Last year, Brendan Hartranft was diagnosed with hodgkin’s lymphoma. In February of 2014 the symptoms that he and Leigh Maida had thought were allergies or the stress of running their multiple restaurants (Local 44, Strangelove’s, Memphis Taproom, and, at the time, Resurrection Ale House), turned out to be more something than nothing, and before they knew it, he was signed up for chemotherapy.
Despite having no appetite while in treatment, Hartranft nonetheless devoured the Joe Beef cookbook, so it was fitting that when he was through with treatment the pair celebrated with a trip to Montreal. Liberated from meals crammed in between responsibilities at the restaurants, and what Maida calls the “chicken finger existence” of meals prepared according to the preferences their children, they ate as though it were date night every night. Their server at dinner one night asked, “Are you celebrating? Or are you just used to eating and drinking so well?”
Coeur, opened September 15th by Maida, Hartranft and Brendan Kelly, is their homage to that trip and to that sentiment. They call the food “Montreal-inspired” and while yes, there’s poutine on executive chef Andy Tessier’s menu, it’s only available perched atop a burger with tomato confit and fried potato skins. Rather than drawing a caricature of what Americans think of as Canadian food (or shamelessly ripping off other people’s restaurant’s menu items), they’re aiming—with both their menu and their wine list— to offer selections that are interesting, yet approachable enough for a weeknight supper.
Located in the space that once housed James and The Mildred, Coeur has coziness in spades, despite the fact that they’ve shut down The Mildred’s roaring fireplace for the time being. With sturdy wooden chairs, wooden tables by farmhaus, and wallpaper where woodland creatures scurry, it feels as though it could be the set of a Wes Anderson movie.
In addition to that poutine burger, there’s also a juicy brisket sandwich on rye with garlic aioli, honey dijon, raclette, and romaine; rotisserie chicken with onion, carrot, and potato; and, lest we get ahead of ourselves, appetizers like duck liver mousse with strawberry-black pepper jam, and a big green salad to share. In fact, the menu is largely made of plates that would be easy to share: cheese, charcuterie, oysters on the half shell, and tête du cochon with peach ratatouille. It’s easy to see why The Tasting Plate–a selection of cheffy little dishes served on granny’s relish tray–has been a popular choice in their first two weeks. Dishes rotate on and off, but their variety ensures that whether you see corn flan with roasted red pepper, brisket mousse with mustard seeds, or the cutest little seckel pears poached in ginger syrup, the series of little bites will keep things interesting.
Coeur opens at 11:30 each morning and the kitchen is open until midnight, and as with life, and matters of both health and heart, there are no reservations.