The Tap: On Concepts, Dubious and Otherwise

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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

CLOSED / CLOSING:

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

  • Vincent, A Restaurant | Closing Dec. 31, 2015. A triumphant run by a classic restaurant.
  • Zeke’s Unchained Animal | We marveled at what we described as its “not a good name” when they opened in 2013. They then toughed it out for 2 1/2 years, so that’s something.
  • Surdyk’s Flights | Closing end of 2016. Patently unfair to anyone who flies through MSP.
  • Shag Sushi | Dicey concept, lasted six months, will become a Rojo Mexican Grill.
  • La Belle Vie
  • Republic (Uptown location) | A real shame — always a solid beer selection.
  • Sonora Grill (Midtown Global Market location) | Not good news for MGM, which has been trying to attract more high-concept ethnic eateries like Sonora.
  • Cafe Zentral | One third of the Zentral empire is being sold to employee Rob Whitney, who will reopen it as the World Cafe.
  • Masa | This well-known downtown Minneapolis D’Amico & Partners spot closed Oct. 24. It had a pretty good run: 10 years.
  • Nye’s Polonaise Room (closing early 2016) | This trolltastic City Pages column nonetheless does a good job of expressing some of the ambiguity about the passing of the nationally known and locally legendary Nye’s.

COMING UP:

Minneapolis

  • Milkjam Creamery at World Street Kitchen, 2743 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis | Late 2015 or early 2016 | A gourmet ice cream shop by Sameh and Saed Wadi, the brothers behind World Street Kitchen and Saffron.
  • Domo Gastro, 1032 3rd Ave NE, Minneapolis | Late 2015 | An Asian-inspired gastro pub – shows some real promise. Looking forward to the Korean-style fried chicken in particular.
  • ie, 4724 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis | Late 2015 | AKA “Italian Eatery.” Scratch pastas, with an eye toward the style of Bar La Grassa. If there’s a website, we can’t find it – this name has got terrible Google-fu.
  • SotaRol, 5005 Ewing Av S, Minneapolis | Early November. Is a Minnesota / Japan / Mexico crossover a good idea? Who cares! This’ll be fun.
  • Taco Cat, Midtown Global Market | The cult favorite bike-delivered taco place becomes a bricks-and-mortar affair, replacing the former Burrito Mercado spot in Midtown Global Market.
  • Polpo | Late 2015 | In the former La Mac Cleaners space, run by David Hahne, the former chef of the excellent Cave Vin.
  • World Cafe | November 2015 | Replacing the former Cafe Zentral in the skyway.
  • Cafe Alma, 528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis | Late 2015 or early 2016 | Hailed by the Star Tribune as this year’s Best Upcoming Project and a “casual breakfast-to-late night cafe, coffee bar, wine bar and bakery.”
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

  • Blue Door Pub, 1514 Como Ave, Minneapolis | January 2016
  • Inbound Brewco, 701 5th St N, Minneapolis | End of 2015 | Appears to be a spin-off of Lucid.
  • The Viking Bar, 1829 Riverside Ave, Minneapolis | End of 2015 or beginning of 2016 | After nearly a decade of closure, this Cedar-Riverside saloon is on its way to reopening.
  • Savory Bake House, 3008 36th Ave S, Minneapolis | 2015 | Located across the street from Merlin’s Rest, “Savory is a new twist on the old school rustic bakery everyone knows and loves,” or so says their Facebook page. Baker is Sandra Sherva from Merlin’s Rest and formerly of Birchwood.
  • Saint Genevieve, 5003 Bryant Ave, Minneapolis | Early 2016 | Expectations are high for this Steve-Brown-helmed restaurant, which will dish up approachable French fare.
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

  • Brut, 428 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis | 2016 | With all the culinary firepower of Erik Anderson (above) and Jamie Malone, Brut promises exciting things. It’s going into the old Sapor space on Washington Avenue.
  • Lawless Distilling, 2619 28th Ave S, Minneapolis | Fall 2015
  • Scena Tavern, 2943 Girard Ave S, Minneapolis | Fall 2015
  • Bonicelli Kitchen, 1901 Fillmore St NE, Minneapolis | Fall 2015 | A catering business that raised Kickstarter money to make the jump to bricks-and-mortar and may not be making the jump to bricks and mortar.
  • Twin Spirits Distillery, 2931 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | Fall 2015
  • Able Seedhouse and Brewery, 1121 Quincy St NE, Minneapolis | Winter 2015
  • Lakes and Legends Brewing Company, 1368 Lasalle Ave, Minneapolis | Fall 2015
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

  • Q Fanatic, 6009 Nicollet Ave S, Minneapolis | Fall 2015 (second location) | Although the local BBQ scene is mighty weak, we do think Q Fanatic does a good job at serving up serious Q. This new location, along with the recently launched truck Bark and the Bite, suggests that there’s hope for us yet.
  • DiNoko’s Pizzeria, 4457 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis | Fall 2015 | DiNoko’s is a local place that can do deep dish pizza seriously well. Their move from Nokomis to downtown Minneapolis didn’t work out; here’s hoping that their return foray to South Minneapolis does.
  • Bryn Mawr Brewing, 225 Thomas Ave N, Minneapolis | Winter 2015
  • The Sheridan Room (replacing the Modern) in Northeast Minneapolis | November 2015 | Some details on MSP365.
James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

  • Hi-Lo Diner (working name), 4020 E Lake St, Minneapolis | Fall 2015 | Seward and Longfellow are really jumping onto the breakfast train after years of struggling to get by with nothing more than the overpriced Longfellow Grill and the inedible Denny’s; Mon Petit Chéri seems to be doing well, and the new Co-op Creamery Cafe will be a serious breakfast presence as well. Hi-Lo is getting in as the neighborhoods heat up. Here’s the press release and a photo of a crane lifting the diner into place.
  • Upton43, 4312 Upton Ave, Minneapolis | Fall 2015 | This spot, by Victory 44’s Erick Harcey, is a chance for the much lauded chef to bounce back from the bust-up of Stock and Badge and rollup of the ambitious but shaky Parka. Now hiring, so that’s a good sign.
  • Urban Forage Winery and Cider House, 3016 E Lake St, Minneapolis | Fall 2015 | We profiled these guys when they were mounting their (successful) Kickstarter campaign, and they have a fascinating take on how to do earthy, grassroots local wine and cider.
  • Lost Falls Distillery, 1915 E 22nd St, Minneapolis | Fall 2015
  • The Herbivorous Butcher, 507 1st Ave NE, Minneapolis | Fall 2015 | These guys have gotten serious national press and look poised to become a force in the food scene once their bricks-and-mortar spot is up and running. We like what Pizza Nea did with their product.
  • Pizzeria Lola concept TBD, 165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis | 2015
  • The Bachelor Farmer Cafe project to be named, 200 N 1st St, Minneapolis | 2015

St. Paul

  • The Commodore Bar and Restaurant, 79 Western Ave N | Today, Oct. 27 | Historic art deco spot linked with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
  • Handsome Hog, 225 E. 6th St., St Paul | Early spring 2016 | Former Brasserie Zentral and Meritage chef Justin Sutherland will be cooking contemporary Southern food with a high-end twist.
  • Mucci’s, 786 Randolph Ave, St. Paul | A new old-school Italian-American place from Tim Niver, owner of Strip Club Meat and Fish and Saint Dinette.
  • Sunrise Creative Gourmet, 1085 Grand Ave, St. Paul | November 2015 | A big move for the Hibbing-born Italian specialty shop, which will open in the former Chez Arnaud space on Grand Avenue and offer some cafe-type noshes including soups, salads, and pastries.
  • World of Beer, 356 N Sibley St, St. Paul | 2015 | Part of a chain including locations in Wauwatosa and Appleton, Wis., and Naperville, Ill.
  • Lake Monster Brewing, 550 Vandalia St, St. Paul | Fall or winter 2015
Courtesy of Lucas Gluesenkamp / lucasgluesenkamp.com/

Courtesy of Lucas Gluesenkamp / lucasgluesenkamp.com/

  • Heirloom, 2186 Marshall Ave, St. Paul | Fall 2015 | W.A. Frost chef Wyatt Evans hopes to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors (such as Russell Klein and Lenny Russo) and found a new St. Paul gastronomic institution. “Modern but … approachable … slow food” sounds pretty good to us (quotes from the Pioneer Press preview).
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

  • 11 Wells Millwright Cocktail Room, Historic Hamm Building, St. Paul | Early 2016 | A restaurant aspect to the space is rumored to be under consideration.
  • Lexington (new ownership), 1096 Grand Ave, St. Paul | Mid-November 2015 or later | It’ll be interesting to see how the ambitious team behind this revamp and relaunch tackles the task. Between its facade, its location, and its glorious but stuffy, old-school feel, we’ll find it tough to sort the baby from the bathwater on this one. Jess Fleming sums up the progress or lack thereof here.

Greater Twin Cities Area and Beyond

The Tap is the Heavy Table’s guide to area restaurant openings, closings, and other major events. The Tap is compiled and published biweekly by the Heavy Table. If you have tips for The Tap, please email James Norton at editor@heavytable.com.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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