Photo by Richard Fleischman
Strip Club table
The Strip Club
The Strip Club. True meat lovers don’t need hides hanging on the wall or portraits of sturdy steers above their booths. Kitsch and gimmick mean nothing to someone who is savoring every lovin’ carnivorous bite. In a sea of cliché steak houses, The Strip Club stands alone, unequaled in its commitment to local meats. Chef J. D. Fratzke channels the soul of the building, which once held a butcher shop, by creating classic and familiar dishes with contemporary ingredients—braised pork, wild rice brats, steaks cut from grass-fed cattle, even roasted Swede Hollow meatballs in honor of the neighborhood. 378 Maria Ave., St. Paul, 651-793-6247, domeats.com
Punch Pizza and Red’s Savoy Inn. Let’s face it, pizza is personal. But there are standard-bearers. When it comes to crust, it seems no one can duplicate the light, chewy, flat crust of the artisans at Punch Pizza. And when it comes to sauce, there seems to be no equal to the zesty, tangy, addictive secret recipe that has created a destination out of Red’s Savoy Inn. Punch, six metro locations, punchpizza.com; Red’s Savoy Inn, 421 E. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-227-1437 savoypizza.com
Bar with Food
St. Paul Grill. There’s something about the clubby, swank bar at the St. Paul Grill that makes you feel like you’re an insider. Maybe it’s the ability to drink rare Scotch and order the infamous Charlies, sliders with tenderloin, caramelized onion, and béarnaise. Maybe it’s the ultra-attentive bartenders who cater to your whims before you even have them. Or maybe it’s just the realization that true hospitality does exist. 350 Market St., St. Paul, 651-224-7455, stpaulgrill.com
Sarah Jane’s Bakery. Some people think a doughnut is a doughnut, but odds are they have been subjected to sad boxes of gas station doughnuts day after day. Doughnut literati know that just one freshly baked cinnamon cake doughnut—or crunchy hole or hand-cut pumpkin old-fashioned—from Sarah Jane’s Bakery would deliver a sweet epiphany to those poor souls. 2853 NE Johnson St., Mpls., 612-789-2827, sarahjanesbakery.com
The Bad Waitress. Don’t let the name plague you with low expectations. The Bad Waitress is a cheeky, retro-themed homage to the once ever-present local haunts that have been pushed out by high-end eateries. Celebrating the common meal doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality or flavor—the airy pancakes are hot and huge, the bacon cheeseburger drips with tangy BBQ sauce, and the pumpkin-chocolate chip bread is reason alone to wake up in the morning. 2 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-872-7575, thebadwaitress.com
Corner Table. Where some chefs have adopted the über-fashionable local and sustainable mantle on the advice of their marketing consultants, Scott Pampuch lives it. Every day. He continues to be a strident voice for the farmers and producers who don’t occupy the spotlight quite like a chef. Yet, at his honest and humble Corner Table, Pampuch culls the best of local ingredients and lets them speak for themselves. Seasonal dishes are crafted with a high attention to detail and a deep regard for flavor. This is where real food reigns. 4257 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-823-0011, cornertablerestaurant.com
Heidi’s. After Stuart Woodman’s iconic restaurant Five went down in flames, many people expected the much-lauded chef to leave town and court other investors for another big-name project. Instead, Woodman stayed local and opened the smallish neighborhood restaurant Heidi’s, named for his wife. Helming the tiny kitchen each night, Woodman kicks out seasonal, creative food that challenges the palate without harming the pocketbook—a dream for a neighborhood joint. 819 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-354-3512, heidismpls.com
The Nook. The Casper and Runyon boys have done good, reviving The Nook into a spot that is becoming nationally known for great burgers. We think their juicy Lucy is the best in town, but the common denominator between it and all the Nook burgers is a soft griddled bun made at the bakery down the block, as well as careful cooking that produces a winning modicum of griddled char, melting cheese, and a patty, unlike so many other burger joints’, that is cooked the way you want it. Well done is not the only method spoken here, if you get our drift. 492 Hamline Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-698-4347, crnook.com
FireLake Grill House. We paddled throughout walleye country this year looking for the best, and our current fave is chef Paul Lynch’s take at FireLake Grill House. It’s a perfect pan-fried fillet in a cornmeal crust with an amazing lemon and tarragon remoulade. There are even walleye sliders and walleye cakes for the true obsessive. 31 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-216-3473, firelakerestaurant.com
Good Day Café. David Webb’s eatery has good coffee, but what we’re talking about here is that old-fashioned iteration of the coffee shop, a place where you can sit down at a Formica table, drink a bottomless cup, and eat whatever you feel like—a rich omelet, one of the best BLTs in town, a killer crab cake platter. So, David, stop teasing and open for dinner already. 5410 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley, 763-544-0205 gooddaycafemn.com
Barrio Tequila Bar and Café. Some great restaurants opened in 2008, but factoring in the combination of sheer originality and quality of execution, Barrio has to get the nod. The idea was apparently Ryan Burnet and Tim Rooney’s; the décor, Shea’s; the food sensibility, Tim McKee’s; the amazing tequila and drink selection, Johnny Michaels’s; and the fluid approach to executing everything, partner Josh Thoma’s. From the spaghetti Westerns projected on the walls to the upscale takes on Mexican street foods on your plate, it’s the total package. 925 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-333-9953, barriotequila.com
Jax Café. If you haven’t picked a fave out of our classic heritage restaurants—The Lexington, Murray’s, or Jax Cafe—point your car Nordeast. The sole classic that is out of the mix, housed on a forlorn stretch of Northeast University, inside Jax it’s all warm handshakes and bonhomie in a Rat Pack–era room where savvy servers steer you right. The food is good enough (don’t miss the addictive crab puffs), but we really enjoy the genuine affability, the lovely patio, and the feel of a place that’s only kept up with the times enough to keep from falling behind. 1928 University Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-789-7297, jaxcafe.com
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. After a spring spent surveying, we think the best traditional cheesecake is served at Ruth’s Chris. It’s New York–style, but not so dense, served to share in a generous round. It’s a bit lemony with a hint of vanilla, and it’s all adorned with a sour cream swirl. This is the local gold standard. 920 2nd Ave. S., Mpls., 612-672-9000, ruthschris.com
W. A. Frost. While cozy is clearly a buzz word in the colder months, not all coziness is created equal. Sometimes you want to climb out of the parka and don something a little sassier. Frost's four fireplaces provide the extra warmth needed for your favorite strapless Saturday-night number, but don't let them stop you from snuggling with your dinner partner anyway. 374 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, wafrost.com
Little Szechuan. Asian food aficionados flock to this literal and figurative St. Paul hot spot for such knockouts as fiery bamboo shoot tips with chili sauce, peanuty dan dan noodles, aromatic cumin lamb, and beef stew with spicy hot sauce. 422 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-222-1333, littleszechuan.com
Foods to Warm You Up
Photo by Richard Fleischman
D’Amico & Sons. This braised-beef classic is cooked low and slow. It’s meltingly tender, served in a tomato-based sauce, and kicked up with a horseradish purée that you can mix in as you like. Multiple metro locations, damico.com
Wild Rice Soup
Bloomington ChopHouse. A delicate, nuanced, but traditional version that tastes right, and doesn’t remind you of hanging wallpaper. Hilton Bloomington, 3900 American Blvd. W., Bloomington, 952-830-5200, bloomingtonchophouse.com
Broders’ Cucina Italia. Broders’ brings it all together—great ingredients, real Italian authenticity, and memorable quality. The lasagna—offered in two varieties, spinach or housemade Italian sausage—is no exception. And the pasta is made on-site. 2308 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-3113, broders.com
Brasa, Redstone American Grill. Brasa’s assertive Creole rub and old-school Kadejan Farms chicken are undeniable draws. But we can’t get enough of Redstone’s smoky rotisserie essence either. Brasa, 600 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-379-3030, brasa.us; Redstone, 8000 Eden Rd., Eden Prairie, 12501 Ridgedale Dr., Mtka., redstonegrill.com
Pho 79. The national dish of Vietnam is the star here, and the restaurant features more than thirty varieties, all in gargantuan bowls filled with noodles, meats, and traditional accouterments. Plus, everything is priced under $7. Phantastic. 2529 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-821-4602; Park Crossing, 2233 Energy Park Dr., St. Paul, 612-871-2327
The Sample Room. This comfort food can often go wrong with too much fuss and ambition. The Sample Room does it right: a moist and tender blend of beef, pork, and veal with caramelized onions and a winning sauce. 2124 NE Marshall St., Mpls., 612-789-0333, the-sample-room.com
Hell’s Kitchen. The restaurant griddles its version of the classic sandwich—Parmesan–crusted sourdough on the outside, Vermont cheddar, Swiss, and fontina cheeses inside—to utter and oozing accomplishment. 80 S. 9th St., Mpls., 612-332-4700, hellskitcheninc.com
Macaroni and Cheese
Red Stag. This isn’t your kids mac ’n’ cheese. Red Stag’s version is comfortably refined with earthy mushrooms and rich sausage resting in a generous cheese sauce. 509 1st Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-767-7766, redstagsupperclub.com
A Few More Winter Faves
Warm Loaf of Bread
Morton’s–The Steakhouse. When the weather cools, sitting down to warm bread is a great way to start a meal. Morton’s locally baked, round, puffy, onion-flecked loaf is perfect, crispy on the outside, soft and yielding on the inside. Get an extra loaf on below-zero days and stick your hands in it to warm them up. 555 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-673-9700, mortons.com
Place to Cocoon and Watch the Game
Bulldog NE. Who wants to hole up on their mangy couch with microwave popcorn to watch the game? Nobody. So catch the action while noshing on Tater Tots, beef brisket chili, chicken and waffles, and some of the best burgers in the metro. Bulldog NE has all that, plus a number of killer Belgian beers, to be served and sipped while never taking your eyes off the flat screens or your butt off the chair. 401 Hennepin Ave. E., 612-378-2855, thebulldognortheast.com
Psycho Suzi’s. With a ticket to Bora Bora running roughly two grand even in the off-season, Polynesian warmth may be inaccessible this winter. But step through the doors of Psycho Suzi’s, and you’re on the water in Papeete (by way of Nordeast). The rum drinks flow freely, there’s a pizza with pineapple, and the South Seas kitsch and tchotchkes abound. If you can’t have fun here, a nine-hour flight won’t help. 2519 NE Marshall St., Mpls., 612-788-9069, psychosuzis.com
Stick to Your Ribs Fare
Kramarczuk’s. Pig out on stuffed cabbage, wurst, and Czech sausage griddled and served with house-made sauerkraut. This family-owned Eastern European food hall cures and smokes its signature meats and bakes its own pastries. As Andrew Zimmern noted in our Best Restaurants issue, “Orest Kramarczuk is there all the time, keeping a hand on the tiller and making sure every customer feels like family.” If that doesn’t warm you, what will? 215 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-379-3018, kramarczuks.com
Photo by Richard Fleischman
Sure, a snifter of brandy will warm the bones, but try these tastier options.
The Tea Garden’s Hot Raspberry.
Looking for a more Zenlike experience than the bar can provide? On the weekends, Tea Garden brings in guest DJs and stays open ’til 1 am. Late-night raspberry tea latte anyone? 2601 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-377-1700, see teagarden.com for additional locations.
The Local's Irish Coffee.
The kicker in this coffee is The Local's signature liquor, Jameson, served in a warmed glass, topped with the Local's homemade whipped cream (which is made with the real Irish stuf). 931 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-904-1000, the-local.com
Wilde Roast Cafe's Hot Chocolate.
Just how hot chocolate should be—thick, rich, and topped with a mound of whipped cream and chocolate shavings. A perfect buzz-free drink for that first date. 518 Hennepin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-331-4544, wilderoastcafe.com
This Brooklyn Center-based beer isn't for the weak. At 10.3 percent ABV, we've heard that people get into fistfights over this limited-release winter brew. With only twenty-five barrels distributed last year, the dark, handsome stranger can only be found in select pubs. Find one at surlybrewing.com.