Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Agra Culture Kitchen
Man oh man, if I had a nickel for every concept that thought it was going to be the next Chipotle, I could buy a bulk of burritos. Rightly so, because even though the world is speeding up and people are eating out more, they also are more concerned about what they put in their bodies. So what’s the magic formula, the golden ratio of fast-food-fuel that will score more greenbacks? I don’t have the answer, or else I’d be sitting on a yacht somewhere, but maybe these guys do.
Agra Culture Kitchen & Press is a fast-casual spot (order at the counter, food is brought to your table) that first opened in Uptown, and then at 50th & France. It is the brainchild of Aaron and Andrea Switz, who also brought Yogurt Lab to town. While the name initially annoyed me, as I’m a little weary of the kute kommercialization of farm things that aren’t really farm things, I have come to love these two spots.
The main idea is centered on real food—healthy real food—which is a bit tricky because these days this could mean gluten-free for one and meat-free for another. Navigating this minefield of ideological-eating bombs is not easy, but the menu does a great job of keeping it both simple and varied: simple with fat/calorie/carb counts on everything, varied with many options for combinations and substitutions. For example, beyond the many specialty salads and signature sandwich creations to choose from, you are free to assemble your own Agra Plate. First choose a protein (perhaps seared wild salmon, tofu, or beef), add a sauce (spicy miso has been great, chimichurri has been bright, romesco rich and earthy), then pick sides such as a quinoa salad riddled with cucumbers, basil, and mint, or harissa-touched yam wedges, or maybe a mix of truffled mushrooms.
And here’s what is probably the most important health piece of all: it’s all been very tasty. Most kitchens that scream health-driven ideologies tend to focus on taste secondarily, because eating kale is a righteous commitment, dammit. But I truly believe that you will never win on the health vibe alone—you must seduce the eater with flavor or they will move on. And that is exactly what Agra Culture has done for me, giving my BLT-fanatical kid a chunky, juicy basil turkey BLT that he’s obsessed with, while giving me one of the most elemental and purely flavored bowls of garlicky tomato soup in town. Everything assembled on my chicken cobb was done with attention: pulled chicken (refreshingly free of that dry cooler taste cursing most salad chicken), hunks of local blue cheese, actual meaty shards of crisp bacon, green (not brown!) avocados—and it was all fresh and substantial in portion. They’ll also hand-press juices to order, or you can try the blended smoothie-type drinks, though I didn’t find them to be too exciting.
Both spaces have all the earmarks of modern comfort eating, there’s barn-wood (thank god) and succulents on the table, cute ironwork accents, and plenty of greenery on the walls. It’s chic, it’s comfortable, it’s where you want to hang out and lunch with gal pals—it’s what the Good Earth could have become had it really dialed in to this next wave of healthy eating. So far for me it has achieved fast service and tasty food with little or no guilt, and I would only be happier if there was one in my ’hood. Sounds like money in the bank to me. 2939 Girard Ave. S., Mpls., 612-315-3349, 3717 W. 50th St., Mpls. 612-345-5442, agra-culture.com