[A sneak peek pop-up of Moorhead's newest dining destination]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M.Schleif Photography
With continued success in their first venture, Luna Fargo, it's not surprising that restaurateur, Nikki Berglund and chef Ryan Nitschke are ready to stir up the foodie scene with their second restaurant, Sol Ave. Kitchen. Finding an ideal space next to Junkyard Brewing Company in Moorhead, the partners launched a 45-day Kickstarter campaign, raising enough funding to help make their cuisine dreams a reality. Although the official opening day is still in the works, Berglund and Nitschke invited us to Sol Ave. Kitchen's first ever pop-up, inside Luna Fargo. Here, Sol Ave. debuted their eclectic menu, gathered feedback, and gave an intimate group of diners a taste of what's to come.
Launching Sol Ave. Kitchen
Since Nitschke and Berglund's partnership began with Luna, they decided to go full-circle with the name Sol. "Sol Ave. Kitchen was a nice, subtle tie-in and nod to our first restaurant," said Berglund. "Ryan's been part of this from the beginning and it took a long time for us to build Luna to where it is today; we're lucky to have a lot of loyal customers. We're also excited to be in a new neighborhood next to a popular establishment like Junkyard, so we feel really confident that Sol Ave. Kitchen will do well. This had been in the works for a long time now."
Their pop-up was just a small preview and trial run of what people can expect to see at the new restaurant. They even closed off part of their seating so they could get a true simulation of the size and seating for 35 that Sol Ave Kitchen will accommodate. "Opening a new place in Moorhead creates a new opportunity to reach an entirely different group of people, in a more relaxed atmosphere," said Nitschke. "It allows us to explore a whole new concept and cooking style to an eagerly awaiting neighborhood."
A New Concept in the Kitchen
With their latest pop-up, Sol Ave. Kitchen is already winning over diners with their progressive twist on comfort food; a menu curated by chef Ryan Nitschke with Sol Ave.'s chef, Shea Syverson. Adopting an emerging concept in cuisine, their "fast casual" dining is something Berglund heard a lot about in her recent James Beard fellowship program.
Their cuisine packs a flavorful punch with an array of eclectic appetizers, tacos and entrees, meant to compliment their neighbor, Junkyard Brewing Company. Expect to find small bites like smoked hummus, kimchi and roasted brussels sprouts. The taco menu features BBQ pork belly and grilled wild mushroom with a base of griddled cotija. Entrees will serve up double-fried chicken, BBQ braised beef and Bibimbap; a twist on the popular Korean rice dish.
"Sol will have a more set, consistent menu," said Nitschke. "We want people to return and expect their favorite dish; at the same time, each dish’s popularity will dictate its longevity on the menu. We want it to be fresh and organically evolve to please our culinary desires and our guest's demands. To put it simply, we want to make hip food that doesn’t disappoint or grow stale while celebrating our Midwestern culture and local producers."
"We want to make hip food that doesn’t disappoint or grow stale while celebrating our Midwestern culture and local producers."
For fans of Luna Fargo, you'll be happy to hear that the foundation of Sol Ave. Kitchen will have at least a few similarities in respects to utilizing local and seasonal produce, as well as a variety of cheeses, ice cream, and bread from places like Downtown Fargo's Youngblood. "Right now, we offer over 50 types of cheese at Luna, so we plan to bring a selection of those with a small cheese case to the new restaurant," said Berglund.
Sol Ave. Kitchen will be serving an array of wines with a slightly more casual selection. Since different wine varietals are available across the river, this will be a whole new experience in what they've been able to offer in the past.
Kickstart the Kitchen
"We've had so much community support for Luna, so with the campaign, our hope was that people would consider our reputation and support this new venture as well," said Berglund. "We knew that Moorhead was really good about getting behind their businesses and they're always excited to bring in new projects. With Kickstarter, it's all or nothing, so there were definitely stressful days where I worried about raising that much money in only 45 days. But, we shot for the stars, and thankfully, the community really supported us and we hit our goal of $75,000. Obviously, we will be investing our own funds as well, but this is the number we really needed to get things started."
"It's not a Gofundme type of program. We weren't just asking for money, we were also providing something in return - so more of a barter system or prepaying for services," said Berglund. "We had different monetary levels, so with a $100 investment, we offered a dinner for two and a Sol Ave. shirt; each level offered something different. We heard from a lot of people that they were really happy to be part of the process and they loved feeling like they were a part of this restaurant's beginnings."
Snap a Foodie
"We hired an architect, Elizabeth Medd of Studio Barred, to design our new space. That's one thing that they really pushed at my James Beard training; invest in an architect that has great restaurant experience," said Berglund. "It sounds funny, but in a social media world, we wanted to make sure that the food was given the proper lighting, in a setting that would be considered Instagram worthy. Our future neighbors at Junkyard do a great job with theirs."
Sol Ave. Kitchen - Pop-Up:
"The corn salsa adds a nice sweetness to the salty of the pork belly. The chili crema's really nice and the cilantro just puts it all together."
(BBQ Pork Belly)
"Delicious and beautiful!
(Hummus, Kimchi bites, Bibimbap)
"We had the double-fried chicken; it had a great, well-done flavor so you could taste the flavors in the breading really well."
"The grilled wild mushroom with the griddled cotija - it synthesizes protein as it did in the pork belly, it has a great meatier flavor; it's nice that there's a really good option for vegetarians."
"Fantastic, we can't wait to try more!"
(BBQ Braised Beef)
Perfecting the Partnership
"Like anything, it’s been extremely educational and a ton of effort," said Nitschke. "Nikki is a great partner. She might be my biggest fan and is an incredibly positive force that has always had my back and always let me be me in my cooking and in my ideas in our new venture. You’d think the second time around would be easier, but it’s met with equal challenges. Opening a restaurant no matter the circumstances is an endeavor, both laborious and educational."
"Ryan and I have always had a really good, harmonious relationship. I would never tell him what to do in the kitchen," said Berglund. "He brings a lot to the table, and I completely respect him and his food. When he first came to Luna, I felt like we got really lucky; he was able to bring exactly the type of food I had hoped for in the restaurant. When he showed me the menu for Sol Ave. Kitchen, I knew right away that it was exactly what we were looking for."
Since Sol Ave. will be located next to Junkyard Brewing Co., they plan to keep identical hours. Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday Noon to Midnight and Sundays 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
For more information, contact:
Sol Ave. Kitchen
"Like" their Facebook page or follow them on Instagram for progress, upcoming events and opening dates!
Midwest Nest Magazine is a monthly print and digital publication that focuses on culture around the upper midwest.