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DeRusha Eats: Inside The New Restaurant Alma

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- There is always a buzz inside the Alma compound, blocks from the University of Minnesota and the Mississippi River. There are scallops to be cooked and guests to be helped at this new, yet old restaurant.

"The food we do here is high technique cooking," said chef Alex Roberts, who opened his Restaurant Alma nearly 18 years ago. Alma is a dinner-only restaurant, where most people order a 3-course fixed price meal. It's always been a 4-star, top-notch spot. But Roberts wanted something different.

"I have a few more gray hairs now," he laughed.

The restaurant scene evolved and changed over those 18 years, the décor at Alma was getting stale, and Roberts had a concept to turn his dinner-only restaurant, into an around-the-clock destination, by buying his building and redoing the entire thing.

"It was to create something new," he said.

In late 2016, Alma, Café and Hotel opened. The dinner-only restaurant remains on its original footprint. But a more casual breakfast, lunch and dinner cafe has risen in what used to be a Dunn Brothers Coffee shop.

"Alma is a dining place. The café is an eating place," Roberts said. "You can dine if you want to, but the idea is you come as you are, no matter what time of day and you can have a great plate of food."

Upstairs, Roberts opened a small hotel with seven unique and stunning guest rooms. It is an inn that almost didn't happen.

"I went downtown and asked if I could do it, they said 'no.' I asked, 'What's the reason?' They said, 'it's the rule.' I asked why and they said, 'I don't know no one really asked,'" he recounted.

Just like his subtle, aromatic food changed a lot of ideas about flavor in this town, his boutique hotel changed Minneapolis law.

"I wish they called it the Alma law!" he laughed.

In 2015, the city changed its ordinances to allow for smaller hotels outside of the downtown commercial area. That clears the way for small hotels, like Alma's, to open in more residential neighborhoods.

The main focus continues to be the food, however.

That food got the attention of Bon Appétit Magazine, which named Alma one of America's 50 Best New Restaurants in 2017.

"I like being called new," Roberts said.

A new and impressive baking operation creating bread from scratch and fresh pastries daily, as well as Alma's first full bar program, plus the hotel, certainly creates a new experience from one of Minnesota's most talented chefs.

"It was a great acknowledgement of the changes [we've] brought to the corner here," Roberts said.

528 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis
Café: Sun-Thursday, 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Restaurant Sun-Thurs 5 p.m.- 9 p.m.; Fri.-Saturday 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.

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