Practice What You Preach at Tongue in Cheek

Sustainable dining is the name of the game at this East Side restaurant.
Co-owners, left to right; Leonard Anderson, Ashleigh Newman and Ryan Huseby

Here in Saint Paul, we enjoy going out to dinner. Wouldn’t it be nice to go out to eat and not just have a great meal, but feel good about doing it? That’s what happens when you visit Tongue in Cheek on the East Side of Saint Paul.

Co-owners Ryan Huseby, chef Leonard Anderson and his wife Ashleigh Newman, wanted to create a restaurant built around the importance of sustainability. “We believe in happy, healthy animals,” Anderson says. “It’s how we think about food and how we eat food; we wanted to practice what we preach.”

Anderson, whose resume includes education at Le Cordon Bleu and working at celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit in Minneapolis, met Huseby while working his way up from line cook to head chef at W.A. Frost. Huseby was a journalism major who couldn’t kick his love for working in restaurants, and was the assistant general manager and beverage director at W. A. Frost before jumping to the Happy Gnome. It was at W.A. Frost that they became friends, and, over the years, along with Newman, a partnership formed.

“[Anderson and Newman] came to me,” Huseby says. “We had always kind of talked about opening a place. They had the concept ready, so they came to me and said, ‘Might as well do it—now or never!’” The restaurant opened in June 2014.

“Ashleigh has always been a huge proponent of healthy, happy animals, so she was the catalyst behind that,” Anderson says. “Whenever there was any time of questioning, she was our solid ground—‘No, this is how we’re going to do it if we’re going to do it; and if we can’t do it, we won’t do it.’”

At Tongue in Cheek, it’s not just about grass-fed beef and free-range eggs—something you can find today at most socially conscious restaurants. “A lot of restaurants emphasize local and sustainable, but then when it comes to their meats and seafood they don’t practice that,” Anderson says. “Because it comes down to a finance thing. It’s a lot more expensive to do grass-fed or pasture-raised.”

“Nobody, that I’m aware of, is very strict across the board,” Huseby says. At Tongue in Cheek, the meat, produce, dairy and even alcohol is sourced from sustainable farmers and distributors.

tongue drinks

And the name? Well, that fits the style of the restaurant. “Ashleigh came up with [the name] and that kind of coincides with our casual fine dining,” Anderson says. “We want to be fun and playful. It goes back to what the definition literally means—just not being taken too seriously.”

While the atmosphere and even menu listings are fun, they’re serious about their food including the East Fried Pride, a cube of fried pork belly with mango, peanut and sesame ($3) and the 6 oz. To Freedom burger which features American cheese and Russian dressing ($12).

The menu is changed about once a month, but there are a few staples. The pork buns are a favorite, “and those are more Vietnamese-style soft pork buns,” Anderson says, with roasted pork belly that’s fried right before serving. “And the chicken and waffles have a definite Asian kick, so it’s a little different than your standard chicken and waffles.”

“The pork belly entrée is something people come back for,” Huseby says. “It’s just a really flavorful meat that Leonard has kind of perfected.”

If you can’t decide what to order, there’s always the tasting menu. It’s the “fine” aspect of casual fine dining, they say, as many fine dining restaurants offer tasting menus. Depending on the month, the tasting menu will offer approximately seven courses. “It gives the customer a chance to try basically a little taste of everything on the menu without getting full portions and spending the bank on it,” Anderson says.

“And it’s reasonably priced, I think, compared to a lot of other tasting menus,” Huseby says. “It’s kind of the opposite extremes—people can come in and have a BLT or a burger, or they can do a seven-course tasting menu.”

“Taste” is how they split up their top-notch cocktail menu, too. “We divide them into basically the six different flavor categories on your tongue,” Huseby says: sweet, spicy, salty, bitter, sour and umami.

Tongue in Cheek also tries to keep their drinks sustainable. “We work with our [wine] distributors to make sure they’re sustainable,” Huseby says. “Same thing with beers. We work with small breweries that source their stuff responsibly.” And while it’s harder with liquor, they’re making progress, using local distilleries such as Tattersall.

Sourcing locally is also part of their hometown pride. Huseby, Anderson and Newman all live on the East Side, which is part of why they chose this location.

“It seemed like kind of an under-served [area],” Huseby says. All three have lived in the area for seven to eight years. “We’ve just seen the neighborhood improving a lot—a lot of positive changes—so we thought it would be a good time to be a part of that,” he adds.