If you travel the 35W corridor north of Minneapolis and are on the lookout for a place to get a quick bite that doesn’t involve golden arches or maniacal kings, we have good news for you. Hop off at Highway 10 in Mounds View, and you’re only a minute away from Arepa Bite.
Oddly, it shares a parking lot with a Taco Bell, and it, too, is decorated in bright, cheerful colors. The comparison stops there, though. Arepa Bite is doing quick-service Venezuelan food using a method somewhat similar to that of Chipotle: There are precooked ingredients waiting to be assembled as you watch, although there are also menu items that are completely cooked to order. This quick-service trend is something we’ve been seeing more of lately (at places like Catrina’s). Arepa Bite’s menu focuses on arepas, which are little cooked cornmeal patties that are split open and made into a sandwich, and parrillas, food cooked on a grill (parilla in Spanish).
We tried some of each on a recent visit and were pleased with the results. The Pabellon Arepa ($7) had layers of shredded beef, black beans, white Cheddar, and fried plantains, served on a white-corn arepa. The meat was tender and juicy — indicating that it had not been sitting on the line for long — and had mild flavors of cumin and garlic nicely offset by the sweeter plantain. An accompanying “Venezuelan sauce,” which appeared to be similar to Mexican crema, had bright notes of parsley and cilantro and was as good on the arepa as it was as a dunking sauce for the mildly sweet Fried Yuca ($2.35).
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.
Spicy Tuna On Crispy Rice from PinKU
PinKU is one of our favorite new destinations, boasting beautifully prepared, simple Japanese-inspired dishes served up quickly from a super-focused menu. The Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice is a hallmark of the restaurant’s style — a dish of just a few elements, but deep and subtle in flavor and stunningly lovely in terms of the light, crispy texture of its rice.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by James Norton]
Babka Ring from Brake Bread
Brake Bread is doing some lovely work at its newly opened bricks-and-mortar location (which we reviewed here), and that extends into the realm of sweet baked treats like the babka. Beautifully layered and not overly sweet, and smitten generously with cinnamon, this is a perfect accompaniment to coffee and a newspaper, or whatever your favorite digital equivalent might be.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]
Plantains and Ice Cream at Jefe
A recent dessert at the newly opened Jefe was one of those transcendent moments. This dish ($7) was just salted caramel ice cream (granted, from Sebastian Joe’s), sweetened condensed milk, and roasted plantains, but somehow the combination of caramel (in both the caramelized plantains and the ice cream), salt, and the dairy of the milk and ice cream made it a perfectly harmonious jam session.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted from a review by James Norton]
Maitrise Imperial Farmhouse Ale from Fulton Brewing
The Imperial Farmhouse style was a new one for us, and we were intrigued by the suggested contradiction — an easygoing, everyday nature crossbred with regal power and bearing. But all is explained after a few sips. The rustic approachability of a farmhouse ale is definitely present, but the volume’s turned up, and this 9.5 percent ABV brew packs a bold, bright mango and pineapple booze-bomb of initial flavor tempered by a sweet, almost mild finish that lingers without fading. It’s an aftertaste with depth that you can pleasantly chew your way through.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Asam Laksa from Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine
A friend returning from Malaysia to New York City tipped us off to this dish. He noticed that he couldn’t get it in NYC, but that Peninsula was serving it in Minneapolis. Populated by fat, short rice noodles, boldly flavored anchovies, a light broth, and a level of spicy and sour flavor that puts it on the extreme end of local soups, Asam Laksa is a pleasant kick in the head, a whole lot of flavor packed into a compact little container.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
On July 16, a Foraged Feast was held for the benefit of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. The event was just as much a victory lap as it was a fundraiser: A petition to prevent sulfide-ore copper mining by Twin Metals (the Minnesota branch of a Chilean mining concern) in the watershed that contains the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wildereness garnered 67,000 signatures in just 30 days, exceeding the expectations of the campaign, which seeks to preserve one of Minnesota’s most celebrated natural sites for future generations.
The feast was held at the Hawkins Family Conservation Farm on Amelia Lake in Lino Lakes. Purchased by Art and Betty Hawkins in the mid-1950s, the land, which had held a small decrepit dairy farm, was restored to native prairie grasses and forest. Art Hawkins, who died in 2006, was a student of Aldo Leopold at the University of Wisconsin, and he was a pioneering conservationist in his own right through his life’s work as a wildfowl manager and researcher at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Hawkins’ daughter, Amy Donlin, hosted the event at her home on the farm. Donlin’s daughter Piper Hawkins-Donlin, a staffer for Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, organized the event. For the Hawkins family, conservation is a matter of heritage. And so it was for most of the attendees.
The evening started with cocktails prepared by Deb Gallop (former director of the Wargo Nature Center, master gardener, and forager) and hors d’oeuvres prepared by Gallop and Lukas Leaf, the former chef at Al Vento in Minneapolis. In keeping with the foraged theme, Gallop prepared a tincture for each of the two cocktails on offer using lilac flowers and elderberries. The drinks were garnished with black raspberries from the farm. The lilac cocktail was well balanced, floral, and fruity. The elderberry cocktail must have been good too, because by the second round (delayed for this guest by conversation and the aforementioned hors d’oeuvres), it had disappeared.
Picked fiddlehead ferns, labneh, and a smoked lake trout spread made by Gallop were highlights of the hors d’oeuvres and hinted at the foraged delicacies to come once we adjourned for dinner to the long white table nestled in a narrow clearing between the forest and the restored prairie grass.
Dinner opened with a duo of chanterelle mushroom dishes: crostini and soup. Both the charred bread with meaty mushrooms and the lemon-scented, richly creamy soup paired well with a stony Château de Chamilly Côte Chalonnaise pinot noir. Leaf said that he finds the best mushrooms in wildlife management areas, which are open to the public for recreational (and hunting and foraging) use.
Sushi of Gari is a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant in New York City. The genius of the place is simple: fresh, high-quality fish reigns supreme (as it should), but everything you eat is given a little bit of a twist. That could mean a slight searing of the fish, a brushing with ponzu or another such house-made sauce, and / or a sprinkling with a few choice but important condiments or fixings. None of the nigiri or sashimi pieces seem “ordinary,” but neither do they feel overdressed or drowned by their accompaniments.
It’s that exact sense of “tastefully dressed up” that dominates the food at PinKU, a newly opened Japanese restaurant celebrated for its appearance on TV’s Shark Tank. Our Seared Salmon with Rice Cake ($5.50) is nigiri with an extra bit of color, texture, and flavor thanks to the application of a blow torch’s flame. On our second visit, this dish was quite good. On our first visit (thanks to a less rushed staff, perhaps, or a more deft hand on the torch), it was spectacular, worthy of any bite we’ve tasted anywhere.
And our Spicy Tuna on Crispy Rice ($6) was distinguished (on both visits) by the lovely, intense crispiness of the supporting rice cake complementing the tenderness of the fish. It’s such a simple thing, but it wouldn’t be easy to pull off at home. And it’s the kind of thing that sticks in your memory and makes you crave another hit — and another, and another.
This week in the Tap: Restaurant formats that are killing it in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro right now.
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.
Restaurant Formats That Work
Format alone does not a winning restaurant make. You need the right location, the right staff, and sometimes the right lightning strike of good fortune to set everything in motion. Still, we’ve noticed a trend in formats that seem to be catching hold and enriching our scene in the process. They include:
1) Streamlined Menus
Having a streamlined menu is a surprisingly difficult challenge: You need to edit. Human beings hate to edit.
And it’s not merely a matter of limiting choices, but of making sure they’re all good and are — more importantly — good values. Cocktail rooms, food trucks, taprooms, and new places like PinKU and Moroccan Flavors all have this in common: your choice is restricted, but you know that whatever you get will be good.
Incidentally, this type of place — not restaurants with three Michelin stars — is the thing I miss most about the New York dining scene. The ideal is a busy, closet-sized restaurant with a menu that you can fit on a business card … but everything you order will be smart, delicious, and at a reasonable cost for the flavor.
2) Food with Soul
Think Southern food, fried chicken, soul food. It’s no coincidence that Revival is both expanding its original location and opening a second location, and that the Travail team is opening up a barbecue place. There’s a hunger for food that’s done well but tastes “real” — food that’s delicious, rooted in tradition, and a palpably good value. A perfectly natural reaction to the simultaneous, and we suspect fleeting, explosion in gluten-free bowls, $9 smoothies, and ancient grains.
For that matter, other classic formats — drive-ins, supper clubs, fish-and-chips joints — stand a good chance of connecting if they’re done with passion and focus.
3) Customer-Driven Menus
AKA “our previous edition of the Tap,” see also “the Chioptlification of local food.” Take a sometimes challenging cuisine or concept, bowl it down to a few simple-to-grasp formats (wrap, bowl, salad, etc.), and let customers guide the fixin’s and sauces. From One Two Three Sushi to Catrina’s, there is good reason this trend is taking off.
4) Upscale Downscale Italian Food
He or she who can craft an excellent but still welcoming pizzeria (here we’re thinking about Hello Pizza or Black Sheep) or a red-sauce Italian joint with class and culinary chops (Mucci’s and Italian Eatery) will build a truly viable business. We all miss eating like this, but would like to do it at a higher level than we generally did in the ’70s and ’80s. So: same classic dishes and flavors, but better ingredients and more focused chefs.
5) Serious Ice Cream
Milkjam is the obvious leader on this front, but La La Homemade Ice Cream is opening in Uptown, Sweet Science has been killing it for a while, and Surdyk’s is now offering house-made ice cream, too. Ice cream’s an indulgence, and it should taste like Pavarotti from Sebastian Joe’s or Black from Milkjam rather than, well, anything from Dairy Queen. — James Norton
- World of Beer, 356 N Sibley St, St. Paul | 2016 | Part of a chain including locations in Wauwatosa and Appleton, Wis., and Naperville, Ill.
- Lu’s Sandwiches, 10 6th St NE, Minneapolis | The second location of this “small menu” banh mi spot.
- Blackeye Roasting Company, 3740 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis | An 18-seat cafe located in the Minneapolis skyway — with 10 tap lines of nonalcoholic beverages that include nitro cold brew coffee, nitro iced tea, kombucha, and draft cocktails — is coming later this summer.
- Town Talk Diner and Gastropub, 2707 E Lake St, Minneapolis | Replacing the recently shuttered Le Town Talk. French is out, “American bistro” is in.
- Costa Blanca Bistro, 2416 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | The latest spot from the opening-restaurants-like-crazy Hector Ruiz.
- Lawless Distilling, 2619 28th Ave S, Minneapolis | Our visit detailed here.
- The Howe Daily Kitchen & Bar, 3675 Minnehaha Ave, Minneapolis | A complete overhaul and relaunch of the former Rail Station. We’ve got a review in the works.
- Silhouette Bakery and Bistro, 383 University Ave W, St. Paul | Rice bowls and tacos, plus some cute-looking cakes.
- Bonicelli Kitchen, 1839 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | Patio space open Wednesday through Saturday in the former Razaaq space on Central Avenue.
- DiNoko’s Pizzeria, 4457 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis | A consolidation appears to be in progress: The briefly open Nicollet Avenue location of DiNoko’s is closed, but the long-delayed 42nd Avenue location is now open.
- Up-Down Arcade, 3012 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis | Pizza and video games, hard to top that. We’ve got a review in the works.
- Xavi Restaurant, 5607 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis (former First Course space) | The crudo dream lives on!
- The Brakery, 1174 W 7th St, St. Paul | Bakery by the bicycle powered bread team of Brake Bread. Read our brief review.
- Wayzata Brew Works, 294 Grove Lane E, Suite 150, Wayzata