The beauty of a busy thoroughfare like Lake Street is the history that quietly builds up along its sidewalks. It’s not a museum, perfectly curated for your learning pleasure. It’s living history. Unpolished. Ever changing. You become part of it by just being there. In a couple of blocks you see the immigrant experience that formed the city we are today. Businesses established by first-generation Americans sit side by side. A century-old Scandinavian market operates just down the block from a new Somali/Ethiopian restaurant and a Mexican bakery. There’s no telling how things will change decades from now, but we think you might find a few tasty reasons below to visit these businesses today. In a way, you’d be shaping history. — M.C. Cronin
OTHER EAST LAKE STREET CHECKLIST INSTALLMENTS: Lake Plaza, Gorditas el Gordo to Pineda Tacos, Taqueria Victor Hugo to Safari Restaurant, El Sabor Chuchi to The Rabbit Hole, Midtown Global Market, Miramar to San Miguel Bakery, Mercado Central
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
The East Lake Checklist is the third Heavy Table illustrated travelogue to explore a major gastronomic thoroughfare in Minneapolis and/or St. Paul. The East Lake Checklist is the Heavy Table’s follow-up to our 55-restaurant survey of independent eateries on Central Avenue and our 72-restaurant series about restaurants on the Green Line. We’ll publish five-restaurant installments biweekly until we’ve documented every nonchain spot on East Lake Street between 35W and the Mississippi River. (We’re estimating 75 spots, but we’ll see how it shakes out.)
This series is made possible by underwriting from Visit Lake Street. Heavy Table retains editorial control of the series — as with Central Avenue and the Green Line, this tour will be warts-and-all.
“From the river to the lakes, visitors and residents can shop local and be social on Lake Street. More information at VisitLakeStreet.com.”
1601 E Lake St, Minneapolis
It’s hard to imagine East Lake Street without Ingebretsen’s. The place has been slinging Scandinavian specialties like picked herring, Swedish meatballs, and fruktsoppa (fruit soup) on Lake Street since many of our great grandparents were in cloth diapers: 1921 to be exact. So, tradition runs deep here. You can feel it in the wood floors, in the Swedish horses on the gift store shelves, and in the hints of rosemåling you find here and there. You even sense it in the people who work here.
One of the guys behind the counter — we’re pretty sure he was an Ingebretsen — gave us a history lesson. He told us Ingebretsen’s was one of the first delis in the city to get refrigerated glass cases back in the 1930s. An interesting detail made all the more so by the fact that earlier we’d been looking through those very same cases selecting a salmon filet. Those refrigerators have been running for almost 100 years. So, why can’t we buy one that last longer than five years these days?
We visited Ingebretsen’s after the New Year and missed out on the — apparently ridiculous — Christmas rush. “We go from our busiest time of the year to our slowest time of the year almost overnight,” said our friend behind the counter. Traditions run deep. It’s easy to see why this place is so incredibly loved by the families of the Nordic immigrants who helped shape the Twin Cities. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
It’s hard to know where to go with a deli spread as wide and varied as the one at Ingebretsen’s (everything from fruit soup to lutefisk to luncheon meats), so we kept it simple: a package of lefse ($7), a half-pound of smoked, pepper-studded salmon ($8.50), and a half-pound of whitefish ($5.50). The lefse was delicate, almost feathery light, and papery thin, with a legit potato flavor through and through.
We thought the salmon was wonderful — evenly smoked with a pronounced (but not acrid or overly aggressive) smoky flavor, a tender, moist texture, and good, evenly distributed hits of black pepper. The whitefish was simple as can be — neutral in flavor with only a hint of smoke, a blank canvas on which to paint other flavors. — James Norton
2937 Bloomington Ave S, Minneapolis
A couple of us spotted this place while parking and peeked into the front window just to make sure it was actually open. Our plan was to go wrangle our full group and return, but a gentleman came out and insisted we come in right away. The patrons gathered in the main room welcomed us with open arms.
They treated us as friends immediately, happily filling us in on details about the restaurant, smiling and joking with us. They told us the place had been more of a cafe, but it recently reopened with a full kitchen. They said it wasn’t a cheap endeavor, but it was worth it, because, according to the entire group, it has the best sambusas in town. These guys couldn’t have been bigger advocates for the place if they were owners. In fact, if they weren’t owners they should get a commission for the sales job they were throwing down.
The decor is straightforward. There’s an order counter and a few tables in the front room, and there’s a small room with additional seating in the back. Eventually, the rest of our group joined us and we were seated in the back room.
Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of sambusas, so we’ll have to come back sometime. Something tell us we’d be welcomed. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
The Heavy Table is pleased to announce the 16th edition of the North Coast Nosh, the Upper Midwest’s premiere sip-and-sample with local purveyors of artisanal food and drink. We’ll be co-producing the March 29 event with our partners at the Wedge Community Co-op and Linden Hills Co-op at the Food Building in Northeast Minneapolis.
The event has two (identical) sessions and attendees can choose either one. The first runs from 4:30-6:30 p.m. The second runs from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Tickets are $36 plus taxes and fees and include all the local cheese, artisan meat, craft beer, and more that you care to sample. There will also be a special bread-focused class at Baker’s Field (in the Food Building) from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Tickets for the Nosh + bread class are $56 plus taxes and fees. We have space for 20 attendees at the class.
Both sessions will be at the Food Building (1401 Marshall St NE) on the evening of Thursday, March 29.
If there were a physical embodiment of the North Coast Nosh ethos — scratch food prepared with care, an emphasis on process, a serious focus on quality — it would be the Food Building. The Food Building’s tenants, including Red Table Meat Company, Baker’s Field Flour and Bread, and The Draft Horse, are what we consider models of the future of Upper Midwestern food, and we’re excited to have them join us for this event.
In addition to sampling craft beer, cheese, meat, and many other foods, you will be able to join in conversation with the purveyors who create the food and drink. (Guests must be 21 years of age or older.) We keep our purveyor-to-attendee ratio low so that you’ll have plenty of time to connect with vendors and other attendees. We are planning to have 20-30 purveyors present at the Nosh, all local to the Upper Midwest.
Please visit Brown Paper Tickets and get your tickets today.
Vendors confirmed thus far include:
This week in The Tap: A look ahead at upcoming restaurants in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.
The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Holman’s Table, 644 Bayfield St, St. Paul | A restaurant at the St. Paul Airport.
- just/us, 465 Wabasha St N | An ambitious looking new spot in the suddenly closed Red Lantern space.
- Biergarten Germania, 275 E Fourth Street, St. Paul | Schnitzel, pretzels, brats, and other German standards, plus beer.
- Fig + Farro, 3001 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis | Vegetarian food in the semi-cursed former Figlio’s space.
- Sound, 132 E Superior St, Duluth | An ambitious new spot by Chef Patrick Moore (above), formerly of Silos at Pier B.
- Hodges Bend, 2700 University Ave W, St. Paul | Coffee, wine, and cocktails with a side of food.
- Nye’s Bar, 112 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | A reboot of the legendary Nye’s Polonaise, in a new space at the Nye’s location, renovated and sans food. Our review here.
- Sonder Shaker, 130 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | A new restaurant and cocktail bar sharing the site of the old Nye’s Polonaise.
- Red Sauce Rebellion, 205 Water St, Excelsior | “Approachable yet unexpected” Italian. Our first tastes.
- Venn Brewing, 3550 E 46th St Suite 140, Minneapolis | A changing selection of brews in this taproom near Minnehaha Park.
- Hamburguesas el Gordo, 4157 Cedar Ave S, Minneapolis (second location) | Our review of the original location.
The makings of a really good restaurant can often be found in the margins. The coffee, the French fries, the salad — these are the minor elements that tend to get lost, and can be substandard without necessarily ruining a diner’s meal. They’re usually the first things to get replaced with the prepackaged, the frozen, and the mediocre alternatives.
With that in mind, we had an excellent meal at the newly opened Red Sauce Rebellion in Excelsior, and we were particularly impressed with all the minor elements that started, finished, and filled in the cracks of our meal. Our coffee was richly flavored without being too acidic or overpowering. Our fries tasted freshly cut and quite crispy. And our House Romaine Salad ($13, above) was a lovely example of the form — not too heavily dressed, with a preponderance of greens supported by just the right ratio of toppings including Sweet Drop peppers, burrata, tender cubes of salami, and crispy chickpeas that ably took the place of croutons or nuts. We mentioned to our waiter that we’d be sharing the salad, and rather than bringing us a spare plate (standard operating procedure at most restaurants) he brought the salad out on two plates, perfectly split. That’s good service.
The space itself was thoughtfully organized, crisp, clean, bright, and airy, a minor update from the decor of the previous occupant, the relatively short-lived Victor’s on Water. Our two-top was parked close enough to our neighbors that we were treated to a fairly rich dose of their conversation, but the overall noise level was reasonable.
When a restaurant touts “Red Sauce” in its name, you feel compelled to try some of the stuff at some point during your meal. We tried it on the Meatball Hoagie ($14, top), and we weren’t disappointed. Many restaurant red sauces have two notes at most: bright but flat tomato acidity and a pile of sugar. Red Sauce Rebellion’s red sauce, which was generously ladled over our sandwich, was a deep, brownish red and contained layers of flavor including what we’re guessing was the mellow, sweet richness of properly caramelized onions. It placed nicely with our meatballs, which were neither too greasy nor too generically bready, but were a light, balanced mix of both meat and breadcrumb elements. The hoagie’s bread was crispy, and its cheese fully flavored and pleasantly stringy. In short, even if this hoagie had fed one person, it was so good that the price tag seemed like a fair deal. But this thing would easily feed two hungry diners, so we’re firmly in the realm of great value here.
Our Trofie pasta (fennel sausage, sweet peas, fresh herbs, vodka cream sauce, $15, top) was a more conservative portion (it fed one without much, if anything, left over), but the quality was equally evident. The pasta was tender and toothsome, the peas and herbs lightened the balance, and the dish managed to be fully seasoned without tasting overly salty, no small challenge when it comes to indulgent pasta dishes.
We closed our meal with a cannoli served on a little bit of cherry gastrique. We’re cannoli fanatics. We’ve tracked down the best cannoli in Boston’s North End, made the shells ourselves from scratch, and tried dozens of variations over the years, ranging from the excellent to the thoroughly bad. Red Sauce Rebellion does a wonderful cannoli with a joyfully brutal crispiness to the shell that can only come when the cannoli are filled to order. The filling was sweet but not tooth-shatteringly so and had a pleasant creaminess to it.
This quality of food and service puts Red Sauce Rebellion neck and neck with the likes of Mucci’s, another restaurant that does classic, soul-satisfying Italian-American fare with a freshness and thoughtfulness you won’t get in most of your red lead neighborhood joints. There’s nothing minor about keeping your eye on all the little details.
Red Sauce Rebellion
Italian-American fare in Excelsior
205 Water St
Excelsior, MN 55331
OWNERS: Eli Wollenzien and Deacon Eells (also of Coalition)
Sun-Thu 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Not so much
ENTREE RANGE: $14-$27
NOISE LEVEL: Reasonably sedate, with some tightly packed two-tops
PARKING: Street parking
Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email email@example.com.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Winter Rose Pastry at Rose Street Patisserie
I’ve seen this before … almost. In the spring of 2016, John Kraus offered a cheerful raspberry-and-white-chocolate version of this pastry to celebrate the opening of Rose Street Patisserie. The winter version is more subdued in color (a faded rose?) but has the compelling, deep flavor of gianduja (Piedmont, Italy’s ground-hazelnut milk chocolate in the form of tiny prisms wrapped in gold foil). The Winter Rose is a gianduja mousse with a caramel cremeux (a kind of pudding) center. The creamy elements sit on a crunchy hazelnut cookie slicked with marmalade. It was a joy to break a bit of the surrounding chocolate spiral and eat it with a forkful of mousse and cookie. Please don’t utter the word Nutella!
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Jane Rosemarin]
Oat Milk Cappuccino at Peace Coffee
During our recent break from dairy, a barista at Peace Coffee recommended an oat milk cappuccino (Peace uses Oatly). Though skeptical, we took his suggestion. And it was damn good. Unlike watery dairy alternatives, oat milk is creamy, froths nicely, and blends really well with espresso. It has a pleasant, subtle oat flavor, but is otherwise neutral. While not as sweet as milk, it’s one hell of an alternative. Even though we’re back on dairy, we’re still ordering “oat caps.” (Tip: The Seward Co-op on 38th Street sells Oatly.)
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Joshua Page]
Roast Duck at Hip Sing BBQ
Our half Red Duck at Hip Sing arrived glistening, and it proved to be wonderfully tender, tasting like well-cooked dark chicken meat with a rich, earthy sauce that had traces of hoisin and soy. It was fatty; there were little bones; but who cares? This is pick-it-up-with-your-fingers-and-gnaw-to-your-heart’s-content meat.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a story by Amy Rea]
Somali Soup at O-City
The soup that started our recent East Lake Checklist visit to O-City was complicated enough that we could have broken it into three Hot Five items all by itself. First of all, it was a creamy take on vegetable soup — deeply (but not overwhelmingly) spicy-hot, comforting-but-not-boring. Second, with the addition of a squeeze of lime, it picks up a beautiful, bright, acid note that changes its character. And third, you can stir in some of the hot, hot, hot spicy green sauce that’s on your table and give it a roaringly fierce kick.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an upcoming East Lake Checklist by James Norton]
Ham and Gruyere Crepe at Penny’s Coffee
The Ham and Gruyere Crepe at Penny’s Coffee in downtown Minneapolis is a satisfying meal in an unlikely place. Located on the ground floor of a nondescript office building, Penny’s has a substantial menu in addition to premium coffee and pastries. The crepes are served with a frisée-and-herb salad, a crisp counterpoint to the creamy ham and cheese.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by Paige Latham Didora]