Chanhassen’s new local eatery Café Thyme may feature “global comfort food,” but chef and owner Jessica Pettingill grew up eating and cooking typical Midwestern fare in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Her family lived on a large plot of land that had an extensive garden and a handful of chickens, so cooking was a part of the everyday and crossed generations: “I feel like [my grandmother] started in July—baking for Christmas and Thanksgiving—and there was a freezer full of goodies all the time, so I just kind of fell into it,” she says.
“My parents say I played restaurant a lot [growing up],” Pettingill says. She was constantly creating recipes or taking people’s orders, “so I never really saw myself doing anything else other than owning my own restaurant someday.”
Pettingill did what many aspiring chefs do—she worked in kitchens in her hometown and later in Colorado. But eventually, “I just wanted more, I guess,” she says. “More than meat and potatoes—which is great, it’s my favorite meal—but I wanted to refine my skills.” She enrolled at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., and from there continued her education in San Francisco. For nearly 14 years, Pettingill worked in restaurants, hotels and even as a private chef in the Bay Area. “I worked everything from big corporate [restaurants] to a little tiny 34-seat [establishment], where I basically did it all,” she says.
Pettingill gained the vast experience she needed in California – as well as a husband and baby girl – and the family decided to move back to the Midwest. “Chanhassen – we really love this city,” Pettingill says. It’s so close to Minneapolis/St. Paul, she says, and “this community has such a great community feel. It’s so homey. We love that it used to be a farming community and that we still feel like we’re out in the country, but we’re really in the city.”
Yet, soon after they moved here, they noticed something missing. “This community is just lacking in anything unique or original [in terms of dining],” she says. “We tell people all the time – we didn’t eat as much fast food as we had ever eaten until the first year we moved here.” She and her family don’t eat out often, but when they do, they want something nice “and you have to leave this area to find that,” she says.
Pettingill saw a need, and she decided to fill it. Café Thyme is a combination of her vision for Chanhassen and and her experience in California. In Chanhassen, there are a lot of grab-and-go restaurants, she says, “and I kind of wanted a hybrid.” The space—formerly Frankie’s Pizza—is perfect for this, she says. “I want something where people can come get something healthy for their family and still take it on the run if they have to. Or call in a big order, and we’ll have it ready for you,” and then transition to seated service for dinner.
It’s what Pettingill envisioned for the community, but it’s also what the community wanted, as evidenced by the fact that it was partly community-funded through a Kickstarter campaign. The online platform allows people to support projects, giving the project the ability to take off. In return, supporters get treats of their own: tote bags, homemade ice cream, meals and more, corresponding to the amount of money pledged. It’s what made Café Thyme possible, with over $10,000 pledged by November 2018.
But that’s not the only evidence that the community was ready for Café Thyme. It has local farms on board for sourcing, and “the community outpouring has been amazing,” she says. “They want it.”
TAKE COMFORT IN GLOBAL FOOD
The inspiration behind the menu at Café Thyme comes from Pettingill’s varied experience in California. One of the establishments she worked at was a French-Indian restaurant, where she learned a lot about global flavors, she says. “We used French technique in the way we were cooking but also used very traditional Indian ingredients and recipes,” she says. In short, it was what we now call fusion food.
At Café Thyme, expect fusion with the familiar. On the menu here, expect in-season produce to grace your meals. “My idea was to really focus on bringing healthy and natural but still be able to play with it—maybe your chicken salad is a curry chicken salad today,” she says.
It’s also about finding the common connection in food: hand pie, pasty, empanada, samosa. All of these are comfort foods that take the same shape but have different names. “They’re all comfort food globalized. [I want] to bring it all together in one space,” she says.
Expect fresh daily soups and a rotation of sandwiches available as wraps, which will have a global spin. The wraps will be made with dosa, an Indian pancake similar to a crepe, and is naturally gluten free, as it’s made of lentils and rice flour.
For dinner, look for options like fennel-crusted salmon, roasted root vegetables or poutine made with house-made short ribs. “The short ribs have a coffee, chili and chocolate sauce it’s braised in, so it’s almost mole-ish,” she says. That’s shredded, tossed on some French fries and cheese to create Café Thyme’s poutine.
On the beverage menu, fresh-squeezed spritzers (think pomegranate in the winter, watermelon and limeade in the summer) will sit alongside wine and beer. “We’ll be able to play with different wine cocktails,” she says.
Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to shower your sweetie with treats. Here are some tips and recommendations from Jessica Pettingill:
Broken Heart Brownies
“We bake [the brownies] in a silicone heart-shaped mold, so when they bake, they kind of crack in the top,” she says.
Pretty in Pink
“I usually try to keep everything in a color scheme for Valentine’s Day,” she says.
Fish in the Sea
“I’ll usually do salmon – poached salmon with a watermelon-radish miso sauce.”
7850 Market Blvd., Chanhassen
Facebook: Café Thyme