Photographedy by Katherine Harris, Stephanie Colgan, Amber Procaccini, and Steve Henke
OUR LOCAL DINING TEAM assembled this Hall of Fame based on a year’s worth of eating and drinking. Dig in to see the Class of 2013 standouts: the MVP, the Most Improved, the Cutest Couple, and more.
★ NO PLACE LIKE HOME AWARD ★
Cafe Levain Under/Adam Vickerman
4762 Chicago Ave. S.,
Can you really ever go home again? Perhaps. Chef Adam Vickerman, who at the tender age of 18 first worked in the Steven Brown version of the place, left the top job at Levain in 2009. After a stint at Tosca, he left the fold for a title at Sea Change. But feeling the pull of the old stoves, Vickerman returned in 2011 and has proven to be the prodigal son. The food hasn’t been this good in a while. His French-influenced bistro fare is humble, soul satisfying, and respectful of ingredients. There’s maturity and restraint in each plate and a true feeling, for loyalists, of home.
★ UPSTART/RISING STAR OF THE YEAR ★
The Gray House/Ian Gray
610 W. Lake St.,
Eat in enough restaurants and you’ll be forced to confront cliché, repeatedly. The sameness of everything else is what makes young chef Ian Gray, at his first solo restaurant, such a standout. The complementary appetizer and relish tray is delicious, generous, and hospitable. The bread for the bruschetta is cut just right and grilled just right. The beets are roasted to the height of their sweetness. Because all the details are just right, you can relax and notice the spark, the rare flash, that’s here too. Gray has an astonishing gift for flavor, for making savory and deep dishes thrum with vitality through the surprising use of sweet: ground cherries in a tuna tartare, vanilla in a pork ragu, honey with scallops. Too much is made of chefs as artists. We’d live in a better world if most acquired the status of able craftsman. But when the craft is in hand and the art dances on top of that, you have a chef who is worth watching, joyfully.
★ MOST IMPROVED ★
119 Washington Ave. N.,
When you’re crowned as King of Meats, where can you go from there? How about making a bid
★ STILL HOT/WICKED HOT ★
for the Duke of Kale with mind-blowing vegetarian tasting menus?
Bar La Grassa
800 Washington Ave. N.,
What is it that keeps this place packed to its stylish rafters? Probably the fact that no one has knocked the innovative James Beard–winning neo-Italian pasta king off the hill yet. Any takers?
★ PURVEYORS OF THE PERFECT FOOD ★
The Kenwood and Harriet Brasserie
The Kenwood, 2115 W. 21st St., Mpls.,
Harriet Brasserie, 2724 W. 43rd St., Mpls.,
Here’s something to get behind: everyday brunch. Why should weekends get all the good egg dishes? Why does lunch have to live in dinner’s shadow instead of basking in morning’s glory? This past year, two new restaurants embraced the softer side of the midday meal by serving brunch daily, with one menu from morning to mid-afternoon. The Kenwood is a comforting plaid-clad oasis whose star is braised pork huevos rancheros. Harriet Brasserie brings a global lilt with a gorgeous crab Bennie (and perfectly poached eggs all over the place).
★ MOST ORIGINAL MENU ★
Travail Kitchen and Amusements
4154 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale,
This is a unique place, unique enough to get the national media to sit up and take notice. But Travail is more than a shticky concept where the kids on the line jump into the dining room and serve the food. Much more. It’s a lab. No, wait. It’s a space station. It is a universe unto itself where the chefs have put in the money and now they put in the backbreaking hours to create, push, collaborate, and innovate. They owe nothing to anybody other than to each other, so they are free to create a menu unlike any other in the metro—one that reimagines textures, flavors, basic understandings of what “chicken” is with a galloping giddiness while, maybe most miraculously, never taking for granted that someone other than themselves will be eating it. The eater is welcome on the space station.
★ MOST AMBITIOUS ★
Union Restaurant and Rooftop
731 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.,
Hennepin Avenue has become the epicenter of Minneapolis’s see-and-be-seen, spend-and-be-spent-on high-end bar scene. Toss the valet the keys to your Escalade at Seven, sip a cosmo, scan the rooftop deck for sports celebrities—and then what? Now you can zip down the block for high-end cooking from one of Minneapolis’s most promising up-and-coming chefs: Jim Christiansen. No one saw this coming. When Kim and Keyvan Talebi, owners of the highly lucrative Crave chain, announced they were slotting a restaurant into the former Shinders space, all of Minnesota assumed they would open something lucrative and predictable. Instead they hired Christiansen and put him in charge of a rooftop patio (which turned out to be North America’s largest covered by retractable glass) and a fine-dining restaurant. Now the stiletto-clad cuties of Hennepin Avenue can eat just as well as the world’s snobbiest Michelin star chasers. Don’t buy it? Skitter on your Manolos up to the Union roof for delicate bowls of mussels steamed with lemon verbena, plus perfectly round donut holes (with bacon in the batter!) served with a Vasterbotten cheese fondue. Meanwhile, downstairs, serious eating is under way, with dishes such as beef tartare arranged upon a firmament of hay-smoked cream cheese and served with thick-cut potato chips for scooping, or ricotta gnocchi dumplings, as delicate as snow fallen on tulip heads. Consider Union in its entirety, with the thumping dance club of Marquee taking up the whole basement, and you’ll see that it’s not so much a restaurant as a sort of cruise ship, an enormous pleasure palace nosing its prow into waters never before explored on Hennepin.
★ BEST SEXY VEGETABLES ★
Birdhouse on Hennepin, 2516 Hennepin Ave. S.,
Mpls., 612-377-2213, birdhousempls.com
Oh la la, that croquette! Panko crisp all over, enrobed in a sultry fire-roasted red pepper sauce that is pure silk, smoke, and damn sultry. Flirty orange supremes of brightness artfully play up the eggplant, which is steamed and pressed overnight, stunningly softer than cashmere, and steeped in rich earthy aromas that defy its light breezy texture. Long on culinary attitude and short on menu clutter, chefs Stewart and Heidi Woodman’s streamlined second act at the Birdhouse, with Chef Jes Werkmeister at the burners, offers so many veg and vegan delights that even the card-carrying carnivores are begging for more.
★ PHENOM OT THE YEAR ★
Icehouse Pub Grub
2528 Nicollet Ave.,
The word casual used to signal a dialing-back of ambition. Not anymore. When Icehouse opened last year it made a splash with familiar, casual pub grub, but pub grub cooked to the most exacting fine-dining standards. Buffalo chicken wings are made through a multi-step, multi-day process that is not limited to confit-ing the darn things before dry-rubbing and roasting them. Reubens are made with corned beef similarly housemade and finely conceived and executed. And the baby back ribs—well, baby back ribs by disciples of La Belle Vie? Why, yes. Casual prices, casual atmosphere, casual menu, and so ambitious that the slouchy, mustachioed bar-backs might as well be in full tails and white ties.
★ BEST RESTAURANT FAMILY ★
4300 Bryant Ave. S.,
In a joint as small as this, with food as intense as this, wouldn’t you almost want to just sneak in and share the nightly staff meal? They all come, whether they’re on shift or not, because, you know, it’s family.
★ HEIR TO THE LOCAVORE THRONE ★
Wise Acre Eatery
5401 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls.,
With Scott Pampuch out of state, who is the heir apparent to the local food scene? Chef Beth Fisher holds the keys to the locavore kingdom, or queendom. Selecting seeds and preserving the harvest, she conjures menus with wit and whimsy. Try a winter salad of fresh spinach, house bacon, and pickled eggs or another of “lucky duck” confit with horseradish-roasted beets. Sweet carrot soup is kissed with ginger; beefy chili gets a plug of habanero sour cream. In January, 80 percent of her dishes come straight from the hoop houses on the restaurant’s 130-acre farm. Wise Acre brings us to the farm, every day.
★ MOST HOOD SPIRIT ★
337 13th Ave. NE,
As the neighborhood grows into a newfangled food destination around it, Jim Grell’s Modern watches quietly (actually, sarcastically more than quietly) what it started.