Motivated by visits to California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma regions, owners John Sheehan and Lynn Reimer established Porter Creek Hardwood Grill in Burnsville, MN. Porter Creek features a fresh contemporary American menu with California-Mediterranean influences. Signature to its brand is fire-roasted meats and rustic vegetables from the rotisserie and a woodfired oven where temperatures approach 600 degrees.
Their vision for the wine-country-inspired restaurant stemmed after falling in love with wine country. In addition, they had a dream to create an inviting outdoor experience with an open patio with water features. “In our visits to Sonoma and Napa Valley, we met a number of pioneers in the wine industry. These entrepreneurs inspired us to create Porter Creek Hardwood Grill,” explains John.
They’ve worked to create an open, Mediterranean/California feeling atmosphere that makes patrons feel like they’re on vacation. “We have a water table that flows constantly and is a big attraction,” says John.
The open dining experience replicates comfort with quality. “Everything is hand-crafted, including the food and the atmosphere. Winters are long, and summers are short. Inside offers a great experience, too, featuring an open bar area with an upbeat vibe.”
“In July of 2010. I remember sweating every detail, like the chairs,” reminisces John. “Should we have stone or wood? A lot of care and planning went into the experience, and it’s all intentional – every square inch. We designed the restaurant to create a great experience that makes people want to come back. Food and cocktails are the reason; however, we’ve found that people stay longer because of the atmosphere. They stop at a fire pit to socialize or just enjoy themselves. People stay on average an hour longer than usual, and it’s due to the comfortable setting we create.”
John believes that the campfire may have been the first form of hospitality, offering companionship and warmth. All of our concepts have that common thread. “We cook with wood on a large scale,” describes John. “Our outdoor fireplace, woodfire rotisserie, and oven appeal to the senses. We have a campfire going every day.” John illustrates.
Porter Creek Hardwood Grill aims to elevate the dining experience for any occasion, from casual to extraordinary or celebrations. Their approach follows a California style with lighter, fresh ingredients that deliver unique blended flavors. Chef James Foley does a great job of taking the vision and spinning it to the menu while partnering and taking input from other chefs.
Some popular dishes include their flatbreads, rotisserie wings, and their seafood dishes. “We love seafood,” says John. “Our Salmon with Roasted Corn Sauce was voted best dish in the twin cities. It was one of the few times a suburban restaurant won the award. We bring food exploration to the burbs.”
Many guests appreciate the delicate touches to their dishes. For example, the maple bourbon glaze with rotisserie chicken and fresh roasted veggies or walleye with a smoked pepper tarter sauce adds complexity to dishes. Additionally, they’re well-known for various fresh salads, such as the Southwest Chopped Salad that includes jicama and roasted corn, their Wine Country Salad that features smoked grapes, or the unique Toasted Quinoa Salad.
Porter Creek offers excellent sandwiches, too, such as their famous rotisserie chicken sandwich known for its great flavor.
All desserts are handmade – not ordered. Our homemade banana ice cream cake remains a signature item. Others love to indulge in the molten chocolate cake. “We also donate $1 from each dessert ordered to a charity of our choosing with our Citizen for Life campaign. It’s important to give back to the community and show you care. You give because it’s good for your heart. Share with others so that feeling grows and influences others,” explains John.
You can continue to drool over the menu here.
Porter Creek’s wine menu offers 65 varieties by the glass, including a patron-favorite red, Haras Estate Carménère. “We’ve had this red variety for a long time and still have it because our customers love it,” says John. “Often, the local liquor store compliments us because people request various varieties after trying them at our restaurant.”
Whisky enthusiasts will appreciate their whiskey and bourbon list. “We also sell a lot of craft beer and spirits from local brewers and distilleries. In addition, whiskey lovers may want to sample a Bourbon or Kentucky Mule.
After COVID, although restaurants have been open for some time, they still aren’t back to “normal.”
John explains, “We’re not at normalcy right now, but optimistically going that way. It takes time to hit the level of hospitality we’re committed to. We don’t just hire bodies; it’s understanding the culture, the knowledge of the food – it all goes into a great dining experience, and it takes a few months to reach our desired level.”
He goes on, “But with reflection, it may have been a better thing for us. We became stronger. We bonded tighter. Now, we’re busier than we’ve ever been. We live pretty simply, and if something happens, we find a way to get through it. I believe we came through the pandemic successfully because we have fantastic employees. We’re grateful for how they bonded and found a way to get through this together.”
Porter Creek Hardwood Grill remains a staple in Burnsville with its 400-seat establishment and its focus on greatness. “If we were average, I don’t think we’d be successful,” says John. “It’s our high level of service, high-quality product, and our inviting ambiance. We have to be EXCELLENT. When restaurant pity goes away, we need to be that lighthouse in the storm.”
“When [during COVID] and people ordered a steak dinner outside at six degrees; it’s not because of the need to eat. People need the feeling of interaction, relationships, and socializing. That feeds us as much as the food and beverage. At Porter Creek, people know that it’s comfortable. Our experience is a great blend of outdoor/indoor – it’s handcrafted: The music, lighting – a place to gather and enjoy life together. The uniqueness in comfort and ambiance, I think, makes our guests feel better. It’s a feeling hard to measure; it’s that nourishment to say, ‘I’m happy. I remember a moment with you.’ That’s what makes life more vibrant.”
You can check out the Porter Creek Hardwood Grill website and menu here.