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

Seasonals & Pop-Ups


A Catered Affair

The Chowgirls have long had a reputation as one of the best caterers in town, and now they’re getting feisty. Owners Amy Brown and Heidi Andermack have annexed the room next to their HQ and created a stylish event space where all manner of fun and frolic are afoot. Besides paying homage to their Nordeast artist neighbors with pop-up showings and salons, they’ve thrown an Earth Day Farm Fresh Brunch, Luck of the Locavore St. Paddy’s Day Dinner, and a Summer Solstice Supper among other events—giving you a great chance to eat their locally sourced food without having to throw a party of your own. 1222 NE 2nd St., Mpls., 612-203-0786, chowgirls.net —S. M.


The Full Monty

“Pizza Pete” Campbell uses ultra-local ingredients starting with organic flour from Sunrise Mill. One bite of The Monty and you’ll be dancing in your knickers. Find it every Sunday at the Linden Hills farmers’ market. rdwagon.com


The Italiano

A ton of seasonal drive-ins open each spring, but not many cook a mean pot of red sauce, a homey pasta fagioli, a rarified pizza burger, and a legendary Italiano (known elsewhere as a Hot Dago). 1440 Minnehaha Ave. E., St. Paul, 651-776-3470


Suddenly, a Picnic

Once a year you might stumble upon a giant outdoor dinner in a public park where everything and everyone is dressed in white. Inspired by the 23-year-old annual picnic held in Paris (and subsequently all over the world), this dinner is a pop-up in which participants find out the location only one hour before it begins. This year on June 23, invited eaters arrived at Rice Park with their own tables, chairs, candelabras, floral arrangements, and food, setting rows table-to-table for a massive flash-mob feast that is at once stylish and fleeting. After a round of sparklers, diners whisk away all evidence of the meal and begin to dream and plan for the next one. dinerenblanc.com —S. M.


Snowpig on the Grassy Slopes

During the winter, Hyland Ski & Snowboard area in Bloomington churns out your average ski fries and hot dogs. But in summer, when verdant slopes become a quiet backdrop for a makeshift driving range and Frisbee golf course, it’s a lunch secret. Open Monday through Friday, Morty’s cooks stacked grinders and burgers—with attitude—and posts a special menu online each week. You might be lucky enough to get the Snowpig—a smoked pork sandwich with melted provolone, onions, pickles, applesauce, and Sriracha sauce on a fresh bun. If that’s not available, Erik’s Power Burger with pecan wood–smoked bacon, cheese, and a fried egg is a sure bet. 8800 Chalet Rd., Bloomington, 763-694-7800, hylandski.com —S. M.


Music & Meat Melee

This hipster mash-up of rock bands and local chefs is full of surprises. Orchestrated by impresario and all-around-awesome guy Craig Drehmel, one recent event featured a “dime bag”—a homemade Twinkie topped with hops. Venues change, as do the chefs and the themes (Eggs for Africa, Pre-Earth Day Confection Carousel, to name a couple), but those held at the Triple Rock kill it every time. Be sure to pick up a belt buckle or T-shirt at the merch table, and don’t miss out on the meat raffle (the prize is usually from Clancey’s). gastronongrata.blogspot.com —S.B.


Activate Your Inner Spice

Mondays at Highland Grill have a cult following, largely because Heather Jansz, the Curry Diva, has people hooked on getting “activated.” Sassy, fresh, and exotic, Jansz was once the fire behind the Sri Lanka Curry House and now is largely a private chef and caterer. Her curry nights at Highland Grill are more than a meal, because Jansz believes in the magic of spices and brings a holistic approach to health and eating. She “activates” the senses through food, using sweet, sour, and salty as well as bitter, pungent, and astringent flavors. Her personality and food warm you from the toes up, and you usually get her legendary roti in the process. thecurrydiva.com —S.M.


Ultra-Secret Fine Dining

If you are lucky enough to be invited to this quasi-legal pop-up run by a local fine-dining server legend and his chef friend, you’ll be the guilty one if you don’t go. La Belle Vie and Piccolo rolled into one is the only clue. Trust us, it’s that good. Invite only.