Photographs by Kevin J. Miyazaki, Caitlin Abrams, Ashley Sullivan, and Eliesa Johnson
Best New Restaurants 2016
It’s been a tumultuous 12 months in our dining scene. There were a number of big-name openings, then, only months later, several big-name closings. But when the crumbs cleared, plenty of restaurants, chefs, and restaurateurs emerged with style, grace, and some damn fine jerk chicken. Here’s to this year’s best in class—the innovators who showed true commitment to big flavors and warm hospitality, although that’s where the similarities end. Our favorite new restaurants in 2016—and the reinvigorated Twin Cities eating life—are best represented by the diaspora of plates that range from dumplings and brisket to fried pizza and octopus. Grab a chair and let’s dig into the dozen new places (plus a few sides) we’re excited to be eating at right now.
- Page 1 (Results 1-10)
There’s never been a more Minneapolis chef than Steven Brown. He rode the heights at the gazillion-dollar Porter & Frye and The Local (when it was setting standards in fine dining) after emerging from the darkly thrilling bohemian wonder that was the old Loring Café. He’s also been there for plenty of lows, like the loss of his restaurant, Rock Star (ask him about what happened to his knives the night it shuttered), and the sudden end of his dream team at Porter & Frye. Then, he rose up again with the humble and impeccable Tilia in Linden Hills. When you consider Brown’s career ups and downs and the ever-changing local food scene, it makes his newest spot, the corner French bistronomy St. Genevieve, seem so much more than just his latest new restaurant; it’s a giant win for Minneapolis.
Where to start with St. Genevieve? The place is close to pure catnip on every front. When it opened (last December, just after our 2015 Best New Restaurants issue was published), St. Genevieve quickly became a wine-industry hangout (Brown knows everyone) and thusly, features small-allocation, hard-to-find wines up and down the list. Be absolutely sure to try those small-grower farmer-fizz Champagnes. The bottles that chill inside the counter sunken ice bin hint at the depth and breadth of bubbles here, and, accordingly, the bartenders can happily guide you in your selection with a seminar that rivals any wine pro. The food can be simple and just what you want: the best ham, egg, and cheese sandwich in the cities is the Tartine Madame. And, those fries! They’re crisp, golden, and a pure iteration of salt and potato. It also can be extravagantly sensuous and chic: The delicate grilled octopus as tiny as a quarter; roasted corn in a midnight-black huitlacoche sauce; pig’s face both crisp and jelly-like. No pig face for you? How about a fanciful geometric construction of chocolate mousse and hazelnut croquant, and the swankiest French cousin to a graham cracker?
It’s already a Minneapolis cliché to say that the place feels like Paris, but it does. It even pulls off that cool trick of feeling more Paris than Paris. Because it’s the special sort of Paris where heroes triumph after decades of valiant battle.
Insider Tip: For all the Frenchy and très chic plates, don’t snub the burger, which used to be a Saturday-night-only endeavor, but is now available for lunch. Make haste, they stop serving them at 2 pm.
Chef Erick Harcey is somewhat of an outsider in the Minneapolis dining scene. He lives on a farm about an hour north of the Twin Cities, where he and his wife raise their four raucous boys and a few heritage hogs. An avid fisherman, Harcey is rarely seen without his Rapala hat and seizes any chance he can to cast on a lake—he even brought along international chef Magnus Nilsson when Nilsson was in Minneapolis last spring. Harcey defies the bespoke Red Wing boot–wearing, heritage beard–sporting farmer/chef because he’s the real deal: a good ole boy who wears camo and can wax rhapsodic about digging up his yard with a Bobcat, laughing through his thick, small-town Minnesota accent. Considering this, it can be a little surprising when you first walk into his sleek new Scandinavian restaurant Upton 43 in Linden Hills.
Harcey drives into the metro every day to work at his restaurants, Victory 44, the North Minneapolis gastropub, and Upton 43. He finally makes it home in the wee morning hours, but says he needs that downtime, and it seems to pay off when you see the intricate and stunning plates that flow from the kitchen at Upton 43. Though he created the restaurant as homage to the Swedish cooking of his grandparents—meatballs and gloriously thin pancakes are on the menu—Harcey’s dishes also push boundaries, exploring nostalgic taste memories in a way that satisfies both foodists looking for new Nordic and neighborhood eaters hungry for brunch. This dimension is at play in every dish. The big, meaty pork chop is a juicy hunk, yet there’s also a delicate essence of hay smoke in the brine, and the chop is festooned with a blanket of pickled, roasted, and pureed carrots, along with just-so sorrel. It is both elegant and cavemanish with its Frenched bone as a seeming hatchet handle.
Even the restaurant’s space is a blend of innovation and familiarity, with spare walls and minimal pendant lights softened by seats of sky blue. Find the juxtaposition simply embodied on the tabletop—silverware is artfully contained in locally made walnut caddys, while your soup comes in an earthenware pottery bowl. The chicken liver with blueberries seems almost too elegant to eat in a space where smoke emanates from the nearby wood-burning grill. Then again, the same guy who is busy fermenting lettuces, crafting all of his own vinegars, and, in his Swedish heritage tradition, pickling just about anything that moves, is arguing with his line cooks about the proper way to make a deer stand. In many ways, it’s this easy duality that makes Harcey’s Upton 43 the right embodiment of roots and wings.
Insider Tip: Tucked behind Upton 43 is The Dirty Bird, whose 12-hour brined rotisserie chickens and pick-up sides come from the same hands in the Upton 43 kitchen. Grab the always-solid mac ’n’ cheese or something new like the wild rice-a-roni and the daily roasted veg.
Is it possible that gleaming terrazzo floors can make your bowl of chili taste better? Could a swivel on an ocean blue counter stool make you better savor a stack of pancakes? It might not change the structure and flavoring of your food, but the refurbished retro environs of Hi-Lo Diner in Longfellow certainly make you a happier eater, like being on vacation with your imaginary 1950s family who, for some reason, all have beards and wear Red Wings. It doesn’t hurt that the food coming from the kitchen is both solid and playful diner fare. The signature Hi-Tops dish serves just about anything on a big donut, from salted caramel baked apples to fried chicken and short ribs. All-day breakfast includes buttermilk pancakes with a touch of lemon zest, lavender crème brûlée French toast, and a wicked pile of huevos rancheros. But how do you pass up country meatloaf or an old-school plate known as The Commercial (a dish piled with prime rib, mashed potatoes, and beef gravy on a cheddar biscuit)? It’s all gloriously too much to choose from, and then you add a boozy malt or a stacked pie and dream of flannel-clad Johnny Angel in your delirious food coma.
Insider Tip: The cocktails here are top-notch, which is novel for a diner, but makes sense in 2016. Tattersall spirits fuel the program and beyond the boozy malts, which are reminiscent of the old Town Talk Diner, cocktails are sophisticated but simple, like the Harvey Walltanger with orange crèma, Galiano, and, yes, Tang. Or the Tennis, anyone? that employs avocado puree and Fernet-Branca foam for an eye-opener. And there’s a late-night menu so you can eat breakfast until 1 am on weekends.
Who knew that our flurry of an Italian dining renaissance last year would quickly dissipate? When four major Italian restaurants opened last year, and three of them closed within eight months, those of us who intensely watch the food scene had an inkling that it was too much too soon, but that doesn’t mean there was a wholesale rejection of all things Italian. While the big-name chefs were touting crudo in giant gleaming rooms, small neighborhood Italian was quietly winning the hearts of eaters. When ie Italian Eatery opened in the Nokomis neighborhood early this year, it focused on modern rustic Italian food served in a sophisticated yet cozy hangout. It is a next-level family joint with owners Eric and Vanessa Cararra working the room and greeting guests, paying attention to small details, and giving newcomers a tour of the kitchen to meet the team. People who gather at the warmly lit bar drink forward-thinking cocktails (such as the charred cedar–infused bourbon drink, The Cedar, or the Spicy Calabrian with tequila, pineapple, chilies, and honey) that feel like downtown, but are happily found closer to home. From the kitchen comes a simple and impossibly light meatball the size of a softball, swimming in vibrant marinara, followed by something more modern, like a perfectly charred soft bit of octopus on spheres of toasty fregola pasta with a swipe of preserved lemon aioli. In the end, this place is refreshing for being Italian with heart, substance, and style.
Insider Tip: Notable on the beverage menu is a culled list of limited-run Italian craft beers in shareable bombers. Some of them are fruit beers, or witbiers, but the Birra del Borgo drinks like a Champagne.
Small but mighty is what comes to mind with PinKU. The tiny Japanese street food eatery debuted with style and panache in Northeast, and if this is a model forfuture foodist endeavors, we are on board. The 32-seat space is wired for efficiency—the full cooking line has storage down one side and table seating down the other. Pop in for takeout, or order at the counter, and you will be the happy recipient of simple and efficient dishes of perfectly executed Japanese flavors, like a small plate of toothy potstickers sided with rich ginger scallion soy and soft and lush tuna with a kick of spice on top of a crisply structured rice cake, all of it elegant and all of it special with not a cream cheese wonton in sight.
Insider Tip: Since there are only 32 seats, you might need to do a head count if there’s a line, or break your Minnesota mold and ask to join a table with a free chair. It can be done in the name of dumplings.
Pimento Kitchen is an all-American story, conceived when two Minneapolis neighbors met—namely Yoni Reinhartz, a Jewish rap producer, and Tomme Beevas, a Jamaican Cargill exec casting around for an MBA project. Launched from the reality TV show Food Court Wars, the duo’s first spot opened in Burnsville Center, and their second spot, a standalone restaurant, debuted in April on Eat Street. The dining room is dotted with a who’s-who of local five-star chefs (Doug Flicker, Erick Harcey, and Sameh Wadi are regulars), lit royalty (Booker Prize–winning novelist Marlon James) and neighborhood regulars who come for the One Love bowl filled with coconut rice, tender jerk pork, sweet charred plantains, and spicy jerk chicken. It’s a welcoming, affordable counter-service experience with a few secrets (get the half-order of curried vegetables as a side) and big plans (they’re adding a music stage, bar, and patio out back next year).
Insider Tip: Try the house hot sauces—they vary in heat, and with six to choose from, you’ll find one that won’t blow your head off.
The foods that drive us wild lately are typically either high art (witness delicate blossoms of handmade agnolotti all over town) or low art (oh, the reinvention of things on a stick). Mucci’s is one of the year’s sensations because it’s a mash-up that culminates in a sort of Hadron super collider of opposites—high/low, Italian/Italian American, and fancy/cheesy. If you’re in the mood for high art, seek out the gossamer green semolina agnolotti; they’re little bundles of fragile, sensuous joy. For low comfort, try the overstuffed Gabagool hero—take it home, and watch The Sopranos again in style. For the high/low mash-up, get the fried Montanara pizza, which has a funnel cake–rich crust topped with options like clam emulsion, boquerones, and meatballs. And most definitely show up for the weekend-only donuts, where you’ll find both high cuisine, like pistachio-filled with fresh mascarpone, and low, like fried chicken on a buttered sweetcorn donut. Mucci’s, which has been a line-out-the-door sensation since it opened in February is the third restaurant from St. Paul’s upcoming impresario Tim Niver (Strip Club and Saint Dinette) and the first from chef Chris Uhrich (former Heidi’s sous chef).
Insider Tip: If you’re daunted by the long wait, which is typical because Mucci’s doesn’t take reservations and its 50 seats fill up quickly, take home one of the restaurant’s frozen dishes, like pizza, lasagna, or meatballs and sauce.
8711 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408
Darkness comes in many shades at American bars. At Volstead’s Emporium, found underground with a door marked only by a red light just off the alley beside Bill’s Imported Foods, the darkness is a particularly ornamented kind. Victorian wallpapers, hidden doors, a piano barely illuminated by footlights—it’s a darkness that seems designed to coax flapper ghosts from the ether. Once your server sets a dark and tangy Blinker in front of you (smoky rye brightened with fresh grapefruit and sweetened, though not too much, with a raspberry syrup) and gives your date a cheerful classic Planter’s Punch, you quickly see the benefit of the dark—it shuts out everything but the two of you. You can grab a bite while you’re there (deviled eggs, seared scallops, steak Diane) but this place really is about the drinks and the secrets.
Insider Tip: If you want to skip the line outside, grab a group of friends and reserve one of the secret rooms. They’ll have your name on a list and you can slip right in.
A decade ago, Heirloom would have been front-page news, making headlines by announcing chef-owner Wyatt Evans’ honorably farm-centered and artistically sensitive cooking, which 10 years ago was not mainstream like it is now.
Avid restaurant-goers in St. Paul would have grabbed one another by the elbow to say: “You know, Heirloom is just that sort of humble and excellent place that puts it in a league with Lucia’s and Restaurant Alma. And boy-howdy, that sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wine list—isn’t that one of the best you’ve ever seen?” For hard evidence, you need only consult Evans’ resonant and lightly smoked sunset-orange ocean trout, served with ribbons of charred cucumber and wee cubes of cured rhubarb. Each bite is sensuous, lively, and pure. Unfortunately for Heirloom, restaurants these days are flashier and farm fare is de riguer—but still, no one has better chicken. Bone-on, but cut into easily managed pieces, the chicken is roasted until the skin is crispy and the flesh is tender. There is no better roast chicken in the Twin Cities. Is that enough of a headline for you?
Insider Tip: There is a separate, whimsical bar menu with some crisp and worthy wings and a house-made hot dog that defines the bar-dog category for snappiness and cured meaty flavor that can easily placate the belly during happy hour. Also on offer, a good list of local farmhouse ciders and craft beers that go so well with the farmstead food.
As we heralded in the August issue, southern cooking is having a glorious moment up here in the frigid North, and nowhere so stylishly than at Handsome Hog, off Mears Park in St. Paul. Chef Justin Sutherland is a hot new voice on our food landscape. He’s not afraid to mix it up with a down-home smoked brisket, as luscious and full of Texas as can be had in these parts, while at the same time dreaming up a delicate rendition of potato salad in which the ingredients are placed as if in a composed dance. Try hard not to stare at what may be Lowertown’s best whiskey selection, especially on a weeknight when the kitchen is open until 11 pm and you’re busy digging into a righteous muffuletta sandwich. It’s good to have some South in the North.
Insider Tip: We’ve said it before: The bourbon slushie with a side of pimento cheese ’n’ crackers should be the standard snack of Lowertown.
In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly explains that when she’s afraid, has the “mean reds,” and doesn’t know what and how to stop it, she goes to Tiffany’s: “It calms me down right away. The quietness and the proud look of it, nothing bad could happen to you there . . . . If I found a real-life place like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name,” she says. Well, Holly, it might have come a little late for you, but there is a real-life place like that now, and it’s called Rose Street Patisserie. It’s like if Cartier and Tiffany opened a pastry shop in Linden Hills where individual éclairs glisten under glass like diamonds, and chocolate sourdough loaves perch individually on shelves like Judith Lieber handbags. Is it stylish? Like Audrey Hepburn at the Oscars. Is it good? It could be the best patisserie in the country, not counting its more rustic older sister, Patisserie 46. Both are run by John Kraus, the several-time leader of America’s team in the world pastry competition held in France, the Coupe du Monde. Most of all though, it’s a perfectly peaceful place, quiet and proud, still and gorgeous, and well suited for banishing the mean reds, or getting a Tuesday loaf of levain for dinner.
Insider Tip: While it’s hard to deny the power of the sweet treat, there are also amazing sandwiches and soups to be had.
Right around this time last year, we said 2016 would be the year of ramen, and then we watched as a spate of ramen-focused shops opened across the cities, from Ramen Station in Woodbury to Kungfu Noodle on Eat Street and beyond. But Ramen Kazama excels as being the most focused and the most cultivated of noodle experiences. The Kingfield spot has the closest feel to a true Japanese ramen shop, where you order at the counter, find a seat and wait for your bowl. The ramen broth here is peerless among the newcomers; it’s rich, long-simmered liquid gold that slowly pulls the finest bits of flavor from the bones to give the bowl its depth. This summer, Ramen Kazama proved they were more than just sexy broth with the debut of Tsukemen, or dipping ramen. During the warm months, Kazama serves up bowls of cold noodles and sides of dipping sauce, bringing a bit of Tokyo culture to Minneapolis and creating a new summer tradition.
Insider Tip: Though it’s a ramen-only shop, there are a few other food choices in the side dishes. The crisp and starchy bits of karaage Japanese fried chicken and spicy cucumbers are bites you shouldn’t miss.
- Page 1 (Results 1-10)