Twin Cities Insider Eats: 2012 Critics' Picks
The food fanatics who make up our dining team opened their little black books to reveal all the side trips, quick stops, and favorite haunts they frequent but don’t normally get to write about. These hidden gems—the hole-in-the-wall breakfast joints, little-known lunch spots, strip mall discoveries, pop-up surprises, and ethnic eateries—often go unseen by all but the most diligent eaters. Consider this your insider’s guide to the best of the unexpected.
The oldest collectively run eatery in town has been dishing up solid vegetarian-friendly breakfasts since 1974. Tofu scrambles, eggs, and fried potatoes are served all day. 2129 Franklin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-332-1011, sewardcafempls.net
IPOTLI INDIAN GRILL
In India, people don’t start the day with cornflakes. They eat spicy dosas, thin crepes enclosing a chili filling, served with fresh cilantro chutney for dipping. One bite—Whoa, that’s hot!—and now you’re awake. 601 Marquette Ave., Ste. 200, Mpls., 612-605-8242, ipotli.com
Nostalgia hovers over clusters of blue-hairs sipping coffee and construction workers wolfing eggs. The waitresses call you “hon.” Cinnamon buns cover a plate. 1720 Glenwood Ave., Mpls., 612-377-9460
JERABEK'S NEW BOHEMIAN
It’s in the Crust
If you had a magical, flaky crust recipe that was a jewel of a family secret, you too might use it on beautifully custardy quiches and sturdy meat pasties, just to extend your reach beyond pie. 63 W. Winifred St., St. Paul, 651-228-1245, jerabeks.com
Good Morning Pickled Herring
Swedes sick of lingonberries can hop the border and choose the kielbasa with roasted potatoes, spinach, and eggs, or the lox and pickled herring platter. Have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you like. 2264 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651-645-9181, finnishbistro.com
AMSTERDAM BAR AND HALL
The Morning Hash Bar
On Sunday morning, it’s hard to return to the scene of Saturday’s crime, but the Lebanese red hash with saffron tomatoes, roasted potatoes, veg, and red hollandaise might be reason enough. 6 W. 6th St., St. Paul, 612-285-3112, amsterdambarandhall.com
VICTOR'S 1959 CAFE
Breakfast in Cuba
Victor’s is the size of a postage stamp, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in flavor and offerings. It’s easily the most diverse breakfast menu in town with a focus on Cuban/Caribbean flavors. Great dishes include flavorsome Cuban hash, a breakfast version of picadillo with eggs, mango waffles, fried yuca and eggs, and the create-your-own-omelet section with chorizo and creole sauce options. Plus, you’ve gotta love a place that automatically prepares eggs over easy. Don’t miss the guava jam on your warm bread of choice. Assume there will be a wait, as the place fills up quickly. 3756 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-827-8948, victors1959cafe.com —P.D.
International Day Breakers
I know you normally keep your kebabbing to the evening hours, but Shish gives lots of reasons to switch it up. Breakfast here can be waffles and omelets, but if you play it safe-American, you’ll miss combos like the Breakfast From My Village, which includes brightly spiced fava beans with Greek yogurt, falafel, tomatoes, cucumbers, and hot tea. Chaksuka is another game-changing day-starter with grilled peppers, roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta, one scrambled egg, and one poached egg. So is the Shish Breakfast: chicken shawarma with tzatziki and poached eggs on toasted pitas. Or have the oatmeal. Your choice. 1668 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-690-2212, shishongrand.com —S. M.
BUTTER BAKERY CAFE
Nice Warm Biscuits
Butter Café’s spirit straddles the Mason-Dixon Line with its menu of biscuits and charm. The café’s fat, golden biscuits are quixotically dense yet airy, with a buttermilk tang. Order them drenched with the house sausage gravy or fried eggs and griddled ham. Get here early when they’re hot from the oven so the fluffy interior steams butter right off the knife. Everything here is fresh and made from scratch: the migas with potatoes, the huevos burrito, the French toast with cinnamon-raisin bread, the hearty oatmeal pancakes, and the housemade granola. But it’s those biscuits, Southern and sunny, that make this joint so warm and fresh. 3544 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-521-7401, butterbakerycafe.com —B. D.
Kitsch Kitchen & Killer Waffles
The exterior says “residential dentist office circa 1974.” The interior screams “Mrs. Butterworth’s disco party on acid” with walls decked in paint-by-number art and hundreds of (spooky) Precious Moments figurines staring at you with their giant droopy eyes. What more can you ask for in a breakfast diner? How about plentiful hot, fresh coffee and a pumpkin buckwheat waffle that’s all crisp on the edges and soft in the middle? Or a short stack of buttermilk cakes slathered with lingonberry butter? This place is so chill and so cool, don’t be surprised to find yourself plotting for a coveted seat at the counter. 5204 Bloomington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-4794 mrmosaico.com/hotplatediner
Alex Roberts and his staff know how to pay attention to detail. They’ve even been known to greet kids with homemade applesauce as an amuse-bouche. 528 University Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-379-4909, restaurantalma.com 528 University Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-379-4909, restaurantalma.com
Mignardises (pronounced minyardeez) are the French pastry chef’s dessert served after dessert—you see the itty-bitty cookies, gels, macaroons, and so forth in five-star restaurants just before the bill arrives, and nowhere in Minnesota but here at real-butter-specialist Bars Bakery. 612 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-8300, barsbakery.com
THE HAPPY GNOME
Not The Beer
Beer geeks feel like they own this place, but not on Sundays when the bloody mary bar is set with house-infused vodka and the morning-after cocktails come out. OK, so the breakfast of champions is Summit oatmeal stout and whipped vodka—something for everyone. 498 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-287-2018, thehappygnome.com
Greasers While U Wait
We know you go to Travail for a mind-blowing food experience, but don’t overlook the greasers. If you should happen to find yourself at the bar while waiting for your table, get a plate of these sliders and order a Surly Fender (Furious and Bender mixed), and life will be good. 4154 Broadway Ave. W., Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131, facebook.com/travailkitchen
Sunday Roast Chicken
In our farm-obsessed, postmillennial, locavore era, we want grandma’s kitchen with French attitude for Sunday dinner. Enter Café Levain, where chef Adam Vickerman coaxes elegant plates from everyday ingredients and garden produce. His roast chicken is rosemary kissed, leg and breast still on the bone, with skin that’s finger-picking crispy. This homey fare is far better than any I could make at home. Enjoy the generous sides: skin-on fries with garlic aioli, bacon-braised Swiss chard with white beans, sweet corn napped in crème fraîche. You can diet come Monday, so go for the shortcake with berries just picked in the garden, monkey bread sticky with raspberry syrup, or fresh watermelon sorbet. 4762 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-7111, cafelevain.com —B. D.
The TC’s first raw restaurant goes beyond vegan to crusade for pure food with its menu of vibrant salads, vegetable pastas, and rich nut pâtes. Try the rawvioli and let your paradigm shift a little. 2409 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-874-7336, ecopolitan.com
Russell Fay has a wine habit, and he’s sharing it with you. His tiny shop is like a garage sale of wine that he has curated as a server and wine drinker. Most bottles are cheap and interesting, and it may be the most easy-going wine-browsing afternoon you’ve ever had. 4726 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-721-9463, corkdorkwineco.com
THE BACHELOR FARMER
The Best Seat in Town
Have you ever been loved so deeply that you felt like the world was created for you alone? Step up and into the red leather booth in the back of the bar at TBF—a lofty seat perched high—then order a Pernod over ice and radishes with butter, and drink up one of Minnesota’s most luxurious seats. 50 2nd Ave. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com
THE SAMPLE ROOM
Hogs 'n' Eggs
The Sample Room defines welcoming, warm, and perfectly prepared eggs, and now you can order a whole hog’s head to boot. But don’t forget the great housemade sausages and the ample craft beer selection. 2124 NE Marshall St., Mpls., 612-789-0333, the-sample-room.com
MINNESOTA'S LARGEST CANDY STORE
The Land of Candy
Drive south on Highway 169 until you think you’ve almost hit Iowa (silly city folk), and at a point around Jordan you will likely see a giant yellow Quonset hut/barn that claims to be, in brightly painted letters, Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. It’s attached to Jim’s Apple Farm and it opens and closes on its own schedule, but if it’s open you will be rewarded with seemingly miles and miles of sugar wonderland: a staggering root beer selection, racks of candy cigarettes, ginger chews and licorice up the wazoo, and international candies you never knew existed. Sure, there are apples, pies, and farmy things, but . . . hey, is that a Yorkie bar? The store opens mid-July and closes sometime in November. 17365 Johnson Memorial Dr., Jordan, 952-492-6380 —S. M.
Not Your Freezer Wings
Darin Koch is a highly trained chef with his eye on guy snacks. Foodists already know that he’s perfected the wing. Stop in his Maplewood shop and be prepared to be stunned by a staggering amount of flavor combinations. The real secret, though, is that Koch makes a mean off-the-radar burger: The Emma James comes with smoked pancetta, a fried egg, and harissa aioli. 705 Century Ave. N., Maplewood, 651-730-7768, eatatdspot.com —S. M.
LEMON GRASS THAI CUISINE
Insane Chicken in a Strip Mall
Up near nowhere, where Highway 252 gets you to Coon Rapids, there’s a newish but desolate strip mall with some of the best Thai food in the metro. Get the Crazy Duck or the Insane Chicken (the mad fowl are similar) for a profoundly moving update on the classic roasted rice, lime, and herb salad known as larb. It’s fresh and bold, jumping with big leaves of just-snapped herbs and vibrating with chili. Next, the Chiang Mai Alley Noodles, a tangle of spicy yellow curry and sour pickled mushroom greens, will have you understanding spice and pucker in a whole new way. Suddenly nowhere tastes like somewhere wonderful. 8600 Edinburgh Center Dr., Brooklyn Park, 763-494-8809, lemongrassthaicuisine.net —D. M. G.
EL TACO RIENDO
There are seriously no frills to this place, unless you count the super-friendly owners and delicious fat burritos that will make you say, “Chipowho?” 2416 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-781-3000, eltaco-riendo.com
CRESCENT MOON PIZZA
What's a Futbol Pizza?
What are the benefits to a football-shaped pizza? Besides the flavor-amped Afghani beef topping and the secret tangy green sauce, there’s this: You have no choice but to finish it because it won’t fit in your fridge. 1517 Como Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-767-3313, crescentmoonfoods.net
LA COCINA DE ANA
Forget pizza, take-and-bake Mexican dishes are made fresh every day here. Frijoles con chorizo is sultry and bright with just-chopped herbs; chicken mole verde is gorgeous. And, shockingly, it all comes from your oven. 1400 Co. Rd. 101, Plymouth, 763-951-3377, cocinadeana.com
All Things Vietnamese
The quiet, tidy, well-run Que Nha, which means “my homeland” in Vietnamese, has been around for seven years and has never served me a dud of a dish. I go for the roll-your-own spring rolls, especially the grilled shrimp wrapped in sliced beef, and the housemade Vietnamese sausage, sour and perfectly grilled. The crusty-bottomed rice casseroles served in traditional earthen pots are complex layered creations of meat, seafood, and vegetables. (Be patient—they take some time to make.) The spicy goat with onions is flawlessly authentic. And the iced coffee is the best in town. 849 University Ave., St Paul, 651-290-8552 —A. Z.
CURRY 'N' NOODLES
You tend to get quizzical looks when you state that Curry ’N’ Noodles in the heart of Hopkins is one of the best Indian restaurants in town. The place bills itself as an Indo-Chinese bistro, but it’s not the Asian stir-fries you should seek. Stick to the curries ’n’ such and you will be rewarded with wonderful depths of flavor. Among the specialties that set Curry ’N’ Noodles apart are several that emanate from the southern Indian state of Hyderabad. One of the standouts is the chicken Hyderabadi, simmered in thick tomato-based gravy. Other sure bets include the lightly spiced “chicken lollipop” drummies, the spicy deep-fried nuggets called Chicken 65, and the tasty tandoori seasoned lamb chops. 802 Main St., Hopkins, 952-681-7834, currynnoodles.com —P. L.
Sake on the Patio
This slip of a joint has blossomed into a great izakaya, with Japanese beers on tap, tons of small-plate bar snacks, an awesome Washoku tasting tour, and a nice patio. 1510 Como Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-331-1432, obento-ya.com —P. L.
PANCHO VILLA GRILL AND BAR
More Than Cheap Margaritas
The standard for great two-for-one margaritas (and cervezas) four days a week also has really tasty, mostly authentic Mexican fare and a killer roast pork platter. 2539 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-250-2344, panchovillagrill.com
A World Apart
From the roast pork and papaya salad to the bitter bamboo soup and curry noodle bowls, the indoor/outdoor Hmongtown Marketplace, with its garden center and DVD bins, is the single most underrated culinary resource in the state. Take the plunge. 2217 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651-487-3700, hmongtownmarketplace.com
Momo's the Word
Steamed yak-filled momo dumplings, deep-fried onion and jalapeno pyaazi fritters, and Kathmandu-style tandoori seared choyala lamb are just a few of the Nepalese treats that will set your palate ascending at this neighborhood charmer. 2401 Franklin Ave. E., Mpls., 612-332-0880, himalayanmomo.com
A Trek for Thai
Light-rail construction makes it challenging to get to the best Thai food around, but it’s worth the effort. From amazing meing kum fix-it-yourself snack lettuce wraps to luscious egg-yolk noodle foy tong dessert, it’s as good as it gets. 1613 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-644-1444, onskitchen.com
HARRY SINGH'S ORIGINAL CARIBBEAN RESTAURANT
Treats from Trinidad
Harry Singh, the one-man show who cooks and serves at his Eat Street place, and his sister Marla Jadoonanan, of Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine, are the unquestioned royalty of local Caribbean food. Harry’s been at it for more than 20 years, and his current spot offers a steel-drum-solid lineup. There’s the roti dhalpourie—a pizza-sized wrap of griddled flatbread with fillings such as jerk chicken, browned pork, and curried goat. Other great options include the spicy meat-filled turnovers called Jamaican patties, the traditional Trinidadian snack sandwich of flatbread and lentils known as doubles, and a carnival of curries paired with white rice. Harry’s oh-god-it’s-hot homemade pepper sauce is justifiably legendary. Be sure to buy a bottle on the way out. 2653 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-729-6181, harrysinghs.com —P. L.
Go for the meatball sub or the Oh Mio Dio, a saucy hot grinder sandwich that delivers a gut-warming punch. But don’t worry—you can cool off with some beer gelato. 5600 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-2040, fatlorenzos.com —P. L.
KEEFER COURT BAKERY
All-Day Dim-Sum Buns
No, you don’t have to wait for the creaky dim sum cart to come around. Keefer has all the soft, luxurious Chinese BBQ pork buns, pineapple buns, and ham and egg buns ready to go, ripe for your choosing. 326 Cedar Ave., Mpls., 612-340-0937, keefercourt.com
PHIL'S TARA HIDEAWAY
A Lodge for the Greek
It couldn’t be on a more awkward lot, slipped onto a side road that heralds your turn from Highway 36 into Stillwater. It looks like the kind of log-cabin bar you’d find in Bemidji. It is a hideaway, after all. The interior will match your cabintastic expectations, but when you open the menu you will be shocked to find serious Mediterranean cooking. There has long been a Greek lilt to the menu, but of late it has been refined and elevated. There’s grilled octopus, housemade loukaniko, dolmades with a gorgeous charmoula sauce, and a lamb duo with gyros and grilled chops that comes with cucumber yogurt, garlic confit aioli, house pickles, and summery lemon-artichoke orzo. Welcome to your cabin on the bright blue Mediterranean. 15021 N. 60th St., Stillwater, 651-439-9850, tarahideaway.com —S.M.
DI NOKO'S PIZZA
The Deepest Dish
Beyond the fact that pizza is a very personal issue, I think we can mostly agree that serious deep-dish pizza is hard to come by in these parts. Sometimes it seems like a joke, like the pizza guys just slop stuff together because they don’t care about the architecture of a thing. Enter Di Noko’s, a takeout joint that seems to get it. Its abundant pies are like hand-molded pizza buckets, layered perfectly with a base of milky cheese on which your choice of toppings (I go sausage, spinach, garlic) will swim in a thick, chunky, chipper red sauce. It is a sturdy thing. Which is good, because there’s no seating, although Di Noko’s does deliver—to Eagan even, bless their hearts. 5501 34th Ave. S., Mpls., 612-727-2424, dinokos.com —S.M.
DEGIDIO'S RESTAURANT BAR
Italian American Classics
Italian American red-sauce Italian is a whole cuisine in and of itself, born when immigrants from the starving southern ankle and heel of the Italian boot suddenly found themselves in the land of plenty. No one does it better than the old-school masters at DeGidio’s—going strong since 1933, when Joe “Kid Bullets” DeGidio turned in his bootlegger’s stills for a pot of meatballs. Get the classic spaghetti, large, with two meatballs, and add a sausage. It’s a $13 plate of food as big as a Thanksgiving turkey, the perfect yin-yang blend of sweet tomato and deeply flavored meats. That’s the old neighborhood, the taste of Brooklyn, the taste of a certain American dream perfectly realized, and whatever you do, you should never, ever fuhgeddaboudit. 425 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-291-7105, degidios.com —D.M.G.
MOSCOW ON THE HILL
Right across from a vaunted local patio is this smaller, quieter patio where you may sip copious amounts of vodka and snack on small-plate zakuski such as duck pâté, blini with caviar, and cured herring. 371 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-291-1236, moscowonthehill.com
Luigi Vitali, Cossetta’s baker straight out of Italy, is working wonders, including a line of focaccia so well developed, so fruity with olive oil, and so savory it’s nearly meaty. It makes supermarket focaccia taste like old Pringles. 211 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-222-3476, cossettaeventi.com
UNIDELI AT UNITED NOODLES
Shop 'n' Slurp
The café in the back of United Noodles has had a refresh. New menu items such as the porky wonderful ramen are courting the food set who shop here for exotic ingredients. Ask about the Spam Musubi Hawaiian rice roll, and open your mind. 2015 E. 24th St., Mpls., 612-721-6677, unitednoodles.com
PAPA'S RESTAURANT AND DELI
Philly Cheesesteak Like You Mean It
Quietly in North sits this little place that may have the best Philly cheese-steak around. But first you have to get by the East Coast tomato pie, a fragrant pizza done with a lighter hand. 4159 Thomas Ave. N., Mpls., 612-521-7272, eatatpapas.com
ZIACH POLISH FOODS
Kielbasa and Language Lessons
Once upon a time, Nordeast was known more for Polish and Russian immigrants than artists and hipsters. But things change, and pubs replace pierogis as time marches on, except at Ziach Polish Foods. On a tiny residential block, this new bare-bones deli/shop has hoisted the Polish flag. Every week, owner Zbigniew Ziach drives to Chicago and loads up on things he can’t get here anymore: double smoked Black Forest sausage, spice-loaded Moscow bacon, and corpulent links of kielbasa that crack a snap when you bite. I’ve become addicted to the garlic-studded Moscow ham. There are other Polish goods, some great Warsaw chocolate, and tons of flavored pretzel sticks, but the real win comes when you find paczki, a filled donut that is rich, milky, and hard to find locally. Go on Fridays when the stock of meats is full. 1625 NE Washington St., Mpls., 612-789-0907 —S. M.
Dives & Holes in the Wall
THE CARDINAL BAR
A huge selection of fried appetizers, a big burger menu, and a neighborhood vibe make this off-the-light-rail bar a great spot for grubbin’. 2920 E. 38th St., Mpls., 612-724-5837, cardinaltavern.com
Chili Dogs with Attitude
The area’s best chili dog, simple and inelegant but a drinker’s spot-hitter, is served in this gritty joint where they may or may not float the f-bomb at you. It’s half shtick, but only half. 241 E. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-291-9638, gopherbar.com
Wings Are the Things
You will drive down Excelsior Boulevard a hundred times and never notice this 80-year-old remodeled tavern that looks like the offspring of a tract home and a local pitcher-and-a-shot bar. Such a mistake. As would be ordering anything other than baskets of its plain drumettes and even more baskets of its Cajun dry-rubbed wings coated with the saltiest of lip-smacking herb seasonings that is not even vaguely Cajun, but who cares. I can sit all day in a corner and eat chicken until my mouth hurts, enjoying some of the best people-watching around. TVs are everywhere, the pull-tabs are all winners, and the console gaming makes it a great place to bring kids on weeknights. 5916 Excelsior Blvd., Mpls., 952-922-9515, bunnysbarandgrill.com —A. Z.
No Hype, Just Burger
Adrian’s isn’t interested in getting into the loud south Minneapolis Juicy Lucy wars—it’s just happy to churn out good and tasty burgers (and, yes, a decent Juicy Lucy) while offering a good old-time bar seat on which to enjoy them. 4812 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-4011
DONNY DIRK'S ZOMBIE DEN
A glowing green bunker of all things undead, with gore flicks on an endless loop, this square room is devoted to drinking, Halloween kitsch, and creatively lethal cocktails like the delightful F*@%ing Dead Froggie. Adding to its dive charm is the fact that it’s only open four days a week and serves pizza as its sole grub. Donny’s sister restaurant Psycho Suzi’s makes the pizza in-house; choose “human” pizza with pepperoni or “zombie” pizza with blood sausage. The service is inviting, and the bartenders are anything but hipster aloof. It has a fun, funky-friendly vibe that makes it impossible not to have a good time, even as the apocalypse looms. 2027 N. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-588-9700, donnydirks.com —M. M.
MERLIN'S REST PUB
Single Malt Madness
The food is honest-to-goodness pub fare, all solidly served. But the reason to go is to pour over The Whisky Bible, a comprehensive catalog of all the pub’s Scotch and Irish whiskies. If you’re a novice, this is your school; if you’re a connoisseur, this is your church. 3601 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-216-2419, merlinsrest.com
TOOTIE'S ON LOWRY
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
You’re a legend if you buy your chums a drink even when you’re not there. Prepay for your pals at Tootie’s and their names go up on the buddy board. When they walk in, they see their first round is free and the karma wheel keeps turning. 2706 Lowry Ave. N., Mpls., 612-529-0200
THE NARROWS SALOON
Biker Bar by the Lake
You can tell a lot from the parking lot at this Lake Minnetonka bar. It’s equal parts gleaming Maseratis and beat-down pickup trucks with Harley hogs fencing the joint—a rough and ready, moneyed and manicured mash-up that mimics the town it’s in: Navarre. Not quite in tony Orono but not quite Mound and certainly not Wayzata, Navarre is a curious place near the end of the line. It swells in the summer with tanned boaters after a boozy day on Big Island and thrives in winter with bluesy live bands and a packed dance floor. Prepare to do shots of top-rail whiskey with a CEO or hang with the locals munching on fresh-from-the-fryer, good-and-greasy buttermilk onion rings and a frosty Bud in a bottle. 3380 Shoreline Dr., Navarre, 952-471-3352, thenarrowssaloon.com —M. M.
Pizza Buffet and Then Some
Skinner’s is not your standard neighborhood dive bar, but we’d all be better off if more dives were family-friendly neighborhood joints like this. At Skinner’s, kids are not only tolerated—they have their own menu. Imagine a place where the food is good, cheap, and plentiful. Weekday lunches feature an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet that includes tasty soups and a basic salad bar for $6.95. Pizzas are large and cheesy. There’s a huge Reuben sandwich, meaty Buffalo wings, crispy fried chicken, and cheap drinks that make this a full-service dive worth driving to. 919 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, 651-291-0146, skinnersmn.com —P. D.
Seasonals & Pop-Ups
A Catered Affair
The Chowgirls have long had a reputation as one of the best caterers in town, and now they’re getting feisty. Owners Amy Brown and Heidi Andermack have annexed the room next to their HQ and created a stylish event space where all manner of fun and frolic are afoot. Besides paying homage to their Nordeast artist neighbors with pop-up showings and salons, they’ve thrown an Earth Day Farm Fresh Brunch, Luck of the Locavore St. Paddy’s Day Dinner, and a Summer Solstice Supper among other events—giving you a great chance to eat their locally sourced food without having to throw a party of your own. 1222 NE 2nd St., Mpls., 612-203-0786, chowgirls.net —S. M.
RED WAGON PIZZA
The Full Monty
“Pizza Pete” Campbell uses ultra-local ingredients starting with organic flour from Sunrise Mill. One bite of The Monty and you’ll be dancing in your knickers. Find it every Sunday at the Linden Hills farmers’ market. rdwagon.com
DARI-ETTE DRIVE IN
A ton of seasonal drive-ins open each spring, but not many cook a mean pot of red sauce, a homey pasta fagioli, a rarified pizza burger, and a legendary Italiano (known elsewhere as a Hot Dago). 1440 Minnehaha Ave. E., St. Paul, 651-776-3470
DINER EN BLANC
Suddenly, a Picnic
Once a year you might stumble upon a giant outdoor dinner in a public park where everything and everyone is dressed in white. Inspired by the 23-year-old annual picnic held in Paris (and subsequently all over the world), this dinner is a pop-up in which participants find out the location only one hour before it begins. This year on June 23, invited eaters arrived at Rice Park with their own tables, chairs, candelabras, floral arrangements, and food, setting rows table-to-table for a massive flash-mob feast that is at once stylish and fleeting. After a round of sparklers, diners whisk away all evidence of the meal and begin to dream and plan for the next one. dinerenblanc.com —S. M.
MORTY'S AT HYLAND
Snowpig on the Grassy Slopes
During the winter, Hyland Ski & Snowboard area in Bloomington churns out your average ski fries and hot dogs. But in summer, when verdant slopes become a quiet backdrop for a makeshift driving range and Frisbee golf course, it’s a lunch secret. Open Monday through Friday, Morty’s cooks stacked grinders and burgers—with attitude—and posts a special menu online each week. You might be lucky enough to get the Snowpig—a smoked pork sandwich with melted provolone, onions, pickles, applesauce, and Sriracha sauce on a fresh bun. If that’s not available, Erik’s Power Burger with pecan wood–smoked bacon, cheese, and a fried egg is a sure bet. 8800 Chalet Rd., Bloomington, 763-694-7800, hylandski.com —S. M.
GASTRO NON GRATA
Music & Meat Melee
This hipster mash-up of rock bands and local chefs is full of surprises. Orchestrated by impresario and all-around-awesome guy Craig Drehmel, one recent event featured a “dime bag”—a homemade Twinkie topped with hops. Venues change, as do the chefs and the themes (Eggs for Africa, Pre-Earth Day Confection Carousel, to name a couple), but those held at the Triple Rock kill it every time. Be sure to pick up a belt buckle or T-shirt at the merch table, and don’t miss out on the meat raffle (the prize is usually from Clancey’s). gastronongrata.blogspot.com —S.B.
Activate Your Inner Spice
Mondays at Highland Grill have a cult following, largely because Heather Jansz, the Curry Diva, has people hooked on getting “activated.” Sassy, fresh, and exotic, Jansz was once the fire behind the Sri Lanka Curry House and now is largely a private chef and caterer. Her curry nights at Highland Grill are more than a meal, because Jansz believes in the magic of spices and brings a holistic approach to health and eating. She “activates” the senses through food, using sweet, sour, and salty as well as bitter, pungent, and astringent flavors. Her personality and food warm you from the toes up, and you usually get her legendary roti in the process. thecurrydiva.com —S.M.
J. Edgar's: A RESTAURANT
Ultra-Secret Fine Dining
If you are lucky enough to be invited to this quasi-legal pop-up run by a local fine-dining server legend and his chef friend, you’ll be the guilty one if you don’t go. La Belle Vie and Piccolo rolled into one is the only clue. Trust us, it’s that good. Invite only.
Ten Twin Cities Insider Eats
Mpls.St.Paul Magazine food and dining editor Stephanie March goes on the road to uncover 10 insider eateries, pubs, and bakeries that you might have heard of but never had a chance to try.