The Best of Twin Cities Food + Dining 2009
The dreamy pastries at Patrick’s Bakery & Cafe do not deceive. The sculptural creations are as good as they look. Take the opera cake: opulent layers of coffee cream, ganache, and über-dark chocolate, cut in petite squares. Try the tiny golden tarts filled with glistening berries or meringue-capped lemon curd, and don’t overlook the pillowy eclairs. 6010 Lyndale Ave. S. (inside Bachman’s), Mpls., 612-861-9277; 2928 W. 66th St., Richfield, 612-861-7570; patricksbakerycafe.com
We know you want us to crown one of the many great upstarts of the local craft beer movement, but there wouldn’t be a movement if it weren’t for the granddaddy of local brew, Summit. Not content to sit on a golden reputation, its brewmasters continue to push the envelope with releases such as the Unchained Series, which celebrates obscure regional styles prepared with exacting traditional methods. This year’s release of Horizon Red Ale alone should earn top honors: The hop-forward beer is one of the most complex and intriguing flavors ever put forth by the local brewery that started it all. summitbrewing.com
We could write a paragraph alone about the ethereal whipped butter at Good Day Cafe, but then who would mention the incredible omelets, the town’s best pork sausage, the huckleberry pancakes, the killer egg sandwich with ham and avocado, or the gooey caramel rolls? OK, now we’re hungry. The snappy service makes up for the wait. Insiders know to call ahead. 5410 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley, 763-544-0205, gooddaycafemn.com
Too many brunches collapse under the weight of doughy pancakes, rampant Benedicts, and imperfect hollandaise. The Strip Club doesn’t mess with that stuff, opting instead for inventive dishes like the Irish breakfast, a hearty meat-and-eggs combo with white beans in tomato sauce and wild rice bread. The cocktails are given due attention as well, and JD Fratzke’s kitchen keeps looking for new ways to goose the pastry offerings, custard éclairs being the latest. Brunch here hits the sweet spot—hearty, creative, and damn tasty. 378 Maria Ave., St. Paul, 651-793-6247, domeats.com
Well, we wrote a million words on this topic back in August, but if you don’t have time for a dissertation, take our simple advice and head to The Capital Grille. Its house-ground, local grass-fed beef is packed with bits of bacon and onion and cooked perfectly, however you order it. The fries are great too, but we’re partial to the creamed spinach. 801 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-692-9000, capitalgrille.com
Locavore of the Year
There are chefs who have jumped on the local and sustainable farm wagon, and then there are chefs who are pulling the wagon. Scott Pampuch of Corner Table isn’t one to just decorate a menu with farm names; he’s more likely to be found working with the city on the Homegrown Initiative or sitting on the board of the neighborhood farmers’ market. This year he convinced other like-minded chefs to join his Tour de Farm, a series of farm dinners that introduced eaters to growers. All this while maintaining an innovative but accessible menu at one of the best neighborhood restaurants in the city. 4257 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-823-0011, cornertablerestaurant.com
Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t really fit a cart through the aisles of Surdyk’s deli. It’s just too easy to be seduced by all the goodies: exotic Italian pastas, single-plantation chocolates, tins of duck rillette, not to mention one of the most ambitious cheese programs in the state, a charcuterie case to kill for, and pick-up foods ranging from chili bok choy to simple salami sandwiches. And just try to deny yourself the fudgy bricks of cognac brownie at checkout. 303 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-379-3232, surdyks.com
The thick-cut British-style fries at Cafe Levain come with Levain’s award-worthy burger or can be ordered as the perfect side to a wintry braised short rib. The fries’ meaty thickness will sop up any sauce or meat juice, turning them into a decadent fantasy of carb-alicious indulgence. 4762 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-7111, cafelevain.com
Who knew that a wing joint could successfully disguise itself as an Italian fine-dining restaurant? The Butcher Block may have fabric on the walls and a main menu dripping with finely crafted pastas, but make no mistake, it’s a wing joint. The 14 sauces run the flavor gamut, from Thai peanut to sambal chili to caramelized onion balsamic to coriander cumin lime. Yum. 308 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-455-1080, thebutcherblockrestaurant.com
Black Sheep Pizza is home to the Cities’ most balanced and praise-worthy pies. The even heating of those coal-fired ovens results in a crust that’s thin but not crunchy, chewy but not soggy—a perfect foundation for Black Sheep’s fresh ingredients, tangy sauce, and inspired combinations. 600 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-342-2625, blacksheeppizza.com
New Food Idea
A few years ago, it might have been thought impolite to visit a farm and then dine on its residents. But now we honor the fallen in a new way: the farm dinner. Learning about where our food comes from and how it is raised is an aspect of food consciousness many are rediscovering, and sharing the bounty with the people who work the land brings the experience to new heights. Plus, there’s something about passing the plate in a rustic field that just feels good.
The classic bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich that, thanks to the influence of French colonialism, is a truly refined street food with a cult-like foodie following. It’s not just the crusty baguette or the barbecued pork; the soul of this sandwich is in the harmonious sum of it crunchy, hearty, spicy, and tangy parts. But adoration breeds interpretation, and the new generation of sandwich geeks are daring to reinvent the classic. They’ll serve you an archetypal version at Bun Mi, but the house version with grilled pork and eggs is a perfect riff on the classic form. 604 Washington Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-886-3286, bunmisandwiches.com
Isaac Becker and Josh Thoma’s Bar La Grassa is not yet a month old as of this writing, but it already shows signs of being a leader in its class. It feels fresh and original, yet authentic, in a well-trod genre (Italian). The pasta-driven menu seems guaranteed to produce 112 Eatery–style classics, and it’s all served up in a buzzy room with a fresh, inviting vibe. (The honorable mention nod—along with the top prize for seafood, below—goes to Sea Change for creating a thoroughly original and excellent silk purse from the sow’s ear that was the old Cue space.) 800 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-333-3837, barlagrassa.com
Here’s the bait: The seafood being peddled at Sea Change is sustainable and harvested with the highest regard for marine stewardship. Here’s the hook: It’s all being cooked by disciples of Tim McKee. Seafood is treated with reverence by McKee’s minions, with modern flavors that go way beyond the fisherman’s platter. Cuts of fish are plated with artistry, and the raw bar boasts more than just oysters on ice: Witness the brightness of the yellowfin poke, or a sweet fresh scallop with a tang of vibrant lime. 806 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-225-6499, seachangempls.com
Clearly the most popular and successful steak house in these towns right now is Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian import where meat “gauchos” roam the dining room slicing piping-hot pieces of various cuts of meat straight onto your plate. Unlike traditional steak houses, you control the excess, and it has the town’s best salad bar to balance the meat-fest. 645 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-338-1344, fogodechao.com
The Riverview Wine Bar is a wine bar with an all-around comfy feel. It’s approachable in a casual, welcoming way, and it has something for everyone. You can spend a little or a lot, and the warm interior with its cozy fireplace asks you to stay a while. The wine list is extensive and geared for tasting. There are lots of flights at $10 or $11, and you can build your own on Wednesday and Sunday. 3753 42nd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-4200, theriverview.net
Special Occasion Restaurant (Still in Business)
Yes, it’s been a tough year for restaurants whose appetizers cost the same as an entire meal at Blue Door Pub. And these days, no restaurant wants to be known as a “special occasion” restaurant. So let’s just call La Belle Vie a “super classy” restaurant, where everything—from the room to the place settings to the wine list to the carefully conceived, prepared, and plated food—reminds us of how the greatest restaurants really are a cut above the rest. 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440, labellevie.us
Meals on Wheels
Food from a tin can never tasted like this! Forget the Indian-spiced doughnuts that helped earn Chef Shack a foodie rep in its first year—the sophomore endeavors of Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson are worthy of the lines they draw. Food trucks may be a trend, but we’ll happily climb aboard if it means snagging fries with bacon ketchup, bison burgers, and sweet corn chowder. Coming this spring, Chef Shack 2 rocks the blocks. 612-341-7580, chefshack.org
Emerging Eat Street
It has emerged. 13th Avenue NE, home to the Modern Cafe and Erte, birthed two new gastro-destinations in 2009: The Anchor Fish & Chips and Northeast Social, the latter of which we reviewed quite ecstatically last month. This Eat Street is Euro/Anglo-centric, the perfect complement to Nicollet’s collection. Progressive dinner anyone?
The bar menu is the greatest cheapskate innovation since dine-and-dash. Small tastes of sophisticated fare at prices a fraction of those in the dining room—that’s what it’s all about. The winner and still champion in these towns is Bar Lurçat. Chef Adam King’s amazing sliders of this or that, the shrimp fritters, the barbecue chicken sandwich, the mini doughnuts. Who needs an AmEx black card to eat well? 1624 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-486-5500, cafelurcat.com
Foodie Performance Art
A new generation has discovered the meat raffle and deemed it cool, so why not throw in a couple of bands, some beer, and a few cupcakes as well? Leading this new food set is the gathering known as Gastro non Grata, an occasional event at the Triple Rock Social Club that mixes “unwelcome gastronomy” with local music, beer, and food demos. This isn’t blind gorging; there are plenty of discussions and demonstrations, from how to brew a rye Kolsch beer onsite to how to make sausages. gastronongrata.com
It’s not the biggest or the cheapest, but Pairings Food and Wine is stylish and clean, and its large selection includes many hard-to-find small producers and the best half-bottle section in town (75+ choices). The staff shows a willingness to go the extra mile: They’ll find wines you are looking for, offer others at similar price points, and special-order wines just for you. Scheduled tastings and classes are an added bonus. 6100 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka, 952-426-0522, pairingsfoodandwine.com
Best International Eats
New Thai restaurants abound, but none of them seem as enthralling to us as True Thai. Owner Anna Prasomphol’s menu of Thai dishes never waivers on exotic flavors. Every dish is executed with the kind of care that comes from an owner who believes, heart and soul, in the food she’s setting in front of you. 2627 E. Franklin Ave., Mpls., 612-375- 9942, truethairestaurant.com
To enjoy the real heat of the islands, without checking bags, head for one of the Singh family restaurants. Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine is rooted in the owner’s upbringing in Trinidad. Nobody does roti or salted cod cassava better. Unless it’s her brother at Harry Singh’s. Harry introduced Caribbean fare to the metro, and his signature dishes are still setting the bar. Marla’s, 3761 Bloomington Ave., Mpls., 612-724-3088, marlascuisine.com; Harry Singh’s, 2653 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-6181
Who opened a taqueria in downtown St. Paul? The best chef in Minnesota, Tim McKee, that’s who. And at Barrio, the excellent food is as authentic as it is inexpensive. Coupled with the super sexy décor—like the giant metal bull along one wall—and killer cocktails, it translates to ¡una experiencia fantástica! Finally, Mexican food worth craving. 235 E. 6th St., St. Paul, 651-222-3250, barriotequila.com
Ages ago, the pioneers at Fuji Ya created an unmistakable roll of distinction, the No. 9. Crispy tempura shrimp, cucumber, and spicy mayo are delicately wrapped with salmon and avocado, then doused with unagi sauce. So prolific was this roll that it traveled, with the sushi masters and their secrets, to restaurants and menus across town. It may be our quintessential local roll. 600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-871-4055; 465 Wabasha St., St. Paul, 651-310-0111, fujiyasushi.com
Finally, there’s a reason to be jealous of Fridley: They’ve got King’s Fine Korean. The goodness starts at lunch with a stacked buffet offering a dizzying assortment of meat. fish, and sushi for less than $10. Then later, after a dinner spread that includes a round of bibimbap served in a hot stone bowl, you’ll feel better about getting up on the karaoke stage and belting out “The Rose.” 1051 E. Moore Lake Rd., Fridley, 763-571-7256, kingsrestaurant.com
Russell and Desta Klein’s Meritage is in a league of its own when it comes to local French cookery. From the graceful room (hat tip to Doug Anderson) and the polished service, to the authoritative bistro cooking and a menu that’s both straight Parisian and French-influenced, this spot is a romantic charmer. 410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stpaul.com
Not much happened in the eye-talian scene in 2009—that is, until the D’Amico gang brought us D’Amico Kitchen at the Chambers hotel. The stylish dining room has a Milan vibe, and the Eden patio will come into its own next summer. Chef John Occhiato’s menu is part Cucina, part Lurçat, part Chambers. It’s a lovely, satisfying restaurant that deserves more buzz. 901 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
In a town where every new Indian restaurant is a clone of the last, OM is different. Employing the recipes of local Indian culinary expert/author Raghavan Iyer, OM has a sexy design and vibe, and early indications are that its groundbreaking cuisine is the real deal. 401 1st Ave., N., Mpls.
Best Barbecue: Rack 'em Up!
There is no single best 'cue in these towns, merely a smattering of very goods, depending on what you're looking for in the universe of sauce and smoke.
Smoke: Smoke purists know that the Polski family at Market Barbecue sweats the details and smokes 'em slow. marketbbq.com
Sauce: Sauce snobs can't get enough of Ted Cook's amazing spare ribs in their signature spicy slather. tedcooks19thholebbq.com
Chicken: Chicken lovers must duck the swingers on the make to secure a date with Redstone's smoky rotisserie beauties. redstonegrill.com
Pulled Pork: At Rooster's BBQ in St. Paul, the shoulders are chopped—not shredded—to maximize that porky goodness. roostersbbq.com