Heavy Table Hot Five: Dec. 1-7

hotfive-flames

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 editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - one - hot fiveFrozen Pepperoni Pizza by Mucci’s
The move from restaurant to frozen food powerhouse has been a short one for the opened-not-too-long-ago Mucci’s in St. Paul. The restaurant’s famed Montanara (fried crust) pizzas are in the freezer cases of many Kowalski’s (we got ours on Grand Avenue), and they’re bedecked with chewy, gooey, legit mozzarella and bold but tender sliced sausage. A serious upgrade over the rest of the freezer case.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

2-new - two - hot fiveBaked Granola at Cafe Patteen
The baked granola at Cafe Patteen in the Minneapolis skyway is served in little bags while it’s still warm. The hearty oats, nuts, and dried fruit are baked with orange marmalade, giving the mix a sweet, fruity note. If you have the patience to obtain milk, that’s remarkable. I can only attest to snacking on it by hand immediately.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3-new - three hot fiveChurrasco Plate at El Sabor Chuchi
The first thing you need to know about the $12 Churrasco Plate at El Sabor Chuchi is that it isn’t as big as you expect it’ll be. It’s about 50 percent bigger. I ran out of room in my notebook trying to record everything that arrived on it, but the short list includes a steak (pounded flat), a couple of eggs, rice, beans, thick cut fries, avocado slices, plantain fritters, and salad. If this stuff were mediocre, this would still be a pretty good deal, but the avocado was ripe, the beans surprisingly delicate and beautifully seasoned, the thick-cut fries clearly house-made and top-notch. The steak and eggs and the rest? Not bad. The value prospect of this humble plate of food is towering.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a recent East Lake Checklist by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new four hot fiveCaramel Roll at The Bachelor Farmer Cafe
There’s not much to the caramel roll at The Bachelor Farmer Cafe. It’s just a coil of enriched dough and a caramel coating, simple as can be. But the caramel is high-grade, and the simplicity of the roll makes it a lovely thing to pair with a cup of coffee.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveItalian Hoagie at Jakeeno’s, Midtown Global Market
Those who try the Italian Hoagie at the Jakeeno’s location in the Midtown Global Market are likely to fall in love at first bite. There’s a certain magic to a well-composed sandwich, and this thing had it — something about the right bread (the baguette it was made with was first-rate), the right meat-to-veg ratio, and the right vinegar-based dressing to tie everything together.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an upcoming East Lake Checklist by James Norton]

Geno’s in Southeast Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Never underestimate the power of a properly made meatball sandwich. It’s not a sexy sandwich, as it’s pretty much designed to explode, wilt, and melt into your mouth. But with the right components — a bright marinara, light but rich meatballs, enough melted cheese to cover but not smother, and a properly toasted bun — it’s inhalable magic. The meatball sandwich at the newly opened Geno’s is properly made. At $10 on a roll or $12 on a hoagie, it’s a little pricey on the face of it, but the flavor justifies the outlay.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Geno’s, a new shop from the owners of the Lyndale Tap House, seems to be ripping a page right out of the Mucci’s book: Serve up old-school Italian-American favorites using good ingredients, and reap all the goodwill and nostalgia that exists for a much-degraded, much-abused classic cuisine that has in recent years been a repository for laziness and straight-from-the-food-service-bag cookery.

Jakeeno’s Pizza and Pasta in South Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Restaurants that keep their doors open year after year interest us. They must be doing something right to endure economic slowdowns, food trends, and intense competition. And Jakeeno’s has been going strong since 1975. It’s survived Generations X, Y, and Z.

What’s the key to Jakeeno’s longevity? Comfort. It’s familiar, unpretentious, and low-key. The staff is easygoing, and the customers clearly pick up the vibe. Even when busy, there’s none of the hustle, bustle, and, well, stress (on the part of staff and diners) that often characterize the latest “it” spots. Seemingly impervious to flashy trends, Jakeeno’s and its regulars are refreshingly comfortable in their own skins. Why else would we see such an embrace of what we’ve nicknamed the “Jakeeno’s lounge” — a laid-back posture more common on porches than in restaurants?

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A little sign over a little table near the front of the restaurant won our hearts. It reads, “The table by the door is ‘The Worst Seat in the House.’ Dine here and receive 15% off your meal.” Now get this: The deal applies year round, and even when there are other tables available. Hell, when we inquired about the sign, our server encouraged us to move one table over and get the deal. (Though too earnest to move, we appreciated the suggestion.) Speaking of deals, Jakeeno’s has them all: cheap date night, happy hour, and all-you-can-eat pasta, to name a few.

Like the atmosphere and service, the food is comforting. It’s what “throwback” Italian-American restaurants throw back to. Unlike Mucci’s in Saint Paul (which we adore), Jakeeno’s doesn’t update the classics. In fact, we doubt the recipes have changed much over the last four decades. Of course, red sauce is the cornerstone of the menu: rich, flavorful, and slightly sweet (thankfully not too sweet), it’s well suited to pasta, pizza, and hoagies.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Of the pizzas we tried, a simple pepperoni pie (large, $16.45) stood out. Jakeeno’s crust is thin and well balanced (not too salty or sweet) and sturdy when not weighed down with too many ingredients. Although it lacks the snap associated with “cracker crust,” it holds its own. Covering thin slices of zippy pepperoni, the cheese is nicely browned without being burnt. As much as we enjoyed this option, we didn’t care for Jakeeno’s margherita (large, $21.75): The cheese was too thick, and the overwhelming garlic and flavorless tomatoes were way out of balance.

The Tap: Restaurant Formats That Work

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

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 editor@heavytable.com.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

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.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

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.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

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

NOW OPEN

  • 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!
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Heavy Table Hot Five: July 8-14

hotfive-flames

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 editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

Peter Sieve / Heavy Table
Peter Sieve / Heavy Table

1-new - onePirikara Yasai Donburi at Kyatchi
The Pirikara Yasai Donburi at Kyatchi is summer in a bowl. Alternately warm and cool, rich and spicy, and sweet and savory, it’s a pitch-perfect balancing act and supremely refreshing. Ripe avocado and fresh heirloom tomato mingle with cool celery and cucumber, all tossed in a spicy sesame sauce and draped over Kyatchi’s excellently seasoned sushi rice. Some bites evoke the childhood joy of crunching into peanut-buttery ants-on-a-log. The best part? It’s only $6 at happy hour — a crazy great deal for a well-rounded meal’s worth of food.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Peter Sieve]

Varsha Koneru / Heavy Table
Varsha Koneru / Heavy Table

2-new - twoSmoked Cheese Curds from Northbound Smokehouse
If you need your cheese curds fix before the state fair next month, head over to Northbound Smokehouse for the white-cheddar curds. These little morsels are lightly smoked and dipped in a sweet pancake batter, creating a great balance of sweet, smoky, and salty. No fancy-schmancy berry ketchup here, just some old school ranch, which pairs perfectly with the curds.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Varsha Koneru]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - threeTinto de Verano
Hot, muggy weather calls for drastic measures. The Spanish resort to something called tinto de verano — red wine on ice cut with soda, generally orange Fanta. It sounds like an abomination; it’s actually lovely and refreshing, in a sort of downmarket sangria way. (If you want a great local incarnation of the stuff, head over to Mucci’s Italian and get the Mucci Juice.) We made ours with a rose Rio Madre rioja (in the cooler at Elevated Beer Wine and Spirits), a seriously big ice cube, and (yes) Fanta.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

4-new fourThe Bloody Mary sandwich at Pat’s Tap
Properly equipped, a Bloody Mary can be a meal. Pat’s Tap goes a step further with a Bloody Mary sandwich: tomato bread slathered with a sharp Worcestershire aioli, sliced tomatoes, bacon, and two fried eggs. And garnishes, of course. The result is more like a cross between a Bloody Mary and a BLT, but who cares? Bonus: no buzz. Unless you get some vodka on the side.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveBlack Lemonade Brulee at Peace Coffee
As long as we’re banging the refreshment gong, let’s put a plug in for the Black Lemonade Brulee at Peace Coffee, a blend of lemon, burnt sugar, and carbonated water. Despite its seeming simplicity, this is a drink with real depth and a wonderful sparkly charge that makes a lovely thing to drink when the temperature soars above 80 (or 90). It’s less a lemonade than a sophisticated nonalcoholic cocktail.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

The Tap: The Rise and Fall of Crudo

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: Thoughts on the closing of Il Foro, Scena, and Parella.

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 editor@heavytable.com.

Monello
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The (Rapid) Decline and Fall of the Crudo Empire

Parella. Scena. Il Foro. Monello. Of the pack of four high-profile, upscale, Italian-crudo-driven restaurants to open within the past 12 months, only Monello remains.

The reviews of these exciting new places certainly weren’t bad, and it looked momentarily as though these restaurants were going to transform the local dining scene. Dara wrote of Parella “I hate to compare new restaurants to what other places are doing, but I couldn’t help it at Parella, mainly because so often there I felt like exclaiming, ‘Well, this is the right way! They’re doing it the right way!’”; Rick Nelson described Scena’s crudo and pizza menus as “home runs”; and the headline on Mecca’s Il Foro review was “Il Foro has culinary prowess for classic staying power.”

There was no lack of plaudits for these artfully designed eateries, which collectively brought some great food to the local scene. The missing element was a customer base.

Every restaurant opens for particular reasons, and every restaurant closes for particular reasons as well, so we can’t just say “crudo was a bad idea” and bury all three of these restaurants in the same unmarked grave.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Some thoughts, then. Crudo was a bad idea. Not for everyone, everywhere, at all times. But here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where we are drowning in sushi and not lacking for expensive restaurants, the need for another, lesser-known way to purchase small pieces of raw fish for large amounts of money never seemed self evident. The real energy in the cities at the moment seems to be a (sometimes cross-pollinating) mix of farm-to-table fare and mid-Southern food, and in as much as we need a counter to that, cosmopolitan joints like Spoon and Stable, 112 Eatery and Bachelor Farmer seem to do a fine job.

There’s often a gap between a trend and a customer base. Perhaps you know someone (or were someone) who was excited about crudo, or more broadly, about spending a lot of money to eat Italian food of varying degrees of accessibility in the name of sophistication. I know of no such people, and the main thing from this group of four spots that seemed to resonate was that Il Foro made a damn good burger (a burger I now regret never having tried. Gather your rosebuds while ye may …).

This isn’t to say you can’t do well doing thoughtful, upscale Italian — look at Broders’, for example. But Broders’ hasn’t lost touch with the soulful, approachable Calabrian-Sicilian heart of Italian-American food, and the prices have always been reasonable. The gap between ordering a huge (albeit satisfying!) hot dago at DeGidio’s and paying for a 10-course tasting menu at a place like Scena is absolutely enormous, with a lot of fertile ground in between those extremes.

Maybe it’s better to see if a metro area can absorb one novel concept restaurant rather than launching four at once. I am thrilled beyond words that we’re going to see a legit kaiseki place open in downtown Minneapolis. In concert with a more approachable sister restaurant and with the right support from diners and critics, it may do really well. But I would worry if four kaiseki places decided to launch more or less on top of one another.

Finally, amid the carnage, here’s something worth noting: the newly opened and high-profile Mucci’s is roaring along merrily, stacking up hourlong waits. Where this entire pack of now mostly-closed places zigged — high prices, high expectations, an emphasis on novelty and choice ingredients — Mucci’s zagged, with reasonable prices, comforting and familiar Italian-American dishes, and an emphasis on warm hospitality and solid execution.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE CRUDOCALYPSE: A TIMELINE

June 1, 2015: Monello opens
June 16, 2015: Il Foro opens
July 13, 2015: Parella opens
December 3, 2015: Scena opens
January 25, 2016: Parella closes
May 16, 2016: Scena closes
May 22, 2016: Il Foro closes

NOW OPEN

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Jane Rosemarin / Heavy Table
Jane Rosemarin / Heavy Table
  • Rose Street Patisserie, 2811 W 43rd St, Minneapolis | The Linden Hills incarnation of Patisserie 46 is a bakery and full-service restaurant with 54 seats.
  • Blue Door Pub, 1514 Como Ave SE, Minneapolis
Dogwood Coffee Pour Over
Kate N.G. Sommers/Heavy Table

Heavy Table Hot Five: Mar. 4-10

hotfive-flames

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 editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - oneShort Rib Ragu with Ricotta Agnolotti at The Draft Horse
The crew at the Draft Horse has a bit of an unfair advantage: access to two top-flight purveyors, Lone Grazer and Red Table Meat, under the same roof at the Food Building. Monday night, Mike Phillips jumped into the kitchen for a Chef Camp multicourse dinner and things really got out of hand. The resulting meal was as we’d hoped, and at the top of the heap was the second course: profoundly rich and tender short ribs — lightly seasoned so that the quality of the meat could speak for itself — and creamy, mellow, ricotta-stuffed pasta.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

2-new - twoLamb Chops with Garlic
This isn’t precisely breaking news, but the scent of lamb chops and split cloves of garlic in olive oil may be the most beautiful aroma known to humanity. Finished with a pan sauce of lemon juice, parsley, and a pinch of hot pepper flakes, it’s nothing fancy, but it also may be pretty much the best thing on earth.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - threeMeat and Pickle Plate at Mucci’s Italian
Not since the Mike Phillips glory days at the Craftsman have we enjoyed a charcuterie plate as much as the one served at the newly opened Mucci’s. The deviled eggs were creamy and flavorful, the mortadella lovely, the pate creamy and bold, and the pickles perfectly done — we could’ve eaten a fistful of the pickled peppers, in particular. The small feast depicted above goes for $8, meaning that it’s a solid value on top of being objectively tasty.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new fourLift Bridge Brewery Root Beer at Black Sheep Pizza (Nicollet Avenue)
We’ve been digging the beer at Lift Bridge before the Heavy Table even existed (7+ years ago, if you can believe that), but this is the first non-alcoholic thing we’ve tried from the brewery — and it rocks. Most root beer is characterless sugar water. Lift Bridge root beer skillfully walks the line, bringing ample sweetness but also a profound herbal anise kick that helps it dance on the palate.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveCurried Lone Grazer Ricotta with Poorboy Caramel Sauce at the North Coast Nosh
We love cheese, and we love culinary risk-taking. So how could we not dig freshly made curried ricotta topped with a drizzle of artisan caramel sauce? The sweet-savory thing sounds crazy, but it absolutely worked — the sweet creaminess of the ricotta helped make the transition to the gently browned sugar flavor of the caramel topping, and the curry added depth and interest. This would be a monstrously fun party starter.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #5 | Submitted by James Norton]

Heavy Table Hot Five: Feb. 26-Mar. 3

hotfive-flames

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 editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - oneMeat and Pickle Plate at Mucci’s Italian
Not since the Mike Phillips glory days at the Craftsman have we enjoyed a charcuterie plate as much as the one served at the newly opened Mucci’s. The deviled eggs were creamy and flavorful, the mortadella lovely, the pate creamy and bold, and the pickles perfectly done — we could’ve eaten a fistful of the pickled peppers, in particular. The small feast depicted above goes for $8, meaning that it’s a solid value on top of being objectively tasty.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Mike Mommsen / Heavy Table
Mike Mommsen / Heavy Table

2-new - twoCask Aged Zombie at Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den
While the Zombie Den may have lost some of its just-opened sheen, we find it uplifting to see that the dark and misty bar is still serving deliciously potent drinks along with the classics. The $12 punchlike Cask Aged Zombie is heavy on rum but has a balanced sweetness that avoids the gut-rot frequent in Tiki drinks. After you blow out the flame on the 151-soaked lime, it’s a definite sipper, not unlike brains.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Liz Scholz]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - threeAlambre Hawaiiano at Los Ocampo
Our Green Line Checklist has had its share of ups and downs, and after one particularly dramatic flop (our fourth restaurant of the evening) we were despondent and weary. The clean, well-lit, all-class ambiance at Los Ocampo on University marked the beginning of a turnaround that was powered in part by a round of beers and in part by a lovely spread of food, including the almost smutty combination of melted cheese, tender pork, pineapple, and tortillas known the Alambre Hawaiiano. “This is cheating,” exclaimed one of our diners vis-a-vis the obviously delicious things that go into this dish, and while we’re not disagreeing, a win is still a win.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton from an upcoming Green Line Checklist]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new fourDeconstructed Tater Tot Hotdish from the Wedge Community Co-op at the North Coast Nosh
There was a flotilla of great flavors at last night’s North Coast Nosh at Solar Arts, but the Wedge’s pre-Nosh treat — a grass fed beef meatball surrounded by pea puree, shoestring potatoes, sauteed leek, cream of mushroom, and roasted portobellos — was one of the standouts. The meatball itself was tender, nicely browned, and rich without being greasy, and perfectly seasoned. It didn’t need any help, thank you very much, but the help it received from its hotdish-inspired friends was welcome and delightful. We could’ve eaten five of these, but we understand that other people have needs, too.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveCurried Lone Grazer Ricotta with Poorboy Caramel Sauce at the North Coast Nosh
We love cheese, and we love culinary risk-taking. So how could we not dig freshly made curried ricotta topped with a drizzle of artisan caramel sauce? The sweet-savory thing sounds crazy, but it absolutely worked — the sweet creaminess of the ricotta helped make the transition to the gently browned sugar flavor of the caramel topping, and the curry added depth and interest. This would be a monstrously fun party starter.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

The Tap: On Concepts, Dubious and Otherwise

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: Can we condemn a restaurant based on concept alone? Of course we can. But should we? And: Is the mass arrival of Dunkin’ Donuts really a good thing?

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 editor@heavytable.com.

Screenshot from Facebook.com
Screenshot from Facebook.com

Not Getting the Concept

Five to ten times a month, an email wings its way into my inbox introducing a new restaurant. It’s generally either some spin on a gastro-pub or an upscale Italian dining environment. Experience says that either of those concepts can be done well or poorly, but more likely than not, the resulting place will be a workaday set of compromises resulting in a decent place to eat.

Once in a while, however, the concept is something really good. Take, as a prime example, Mucci’s. This is a new Tim Niver place that will focus on NON upscale Italian food, which is to say the fun, comforting, prosaic stuff that’s often good even when it’s bad, and is downright heavenly when it’s done with love. Mucci’s is a concept whose time has come: food that we know and love and have often seen done with mediocre ingredients and sometimes indifferent cooks and eaten anyway, suddenly taken seriously.

Sometimes, however, the concept is floating somewhere on the opposite end of the scale — not bad, per se, but puzzling. A striking outlier, standing alone in the cold, far in the back. Perhaps you remember Lavvu, the campus restaurant aimed at celebrating indigenous Sami culture (think northern Finland) by serving “brutal” coffee and taco waffles … ? It didn’t fare so well in the open marketplace, but damned if we weren’t intrigued.

And now, here comes another concept that bravely defies public opinion in the name of bringing something new into the world: SotaRol. The subject line of the emailed pitch? “SotaRol : Sushi + Burrito = SotaRito!” The Sota (as in Minnesota) refers to “Up North Appeal” (example: panko-crusted walleye in a sushi roll.) The burritos come into play when you stuff avocado, sushi rice, and (for example) shrimp tempura into a tortilla. So many questions. Isn’t Japanese cuisine complicated and (around here) bastardized enough without trying to cram broadly defined “Minnesotan food” into the mix? And isn’t the Minnesota / Japan thing busy enough without then trying to fold in Latin American cooking? Is nothing sacred? Is there no God, no mercy for the damned or the innocent, no greater morality underpinning reality and thereby making suffering comprehensible? Apparently not.

Here’s the thing, though: This Frankenstein’s monster of a concept, stitched together from the body parts of at least three disparate and mutually hostile cuisines, might in the end produce some good food. The next World Street Kitchen-level rice bowl might come out of SotaRol, or any one of us could find ourselves gripped by cravings for SotaRitos. When the place opens its doors in a couple of weeks, I look forward to stopping by and eating my words or — at least — some thought-provoking, old-fashioned Minnemexicanese food.

James Norton

Dunkin' Donuts logo
Dunkin’ Donuts logo

On the Arrival and Propagation of Dunkin’ Donuts

It’s quite likely that you’ve already formed your own opinions of the Dunkin’ Donuts fast food empire, which is poised to greatly expand its presence in our part of the world.

If you haven’t yet, here are a few observations from a guy who spent six years living in Boston (where Dunkin’ Donuts is the closest thing available to a secular religion, after the Red Sox), who regularly snags a coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the Dells on the way down to Madison, and who has reviewed their food on camera.

No Need to Go Nuts for the Doughnuts

Do you love the doughnuts at Cub or any other equivalent grocery store? Good news: Dunkin’ Donuts are punching in that same weight class. Have you grown spoiled by excellent new-school doughnuts at the likes of Mojo Monkey or Yo Yo, or are you loyal to old-school deliciousness served up at places like A Baker’s Wife or The Heights Bakery? Well, good luck with the heavy, sugary, balls of fried dreck that are the DD stock-in-trade.

The Coffee’s the Thing

There are a number of ideals that define “good coffee.” If your ideal is coffee that’s sweet, milky, mild, nutty, and roasty to the exclusion of other characteristics, you’ll enjoy the stuff at Dunkin’ Donuts. There’s a reason that literally 50 percent of the people you see on the subway in the morning in Boston are sipping from Dunkin’ Donuts coffees they ordered “regular” (lots of cream, lots of sugar.) And yes, you can order it black, but that’s a seriously pointless gesture.

The Food’s An Afterthought

The various egg sandwich-y / bagel-esque things at Dunkin’ Donuts aren’t the worst of their kind, but they’re nothing to write home about either. All things considered, a McGriddle or Egg McMuffin will be a slightly tastier choice, and even then – if you’re eating locally, there must be a local place you dig more than the Golden Arches.

All of this isn’t to disparage Dunkin’ Donuts – the business has its place, and if you wait long enough, you’ll definitely catch me pulling through the drive-through at some point for a guilty-pleasure sugar-meets-coffee bomb. But our food culture isn’t about to experience a massive quality shift – either up or down.

James Norton

NOW OPEN

Di Noko's Pizzeria
Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table
  • DiNoko’s Pizzeria, 4747 Nicollet Avenue S, Minneapolis | DiNoko’s is a local place that can, as evidenced by previous incarnations, do deep dish pizza seriously well.
  • Harriet’s Inn, 4000 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis | Wings, flatbreads, pot pies, nachos, jucys, tacos(?), and hot dish(!), which you don’t typically see on the menu.
  • Gogi Bros. House, Shady Oak Retail Center, Eden Prairie
  • Seward Co-op Friendship Store, 317 E 38th St, Minneapolis
  • Ramen Kazama, 3400 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis | Lots of good buzz about this place, can’t wait to check it out.
  • Dark Horse Bar and Eatery, 250 E 7th St , St. Paul | From the same folks who brought us Muddy Waters, as per this story.
  • Celts Craft House, 7083 W 153rd St, Apple Valley | Irish pub food. We may be nearing the end of the life cycle of the word “craft.”
  • Eastside at Latitude 45, 301 Washington Ave S, Minneapolis | Eastside features Seattle-based chef Nick Dugan as its chef de cuisine working alongside executive chef Remy Pettus.
  • Bad Weather Brewing, 414 W 7th St, St. Paul
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Screenshot from seward.coop
Screenshot from seward.coop