Tim McKee opening new restaurant Libertine in Uptown

RICK NELSON | Updated 5/27/2014

The former Uptown Cafeteria - it closed on Monday - is being converted into a "modern" steakhouse.

Big news: Tim McKee has another restaurant on the horizon. The very near horizon. Minnesota’s first James Beard award-winning chef is converting the former Uptown Cafeteria into Libertine.

Four-year-old Cafeteria – officially titled Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group -- served its last meal on Monday. Well, the street-level portion of the Calhoun Square property, anyway; its crazy-popular rooftop Sky Bar is remaining open during the transition.

And it’s a fast one: McKee has set July 16 as the re-opening date. McKee is directing the project in his capacity as a partner and vice president of culinary direction for Parasole Restaurant Holdings, Cafeteria’s parent company.

“It’s 100 percent my idea, as if I’m opening a restaurant, but with someone else’s money,” he said.

The concept? “I wanted a place that could function similar to a steakhouse,” said McKee. “Where people in their twenties and thirties can get a modern steakhouse experience for a reasonable price. This is not going to be Manny’s,” a reference to Parasole’s upscale beef palace in downtown Minneapolis.

The menu’s nucleus is a return to classic butcher cuts. “We’ll be serving cuts you can’t find anywhere else,” said McKee. “They have great flavor, you’re just going to have to chew a little more. I went to a restaurant in Dublin a year and a half ago, and they were treating off cuts like prime cuts, and I thought it was genius.”

In other words, forget about the fillet. “I have no interest in the fillet,” he said. “There’s no fat, there’s no flavor.”

Instead, the beef roster will feature such little-known cuts as the feather blade (from the cow’s shoulder blade), the onglet (a center-cut strip, resembling a fillet), the point (a triangular cut from the rump) and the kitchen’s signature, a short rib that’s grilled at a super-high heat. McKee encountered it during a recent scouting trip to Argentina, where he discovered that it’s that beef-crazed country’s favorite cut.

“It has more chew, but it delivers on flavor,” he said. “It’s primal, it’s less refined. Let’s face it, you’re not going to go to a steakhouse and get a $17-to-$19 cut. This is easy on the budget.”

On the pork side of the equation, there will be ham steaks and a lightly smoked Berkshire pork chop, its generous fat cap still intact (“You forget that pork chops can taste that good,” he said), and on the lamb side there will be sausages, ribs and a deeply flavorful saddle chop (two side-by-side porterhouses, with the belly in between), which at $24 will be the menu’s most expensive item.

McKee said he had to turn to three separate sources to supply the menu’s various cuts. “Where do you find a great pork chop?” he said. “I’d say that you go to a butcher shop, but they’re aren’t any, and that’s the problem.”

Naturally, there’s going to be a house steak sauce, formulated with hints of plum, allspice, Worchestershire and garlic. “It’s our version of A.1., which is what any good steak sauce should be,” said McKee. There’s also a house-made Sriracha sauce.

There will be burgers, too (in beef, lamb or pork), along with a small seafood roster (grilled prawns, cedar-planked salmon) and fried chicken, along with oysters, imported from both coasts and served four ways: raw, in shots (the watermelon margarita and the cucumber-gin fizz both sound particularly intriguing), charbroiled and fried.

The rest of the menu will include a half-dozen salads and a handful of starters, including crispy pig’s ears with a fried egg, steak tartare with a quail egg and tuna poke tacos.