Spoonriver's Brenda Langton: Chef Chat, Part 1

Brenda Langton likes steak!

Brenda Langton likes steak!

Brenda Langton, owner of Spoonriver restaurant and founder of the five-year-old Mill City Farmers Market, has been running restaurants in the Twin Cities for more than 30 years. She is a vocal supporter of natural foods and small, local producers; an avid traveler; and a collector of wooden spoons. We sat down with Langton at the market on Saturday to talk about her plans for the future of the farmer's market, life after closing her namesake cafe in the Warehouse District, and how--after many years as a vegetarian--she learned to love steak.


Are you planning to invite new vendors to sell at Mill City? We're very picky about who we take in, and we've also been extremely cautious with how to grow it. Our main concern is that it's a good market for the farmers and the vendors, and so we don't know when to grow it.

We want to introduce a few more things that we don't have, like I'd like some cutting boards, some wooden spoons, some furniture makers. We could get another beef farmer. I've been talking to Salty Tart, Michelle [Gayer] is a friend. We'd love little hot dog buns and hamburger buns.

What is difficult about running the farmer's market? I never opened up a farmer's market before, so it's been a real learning curve. The sad thing is that it's not sustainable, in terms of the financial part of the market--that's the struggle. So I fundraise. It costs $150,000 a year to fund, and I fundraise for about half of that. I'm sick of it. I don't like to be a fundraiser.

How has running Spoonriver been since closing Café Brenda? Great. Absolutely great. I live in the future. I can't live in the past, and that's why when I shut the doors of Café Brenda, it was all fine. It was just fine. It had had a great, a wonderful 23 years, many fond memories. We had several weeks to say goodbye to many customers. It was a great goodbye, and I never looked back. We have photos; we have memories. It's just the way it is. And I have Spoonriver, which I love, and the farmer's market, and my other work. You always have to close a door to move ahead, and that was the door I needed to close.

What have you incorporated into Spoonriver from Café Brenda? Many of my chefs came from Café Brenda.


How is Spoonriver different from Café Brenda? We've added a lot more meat. A lot of people thought we were vegetarian at Café Brenda. We were never vegetarian, we always offered seafood. Here we now serve beef and duck and pork. Now I just try to teach people the difference with eating good meat, and how important it is to buy meats from our local farmers, because they're pure and they have no hormones, they have no antibiotics, they are raised on grass in the pastures, just like meat is supposed to be, not in large factory farms full of corn and unhealthy living conditions. We believe in supporting healthy farming practices.

Who are some of the farms you source from? Sunshine Harvest Farms. Mike Braucher does the best beef for us. He delivers every week. It's incredible beef. He dry-ages it for two weeks. A lot of grass-fed beef is not dry-aged, so we are really happy. He is superb.

We also have Wild Acres do our duck and our duck livers and our chicken and turkey.

So you're not vegetarian? I am not. I was for many, many years, and this year, for the first time, I ate a steak. And I loved it. And I'm 52.

Who did you get your steak from? I got it from Mike Braucher. It was quite a trip.

You know, I stopped eating red meat when I was 15, but I grew up in a poor family, so I don't think I probably ever had a good steak, although we had good beef because my dad would buy half a cow at a time and put it in the freezer. It was good beef, it was farm fresh, but I'm sure I never had a rib eye.

Our conversation with Brenda Langton continues tomorrow.