There’s no kitchen, no set menu, no servers and no reservations at Travail. Patrons who line up to dine at the 54-seat restaurant in Robbinsdale, Minn., know to expect the unexpected. It begins with diners taking seats at communal tables fashioned from planks—a wacky setup for a place serving a 10-course tasting menu at $110-$130 for two people. A big helping of tableside antics comes along with the food; here, the cooks double as servers and entertainers.
Mike Brown, one of Travail’s chefs and co-owners who regularly dresses up as a chicken, got the idea of chef-driven service from his previous gig at Victory 44 in Minneapolis. “When we opened Travail, we didn’t have a lot of resources,” he says. “The cooks work 14-hour shifts and really know the menu. It made sense [financially and logistically] to have them serve it, too.”
And the cooks really get into what Brown calls Travail’s “food journey.” Their stations are set up on the restaurant floor, forcing interaction. The cooking style is described in the local media as “molecular gastronomy meets Midwestern cuisine.” Every table gets the same menu—just not in the same order. One may start on gnocchi with octopus and chorizo, while guests at another are told to close their eyes while cooks pipe an amuse bouche on their hand. Halfway through dinner, the pasta course is marched out to the tune of, say, The Lone Ranger, with each cook flinging a different component into the dish.
Brown and his partners turned to Kickstarter to raise $10,000 to equip a new, larger space. They ended up with over $250,000 funded by fans, and reopened as two concepts under one roof early in 2014. On one side is Travail, on the other, 50-seat The Rookery—an unconventional gastropub serving “bite flights.”