Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki
More often than not, the thing that both Minneapolitans and St. Paulites, friends, co-workers, and your mom’s boss frequently ask is: Where should I eat tonight? The good news is that there is no shortage of new spots in town that can answer that question for all kinds of eaters. This year, the new entrants to the restuarant scene have really brought game. Whether it’s a high-end eatery or a low-slung joint, there’s one constant: the quality of the dish. From upscale crudo bars to reimagined diners with top-shelf burgers and one-room spots perfumed with fried chicken, the flavor of our towns has never been better. We did our due diligence, pulled on our stretchy pants, and carbo-loaded through a spread of Italian restaurants like we haven’t seen in a decade, just so we could rank the 13 best new restaurants that have opened since last November. So go ahead and ask, we got this. Scroll down to see who’s at the top.
Tennessee Hot Fried Chicken
Revival burst on the scene as the answer to the question no one had thought to ask: Why can’t an Alain Ducasse–trained five-star chef with serious Minnesota locavore roots focus like a laser beam on the food of North Carolina and fix me some fried chicken? But that’s exactly what chef Thomas Boemer did, with partners Nick and Chenny Rancone, when he opened Revival. It is the second restaurant from the team, who made their name with the very fine, very whole-animal focused, very eclectic favorite, Corner Table. For their second act, they wanted something more constrained in scope, not a chef’s playground like Corner Table. They wanted a restaurant limited to the foods of Lexington, North Carolina, where Boemer grew up. The result is a total victory for limitations—sharply honed skills, which when channeled into humble fried chicken and collards, yield magic.
About that chicken. It’s crisper and more tender than a teenage pop ballad, and as lip-smacking devourable as chicken has ever been. The collards are as humble and fresh as the chicken is showy. The pies will make you want to start an intensive study into the pastry traditions of the south. The wine list flies close to the sun (oddball, big-brain Scholium Project white wine on tap), while the beer list stays close to the people (many local good brews, plus Miller High Life). At the end of the day at Revival, it’s not really just about the fried chicken—the burger, the grits, and the pork shoulder are just as good. And yet, at the same time, it is all about the fried chicken. Minneapolis and St. Paul have produced a chef-focused restaurant culture, where the defining characteristic is the mercurial leanings of a great cook at the top. At Revival, that great cook has put those concerns in second place, and instead, has focused on giving star billing to the food. Those limitations are what make Revival something we never thought to ask for, but instantly couldn’t live without. 4257 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-345-4516, revivalmpls.com
2. Spoon and Stable
The kitchen team at Spoon and Stable
There’s no denying the impact that Gavin Kaysen’s Spoon and Stable has had on the Twin Cities dining scene. At this point, the phrase “Minneapolis Food Scene” has probably been uttered by more East Coast big media than ever before. Kaysen fully admits that was part of the plan, bringing a bit of national spotlight to our streets. The James Beard Foundation, which had already lauded Kaysen as a rising star in 2008 for his work at Café Boulud, saw fit to nominate Spoon and Stable for Best New Restaurant this year, a coveted award you can only get once, and in the history of the awards has only landed outside of the East Coast twice. Spoon didn’t win, but, hey, the international godfather of molecular gastronomy, Ferran Adrià, came to town.
Nearly a full year since it opened, Spoon remains the hot ticket, with tight reservations and a booming bar. Like anyone that commands a big audience through hype even before a plate is served, initial reviews were mixed. Expectation is a tricky mistress. But the kitchen has come into its own. Though pot roast will always be contentious with the hometown crowd, Spoon’s beautifully braised lamb shank with yellow eye bean, artichokes, and preserved lemon will bring a new spark to your dinner. As will the delicate raviolo al uovo, lightly decorated with Brussels sprouts and brown butter to accent the silken egg yolk, released at the first cut. Will it change your life and give you a transformative New York moment? Well, no. It’s not a New York restaurant, just like it’s not cutting edge Heyday nor nationally loved Travail. It is a well-lit, stylishly buzzy North Loop spot with amazing drinks from lead barman Robb Jones, stunning desserts from pastry chef Diane Yang, and a welcoming and playful menu from a chef who’s feeling the reaches of his own kitchen. The Saturday night ramen special has become a neighborhood tradition, in which the kitchen promises 20 bowls—and 20 bowls only—at 10:30 p.m. Show up at 8 p.m. and master your pre-game at the bar to make sure you get on the ramen list starting at 9 p.m. Spoon was never looking to redefine the scene, it was looking to join it and elevate it. And it has. 211 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-224-9850, spoonandstable.com
3. Saint Dinette
The scene at Saint Dinette
For every dozen restaurants that open in Minneapolis, maybe one opens in St. Paul. Diners are more price-conscious in St. Paul, more skeptical, and, frankly, more often right about calling out when the emperor has no clothes. You can skate by for a few months on flash in Mill City the way you never can in the Capitol City.
So what’s a St. Paul restaurateur to do? Keep over-performing, that’s what. This year chef J.D. Fratzke and Tim Niver, who also own and operate The Strip Club, wowed the notoriously skeptical St. Paul crowd with Saint Dinette, a spot that culinarily connects the city to other French North American colonial cities like Montreal and New Orleans. The pair hired Adam Eaton, formerly from La Belle Vie, for his serious French cooking chops. (Don’t forget that the first European settler of St. Paul was French Canadian Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant, that Duluth was named after a fellow from Lyons named Du Luth, and that major streets like Hennepin and Nicollet link us to Paris.)
How did this effort to link St. Paul to its French heritage come off? Spectaculaire! La super-production! The place is smart as a whip and executes with the strength of 10 power-lifters. Dishes that connect to the waterways of the French voyageurs, like the fried smelt, are made simply with good fish and little else, besides a glorious extra-crunchy rémoulade sauce. The Creole-touched dishes are intriguingly St. Paul focused. For instance, the dirty rice–stuffed chicken is made with an emphasis on the high quality, almost pheasant-like chicken, the rice is a delicate second melody.
St. Paul is naturally skeptical of too much intellectual inquiry, but Eaton counters that with one of the tastiest burgers of the year and a crisp and creamy balloon of a popover. Is it St. Paul’s skepticism and hard-to-win love that honed Saint Dinette greatness? Perhaps restaurants to the west wish they had been toughened up into such winning shape. 261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-800-1415, saintdinette.com
Cast-iron mussels with Meyer lemon and young garlic butter
Simplicity is hard. Try making a green salad that is outside the boring norm of green salads, that is tell-your-neighbors delicious. This is not easy. For one thing, with the veggie-centric healthy eaters crowd, everyone wants to order the green salad, so there’s nowhere to hide. Secondly, no one wants the gourmet-cliché bells and whistles folks put on other foods to make it fancy—no one wants foie gras or chocolate bon bons on their healthy green salad. At the same time, no one wants a giant bag of the same baby salad greens we’ve been eating for a decade. Making a new healthy green salad is, in fact, so tough that a lot of chefs opening restaurants today won’t even attempt it. But Todd Macdonald, chef of Calhoun Square’s new Italian spot Parella, not only attempted it, he pulled it off like an Olympic pole-vaulter, clearing the high bar with feet to spare.
You have to try this Misticanza salad, with its 20 herbs and greens, salty papers of bright white and briny smoked Sardinian cheese, pistachios so fresh, fruity, and moist, they taste like something totally new under the sun. And that’s about it; the salad is simple as can be. The simplicity is what makes Parella a standout in this world of dishes that often hide behind clutter. The house-made limoncellos are little more than good lemons and vodka, the mussels are fantastic—good plump fellows, simply cooked with wine and garlic butter in a wood oven. The ricotta dumplings are little white clouds baked in a simple, fresh tomato sauce. The drawback to simplicity is it takes a certain maturity to appreciate it. Is the current crop of Uptown restaurant-goers capable of discerning good and simple foods from plates of goo splashed with truffle oil? Let’s hope so. Simplicity is hard to master, and perhaps even harder to appreciate—though for those who can, life is better all around. Pass the salad. 3001 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-353-5444, parellampls.com
The bar scenes at Constantine
The Hotel Ivy is a storied place among foodist lore. It’s where the dream team that briefly helmed the restaurant Porter & Frye came together, just before they all spun off and changed our dining landscape forever with Piccolo, Travail, Sea Change, and Tilia. You have to give props to the young bucks willing to come in and do battle with those ghosts, even if they’ve already proven their chops.
When Porter & Frye finally closed last year, Jester Concepts stepped up to the plate after finding success with Borough/ Parlour and last year’s Coup d’État. In the current landscape, bravery means saying no to burgers and yes to fine dining. That’s far easier to do when you have an ace in your pocket, like chef Mike DeCamp. DeCamp left his long-standing position as chef de cuisine (and heir to the Tim McKee throne) at La Belle Vie to take the top spot at Monello, the coastal Italian restaurant that occupies the main level of dining at Hotel Ivy. Of all the Italian restaurants that opened in the past year, Monello is the most refined, almost French in technique and precision. Panzanella is wholly turned on its definition as rustic bread salad; here it’s served with a delicate arc of curated ingredients, yet manages to evoke that simple origin with each bite. The beautifully breezy room elevates fine dining to a new level of comfort, delivering luxe splendor sans the stuffiness.
Downstairs, the dark and gothic Constantine is a sublevel cocktail den with its own street-side entrance. Though it shares a chef and is sister to Monello, the vibe couldn’t be more different. Playing an entirely different game, one of edgy creativity with winks from the modern cocktailians spinning ’80s drinks, it has become a gathering space for the local liquorati on their nights off, once again carving out a space that has potential to live on in foodist lore. 1115 2nd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-353-6207, monellompls.com; 1115 2nd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-886-1297, constantinempls.com
Surly’s beer hall nosh
Awesome is an overused word, but the $30 million new Surly Brewery is nothing short of awe-inspiring, dauntingly magnificent, and full-out jaw-dropping. How to describe it if you haven’t experienced the great industrial hulk of an ultra-modern brewery, rising as it does out of a formerly flat patch of nothing off of University Avenue? How to convey the vast campus, the airplane hangar–sized brewery, the totality of this grand enormity? Let’s start with the massive 220-seat beer hall full of long tables where people eat burgers and brisket and hoist pints of Surly beers that are both rare (Misanthrope) and common (Furious). Then consider the sprawling outdoor grounds where people loll on grass hills and benches, playing cornhole by day and gathering at fire pits by night. Finally, there’s the fancy upstairs Brewer’s Table restaurant, where you can dine from artsy ceramic plates and pair miniature glasses of chili-spiked Fiery Hell lager with chef Jorge Guzman’s fierce marlin and tangerine crudo or Smoke Baltic porter with decadent crispy pork jowl. It’s hard to get your head around it all during a single visit, but like any good amusement park, it becomes more interesting once you get to know the place. Imagine a $30 million grownup Disney World organized around bad-ass beer. Surly built it. And it’s awesome. 520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com
The double cheeseburger
Landon Schoenefeld opened Haute Dish to redefine Midwestern food. It had become so commonplace, that when he transformed the tater tot hotdish with a little shine, some sparkle, an infusion of personality, it was a revolution. In Nighthawks, he’s taken on diner food. But instead of amping it up and giving it zshoosh, he’s taking it back to its roots and giving it a modern foundation. This seems to sit well with all generations, from the empty-nesters who may be the first to brunch to the DIY hipsters who linger longest. They all come for something they had an inkling existed, but before Nighthawks, could hardly nail down: classic American diner food that fills the nostalgic hole in the soul, while feeding the modern hole in the gut. Excellent ingredients, a honed focus that borders on madness-driven simplicity (by going through dozens of chicken soup iterations to create the most perfect version), and a stoner’s sense of relaxed playfulness are the cornerstones of Schoenefeld ’s new American diner. Next door, Schoenefeld launched Birdie. First billed as a chef’s table, this place is more like a chef’s private dinner party. Birdie, which shares Nighthawks’ kitchen space, has two tables that seat up to 12 people. Schoenefeld creates 12 courses of artfully constructed, experimental small dishes like a smoked carrot dumpling, grilled pigeon, and simple potatoes prepared five ways on a plate. 3753 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-248-8111, nighthawksmpls.com
8. Victor's on Water
The Jacques Cousteau pizza
While there are no fewer than six restaurants on our list this year with fresh pasta and Italian leanings, Victor’s on Water is the one that builds the best bridge to the local produce we love so much. It doesn’t claim a strict regionality, nor does it play to modern tendencies of plating graceful arcs of ingredients in artful presentation. Instead, chef Phillip Becht puts up a bowl of rich Bolognese that is like no other in town. It is one that relaxes your shoulders at the first inhale, then sets you on the edge of your seat searching for your fork. Wine-braised and rich, with toothy hunks of vegetables you can see, the classic sauce hugs sturdy pasta that is never overdone. And that is Becht’s true strength, which served him well during his stints at Modern Café and Birchwood: not forcing a dish or cuisine into an ideal, but allowing it to come softly onto the Minnesota landscape and seeing how well they might marry. And marry they do. Count the blessed in Excelsior who might have expected a pizza joint named after a Rolling Stones song, but found this kitchen with beautiful expressions of ingredients among warm lighting, welcoming service, and full wine glasses. It’s a true diamond. 205 Water St., Excelsior, 952-474-8879, victorsonwaterstreet.com
9. Il Foro
Il Foro's stunning art deco interior
America’s remaining art deco landmarks are few and far between. There’s the Chrysler Building in New York, a handful of Miami hotels, California movie theaters, and then there’s a building which is arguably the most delightful in the land: Minneapolis’s grand Forum Cafeteria. How lucky are we that the glittering fantasyland of pistachio, silver, and mirrored glass was lovingly resurrected this year as the new Italian restaurant Il Foro? What a gorgeous, magical, unique, and all-out bedazzling place. It’s incredibly lucky that any one of us can now end the day with a drink on a barstool in a world that’s straight out of the movies. Make that drink a Saxe Old Fashioned, made with Bulleit rye and a splash of amaro to make it Italian, complex, and strong. Just as complex and strong are the happy hour sausage sliders, spicy and loaded with bell peppers and as good a bite as you can get downtown. How’s that for luck? 40 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-238-2300, il-foro.com
Lobster deviled eggs
For years, the power-breakfast epicenter in the third-largest city in the metro was Hotel Sofitel. When the Bloomington property became a Sheraton, the closing and reconcepting of its dining areas uprooted many loyalists. The good news is that Lela Restaurant is up to the task to become a new habit. Paul Wischermann, who also operates the Hotel Ivy, and Warren Beck, who owns the Galleria, have created a space that is both forward-thinking in design, and yet somehow familiar. For all the restaurants that try to bring the city to the suburbs, this one achieves it with easy-handed style and panache. The kitchen makes artful plates of crudo for the trend-conscious, and beautiful hunks of great steak for the classicists. Service here is better than your average I-494 stop, almost old school in attention. Many of the brunchers who showed up the first day looking for an old haunt have been happy to keep returning to this new haunt. That’s an achievement. 5601 W. 78th St., Mpls., 952-656-5980, lelarestaurant.com
The Mother Board
These days you might have to break through some hip vernacular to find greatness. So it goes for GYST, a restaurant billed as a “fermentation bar,” specializing in fermented products from wine to yogurt to sauerkraut and kimchi. What GYST really is, behind the shtick, is a spectacular wine bar with two dozen bottles from small, unusual, often biodynamic, and predominantly European producers. And they don’t hold back the good stuff on the by-the-glass list, which might feature wines produced on a very small scale—a tangy white from the Republic of Georgia (thought to be the birthplace of wine), or a fun sparkler straight from Spanish Basque country. Snag a table in the Minneapolis-meets-Brooklyn hipster space, order one of the truly gorgeous and deeply considered cheese, charcuterie, and olive platters, and you’ll soon see what and who they really are: the next generation taking it all so seriously that they’ve crafted one of the best wine bars in the state. 25 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-758-0113, gystmpls.com
12. Co-op Creamery
Trout with mole negro, masa, radish, and cilantro
Seward Co-op’s new neighborhood café shows tremendous promise for the future of how we see “co-op food.” Chef Lucas Almendinger, formerly of The Third Bird, is hard at work using high-end techniques to master things like vegan/dairy-free burrata made from coconut milk. During the day, the neighborhood dines on casual but elevated café plates such as a thick grilled cheese on dark Russian rye bread that’s doused with creamy béchamel and crowned with a sunny egg. During dinner, things take a turn for the elegant with sweetbreads ringed with a nutty, herbal note on a sarsaparilla puree, cauliflower that’s transformed with a dark and dusky vegan XO sauce, and prawns in pho broth lilted with peaches and peach oil. It all creates a playfully strange crossover that happily works. The ingredients come from the same sources that stock the co-op shelves, but the creativity and innovative presentations are delivered with a much broader stroke. 2601 Franklin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-230-5575, coopcreamery.coop
13. L’Etoile Du Nord
Working the oven at L’Etoile
Olivier Vrambout and Julia Kaemmer opened this tiny breakfast and lunch spot in the river town of Bayport last spring. It quickly won raves for wood-fired pizzas, gorgeous ingredients, a wonderful list of rare Belgian ales, and a beautiful sunshine-filled patio, which was just like something you might find in a back alley in a nice suburb of Brussels. But what will they do in the winter without the patio? They’ll use that big wood oven to roast chestnuts and braise rabbit. Also planned are additional dinner hours and German ciders, cementing the restaurant’s position as the best European trip you can take without a plane ticket. 320 5th Ave. N., Bayport, 651-439-7507, letoiledunordcafe.com
"As previously disclosed in the October issue of Mpls.St.Paul, food and dining editor Stephanie March is related to the principle owner of Parella. The piece that appeared in our November Best New Restaurants feature was written by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl.”