2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com
Ink wells will run dry and countless words will be used in mincing and dicing the food, the beer, the storied Steven Brown and his Tilia. It’s a good start to getting a feel for the new Linden Hills bistro, but you’ll want to have your own Tilia story—a social experience, a new family tradition, or perhaps simply a dining memory that compels you to go back. Here’s mine.
Walking into the dozen-table restaurant, I found myself standing in a place that’s neither bar nor kitchen nor host stand. It hit me—I am now in Steven Brown’s waking dream, and the dining experience has already started. I blink and soak up the retro décor of amber bubble glass and numeric beer taps. The smoky wood and eggshell walls are the canvas for steampunk nickel fixtures. The effect is spare, subtle, and informal.
Active participation is required here, and I flag down a server to be put on the waiting list. Tilia doesn’t stand on ceremony, nor should you. And know this: There are no reservations, there is no formula for getting a table, and you will wait. Meet new friends at the bar or order a flight of craft beers. Snag the proprietor with snowy white hair and ask him about his favorite new wine by the glass.
I order everything off of the “It’s nice to share” portion of the menu, including the potted meat of the day. The restaurant is so loud I cannot hear the waitress say what it is, but I’m along for the ride. The larger-than-tasting portions arrive one by one, and our booth of four tastes, passes, and talks. We can’t figure out the amalgamation of potted meat, but it’s better than any single meat: It tastes of slow roasted pork, foie gras, and bacon, and we slather it on the toasted buttery bread. Hallelujah! Carnivore nirvana. The demi-glace (super fancy gravy) on the kielbasa is liquid gold—so elegant and robust in style and taste, you’ll want to take a gallon home for yourself and put it on everything.
Then the scallops arrive. The menu states scallops, curry, carrots, and marinated mushrooms. You could describe it that way, sure. More rightly it is the alchemy of those ingredients, in different forms puzzling and delightful. The brined curry mushrooms upstage the perfectly seared scallop, which I didn’t think was possible, but this shows the cheekiness of chef Brown, once the pied piper of line cooks, still cutting it up.
Before 2008, we got used to paying for transcendent dining; we had the cash. But then the world shifted, and we parceled out our culinary bliss one tapas plate at a time. Now there is Tilia with chef de cuisine Sam Miller at the pass delivering a direction forward. If you get a chance, sit at the kitchen counter and watch these soldiers coax as much flavor as possible from each little bite—no detail escapes Miller and Co. as they battle and sweat through a night’s service.
Consider the pickled cauliflower on the Kobe beef hot dog. How did that happen? This dog is the accumulation of Brown’s 20 years in restaurant kitchens and sums up the new American restaurant. While others have downsized, Tilia has simply resized the modern menu. While others offer something for everyone, Tilia gives just enough of what you realize you want.
Now back to that hot dog: It’s crisp and clean, with a perfect snap to its casing, topped with piping hot bacon, fresh tomatoes, and a thankfully-not-crafty bun that lets the steamed white softness do its thing. It’s the kind of perfection found only after decades of cooking ethereal haute cuisine, using that culinary knowledge base, flipping it on its axis, and delivering this amazing dog.
If work is prayer manifest, then this is the temple of all things good and tasty. It is also my story of Tilia. What will yours be?
GETTING THERE, GETTING IN: Street parking is limited, and a walk may be required at peak hours. No reservations.
HOURS: M–F 11 am–1 am, Sa–Su 9 am–1 am (kitchen closed from 3–4 pm)
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate to high KIDS: It has a cool kids menu and is family-friendly.
CARDS: Discover, MC, Visa
ENTRÉE PRICES: $7–$20