Hazelwood Food + Drink opens east Metro location.
“We’re always excited when we open a new store because you meet so many great people,” says Scott Foster, managing partner and executive chef of Hazelwood Food + Drink. After opening three Hazelwood locations since 2004, Foster says his team is looking forward to seeing new faces.
“Actually, we know a lot of people that have contacted several of us,” Foster says. “Friends who are out in that area saying, ‘Open a restaurant by me!’ …
‘It’s too far to go to your restaurants on the west side,’ you know? All of our restaurants are west side, and now we’re going to have a location on the east side of the cities and it’s a first.”
Hazelwood’s first location in Excelsior was founded with a straightforward premise. “We just wanted to have a great neighborhood appeal,” Foster says. “Appeal to everyone’s sensory and culinary wants, which is very important to us, to blend atmosphere and sense, light, sound, music and food.”
Positive reception in the Tonka Bay area found Hazelwood seeking opportunities to expand, first with a space in Bloomington near the Mall of America and later with a spot in St. Louis Park. Woodbury is an ideal continuation of this neighborhood tradition, in Foster’s view. Not only are there plenty of people and families, but there’s also opportunity, too.
“There’s not a lot of independents in Woodbury like us,” Foster says. “There are chains and stuff like that, but there’s not a ton of independent restaurants, so we felt we were gonna hit a good mix there.”
Foster says Woodbury visitors have a high-energy experience to look forward to with the new Hazelwood location opening in September. “The atmosphere, when you walk in, draws you into the experience audibly,” Foster says. At the table, the selections will be familiar ones. “You sit down, you view that menu and there probably isn’t anything that you probably want that we don’t offer, in some fashion,” he says.
Hazelwood specializes in a menu revolving around classic American comfort food, but that doesn’t mean it lacks refinement. “What we always try to do is create something that’s recognizable,” Foster says. It won’t intimidate you; it isn’t bogged down by highfalutin terminology. “What we really focus on is flavor,” he says. “It’s something you’ll have had before, you read this item on the menu somewhere else, but what we try to do is give it a higher level, flavor, presentation.”
Filet mignon on a menu isn’t a surprise necessarily, but the smoked Gouda hash browns that accompany Hazelwood’s steaks are. Mac ’n cheese may be a comfort food staple, but how often have you seen it served in a wood-fired clay pot with house braised beef and potato chip crust?
“I think what we do is consistently try to do what works instead of trends,” Foster says. “Trends come and go. I personally as a chef look at these trends, the ebbs and flows, and I’ve always tried to find the lasting wants in this industry; what do people really want? Instead of some chefs who say, ‘This is what you should have.’ That’s been my philosophy.”
Although Foster designed Hazelwood’s original menu, he says that, after decades as a chef, he’s tired of seeing his creations dominate the page. “[Hazelwood restaurants] are really starting to allow some
of the younger, talented chefs to get what I call real estate on the menu,” Foster says. In other words, give some of their ideas a chance to win over customers.
“It’s very collaborative,” Foster says, noting that its spring and summer menus featured at least five new items contributed by chefs throughout the company. It’s not only internal feedback they consider either, Foster notes that Hazelwood customers get a say in the menu, too.
Hazelwood’s chef’s specials menus often reflect guest requests and input managers have heard from the dining room. These too are opportunities for chefs to challenge themselves and play around with new food concepts. “We have a core menu, we have a core concept and then we can have fun on the outside edges,” Foster says.
With an aura of community and collaboration, it’s exciting to see what Hazelwood has in store for the Woodbury location—and how the Woodbury community may, in turn, influence this new neighborhood eatery.
It’s hard picking favorites. Even Hazelwood’s guests seem to agree. “We look at our sales mix all the time,” Foster says. “We look at what’s selling and, I’m not kidding you, the distribution of how our items sell are almost even.” We asked Foster for some menu highlights to help lead us through a menu of hits.
Looking for a snack at the bar? “I think people like our mac ’n cheese balls,” Foster says. “We certainly sell a lot of them.” With a cheese trinity of smoked Gouda, Tillamook cheddar and pecorino the Bacon Mac ’n Cheese Balls are finished with a light breading and served with chipotle ranch.
Exception to the Trend
“Frankly, you can argue tuna poke is one of those trendy items that’s been around for a while, but the guests really like [it],” Foster says. To give it good flavor and freshness, he says it’s layered on avocado along with togarashi, wonton crisps and wasabi mayo.
Doing it Different
With an ethos of familiar but distinct, Hazelwood distinguishes its calamari from the rest with more than just a from-scratch cocktail sauce. Instead of rings, Foster explains that it buys calamari steak and cuts it into strips.
On a Roll
“We feature a wood-burning rotisserie that we do very well with,” Foster says. Hazelwood uses a Texas-made J&R Ranch rotisserie to spin its farm-raised poultry on the daily. Its rotisserie chicken and turkey make popular appearances in its Rotisserie Chicken Sandwich and Turkey Avocado Melt.