It’s the time to put a big bow on 2013—and ask ourselves what kind of year was it, anyway? I say it was a good year. But then again, I get to just eat here, which is fun.
From the industry side, I heard two main complaints: Tight credit from big banks made it awfully hard for little businesses to do anything—but then innovative entrepreneurs took to funding sites like Kickstarter to let their customers fund their expansions, in the end Travail walked away with $255,000 from some 1,100 fans, the Birchwood got $112,000 from 980 fans, and the Rabbit Hole got $15,000 from 176 fans—community support has, of course, always been the name of the game in hospitality, and that got a whole lot more vivid this year.
The other complaint I hear from chefs and owners is that there are no more cooks to be had—so spread the news to cooks in other cities or former ex-pats, there are tons of jobs here for good experienced line cooks and sous chefs. Because of the tight-credit hangover from the Recession, a lot of the news of the year ended up being dominated by small moves: So many food trucks opened, and so many microbreweries. (Best of the new food trucks, says me: Hot Indian Foods, Café Racer, and Moral Omnivore. Best of the new microbreweries—so many! Hard to believe 612 Brew, Dangerous Man, and Sociable Cider Werks are all from 2013. What’s it like to live in a world without a new brewery opening every couple weeks? I hope we never find out.)
A word about logistics: Where does one draw the line for a calendar year? That would seem easy enough—on New Year’s Eve, duh. But for Best Of The Year purposes, I am intentionally fuzzy on November and December, because places that open in the waning days of the calendar year are not fairly judged as they stutter and start out of the gate—and that’s why for the purposes of this I am going to consider Rabbit Hole, Lake and Irving, and Chef Shack Ranch, not 2013 restaurants, but instead eligible for 2014 best restaurant. For me, November first actually marks the calendar year.
Hey, if school administrators can make kindergarten admission about what’s in the best interest of the child I can decide what’s in the best interest of the restaurant and community, right? If you don’t like it, just X this out and put Rabbit Hole and Lake and Irving where they go, to make your own more sensible Dara’s List. It’s open source, and also very 2013!
But what were the best new restaurants of 2013? Here’s my take:
1. Burch Steak
Why? It’s easy, it’s glamorous, it’s a curated (so 2013!) connoisseur’s approach to steak, and so easy to love. I have more to say on Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre’s star turn here. 1933 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls., 612-843-1515, burchrestaurant.com
2. World Street Kitchen
WSK is the fast and casual spot from Saffron owner and Iron Chef contestant chef Sameh Wadi, where his own haute Palestinian food (lamb belly) meets his take on what young chefs like to eat late at night—jerk chicken rice bowls heaped with herbs and zingy with kim chi, charred squash tacos, zippy Micheladas, rice crispy bars studded with blackened marshmallows. The flavors are so good, expert, relaxed—it’s a place I take visiting critics now, to show the best of what Minneapolis is capable of, and for a taste of the anything goes (if you’re good enough) future. 2743 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8855, eatwsk.com
3. Pig Ate My Pizza
Inventive dare-devilry on a pizza crust—that’s a restaurant for the masses and the classes, and so it was that Pig Ate My Pizza roared onto the scene as a stopgap funding measure to help the Travail crew build a fresh Travail, and so the merry gang of molecular gastronomy anarchic chefs/hospitality-driven tireless dog-and-pony-show performers poured their energy into this new project with their tireless enthusiasm, and another star was born. What fun. So good. 4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131, facebook.com/PigAteMyPizza
Bartender Jesse Held dazzles as among the best of Minneapolis’ great bartenders, famous for his cocktails which use elaborate ingredients (appleinfused vermouth, blackstrap bitters, and apple pie tincture for a Fall Manhattan) to arrive at bell-pure flavors which taste whole and simple. Chefs Tyler Shipton and Nick O’Leary take the playful gee-whiz techniques of Travail, where they both cooked, and marry it to the no-nonsense give the guests what they want approach of Isaac Becker (for whom Shipton worked). Combining all these talents under one roof has resulted in something very chic, improvisatory, creative, fashionable—but also guest-driven. Oh, and the cheeseburger in the bar is becoming an icon in cocktail circles, a chef-made bar burger to stand proudly with the local legends at 112 Eatery and Vincent. 730 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-354-3135, boroughmpls.com
5. Gray House
Isn’t it romantic? The dim lights, Ian Gray’s sensual and rustic but contemporary comfort foods, like tender goat meatballs on the creamiest, most fragrant polenta, pastas to rival the best ever served in this city, and then a vestpocket wine list of greats, and a beer list to tempt the most jaded rarity-chaser. (Gray’s house infusions are a next level of beer.) As so many of our new restaurants are ever-louder, ever more chaotic, Gray has created a space that’s human-sized, conversation-minded, and date perfect, for connections which transcend tweets. 610 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-823-4338, thegrayhouseeats.com
6. Smack Shack
For some reason Smack Shack drives a lot of locals nuts—it’s not like their favorite lobster shack they went to one time on the beach in Maine/Massachusetts/Rhode Island etc. Whatever dudes. You have been to New England. Get over yourselves. We have all been to New England. It’s great. But so is this new big urban lobster shack, which serves an absolutely gorgeous buttery Connecticut lobster roll, an unimpeachable lobster boil, and sustainable seafood alongside a great beer list and the best key lime pie in town. 603 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-259-7288, smack-shack.com
This third Broders spot (Terzo is Italian for third) is an Italian food purists dream, with a deep and good wine list, and the best of elite Italian treats straight from the boot. The prosciutto board is probably very like the one they serve to Milanese chefs when they ascend to heaven. No one in Minnesota treats or serves burrata with anywhere near the delicacy and respect that Terzo does. 2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-0330, broders.com/terzo-vino-bar
8. Buttered Tin
There’s nothing better than a hearty old fashioned scratch Midwestern breakfast—except, a hearty old fashioned scratch Midwestern breakfast preceded by a slice of buttery, yummy, old fashioned layer cake. St. Paul’s newest bakery and breakfast and lunch spot has it all, a breakfast hash with bacon and horseradish cream to restore you after the coldest Farmer’s Market morning, exquisite sandwiches (the Thanksgiving in a sandwich is unforgettable), and best of all, dessert. 237 E. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-224-2300, thebutteredtin.com
Everyday corner shop restaurants are hard to pull off, but Parka set the new bar, high. The restaurant was the first of a new company called Stock & Badge, a three-way collaboration between Dogwood (the coffee company) Rustica (the bakery) and Victory 44 (the great restaurant). So, the little spot has Dogwood Coffee—among the most perfect of coffees. Rustica breads and pastries—among the most perfect of pastries and coffees. And then the Perfect burger, imported south from Victory 44, as well as very charming kids meals ($6, for an entrée like noodles and butter with spring veggies, as well as milk, and dessert) and some elite and fancy food too, if you’re in the mood for winter squash with apple textures, or a deconstructed banana cream pie to make you swoon. 4021 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-886-1585, parkampls.com
10. Cossetta’s Pasticceria
The first time you walk into Cossetta’s enormous new gelateria and pastry area, which opened last spring, you can’t believe it. What looks like acres of frosted jewels, sparkling, glittering, glimmering—are we suddenly in Rome? Nope, but good enough, for all the virtually endless sugary acres of cannoli, gelati, spumetti, pignoli cookies, cassata, tiramisu, sfogliatelle, ciambella—you get the idea. Grab a cappuccino, a couple of likely sweets, call it your Roman Holiday, right in downtown St. Paul. 211 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-222-3476, cossettas.com