If you’re a person who considers himself or herself plugged into the local restaurant scene, you’ve no doubt been to 112 Eatery — its critical mass (The New York Times, Beard, Zagat, GQ, Strib, etc. etc.) is overwhelming, and it pulls gourmets in like a pub-sized black hole. The scene is famously chic and / or raucous, and on a visit to the restaurant on a recent Friday night, it didn’t disappoint.
A punky Japanese woman with dyed hair sat at the bar next to a suit-wearing power couple; just a few feet away, a guy who may or may not have been Adam Platt from Mpls.St. Paul magazine sat at a large table with four women who may or may not have been professional models and a large stoic-looking gentleman who could have passed for an executive chef at another, only slightly less well-renowned establishment; on the other end of the restaurant (which is to say not too far away) a man with a braying laugh entertained his table with a stream of fever-pitched anecdotes. From 10pm onward the place, defying all logic and established tradition in the Upper Midwest, actually got busier, and the acceptable selection of 30-something-friendly music played loudly but not blaringly.
Entertaining as it may be, the scene is, has been, and hopefully always will be secondary to the food — more about that in a moment, but we won’t be breaking news when we proclaim it perfectly balanced, maturely conceived, and compellingly delicious.
Here’s the critical thing that should be understood about 112 Eatery if you haven’t heard it or understood it before: The place is an amazing value. It’s a steal. It’s an outrageous bargain basement deal. Two people dining in all-out, too-much-food-on-the-table manner — a bottle of wine, two appetizers, an entree, a salad, two sides, dessert and coffee for one — left 112 paying only a little more than $100 total, tip included. Try ordering in that fashion and then escaping Cafe Maude or Red Stag — both respectable restaurants, but neither regularly hitting the culinary heights of 112 — for less.
Now: the food. Complimentary starters — tender, tartly bright olives and spicy almonds — are a thoughtful bookend to the complimentary post-dinner sticky popcorn. Once you’ve munched through the opening course, you’d be wise to start with the lamb scottadito with herbed goat milk yogurt ($12); the lamb has a beautiful carbonized exterior and tender interior, and the yogurt-based sauce is rich and powerfully flavored without overwhelming the meat’s pleasantly gamey and substantial natural taste.
After all that’s been written about it, praising the tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs would be an exercise in redundancy, but praise it we must. If you’ve ever made your own fresh pasta, you know what a hassle it can be, but also how much more tender and superbly delicious the end product is. Additionally: The meatballs were the smoothest, richest, most delicate, most perfectly balanced specimens this diner has yet to encounter in years of scarfing down Italian-inspired entrees, for whatever that’s worth.
And for $11 — the price of a Smoky Shrimp Salad at Cowboy Slim’s in Uptown — you can get a generous half-order of the stuff, plenty of food if you’ve ordered an appetizer, particularly if it’s one as massive as the tartare ($9 for what looked like a soccer-ball sized mound.)
The tartare itself is rather wonderful, albeit more suited for a table of four or five than a table of two. (To 112’s credit: the waitress warned us about the size. That’s the very definition of good service.) A raw egg yolk atop the mound of capered meat added richness; the bite of onions and capers perfectly countered the sweetness and creaminess of the extremely finely chopped steak.
Here it’s worth taking a moment to praise the bread and butter — some of the best bread (crusty but tender exterior, tender, modestly sized open crumb interior) to hit a table within several zip codes, no doubt. It’s a minor point, but one that reminds you that fine dining isn’t necessarily always foie gras and ground steak; a simple piece of bread can be equally transportative.
Other dishes were equally memorable, but a surprising highlight was dessert — a relatively pedestrian menu (chocolate pot de creme, banana cream tart) disgorged a tres leches cake ($7) with an impossibly smooth and airy cream-based frosting and an overall texture that was elegant as spun silk. Sweet, but not overly so, a minor miracle.
The coffee was unremarkable. That’s about as bad as things got at 112 Eatery. That was the low point.
If there’s any restaurant in the area in danger of imploding under the weight of its own hype, it’s certainly 112 Eatery; but far from showing strain, the place seems to have shrugged it off effortlessly in favor of producing relatively simple, beautifully executed, and reasonably priced food.
Upscale American in the Minneapolis Warehouse District
112 N 3rd St
Minneapolis, MN 55401
CHEF / OWNER: Isaac Becker
Full kitchen service until closing
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes, although you can often get seated at the bar on a late-night whim
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $11-28