010, and got his first gig at Manny’s Steakhouse and the W Hotel bars, the Living Room and Prohibition (where he met Brian Johnson). After five years, he moved to Pittsburgh Blue in Edina, where he was a sous-chef until June 2016.
He then left the restaurant for his summer job—personal chef for the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver and Minneapolis native, Larry Fitzgerald. “I design and execute his entire preseason training diet,” he says. “I’m there every day with him.”
At Manitou, Benney is excited to flex his culinary muscles and experiment with the menu, especially as seasons change and fresh produce becomes available. “We’ll have a set menu, but we’ll constantly be running seasonal specials,” he says, with ingredients he might have picked up at the farmers market that morning. “We just want to be a good restaurant where people can come enjoy the food, they can bring their family, and [we can] consistently give them a product they enjoy.”