Welcome to the Twin Cities! Don’t know where to find interesting, high quality food and drink? Whether you’re looking to splurge or eat on the cheap, we’ve got you covered. Looking to drink killer cocktails and treat a hangover the next morning? No problem. Want to know where the locals get their doughnuts, sausage, tacos, and coffee? You’ve come to the right site.
The guide is a collection of places our contributors take out-of-towners (or suggest others take visitors). It’s not a “best-of” list. It’s also not comprehensive. To keep the guide from getting unwieldy, we limited the number of categories and suggestions within each category. Therefore, there are numerous places that we love that didn’t make it into the guide. If you asked us where to eat, drink, and hang out, this is what we’d tell you (and then we’d list a bunch of back-up spots). Together, the interactive map (posted at the end of this article), the list, and the corresponding Foursquare list will help you plan your gastronomic tour of the Twin Cities.
After considering feedback on last year’s inaugural guide, we decided to split the document into two parts, one for each of the Twin Cities. We published the St. Paul guide last month, and now bring you the Minneapolis version. To avoid duplication, we have not included restaurants on the St. Paul list that have Minneapolis locations: Black Sheep Pizza, Brasa, and Colossal Cafe.
Locals: Along with using the guide and sending it to folks visiting town, we hope you will add your recommendations in the comments section (and tell us why our suggestions are completely off base). We update the guide annually, so your feedback helps us improve the document as well as provide out-of-towners with additional suggestions.
The Central European vibe at Brasserie Zentral is unlike that at just about any other place in town. The white-tablecloth atmosphere is welcoming without being fussy, and “fancy” in the best possible meaning of the word. Dishes are made with impeccable consistency using top-notch ingredients. At Zentral, the fine cuisine of Vienna meets the country charm of Hungarian folk dishes and Jewish heritage food, and the foie gras menu is long and lovely.
A sunlight-infused casual spot just off the north end of Lake of the Isles, The Kenwood features seasonal fare that’s approachable, elegant, and often playful. Along with lunch and dinner, The Kenwood serves a full brunch every day, with a range of beautifully executed classic egg dishes as well as more Midwestern-inflected options.
For a pork-forward, impeccably executed, disarmingly comfortable taste of the Upper Midwest by way of the mid-South, a meal at Corner Table is the way to go. The restaurant’s sourcing and technique are both killer, and the ever-changing menu has a host of twists and surprises that make every visit a rewarding adventure.
The brainchild of chef-owner Gavin Kaysen, Spoon and Stable is at the leading edge of what we might think of as “comfortable fine dining.” The food isn’t flashy — there aren’t bells and whistles, meat glue, or liquid nitrogen. But it is precise, beautiful, and delicious. Spoon and Stable’s desserts — the handiwork of pastry chef Diane Yang — are exquisite, and the beverage program is first rate. The restaurant also boasts one of the more popular and well-regarded brunches in the Twin Cities.
The restaurant that drew national attention for capitalizing on a “new Nordic” trend has created a nice niche for itself in the Twin Cities. Owned by Target heirs Eric and Andrew Dayton, the space feels like a slightly fancy, modern take on an old-fashioned, imagined Scandinavian heartland. And the food doesn’t disappoint — don’t miss the shareable toasts, which arrive on a tiered silver tray and feature flavors like lox and steak tartare. Make an evening of it: Head downstairs before or after your meal for cocktails in the living-room-esque Marvel Bar. If you’re in town in mid-August, don’t miss The Bachelor Farmer’s rendition of kräftskiva, a Swedish crayfish festival — it’s a fun event replete with local music, boozy snowcones (aquavit luge, anyone?), and of course crayfish.
With inventive food, funky style, and good cheer, this restaurant exemplifies the Lyndale-Lake neighborhood. Skillfully blending creativity and restraint, chef Jim Christiansen delivers interesting, high-quality, tasty creations. And the desserts are some of the most inventive and scrumptious the area has to offer.
Combining non-traditional ingredients, flavors, and techniques, Chef Doug Flicker puts out unique, addictive fare. Take Piccolo’s signature dish, “Scrambled brown eggs with pickled pig’s feet, truffle butter and Parmigiano.” It may sound strange, but the flavors and textures work brilliantly. The five-course tasting menu ($59) is a great way to sample Flicker’s creations. This is the spot for adventurous, super high quality food in a casual atmosphere.
Well-executed, seasonally-driven three-course tasting menus are the name of the game here. There is almost nothing about Alma that’s flashy — in fact, it’s so unassuming you’ll probably drive right by. Sometimes a low-key, unpretentious evening of fine dining — one where you can hear your companion(s) talk, and hear yourself think — is just what the doctor ordered, and Alma’s the place to go. If you’re looking for something a bit more everyday, check out chef / owner Alex Roberts’ other restaurant, Brasa Premium Rotisserie, for a killer pork sandwich and yuca fries.
The smart new-Mediterranean food of Saffron combines Middle Eastern flavor with an cosmopolitan attention to detail and technique, and the result is some of the area’s most stunning food — both in terms of appearance and flavor. This is a place where you can have a beautifully crafted cocktail and journey somewhere new via the magic of a creative menu.
[Editors’ Note: Broders is less expensive than the other restaurants in this category, but meals at Terzo tend to fall into “splurge” territory.]
Broders’ consistently kicks out perfectly cooked, seasonally sauced housemade pasta. Whether you’re snuggled with your sweetie at the bar with a couple glasses of wine and a piece of Bestia Nera flourless chocolate cake or at a table passing plates of pasta and risotto to share among friends, Broders’ knows how many of us at the Heavy Table like to eat — good, unpretentious food at reasonable prices, and a great wine list to boot. We’re also huge fans of the Broder family’s wine bar, Terzo, located across the street from the pasta bar. Porchetta sandwiches (also served through a window facing the parking lot during the day), thoughtful small plates, top-notch entrees (especially the branzino), and a wine program (that slants toward Northern Italy) are all dynamite.
The little sibling of Corner Table (see above), Revival offers amazing Southern fare. It’s rightly known for fried chicken with exceptionally moist and tender meat and gorgeously crispy skin. But it’s not just a chicken joint. The cheeseburger is one of the best in the Twin Cities, and sides like fried green tomatoes, collard greens, and hush puppies are delicious. And if banana pie is on the menu, get it!
Looking for traditional Korean food? Head elsewhere. You won’t see the standard bulgogi / bibimbap / soondobu / japchae formula here. But if you’re craving a good, decidedly boozy drink and gastropub fare beyond the usual fried whatever, this place will be your jam. As a second-generation Korean-American hailing from LA, chef / owner Thomas Kim grew up with his mom’s cooking, but he draws from his experience working with Roy Choi and others to create his own spin on food. This results in things like kimchi-and-curry gravy-slathered poutine, truly addictive Brussels sprouts, and rice bowls loaded with things like soft-shell crab and habanero oyster sauce. Arrive early enough to explore the other shops in the Midtown Global Market, then lose track of time in one of the dark pojangmacha-styled booths and hang out late into the night.
Adam Gorski strides into the La Belle Vie lounge clutching a large hacksaw, which raises a question: Why is the newly minted Creative Lead of the James Beard Award-winning restaurant’s bar program armed like an extra in The Great Escape? “I’m working on my day off,” he says. Two dimples make a brief appearance. It seems that the behind-the-bar mats are a little bit larger than ideal. It’s just one of the subtle changes that Gorski and the staff are making as the bar inside the renowned restaurant moves into a new era. The food is as flawless as ever and now the cocktail list is striving to incorporate some of the long-time customers’ favorites with new and seasonally-influenced flavors.
For the time being, he sets aside the heavy armament and sets about mixing a crush of raspberries, Pimm’s (the herbal English liqueur), Letherbee’s gin, lemon juice, and black pepper simple syrup into a drink he’s calling Jonny Law. “[This is] named for Jon Lawson of Eat Street Social,” Gorski said. “He was making a variation on a Pimm’s Cup one day and threatened to name it after me.” The logical next step is to make a Pimm’s Cup variation of his own and name it after his friend and former coworker.
Gorski lands at La Belle Vie after a string of turns at some of the best cocktail-proving grounds in the Twin Cities, but his goal had never been to become a bartender. While growing up in Plymouth, his first job in the hospitality industry was working as a server at The Original Pancake House. “And I spent about a minute at a Caribou,” he said. As graduation approached and his parents began to wonder ever-more-loudly about his college ambitions, Gorski decided to follow a chef friend’s path and enrolled in culinary school.
While studying he began working at Sea Salt Eatery when it first opened. “That was like a family,” he said. “I spent four seasons there.” In the off season (aka most of the year) he would find other work to piece together. When an opportunity to try his luck in California came up, he packed a bag and headed for the coast.
The Kickstarter explosion continues, and Travail’s on the cutting edge: Their new, larger space was fully funded ($136.3K / $75K) within the first six hours of posting and continues to pull in pledges à la Veronica Mars (if you donated, they made this quirky-cute thank-you dance party video just for you). Also en route to succeed: The Rabbit Hole ($9.6K / $10K), the Left Handed Cook’s swankier, “travel adventure” sibling, and — with two weeks to go — the sustainably powered Redhead Creamery ($23.8K / $35K) (read our profile here). Not funded through Kickstarter: Newcomer Bang Brewing Company just opened their tap room along the central corridor in St. Paul last weekend. And the brand-new Torpedo Room at Eat Street Social has been a trendy stop: Joy Summers and the guys at the Well Fed Guide to Life each weigh in (here’s our take).
The Torpedo Room is now open to challenge these assumptions. The newly christened Polynesian annex of Eat Street Social is confronting the novelty of tiki drinks head-on, by interpreting what the style means in the context of South Minneapolis.
Barman Nick Kosevich (above, right) designed the drinks with Bittercube partner Ira Koplowitz and the Eat Street staff, including Marco Zappia (above, left). “It’s exciting for us, to reopen this world of cocktails to Bittercube and Eat Street, the idea of making them our way,” he says. “We are about rustic and classic cocktails, we want to be rustic in tiki as well.”
The concept was slated to debut on their patio earlier this summer, but instead fills the existing barroom on the restaurant’s right flank. They’re saving the patio, perhaps to institute a different concept next summer (we hear a boozy malt shop and soda fountain is on the potential short list).
The Torpedo Room’s tiki atmosphere is understated, to great effect. Just a few high-backed rattan chairs, a marlin on the wall, and a grass roof over the bar is enough to relate the idea of tiki without laying it on too thick. Overall, they’ve avoided the stereotypical trappings of tiki, except for six Sno-Cones ($4) that wear kitsch with confidence.
The best of the bunch is the Julep — a drink usually made with finely crushed ice, so a natural fit for a sno-cone. The two other standouts contained cream, adding richness against Cognac and almond syrup in the Nectar and swirled with orange liqueur in the Dreamsicle. The sno-cones can also be made non-alcoholic ($3, keiki-style).
They call the rest of their new cocktail list “Minnesota exotic” — riffs on classic tiki drinks that pay homage to the Midwest. We expected the Torpedo Room’s drinks to showcase Bittercube’s usual aplomb, but to make sure, we decided to drink everything on the menu, because we’re nothing if not thorough. Hypothesis: confirmed. These are complex, thoughtful drinks that hit all the right tiki notes but ascend past one-dimensional fruitiness.
It’s evident in the Royal Hawaiian Number Pine($13), a drink that came together when Zappia misread Kosevich’s notes, mistaking pineapple juice for pine liqueur. “And it was amazing,” says Kosevich. “This is a classic gin tiki drink, The Royal Hawaiian, but we’ve added Zirbenz pine liqueur to it.” The pine and citrus are an uplifting presence with the gin’s botanicals, a distinct touch on a smart cocktail.
A similar reinvention is theCorn Tiki($12), the magnum opus of the program according to Kosevich. It’s a variation on the Painkiller cocktail, swapping the coconut cream for a sweet corn cream, and mulled apple cider instead of pineapple and orange juice.
The sight of the Corn Tiki, served in a massive jug of ice topped with a navy grog cone, made our tasting group howl, one of whom termed the drink “stupid awesome.” It’s as satisfying to drink as it is ridiculous to look at, with a luscious sweet corn flavor — creamy but not thick — and shaved spices adding some nice warmth to the aftertaste.
For the drinks a little closer to what you’d consider classic tiki, start with the Daily Grog($6): a delightful demitasse of their punch du jour. We got one with rum, kaffir lime, orgeat syrup, blackstrap bitters, and garnished with a filthy black cherry.
Then move on to The Sun Had A Name($12). Whiskey isn’t prevalent in the tiki world, but it makes such a natural ally with pineapple juice (ever had an Algonquin cocktail?). Here they meld into a bright, fruity pair one of our tasters said gave off a “Long Island Iced Tea vibe”.
“I fell in love with daiquiris, and rhum agricole, which is 100% crushed sugar cane juice, how funky it was, ripe and beautiful,” says Zappia, on the Pleasure Hunter($11). “I wanted to separate all the ingredients to keep the mouthfeel different.” Here, the rum and citrus mingle on the bottom, while an Americano foam rests on top. On the palate, the spirit’s sting trickles into the creamy foam like a wolf donning a wool jacket.
The best drinks for something more spirit-driven feature White Lion Arrack from Sri Lanka. “We love this product, there’s no other product like it in the state of Minnesota,” says Kosevich. “It’s a great rum substitute, it’s a great conversation piece.”
It gives the Bamboo Banga($10) quite a kick. “There aren’t many stirred-spirit drinks in tiki,” says Kosevich, “so the idea for the Bamboo Banga was, we’re going to take this unique spirit and we’re going to make basically our tiki Old Fashioned.” And like the Old Fashioned at the main bar, it’s batched and portioned to individual bottles for uniform, efficient service.
The arrack gets finished with the smokiness of a reposado mescal. It’s pungent and assertive — it’s the tiki drink for the peat-heavy Scotch drinker. The Corn n’ Oil($11) is similarly husky, featuring Gamle Ode Holiday Aquavit, house made falernum, lime, bitters, and a float of Gosling’s rum. It’s a biting, fiery drink, seen coming together in this wonderful .gif.
A Polynesian menu has debuted alongside the tiki drinks (we showed up too early to get a look at it). The Torpedo room is another strong effort by Eat Street and Bittercube. We worry about how inviting it will seem once the snow starts falling, but it’s great to know the fine cocktails in the tiki oeuvre aren’t going unexplored here any longer.
Eat Street Social‘s tiki-themed Torpedo Room opened last night; we’ll have a story by John Garland about it posted on the site in the next few days. Above: Bartender Nick Kosevich looks on as Marco Zappia gives a fiery spritz to the Corn n’ Oil, made with Gamle Ode Holiday Aquavit, house-made falernum, lime, and a float of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum.
Readers: Win a Heavy Table pint glass by contributing to The Toast!
Got a cocktail recipe we should test out? Snap a good pic at a Beer Dabbler event? Know of a killer happy hour? Are you a bartender with a good anecdote? Email Toast Editor John Garland at email@example.com and let us know what you’re toasting around town. Each month our favorite submission will receive a Heavy Table pint glass and may be featured in the next Toast!
Cheers to… Spring! In this installment, we mix springtime cocktails with Gamle Ode and Nick Kosevich at Eat Street Social, host a regional spirits tasting, and look forward to more Bad Weather. Be sure to let us know what you’re toasting! Email or tweet us anytime. Salut!
March Reader Submission: The guys over at Brewtoad alerted us to an eye-opening experiment for learning hop flavors by dry-hopping Bud Light (we will be doing this immediately).
You may have become intrigued by our coverage of regionally produced spirits in the last few months. Or you may just be the kind of person that enjoys a good spirit tasting. Either way, join The Heavy Table this Saturday at Elevated BWS in South Minneapolis for a tasting of regional booze. It’ll be very casual, no tickets or RSVPs, just a bunch of good bottles to sample and some friendly conversation.
Ryan Brown from 45th Parallel Spirits in New Richmond, WI, will be on hand to answer questions as we taste their 45th Parallel Vodka, Border Bourbon, and New Richmond Rye. Our friends at Elevated also plan to open some Death’s Door Vodka and Gin, Minnesota’s own Panther Distillery Whitewater Whiskey, and Templeton Rye to round out a great selection for the afternoon.
Ode to Joy
We like Gamle Ode Aquavit not only because it’s local — though it’s sure great having Mike McCarron (above, bottom left) at our North Coast Noshes — but because it’s a truly unique spirit. Well, it’s not so unique anymore because he’s releasing the second (and third!) iterations of the spirit this year.
We met up at Eat Street Social last week to watch barman extraordinaire Nick Kosevich (above, top right) show us his mastery of these Scandinavian-inspired spirits. “To find Nick has been a godsend,” McCarron says. “It’s a new flavor. People wouldn’t necessarily be able to take their favorite Manhattan recipe and adapt it to aquavit. It needed someone with craftsmanship.”
He contracted Bittercube* to develop a range of recipes for his aquavits, some of which have found their way to Eat Street’s menu. “The Gamle Ode Aquavits are a mysterious flavor,” says Kosevich. “Using these products, we’re able to give people totally new drinks they’ve never experienced.”
Like, have you ever thought to make an Old Fashioned with a clear spirit? Kosevich reminds us that the original recipe simply called for spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. In fact, he uses the Old Fashioned formula as a way to understand a new spirit — to see how it takes to dilution and sweetening — as a litmus test before creating more complicated drinks.
Gamle Ode Old Fashioned (pictured, below)
2 oz Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit
.25 oz simple syrup
2 droppers Bittercube Bolivar bitters
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a lowball with fresh ice. Employ a large swath of citrus for a garnish.
His new aquavit iteration is called “Holiday.” It’s inspired by the rarely-exported Danish yuletide aquavits and contains the same three botanicals as the original (dill, juniper, and caraway) but in a more balanced manner. Holiday also features some spearmint, allspice, and orange peel in its blend, and then receives six months’ age in Sherry barrels McCarron tracked down from Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings. Whereas the original spirit is dominated by a piercing herbal flavor, the Holiday formulation is more rounded and nuanced. It also makes a spectacular substitute for gin in a Negroni:
1.5 oz Gamle Ode Holiday Aquavit
1 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
.5 oz Aperol
1 dropper Bittercube Orange bitters
Stir with ice until cold, strain, and serve neat with orange zest garnish.
The Holiday Aquavit should be making its way out to stores in the coming weeks. McCarron’s third release, a “Celebration” Aquavit, will feature a similar spice blend with coriander, anise, and a blend of citrus all in play. Half the product will be aged in wine barrels, the other half in bourbon barrels, and then mixed about 50 / 50 to make the final product.
“We’ll be using the Celebration outside in our tiki bar,” Kosevich hints with a smile. Open hopefully by June, Eat Street’s patio tiki bar will feature a completely separate menu for food and drink. “[Celebration] has more vibrant, citrus notes from the botanical structure. It’s going to be interesting to make classic tiki drinks using, essentially, a dill spirit. Yeah, we’re going to crush tiki.”
*corrected April 8, 2013 to better reflect the nature of their business agreement
Bad Weather Rising
One of the biggest hurdles for amateurs who get into commercial brewing is proper equipment use. Once they’ve scaled up their homebrew recipes (also not that easy), it takes time to understand how to best (and consistently) produce the brew in a large setup.
This is one problem the new Bad Weather Brewing will not have. Zac Carpenter spent last summer brewing at the Lucid brewery in Minnetonka to fulfill the apprenticeship requirement of his study with the American Brewers Guild. Bad Weather’s co-founder and Siebel Institute graduate Joe Giambruno also knew Lucid from having made early inquiries about a spot in their alternating-proprietorship arrangement.
Now, they’ve moved in. They’re the second company to start alt-prop brewing at Lucid (Badger Hill Brewing was the first), with Carpenter producing his own brews on equipment he’s intimately familiar with. In turn, the ever more crowded brewery is expanding production: two new fermenters and another bright tank look to increase total capacity by about 50 percent.
Bad Weather named their company in honor of the conditions under which they were usually allowed to homebrew. Now, they’ll further embrace seasonality by brewing only one year-round beer and focusing the rest of their output on more weather-appropriate suds.”We’re not too concerned with styles,” says Carpenter. “We want people to come in to this great Minnesota brewing culture and taste some things they can’t get anywhere else.”
Their year-round flagship is called Windvane (label art, above), which debuted two weeks ago to an enthusiastic crowd at Republic Uptown. They deem it a “Minnesota Red Ale” and we’d call it favorably comparable to Steel Toe’s Rainmaker. It’s a full-flavored brew with a complex malt backbone to support a hefty amount of hops. “It’s a melding of everything I love about beer,” says Carpenter. “There’s roasted malt in there, some caramel malt, a combination of base malts — two-row and some Irish — and also some rye.”
They brewed only a small run of their winter seasonal, a dark and spicy monster named Ominous. Their spring beer, Migration, will enjoy a full release in the coming weeks. “Migration is one of my recipes, something you can guzzle down but that’ll have some flavor,” says Giambruno. “It started out as a Kolsch, and it has sort of retained the malt bill and hops, though the yeast is different. We settled on rose hips as a fun addition, which gives it a nice floral bouquet.”
Giambruno is also responsible for some rather meta branding. An ornithologist by study, he directed Migration’s label (below) to feature cedar waxwings that are known to eat rose hips.
Plan to see Bad Weather six-packs hit stores sometime during the summer (another nice benefit of the alt-prop setup, having a bottling line at the ready) and growlers soon at the brewery.
It’s safe to say that the cocktail has never enjoyed a finer hour. At any bar of note, it’s possible to find the classics re-jiggered with local spirits, house-made bitters, and a macerated fruit. There are new drinks too: some refined, some haphazard, all featuring an infusion of plants we previously thought poisonous, herby simple syrups, rich foams, a dollop of cream, or a few dots of brilliant, chartreuse oil. The mixologists are having their heyday, and we are all the happy beneficiaries.
Unless of course you do not drink alcohol, and then you may feel all but left out of this period of madcap invention. Although most bartenders will happily create something on the fly, relatively few offer a list of house-made non-alcoholic drinks as part of their beverage program. That said, there are a few places in town that do and that approach it with the same thoughtfulness and creativity they bring to their cocktails.
Cafe Maude in South Minneapolis is well known for its menu of non-alcoholic refreshments ($4). We especially liked the cayenne kick of the Le Tigre (above), a sour grapefruit punch reminiscent of a Bloody Mary yet not too breakfast-y. Just as it sounds, the Bitter Orange Ginger combined orange bitters with a ginger beer for a delicious drink that was spicy, balanced, and not too sweet. Similarly, the Ray Guy combined angostura with root beer, but with less success because the latter drowned out the delightfully medicinal qualities of the bitters.
The Rubber Ducky (ab0ve) came out brilliant blue and squeaky cute with a marshmallow Peep floating on the top. Unfortunately, it tasted of lemonade and bubble gum — so painfully, puckery sweet we couldn’t imagine pairing it with food. Save that one for the kids!
The soda fountain list at Eat Street Social offers a bevy of beautiful drinks ($5). The Raspberry Ricky (above, left) was the color of rubies and topped with what looked like a gorgeous hat pin, but turned out to be a couple of raspberry chews. It featured lime and bitters, which seemed to enhance the tart side of the raspberry for a refreshing, lightly sparkling drink that was not at all punchy. Also fruity: The Social Fritz (above, right) came with a hedge of lemon peel around the rim, giving us a nosefull of citrus oil with each sip. It was a lovely hue of magenta and combined blueberries, grapefruit, and lemon bitters for a sweet-tart fizz with a bit of a tongue curl at the end.
The Root Beer (above) was a delight. Served in a hot toddy glass, it came with a thick head of foam that tasted of bitters, molasses, and licorice root, a nice companion to the sweet and sassafras-y cream soda beneath it. But our favorite, at Eat Street and overall, was the Ginger Yip. An unlikely sounding combination of ginger syrup and cream over crushed ice, it was mild and smooth and reflected more of the vegetal, root side of ginger than the spice. It was interesting, delicious, and not especially sweet, a rare bird among non-alcoholic drinks.
In our travels, we noted that booze-free drinks are less expensive and tend to come in pint glasses. A few of our drinking buddies said that they would prefer to sip just a little of something. For them, we have the refreshing Virgin & Tonic ($5) at Pat’s Tap(below, right). Here is a concoction of lime and “virgin syrup” — which features some of the herbs used to make gin — served in a tumbler. It resembled a gin and tonic, but with less quinine and sugar, and a bit more of something. We couldn’t place it. Smoke?
On the subject of odd: The Pear Shrub ($5, above, left). On the first tongue-curling sip, we thought, “acquired taste.” And then it just got better, until we had finished the entire drink and decided that balsamic vinegar and pear puree were a natural combination. It looked like a puce smoothie and tasted like butterscotch caramels and club soda. You just have to try it. We were less fond of M’Lady of Fire, which mixed mango juice, chili peppers, and lime in a tall glass rimmed with spicy salt. The mango had surprisingly little depth even with the lime, so all we got from it was a tongue-coating, followed by a whole lot of heat — and it burns, burns, burns m’ lady of fire.
The refreshments ($3) at Icehouse were far less adventurous — disappointingly so, in consideration of the fabulous cocktails the restaurant offers — but pleasing nonetheless. The Ginger Lemonade was not too sweet and emphasized the flowery side of the lemon and the full zing of the ginger. On a similar theme, the Mint Limeade (above, right, pictured with the Red Ricky) favored the mint and had some depth (a hint of vanilla) to it, too. We found it sparkly and refreshing. We also enjoyed the house Ginger Beer, which was nicely sweet and as spicy as they come.
The drinks ($4) at Masu Sushi & Robata were not only phenomenal, but also seemed designed to pair with the food. The Singing Mountain (above, left) combined tart, dry rhubarb with a twiggy green tea, for a flavor that was both earthy and super delicious. We went nuts for the light and refreshing Dance Party Punch (above, right), which billed itself as aloe vera punch but tasted like some kind of mysterious fruit, maybe pineapple guava. Both of these drinks were interesting but simple and not too sweet, which seems key for pairing with all but the most gonzo food.
Most of the restaurants we visited called their non-alcoholic drinks “refreshments” rather than “mocktails,” which does seem a faddish and unsatisfying name. What’s not a fad is the thing itself: There will always be people who do not drink alcohol yet still desire an interesting drink to pair with their appetizers and dinner. Let’s hope the trend builds, and refreshment lists become as ubiquitous as sparkling water.
In the meantime, if you come across a worthy non-alcoholic drink menu in the Twin Cities, please leave us a suggestion here. Recipe? Even better.
What are the tastes that will always stick with you?
As we approached the end of 2012, we asked ourselves that question. Our answers are all over the map, justified a hundred different ways, but all those little brushstrokes add up to create a massive, teeming canvas of savory meats, vibrant vegetables, and delectable sweets. Plus booze.
Tricia Cornell | Writer
Family Meal at Piccolo, Minneapolis
Here’s a little taste of what the staff sits down to eat before dinner service at Piccolo: North Carolina–style pulled pork in a tangy barbecue sauce, slow-cooked red beans with ham hocks, and cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet and slathered with maple-bacon butter. It is hearty, soulful, and the polar opposite of the tiny, painstakingly composed plates Doug Flicker serves up every night. It was also easily among the best meals I ate in 2012. Chances are good that you’re not on staff at Piccolo, so why should you care? Two reasons: You can find the recipes in Come In, We’re Closed and Flicker is going to be serving that barbecued pork at Sandcastle, the new refectory at Lake Nokomis this summer. (And can we hope for the maple-bacon butter? Please?)
Apple Cake from The Spoonriver Cookbook by Brenda Langton and Margaret Stuart
I didn’t grow up Jewish, so I can’t pull out my mother’s or my bubbe’s apple cake recipe for Rosh Hashanah. This means I have tried many, many, many apple cake recipes. They ranged from dry to greasy, without stopping in the middle. But I’m never trying another one again, because Langton’s is perfect. It is tender and light and tastes richly of honey without being overly sweet. In fact, forget the new year: This may be the perfect cake for any occasion. Happy birthday, kids, I hope you like apple cake.
Six-Corner Sling from Eat Street Social, Minneapolis Eat Street Social has switched over to winter cocktails now, but let’s hope the waters of March and the warm winds of June bring back the Six-Corner Sling. I was born with a sour tooth rather than a sweet tooth and nearly always order a lemon-based cocktail. And this is the yardstick against which I will measure all future drinks: barely sweetened, herbal with punt e mes (a Latin vermouth), and bitter with green chartreuse. Perfectly balanced.
Becca Dilley | Photographer
Tom Thumb, Homemade
This was a dessert made for an upcoming Heavy Table story by Andy Sturdevant looking at meals from the past via the book Friends and Their Food. A Tom Thumb is essentially a meringue dessert composed of egg whites mixed with Saltines and “nut meal,” served with ice cream and mashed strawberries. I thought this was going to be hilariously bland, but instead it was a lovely take on a pavlova – the salt from the nuts and crackers made for a surprisingly complicated flavor. Awesome.
Laoshan Black Tea from Verdant Tea, Minneapolis
The joy of drinking Laoshan black tea comes at least partially from the experience of talking and drinking tea for two hours during our gongfu tea ceremony and interview with David Duckler, the owner of Verdant Tea. But subsequent home tea brewing has shown that the tea itself is a big player. It has an almost malty or chocolatey character, and the unexpected taste of the drink reminds me to just slow down and enjoy it.
Grilled Uni from Aburiya Kinnosuke, New York City
I loved the uni (sea urchin roe) grilled on a salt stone thing at some semi-obscure basement Japanese place in Midtown Manhattan. This was my “Madeleine” moment, taking me back to eating at lobster bakes during family reunions in Maine. I kind of want to cry when I think about this dish— it tasted like walking on an ocean beach with the sun shining.
John Garland | Writer
The Pig-Pen from the Sassy Spoon Truck, St. Paul
I wrote a lot about street food in the cities this year. Eating burger after cupcake after bacon banh mi was a more harrowing experience, albeit a delectable one, than I was ready for. I’m an office worker, so some of those lunches sunk the rest of my workday like a stone. That’s why the Pig-Pen stood out so magnificently. It’s a glorious mound of miso-braised pork with an equally sized heap of Asian cabbage slaw. The pork is nutty and semi-charred, the slaw fresh and vibrant. Best of all, it’s a functional meal — good protein and healthy carbs. Whereas a few trucks out there survive on novelty, Sassy Spoon delivers real food, really well.
Sweet Pea Pate from Birdhouse, Minneapolis
I’m a regular at Birdhouse. I’m not sure what initially drew me so strongly to the place, but that dollop of heaven in a ramekin sealed the deal. Spread onto flaxseed toasts, it’s creamy and substantial with a piercing freshness from the mint. At $5 during happy hour, it should be crowned as Uptown’s destination snack. Sadly, though, it’s also seasonal, not likely to rear its head again until sweet peas come back in the spring. Thank goodness their lamb burger isn’t seasonal as well.
The Valkyrie from Merchant, Madison, WI
What I found at Merchant was a pure expression of the creativity and thoughtfulness that makes craft cocktails so compelling to begin with. The Valkyrie is one of the paragons of their program. It somehow delivers a wonderful balance between tequila, a full ounce of Angostura bitters, lemon juice, lime juice, and a tincture of epazote. I would have named it The Velvet Elvis: a fuzzy, wildly colored, cheeky depiction of a classic and soulful spirit.
Soleil Ho | Writer
Tsukemen from United Noodles, Minneapolis
United Noodles’ tsukemen, or chilled ramen, was an innocuous summer special that destroyed my preconceptions about noodles, flavor, and everything. I still don’t know what the hell was in those little bowls (Was it their perfectly spiced char siu? Special sesame oil? DMT?) that kept me coming back week after week.
Whole Roasted Pig from Hiep Thanh BBQ & Deli, Brooklyn Center
Based on a friend’s recommendation, my family ordered a gigantic roast pig from this modest little deli out in Brooklyn Center for my wedding reception. Our faith was rewarded with the best roasted pork I’ve ever had, with insanely crispy cracklings and meat perfumed with spice. My grandparents loved it so much that they took the head with them back to Illinois!
A shot of Jameson at Piccolo, Minneapolis
The last thing I ever did in my role as an intern in Doug Flicker’s kitchen was to take a commemorative shot of Jameson with the other cooks before we all left for the night. In retrospect, that last moment at Piccolo represents a major punctuation mark in my life: an initiation ceremony that I’ll remember fondly every time I smell that particular brand of whiskey.
Aaron Landry | Producer
Bits of Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault, dipped in honey and then dipped in coffee grounds from Peace Coffee at North Coast Nosh IV at Peace Coffee’s Roastery, Minneapolis
There were so many great things at NCN IV, but I kept sneaking back to grab another bite of gorgonzola. Sometimes I’d go and start nibbling on one, then have a conversation with someone, and then have another as if nobody would notice it was my second except those behind the table. And then I’d come back again 20 minutes later. And then I’d say, “I need to take one for a photo too,” and then eat that one as well. It was a simple treat that didn’t really balance well, but it was enjoyable (and addictive) insofar as to experience the different great flavors fight.
Putting My Trust in Bartender Peder Schweigert at Marvel Bar, Minneapolis
On a recent visit with a friend this autumn, Peder took us through a mixed beverage journey guided simply by a base, the sensations we wanted, and answering a few yes or no questions. The highlight was a drink with North Shore Aquavit, El Dorado 15 Year Rum, Wray & Nephew Overproof White Rum, Mangoustan’s Rhum d’Origine Carte Grise, and bitters. A strong drink, sure, but one where whatever conversation you’re having halts and turns to picking out the different pieces of the drink and how they all play against each other. The next step was less about what to order but rather telling Peder in what direction I thought my palate should go.
Finding Joia Soda at Foodland, Kailua, Hawai‘i
Working on The Heavy Table while living in Hawai‘i is not easy. I get to see and read everything from afar but never get to enjoy it outside of my visits back to Minnesota. For example, finding great cheese is hard and getting good microbrews shipped to the middle of the Pacific requires real investment. Having said this, I still have a hard time explaining my extreme excitement (and bewilderment) when I randomly saw Joia Soda at Foodland, a local grocery store. And with my Maika‘i Card, I somehow am getting it cheaper than I would in St. Paul — another rarity. The first time I saw it, I literally examined all sides of the four-pack box to verify it was authentic. I’m stocking up and I’m quickly becoming “that guy” who’s pushing “fancy sodas” from Minnesota. It’s so great to see it here in a world where the primary import from the Midwest is Spam.
Jill Lewis | Writer
Duck and Shiitake Soba Noodle Bowl from Masu, Minneapolis
I was a little late boarding the Masu train, but the duck and shiitake soba noodle bowl I had my first visit got me hooked. What’s not to love: It has tender, chewy noodles; rich, meaty broth; and succulent duck breast slices. Pure, steaming love in a bowl. My husband and I shared that first bowl, but we quickly learned that we’d need our own on subsequent visits.
Pastrami Sandwich from Icehouse, Minneapolis
A pile of smoky, paper-thin pastrami on a fluffy, sweet bun is enough on its own for a satisfying meal, but when you add on the fried egg (and you better, even if you have to pay an extra dollar), Icehouse‘s messy-but-masterful sandwich becomes crazy-good. (Egg yolk — not ketchup — should be the standard sandwich sauce.) The Eat Street restaurant’s Be’Wiched Deli pedigree shines through this dish, and ask for extra of the addicting, vinegary housemade pickles, too.
Bulgogi Tacos from Sparks, Minneapolis
Who would expect a restaurant featuring everything from Spanish-inspired garlic soup to pizza to gluten-free enchiladas to turn out such exciting Korean flavors? Not me, but I gobbled up the Bryn Mawr neighborhood joint’s duet of blistered tortillas filled with well-seasoned beef, fiery kimchi, crisp veggies, and a little sour cream to tame the tastebuds just a smidge. The tacos are meant to be an appetizer, but I’m tempted to ask for two orders on my next visit and call it dinner.
James Norton | Editor
Bavarian White Sausage from Ken and Jen Thiemann, Knife River
This homemade charcuterie never made the cut in my profile of Ken Thiemann and Borealis Brewing because it would’ve disrupted the story’s flow, but I regret its omission: Made from half pork and half grass-fed beef, this sausage was smooth, subtly spiced, and out-of-this-world delicious. It was a taste not just of Thiemann’s German roots, but of his family’s sense of hospitality as we talked beer for a couple of hours in his straw bale and stucco beer monastery.
Rustic Fruit Tart from The Lynn on Bryant
Dessert tends to check a box: chocolate, sure. Fruit, why not. Creme brulee, OK. It’s sweet, it completes your meal, it works well with coffee. The rustic fruit tart that we tried at The Lynn on Bryant was nothing short of edible art, every bit of this delicate, soft, crispy, crunchy, sweet, cool, warm, tart little dream correctly calibrated and singing in harmony… plus that ineffable something, that sense of soul, that makes good food great. Talk about a flashbulb memory.
Corner Table’s Pate en Croute from North Coast Nosh V at Open Arms, Minneapolis
When Corner Table joined us (and our hundreds of guests) at the fifth edition of the North Coast Nosh sip-and-sample event, they came ready to impress with a massive, gorgeously browned pate in pastry crust emblazoned with the event’s name. It made me happy to look at, and still happier to eat — the Corner Table crew has a way with meat.
Emily Nystrom | Copy Editor
Bella Pizza from Bricks, Hudson, WI Bricks impressed me, from the salad to the pizza to even the Atomic Fireball palate cleanser on the way out. But the highlight was the Bella Pizza. The red onions are cooked a bit so they’re soft and mild rather than crunchy and sharp. The crisp asparagus and pine nuts add some satisfying texture. The tomato sauce is tangy and the cheese is ample and high quality. And the crust is perfectly baked, just chewy and crusty enough. Hudson has a number of nice restaurants, shops, and sights, but it’s Bricks (and the Bella) that I’d love to pick up and drop in the middle of Minneapolis.
Cold Tofu Teishoku from Tanpopo, St. Paul
Like every go-to dish should be, the cold tofu teishoku at Tanpopo is reliable, comforting, and so irresistible it’s nearly impossible for me to order anything else. The teishoku, or “set meal,” comes on an adorable little tray and includes edamame (or miso soup), pickled vegetables, sticky white rice, a salad with ginger dressing, and the best part: a block of tofu topped with scallions and a delicious house-made sesame sauce. It’s not a meal everyone would love, but for this vegetarian, it’s the ultimate comfort food.
Cream Pie from HauteDish, Minneapolis
When I stop by HauteDish for its four-course Meatless Sunday tasting menu, I feel like I’m treating myself to an upscale night that’s sure to be tasty yet still within budget. On my visit earlier this year, the dessert was a smooth cream pie with a surprising buttery, rich, dark chocolate crust and a side of creamy chocolate sorbet. Every bite was delicious, but it was the unique substitution of chocolate for graham that most delighted my tastebuds.
Susan Pagani | Writer
Lake Herring Special from The Craftsman, Minneapolis
One August evening, my husband and I stopped by The Craftsman for a late dinner. We’d been in the yard all day, so we were tired and looking for burgers, but at the last second my husband ordered the herring special. There were two whole herring on the plate, pan fried in butter and served on a bed of diced, summer vegetables — sweet corn and peppers among them, I recall — and the only spice on any of it was salt and pepper. The vegetables were sweet and bright; the fish was delicate but meaty, with a clean flavor, and an earthy sweetness of its own. It tasted like the day we’d just had, like summer.
Mushroom Pot Pie from Icehouse, Minneapolis
I’ve never thought of pot pie crust as something to eat by itself. You don’t break it off and nibble it — you crush it into the creamy filling, much like an oyster cracker over chowder, and enjoy the rich textural contrasts, right? Therefore, I was surprised and not entirely pleased when the mushroom pot pie at Ice House arrived not in a ramekin or pie tin, but as a standalone biscuity thing atop a heap of tiny black lentils. But oh, what a good idea that little fellow turned out to be. The pastry was delicious in its own right and just firm enough to stand up under the pie’s pungent taleggio and mushroom filling. The lentils were al dente, and very, very tasty and satisfying when scooped up with a bite of filling. Still, all those savory details aside, it’s the pastry — tender and buttery and perfect — I dream about when we’ve been apart for too long. If you don’t love mushrooms, try the apple pie; it’s all that and a scoop of ice cream.
Fig Financiers, Homemade
Each year, I offer my good friend Maria a homemade cake for her birthday. She chooses the flavor and format — layer cakes and rose water! — and I do my best to make something that is edible and, if not gorgeous, at least appetizing. This year she ordered fig financiers, a cupcake-like treat she had read about in The New York Times. I will admit I was delighted at the simplicity of the thing: The cupcake is made with brown butter, hazelnut flour, eggs, and powdered sugar and decorated with a thick round of fig. I liked it even better after I’d pilfered one from the cooling rack and inhaled it it whole. Imagine a light, nutty pound cake with a beautiful ruby center of warm fruit. I ate another one, only to see if it went well with a cup of tea. It did, and since my cup was large, I ate two more. The remaining four were devoured on the shore of the Mississippi after an unsuccessful (and rather terrifying) canoe ride… and then, of course, I baked a whole new tray for my Maria, who enjoyed them wholeheartedly on her birthday. All in all, fig financiers are a keeper.
Joshua Page | Writer
Heirloom Tomato Salad from The Craftsman, Minneapolis
Few things scream summer like a salad of super fresh local tomatoes, fragrant basil, tangy cucumber dill dressing, and heavenly, golden-brown croutons (generous chunks of sourdough from Rustica Bakery, pan seared with butter, then tossed with herbs, salt, and pepper). This simple preparation allows the stars of the show to shine, making us wish that tomato season lasted more than a couple measly months.
Lambalot Acres Rack of Lamb from Clancey’s Meats & Fish, Minneapolis
Risking family scorn, I decided to roast lamb rather than turkey for Thanksgiving. I shelled out a pretty penny at Clancey’s for a couple small racks sourced from the awesomely named Lambalot Acres, a family farm in Augusta, WI. Roasted with a mixture of rosemary, garlic, and olive oil, the lamb was well worth the expense. The family not only spared me the rod, they spoiled me with praise.
Fettuccine con Cinghiale from Broder’s Pasta Bar, Minneapolis
Fresh pasta, wild boar, porcini, caramelized onions, and chestnuts isn’t an obvious combination, but it sure is a tasty one. Luscious, rich, crunchy, and oh-so-comforting, it’s the perfect winter dish (the only thing missing is a fireplace). The good folks at Broder’s assure me that it’ll be on the menu for at least a few weeks, so you’ve still got time to enjoy this special preparation.
Emily Schnobrich | Writer
Parsnip Soup from Cafe Levain, Minneapolis
This year Cafe Levain featured a parsnip soup at one of its Sunday suppers. And seriously, what sounded like a basic harvest soup turned out to be just as magical as that three-course-dinner chewing gum from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The soup could have passed for a bowl of melted vanilla ice cream, it was so nutty, sweet, and silky (probably coconut milk). A curl of chili oil gave the decadence a little structure, and at the bottom were tiny florets of roasted broccoli and tender cubes of parsnip that brought in autumn with a sigh.
Bucatini with Braised Greens, Homemade, Minneapolis
My friend Maggie cooks at two restaurants, so naturally I welcome any chance to eat her food. But my favorite thing she’s made happened totally off the cuff. A bunch of us were hungry one winter midnight, so Maggie pulled cabbage and random greens from the fridge, chopped them thin, and braised them in a huge pan with some crispy mushrooms, a little cream, and parmesan. Tossed with good thick bucatini, the meal was chewy, hearty, and insanely meaty. I stuffed myself and sat there, suddenly revering my friend’s improv skills and the simple power of vegetables to reach deep into my carnivore senses.
Curry Fish from Cheng Heng, St. Paul
When I can’t decide what to order at a new place, I defer to curry. It’s a band of spices I can rely on. But at Cheng Heng in St. Paul, the curry fish is more than just a trustworthy friend. It’s a total babe. When salmon and coconut curry are steamed in banana leaves, the fish grows custardy, thick, and sweet. A little kaffir lime and lemongrass make it a heady, almost boozy bowl of fish I find myself craving most lunchtimes, no matter what pearls of the fridge lie before me.
Varsha Seetharam | Intern
“La Panza” Caramelized Lamb Belly Lettuce Wraps from World Street Kitchen, Minneapolis
I usually avoid things like “lettuce wraps” when I see them on a menu, because how good can they really be? Well, after eating the caramelized lamb belly wraps at World Street Kitchen, the answer to that question is pretty damn good. The charred, crispy exterior of the lamb belly houses a silky interior that almost melts in your mouth, and the acidity of the pickled cucumber and daikon perfectly cuts through the fattiness of the meat. The lettuce provides just the right amount of crunch and freshness without competing with the flavors of the gamey lamb, like a taco shell might. And it’s Paleo, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Yazoo Sue with Rosemary Bar Nuts from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
I have been obsessed with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream since I discovered it about a year ago. While all of their flavors fall within the very good to excellent range, my favorite, by far, is Yazoo Sue with Rosemary Bar Nuts, an ice cream play on beer and nuts. The cherry wood-smoked porter-flavored ice cream is packed with pecans, almonds, and peanuts dusted in brown sugar, rosemary, and cayenne. It teeters on the border of sweet and savory, and is bursting with umami, something I never thought I would be able to say about an ice cream. This was not just my favorite ice cream of 2012, but my single favorite bite, across all food categories, of the year.
8-oz. Flat Iron Steak at Butcher & The Boar, Minneapolis
The first four times I went to the Butcher & The Boar, I had the Smoked Beef Long Rib. It was so completely satisfying that I didn’t feel the need to explore the rest of the menu. On my fifth visit, I accidentally ordered the steak. Yes, accidentally. I was so preoccupied when the server stopped by to take our order that I distractedly said “I’ll just have the flat iron steak,” forgetting, for a moment, where I was and what I actually wanted to order. The steak was impeccably seasoned, with an earthy, smoky, flavor and cooked perfectly — easily my best “mistake” of 2012.
Kate N.G. Sommers | Photographer
Ficelle Sandwich from Surdyk’s, Minneapolis
Hidden amid the olive oil, cheeses, and crackers available at Surdyk’s Cheese Shop is the rogue ficelle sandwich. Not listed on any of their daily special menus (and found in a crock atop the deli case), the twiggy batons pack a powerhouse of flavor: salami, prosciutto, arugula, and onion on bread with adequate crunch and the perfect amount of chew. The sandwich is ideal for a mild nosh to tide you over before dinner, and I rarely leave the shop with out one, or two, in my bag.
Basic Biscuit Plus (Over Easy / Pepper Jack / Bean Cake) from Sun Street Breads, Minneapolis
I’m not normally one to opt for the vegetarian option when sausage is available. But the savory bean cake on this breakfast sandwich is the perfect consistency to soak up egg yolk, and it’s packed with so much flavor even a true omnivore might second-guess her need to ingest meat. The pepper jack adds a nice kick and, oh man, those biscuits…
Tacos and Salsa Bar from Maya Cuisine, Minneapolis
Taco places abound in South Minneapolis, but in Northeast we have only a handful of options. Thankfully one of them is Maya Cuisine, whose handmade tortillas would make any south-of-downtown dweller envious of our amazing taco options. The lengua and chorizo con papas are among my favorites, but when ordering, feel free to skip the toppings; a DIY salsa bar is available just beyond checkout to help you deck out your tacos however you like — no muss, no fuss.
Jason Walker | Writer
Americano from Blue Ox Coffee Co., Minneapolis
I love coffee but I’m no expert; I don’t analyze my cup as long as it’s decent. Yet each time I take a first sip of Melanie Logan’s terrific Americano I think, “Damn, that’s good coffee.” Blue Ox is the type of shop I seek out even though it’s not in my neighborhood — Logan is super nice, the place is comfy, and damn, that’s good coffee.
Smoked Porter from Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub, Minneapolis
Having interviewed Northbound’s owners a couple times, I was admittedly pumped with high expectations for this new brewpub. Chef Bryce Strickler’s menu of smoked meat and fish sounded heavenly, and I had high hopes since brewer Jamie Robinson was a Town Hall alum. But I wasn’t ready for that porter, a sublime combination of smoke, malt, and a hint of chocolate and coffee. It knocked my socks off.
My Pineapple Cheese Ball, Homemade
Sure, it’s partly due to childhood nostalgia (the recipe came from my grandma), but every year it’s the best thing I eat. Try it and see — it always earns raves at the annual Walker cookie party. Simple, homespun, and delicious, it wouldn’t be the holidays without one.