Twin Cities Insider Eats: 2012 Critics’ Picks

The best food nobody knows about: Our dining team reveals its black book of foodie secrets.

Twin Cities Insider Eats: 2012 Critics' Picks

Foodie Secrets


The Extras

Alex Roberts and his staff know how to pay attention to detail. They’ve even been known to greet kids with homemade applesauce as an amuse-bouche. 528 University Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-379-4909, restaurantalma.com 528 University Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-379-4909, restaurantalma.com


Tiny Sweets

Mignardises (pronounced minyardeez) are the French pastry chef’s dessert served after dessert—you see the itty-bitty cookies, gels, macaroons, and so forth in five-star restaurants just before the bill arrives, and nowhere in Minnesota but here at real-butter-specialist Bars Bakery. 612 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-8300, barsbakery.com


Not The Beer

Beer geeks feel like they own this place, but not on Sundays when the bloody mary bar is set with house-infused vodka and the morning-after cocktails come out. OK, so the breakfast of champions is Summit oatmeal stout and whipped vodka—something for everyone. 498 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-287-2018, thehappygnome.com


Greasers While U Wait

We know you go to Travail for a mind-blowing food experience, but don’t overlook the greasers. If you should happen to find yourself at the bar while waiting for your table, get a plate of these sliders and order a Surly Fender (Furious and Bender mixed), and life will be good. 4154 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131, facebook.com/travailkitchen


Sunday Roast Chicken

In our farm-obsessed, postmillennial, locavore era, we want grandma’s kitchen with French attitude for Sunday dinner. Enter Café Levain, where chef Adam Vickerman coaxes elegant plates from everyday ingredients and garden produce. His roast chicken is rosemary kissed, leg and breast still on the bone, with skin that’s finger-picking crispy. This homey fare is far better than any I could make at home. Enjoy the generous sides: skin-on fries with garlic aioli, bacon-braised Swiss chard with white beans, sweet corn napped in crème fraîche. You can diet come Monday, so go for the shortcake with berries just picked in the garden, monkey bread sticky with raspberry syrup, or fresh watermelon sorbet. 4762 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-7111, cafelevain.com —B. D.


Nude Food

The TC’s first raw restaurant goes beyond vegan to crusade for pure food with its menu of vibrant salads, vegetable pastas, and rich nut pâtes. Try the rawvioli and let your paradigm shift a little. 2409 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-874-7336, ecopolitan.com


Low-Key Wine

Russell Fay has a wine habit, and he’s sharing it with you. His tiny shop is like a garage sale of wine that he has curated as a server and wine drinker. Most bottles are cheap and interesting, and it may be the most easy-going wine-browsing afternoon you’ve ever had. 4726 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-721-9463, corkdorkwineco.com


The Best Seat in Town

Have you ever been loved so deeply that you felt like the world was created for you alone? Step up and into the red leather booth in the back of the bar at TBF—a lofty seat perched high—then order a Pernod over ice and radishes with butter, and drink up one of Minnesota’s most luxurious seats. 50 2nd Ave. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, corkdorkwineco.com


Hogs 'n' Eggs

The Sample Room defines welcoming, warm, and perfectly prepared eggs, and now you can order a whole hog’s head to boot. But don’t forget the great housemade sausages and the ample craft beer selection. 2124 NE Marshall St., Mpls., 612-789-0333, the-sample-room.com


The Land of Candy

Drive south on Highway 169 until you think you’ve almost hit Iowa (silly city folk), and at a point around Jordan you will likely see a giant yellow Quonset hut/barn that claims to be, in brightly painted letters, Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. It’s attached to Jim’s Apple Farm and it opens and closes on its own schedule, but if it’s open you will be rewarded with seemingly miles and miles of sugar wonderland: a staggering root beer selection, racks of candy cigarettes, ginger chews and licorice up the wazoo, and international candies you never knew existed. Sure, there are apples, pies, and farmy things, but . . . hey, is that a Yorkie bar? The store opens mid-July and closes sometime in November. 17365 Johnson Memorial Dr., Jordan, 952-492-6380 —S. M.


Not Your Freezer Wings

Darin Koch is a highly trained chef with his eye on guy snacks. Foodists already know that he’s perfected the wing. Stop in his Maplewood shop and be prepared to be stunned by a staggering amount of flavor combinations. The real secret, though, is that Koch makes a mean off-the-radar burger: The Emma James comes with smoked pancetta, a fried egg, and harissa aioli. 705 Century Ave. N., Maplewood, 651-730-7768, eatatdspot.com—S. M.