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]
Pepitos and the Parkway Theater have been acquired by two local investors, who have announced that El Burrito Mercado will be taking over the Pepitos restaurant space. The new restaurant, to be called El Burrito Minneapolis, is targeting a June 2018 opening date. Press release follows:
Pepitos and Parkway Theater Acquired, New Restaurant Tenant Announced
MINNEAPOLIS, MN, February 14, 2018 Pepitos restaurant and the Parkway Theater, two popular institutions located in the Northrop neighborhood of South Minneapolis, have been officially acquired and are scheduled to re-open in June 2018. Pepitos Mexican Restaurant, located on the 48th Street block of Chicago Avenue South, enjoyed a long and revered 46 year-run as a fixture in the neighborhood under the ownership of Joe Minjares, who also owned and operated the adjacent Parkway Theater. Due to a serious illness, Minjares had to close Pepitos Restaurant at the end of 2017, though its nearby deli on Nicollet and 46th Street remains.
Enter local investor/entrepreneurs Ward Johnson and Eddie Landenberger, who live in the neighborhood and saw the potential to renovate both the restaurant and theater, in an effort to bring new life into these two establishments. Both Johnson and Landenberger are longtime fans of Pepitos, and Johnson, in particular, has a special connection to Pepitos. “My wife and I had our first date at Pepitos. And fittingly in 2001 it’s where I proposed,” said Johnson.
After an extensive remodel, Johnson and Landenberger will continue to run the theater as a classic/indie movie and live performance venue. “Our goal is to restore the Parkway Theater to its former glory and bring new energy to the space through renovation, curated movie and speaker series, contemporary chamber music and more,” says Landenberger, a veteran of neighborhood redevelopment projects in South Minneapolis.
As for the restaurant, the pair found another family-owned, neighborhood institution to take over operations. El Burrito Mercado, a fixture in St. Paul’s West Side for 36 years, will open El Burrito Minneapolis in the space formerly occupied by Pepito’s. El Burrito Mercado is led and operated by Milissa Silva-Diaz together with her sister and niece, which makes it a 100% women-owned Latina business. Fittingly, according to Silva-Diaz, the bar portion of the restaurant will carry a theme featuring prominent Latina entertainers, artists, and influential women. Like it’s St. Paul counterpart, El Burrito Minneapolis will feature an award-winning menu of authentic Mexican cuisine, a take-out deli, as well as their popular tamale-making classes.
Minjares, for his part, is happy to be handing off the torch to people with deep connections to the neighborhood, and to his restaurant. “It’s bittersweet to say goodbye,” says Minjares. “But I feel like I’m leaving things in good hands, and there’s a bit of serendipity to be handing over the reins of the restaurant to another family-owned Mexican restaurant with a long history in the Twin Cities.”
Plans for the renovation of the Parkway Theater and the opening of El Burrito Minneapolis are pending approval of all necessary plans, permits, and liquor licenses.
When polka-bar institution Nye’s Polonaise Room announced plans to close in 2016, the outcry was widespread. The drive to build condos in the budding neighborhood was unstoppable, and no business was sacred, even after 66 years of success.
It came as a surprise to many when Nye’s owners, Rob and Tony Jacob, announced that they had plans to reopen once the mixed-purpose building was erected. The smaller space, which occupies just the corner rather than the block, opened a few weeks ago. Some felt betrayed — that the goodbye wasn’t authentic — but one thing is clear: It’s not the same.
And the new Nye’s Bar isn’t trying to be. Red velvet ropes are present outside the entrance, and the waitstaff looks like it belongs at Seven Steakhouse, across the river. Instead of polka entertainment, there’s a piano, though during our visit all was silent. The lighting and seating appear to be a nod to the classic, but little else is reminiscent of the Polonaise Room.
The straightforward cocktail menu contains a combination of classics and variations on the same. The prices fall close to those at other Minneapolis cocktail bars, but overall the cocktails pack less of a punch.
The Old Fashioned ($10), made with whiskey (brandy upon request), sugar cube, bitters, ginger ale, soda, and orange, plus a cherry garnish, was weak and bland. While most takes on this classic tend to be spirit-forward, this version tasted watered down, as though the ice had melted immediately. The addition of ginger ale and soda should have been a clue, but it was worse than anticipated. Not only was the whiskey almost lost, the other flavors were attenuated, too.
More successful was the Iron Butterfly ($12), a twist on a White Russian made with Bailey’s, Kahlúa, and New Amsterdam vodka. There was a pleasant and pronounced nutty undertone, perhaps from an unlisted ingredient (or the Kahlúa), that added to the intrigue of this mix. While the spirits were not particularly potent, the balance of ingredients was good, and the sweetness wasn’t overpowering.
Finally, the Manhattan ($10) was an undrinkable flop. The vermouth was so heavy-handed that the whiskey and cherry took a backseat, and a potent chalklike astringency took hold. It’s possible that the bottle was oxidized or unrefrigerated as the unpleasantness was significant.
We felt ourselves glancing up at a mural of the old facade, which blankets one brick wall, concentrating hopefully, as though it was a Magic Eye capable of coming to life. While we have fond memories of the cocktails at the original, this new version of Nye’s combines the quality of mixed drinks found at a neighborhood dive bar with the stuffy, impersonal service of a club. It lacks the buoyant kitsch and authenticity (not to mention food — there’s now none) of the original, while overpromising through ambiance and price point.
For lovers of the Polonaise original, it may be best to regard Nye’s as gone, because, in all practicality, it is. This misguided attempt at a revival feels like a poor movie sequel no one asked for that threatens to taint affection for the original.
Nye’s Bar, 112 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414; 612.236.4854