Photo by Caitlin Abrams
When you’re old and in a rocking chair and your dozens of little grandchildren gather around you to beg: “Pawpaw, what were the big food trends in Minnesota in 2015?”, what will you tell them? You could tell them this:
In 2011 the so-called Surly Bill passed which allowed microbreweries to sell both their beer and food on sight, and it also dropped the cost of licensing a distillery from $30,000 to an amount starting at $1,100, and then pro-rated to production volume. This resulted in a flurry of micro-distilleries opening; in 2014 new legislation went through that allowed “cocktail-rooms”, that is, it allowed micro-distillers to set up little bars on-site and serve cocktails with the spirits they make. This has changed everything. If you haven’t yet, go to the cocktail rooms here. Start at Tattersall, then check the rest off your list.
Thinny Burger Paradise:
What do we call the thin, old-fashioned, thin burgers where the patty is thin? Skinny doesn’t quite work; narrow ain’t it. Thin pattied burgers does not roll off the tongue. For the purposes of this paragraph let us call them the thinny burger. You know the kind: Thin, flat, well-griddled.
St. Dinette’s is cloaked in the ooiest most undeniably knee-weakening ballpark-nacho-style cheese.
The one in the bar at Constantine, by big-deal chef Mike DeCamp, formerly of La Belle Vie, tastes like a McDonald’s classic run through a Michelin-star machine. Fight amongst yourselves about whether the thinny burger at Revival is even better than their fried chicken. Whatever you decide, this year Minnesota proved that deep inside we are all children of Matt’s.
You couldn’t swing a cat in Minnesota this year without hitting a new Italian restaurant. Monello, Il Foro, Parella, Lela, the Italian Eatery, Scena—and the Italian opens haven’t stopped, we’re waiting on Tim Niver (Strip Club, St. Dinette) to open the West 7th Street St. Paul restaurant Mucci's and a couple more which will have to be secret for now. Did Minnesota need quite so many Italian spots this year? This may turn out to be the big story of 2016—so grab some Italian gravy and watch our Italian story continue to be told.
Crudo: That’s Italian for Raw Fish at Top Dollar
If you haven’t learned what crudo is in Minnesota this year, you must have been visiting the new restaurants with your hands over your ears while you yelled “la la la la”. For you, you la la la yeller, crudo is the Italian version of sushi, with the finest raw fishes served not with wasabi and soy, but with Italian embellishments such as citrus and olive oil. Minnesota was blessed with no fewer than five joints specializing in crudo in 2015—Monello, Il Foro, Lela, Parella, and now Scena, which is even having 10 course crudo tastings. We were the legendary land of lutefisk, and now we’re the land of the $20 big raw langoustine with chili oil on a plate. Discuss.
Oh the tragedy when a city decides to kill its culinary fathers—and how painful and awful it was to lose La Belle Vie, the most important restaurant of two generations. To add agony to agony, then Vincent announced they would close (and Vincent announced plans to take his famed Vincent burger to four mega-bars near you).
Then the father of all sushi in Minneapolis, Origami, announced the original downtown location would shutter.
Well, what can you say. Those three fed us, inspired us, taught us. Each transformed the city for the better in their own way. And this year was the year we lost them. Sometime this year raise a glass in the general direction of downtown Minneapolis and offer a toast: You treated us well, La Belle Vie, Vincent, and Origami. Thank you.
The Foul and Currently Insoluble Conundrum of Tipping:
Everyone’s talking about it. A minimum wage, galloping forward, is raising the wages of servers and bartenders at our very best restaurants from $20-odd or $60-odd an hour to something higher than that, and the restaurant owners, cooks, and dishwashers are getting squeezed. Consequently the Travail crew was forced to scale back one of the best pizza places in the nation, Pig Ate My Pizza.
New restaurants are opening without tipping at all, the tip is built into the price of the food at new Co-Op Creamery, Heirloom, Upton 43, and Domo Gastro. I tap this as one of the food stories which will get even bigger in 2016. Restaurant tipping as we know it is broken, and everyone’s trying to fix it.
Minnesota’s Pre-War History Is Valuable:
One of the great stories of the year has been the rebirth of two of Minnesota’s most historic restaurant spaces, Il Foro and The Commodore. Il Foro of course is the former Forum Cafeteria, an American Art Deco landmark as significant as the Empire State Building—but much easier to have a cocktail within. The Commodore is the hotel F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda lived in right around when he wrote the Curious Tale of Benjamin Button. Kudos to everyone who made these historic properties come alive: Minnesota is unlike anywhere else on earth, and it’s more unlike anywhere else on earth in these spots which are so rich with our collective history.
The best new restaurants of the year were, ranked and in order:
It was a good, tasty, bad, raw, cooked, thinny, fatty, historic, and brand new year of a year. Thanks for spending part of it with me, and may your 2016 be even tastier.