A new cafe is opening at the former Butter location at 3544 Grand Ave. S. Pie is the specialty here, where award-winning cook Dave Hulett hand-rolls feta cheese crust.
“As long as the oven’s on, I know how to bake,” he said.
His pies include chocolate hazelnut cream with fresh raspberry, pecan sweet potato pumpkin, and the streusel apple, which won first place in the 2012 American Pie Council national championships. Hulett is currently developing a “black bottom baklava pie” with a walnut crust and chocolate layer.
“These pies come to me like music comes to some musicians,” he said.
Hulett said feta provides fat and flavor to the crust, but its taste is undetectable for those who typically avoid the cheese.
“I don’t tell them until they start eating,” he said.
The café’s initial menu includes apple chili and butternut squash soup, but Hulett said he’s looking for input from customers.
“We’ll just see what happens,” he said. “We’re going to let them write the menu.”
The same is true for the coffee — Hulett has nine different coffees in hand from Roastery 7, and he’ll let patrons help him choose the best.
He’s hired on chef Dan Cataldo of Spoon and Stable and Lucia’s to help develop the dishes and make everything from scratch. They’re planning cranberry walnut oatmeal, scones and chocolate chip cookies.
“Our chocolate chip cookies are made with vanilla pudding,” he said. “Nobody does that. … I’ll go up against anybody’s chocolate chip cookies in the world.”
Aside from restaurants, Hulett has worked in bodybuilding, competing across the country. He worked out at the Olympia Gym on Lyndale (where French Meadow is today), and often jogged through the neighborhood to run at the chain of lakes.
Hulett’s restaurant training came from the Hotel Sofitel, where he remembers charming guests with an impromptu dessert tray and learning recipes by watching the chef (jotting down the number of “guggles” of brandy or “seconds” to pour salt).
Hulett has catered dinner parties, brought turtle cheesecake-on-a-stick to Taste of Minnesota, and made pies for festivals and holidays at Mackenthun’s in St. Bonifacius. He previously ran the restaurant inside the Washburn mansion at 2218 1st Ave. S., which holds the oldest continuously operating Alano Club.
He personally made 92 pies for Thanksgiving last year.
“Most people are limited by what they think they can do. I have no idea what I can do,” he said. “I’ve got so many more ideas.”