Sunday Suppers at The Bachelor Farmer, Lucia’s, and Meritage
In our household, Sunday evenings are mom’s (my) night off. The tradition started when my Baroque quintet held rehearsals on Sunday nights. Our family would go to Broders’ at opening time, and afterward I’d rush off to meet my fellow musicians. The dinner was a time to think about the past week and plan for the week ahead. We’ve kept up the tradition of dining out on Sundays even though my group has long since disbanded and our son has grown up and moved away.
Over the past few months, we’ve tried three restaurants that offer special menus, at special prices, on Sundays — The Bachelor Farmer, Lucia’s, and Meritage — and here is our report.
The Bachelor Farmer
50 N 2nd Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401; 612.206.3920
This winter, we stumbled upon The Bachelor Farmer’s Sunday supper. We adored the even friendlier than usual — and less frenetic — atmosphere and the family-style service. We ate first courses like triangles of wholegrain toast with a brilliant winter squash spread. This was followed by a main course, perhaps pork meatballs, or roast chicken, with lots of vegetables, accompanied by the most tender, buttery biscuits imaginable. And finally, there was dessert, usually a cake with a fruit element. All for a price in the low-$30 range. Did I mention an amuse bouche and chewy ginger cookies to take home?
The restaurant has switched things up recently. The suppers, and the families, are still there, but guests can order from the regular menu as well. The supper still offers three courses (for $34-$36), but dishes are plated individually, and only roast chicken is offered for the main course. And lamentably, last time we were there, the biscuits were gone. The atmosphere is still more laid back than on a typical night, but not as much as in the past. Our waitress said that the full menu was reinstated as an option because some patrons were not satisfied with the limited choice, but that the Sunday supper menu has its regulars.
The supper menu is still rather brilliant: After an amuse bouche of fresh potato chips with lemon-herb yogurt, our first course was a salad with a base of beef Carpaccio (beef is what Carpaccio is supposed to be but often isn’t) with greens, sliced kohlrabi, a fresh cheese mixed with horseradish, and pickled ramps. The contrasts — between the crisp kohlrabi and the soft cheese, and the sweet beef and sharp horseradish and ramps — were delightful, as was the variety of tastes on the plate.
The roast chicken was as it should be: tender within and crisp without. The carrots were sweet and tender, and the roll cut was decorative — and simply fun to bite into. The wild rice was heavy on the citrus, and it overbalanced the other more subtle flavors on the plate.
The restaurant’s usual wine service is available on Sundays: In addition to wines regularly sold by the glass or the bottle, if a party orders a half bottle (at half the full-bottle price), the rest of the bottle is made available by the glass, so there is an ever-changing assortment of wines to try.
Dessert was a delicious chocolate mousse topped with a film of chocolate sauce, a quenelle of whipped cream, and a perfectly caramelized almond florentine. And we were sent home with two beribboned bags of those chewy gingersnaps.
1428 W 31st St, Minneapolis, MN 55408; 612.825.9800
Lucia’s instituted a Sunday “date night” menu in January. The restaurant always has a warm, welcoming vibe, which is what we look for on a Sunday. The offering ($30) is generous. There is a choice of two dishes from the regular menu for each of the first two courses, and the full dessert tray is there to choose from at the end of the meal. Equally generous is the wine pairing option: For $10 you are served a wine with each course, including prosecco with dessert.
Since there were two of us, we tried everything, and our only complaint — if you could call it that — was that there was too much food. If we had ordered from the regular menu, also an option, we would have paid more, but had fewer leftovers to enjoy the next day.
Our dinner began with a seasonal mixed salad, an item always on the menu and always different. This time it had greens with roasted beets, radishes, quinoa, and pistachios in a citrus vinaigrette. Our other first course was butter-poached shrimp with heirloom-corn polenta and a salsa verde. The dish was topped with tiny, mild baby chives. Freshly-ground polenta, with its sweetness and the slight resistance to the tooth before the grain melts away is always a joy. The shrimp was properly cooked, and the herb sauce and fresh chives pulled the dish together with the right amount of brightness. The wine pairing for both first courses was a Côtes de Rhône rosé from La Ferme de Gicon.
One of the main course choices on the prix fixe menu is always vegetarian, and this time it was roasted squash pancakes. They were served with wild rice, Brussels sprouts, pepitas, a sage-raisin butter, and balsamic vinegar. It was pure comfort food. The pancakes had the sweet flavor of the winter squash of one’s dreams, but were not at all heavy or mushy. The caramelized Brussels sprouts offered a nice textural contrast as well as a bit of pungent sharpness. The other elements on the plate harmonized well.
Our second main course was braised bison with butterball potatoes, creamed kale, and pickled shallots. The bison, served in a single large chunk, was cooked slowly, in the manner of carnitas, until it almost fell apart and had acquired a rich depth of flavor. The vegetables were good accompaniments for a winter (which it was) night, and the contrast of the pickled shallots helped us to perceive the quieter flavors of the other elements. The main-course wine selection was a pinot grigio from Peter Zemmer in Alto Adige.
We never order two desserts at Lucia’s, but in the interest of research, and since they were included in the dinner, we did. Our first choice from the tray was a roasted grape tart with a light, buttery crust. It was topped with vanilla ice cream. The other was a lovely chocolate-pear tart. Underneath the pears was a crisp cookie crust and on top was a chocolate crumble. Crisp, soft, buttery, and peary, the tart was garnished with chai ice cream and drizzlings of chocolate sauce. With dessert we were served a Tiamo prosecco from the Veneto.
The restaurant, during Lucia Watson’s time, and since, has always had a good selection of moderately priced, delicious wines. As for the food, we felt that when Lucia first departed things took a small dip, but we have thoroughly enjoyed our more recent visits.
410 St. Peter St, St. Paul, MN 55102; 651.222.5670
Meritage offers a plat du jour. On other days this is a main course, but on Sundays it’s a three-course prix fixe dinner for $35.
The restaurant also serves its regular menu, and we saw many more tables with burgers, moules frites, or steak frites than with the Sunday supper. Indeed, the restaurant was its bright, lively self, just as it would be any day of the week. Our waiter told us that the number of people ordering the Sunday prix fixe varies from week to week. Maybe venison crépinettes (more on these below) were too adventurous for a Sunday evening?
Our meal began with a small bowl of pureed fennel soup garnished with fennel fronds and thinly sliced kumquats. It was a light, flavorful introduction.
We each wanted just a single glass of wine with our dinner, and the waiter offered to split two glasses so we’d have more variety. He suggested a Savoie-Abymes made from the jacquère grape ($8.50 per glass) to drink with our soup and a pinot meunier by Darling from the Pfalz region of Germany ($13 per glass) to accompany the main course. Meritage (whose name means a blended wine) clearly takes great care putting together its wine list, and many selections are both surprising and delicious.
Crépinettes are a classic French dish made of a coarse sausage mixture (pork or other meat) wrapped in caul fat, which is the lacy, fatty covering of a pig’s stomach. The fat helps the patty retain moisture as it melts away during cooking, leaving a crisp exterior.
The crépinette at Meritage was made with minced venison. It lacked the spices we expected (coriander, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, for example), but had a good amount of pepper. It was also quite salty and was served surprisingly rare. It was garnished with a fluted mushroom cap, a nice French touch we haven’t seen for a long time, and was paired with a sauce forestière, a classic French mushroom sauce. Broccolini and fingerling potatoes completed the course.
Dessert was a dense olive oil cake served with a sauce sabayon, a citrus caramel, and a blueberry salad.
While Meritage’s Sunday prix fixe evoked memories of bistro food in France, we felt we would have been happier ordering from the regular menu … the seafood, the chocolate mousse!
Hundreds of restaurants are open on Sundays in the Twin Cities, and many offer a less-bustling atmosphere, if not a special menu, and we’ve probably only scratched the surface. Here are some other spots offering a special menu; they were suggested by Heavy Table writers or culled from an article by Rick Nelson. If you have a favorite Sunday restaurant, please add a comment.
Cafe Levain. A three-course tasting menu for $30, with optional wine pairings for $15.
Haute Dish. When the restaurant was open on Sundays, it offered a vegetarian supper for $30. The special has been moved to Mondays.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Third Sundays of the month. A generous, family-style meal for $20. These sell out year round.
Marin Restaurant. Three courses for $25, and house wine for $12 a bottle.
Muffuletta. Three courses for $27.
Pittsburgh Blue. Fried chicken, coleslaw and corn for $10, with a 2-person minimum.
Rinata Restaurant. Sunday date night offers an antipasto, salad, entrée, and dessert for $20.