Photos by Becca Dilley (except Charito photos, which are James Norton) / Illustrations by WACSO
Our efforts to complete this series had been slightly derailed due to a variety of factors–last winter’s pandemic surge, for example–so, it was nice to be back in the saddle. As you might expect, sharing plates in a group such as ours necessitates some amount of close proximity and random fingers poking around in food. In another time, this might’ve be a tad awkward, but in a today’s world, it felt weirdly wrong. As such, we tooled up for our journey with masks and pockets of our own plastic forks and knives to keep our bites someone quarantined. This time around we visited five new establishments along East Lake Street, starting with three in the Midtown Global Market. – M.C. Cronin
This series is made possible by underwriting from Visit Lake Street. Heavy Table retains editorial control of the series — as with Central Avenue and the Green Line, this tour will be warts-and-all.
“From the river to the lakes, visitors and residents can shop local and be social on Lake Street. More information at VisitLakeStreet.com.”
This week’s Checklist Crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, Becca Dilley, James Norton, Bill Lindeke.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
East Lake Checklist Revisited is an illustrated travelogue dedicated to documenting the changes on this major Minneapolis artery after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the damage done in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
We’ll publish four- or five-restaurant installments monthly until we’ve revisited or explored every nonchain spot on East Lake Street between 35W and the Mississippi River. (We’re estimating 20 new spots since our original tour in 2018, but we’ll see how it shakes out.)
Arepa Bar (at Midtown Global Market)
920 East Lake Street
The owner of Arepa Bar, Soleil Ramirez, buzzed from one end of the prep counter to the other putting together orders. It was impossible not to see the level of care she put into her work. As she built our arepa, her facial expression hovered somewhere between focused determination and pride.
In the restaurant industry, operating a 100 percent scratch kitchen is no small accomplishment. The good news is this owner’s commitment and soul reads through in the food. It’s a reminder that when you eat at an independent restaurant, your money isn’t just a transaction offsetting the cost of ingredients and labor, it’s helping support someone’s dream in very direct, visceral way. – M.C.
We’ve written about Arepa Bar before (in Heavy Table’s newsletter, and over on Sahan Journal), and we’ve tried and enjoyed their food. Here’s a piece of good news during a troubled time: If anything, the food has gotten better since the opening of this Venezuelan restaurant in January.
The arepas at Arepa Bar (we got ours with pork, cheese, plantains, and black beans, $11.85) are good enough that we collectively went back for third and fourth tastes, soaring far above and beyond our duty to taste and well into the rarified realm of “actually loving the food.” The arepa itself was remarkably chewy and full-flavored, the plantains perfectly cooked, the pork tender and well-seasoned, and the proportions somehow in balance despite the monstrous size of the entree. This is one of those rare dishes we’ll still be thinking about in a week and still be recommending in a month.
Our Tequenos (Venezuelan fried cheese sticks, $9) were remarkably enjoyable despite the simplicity of the concept – each stick had a hearty crunch factor, a mild, chewy, mellow, and pleasant cheesy interior, and was a good match for the accompanying green sauce which cooled and herbed up the otherwise easy-going appetizer concept.
The special of the day was an “all in” hot dog for $6, and the phrase “all in” has perhaps never been so apt – the dog was completely submerged beneath a layer of mustard, mayonnaise, shattered potato chips, slaw, onions, cheese, and Lord knows what else deliciousness. Despite the abundant toppings, the sausage was able to assert its own snappy, meaty character, and it played well with all the mishigas that surrounded it. If only there were a stand that sold only these; we’d be there slightly more often than our family physician said was reasonable.
Finally, the restaurant’s signature rum cake ($6) was simplicity itself – a large slice of buttery pound cake dosed with an absurdly huge hit of vanilla and a surprisingly soft-spoken misting of rum. No tricks, no smoke and mirrors, just a delicious piece of cake. – James Norton
Oasis Market and Deli (at Midtown Global Market)
920 East Lake Street
The word “solid” often comes with baggage, because it implies a lack of specialness. And we’d hate to imply any lack of specialness about Oasis Market and Deli, but “solid” does work in this instance.
There’s no pretense or any illusion as to the void they’re filling. The sign above the kitchen area reads “Mediterranean grill,” after all. And while you may be able to order a burger and fries, you’re probably not coming here for that. No, it’s the hummus or falafel you’re after. It’s the samosas or lamb kabobs you’re craving. So if you’ve got gyros on the brain and you find yourself in Midwest Global Market, you’ve found the right spot. – M.C.
When Holy Land left Midtown Global Market under a cloud in June of 2020, there was real concern about what would fill its anchor-like role at the food hall, as its offerings were among the best-known and longest-running bites available in the venue. But not only does Oasis Market cover the same essential bases, it does so with considerably more conviction.
The hummus that comes with its Falafel Plate ($12) is a surprisingly layered and complex thing, with real hits of tahini and olive oil giving it a rich fullness that many commercial hummus offerings lack. The falafel itself was good (nice and crisp, if eerily consistent in shape, size and flavor), but combined with the accompanying salad, pitas, and hummus, it made for a legitimately satisfying full meal.
We could not believe the sheer bulk of our Gyros Sandwich ($9), which absolutely belongs in a “burritos as big as your head” sort of quick service food weight class. Even more surprisingly, the meat was surprisingly tasty – not leathery, nor overly salty, and particularly good when enjoyed with the accompanying sauce (which strongly resembled Russian dressing).
We got a couple of Sambusas ($1.50), too – they were perfectly nice, but nothing particularly awe-inspiring, lacking overall volume, any distinguishing depth of spice, or exquisite pastry. In a place like East Lake Street, sambusas have the strive to impress, and these were merely passable. – J.N.
Soul to Soul Smokehouse (at Midtown Global Market)
920 East Lake Street
“After a good rub, we like to smoke.” This is the slogan written on the back of the staff shirts at Soul to Soul Smokehouse. So, right away, you know this place has a sense of humor.
We saw the backs of these shirts often as the three owners of the place worked the kitchen prepping food orders. They weaved in and around each other pulling hunks of meat from the smokers, carving off juicy morsels and tossing them in foil-lined clamshell containers, filling plastic ramekins with beans and banana pudding, and carrying bags of food out to salivating patrons. Open kitchens are endlessly mesmerizing. Or perhaps, we’re just strange that way. Whatever the case, the show was fun to watch.
And it was worth the wait. Smoked meats and soul food are best when they’re cooked slow and steeped in rich family tradition. And there’s no mistaking that’s what’s going on here. – M.C.
We were lucky enough to get three dishes at Soul to Soul Smokehouse that we’re not going to forget anytime soon.
The first was a half smoked chicken ($13) that was absolutely and gorgeously CLOBBERED with herbs and was rich in smoky flavor without being choked by it. The meat had that salty density you associate with a successful smoking process but still retained some moisture, making for a remarkably delicious overall experience.
The second was the Banana Pudding (absurdly underpriced at $3) which is the first we’ve had since eating at Allen and Son in North Carolina that is worthy of the name. It packs what tastes like a dozen bananas’ worth of flavor into a little plastic ramekin, and goes down dangerously easy.
And the third was the restaurant’s black-eyed peas, a side offering that boasted delicate texture and a subtle kick of flavor from the smoked turkey that rides alongside these tasty little beans.
The rest of our food wasn’t bad, either. The half rack of pork ribs ($18) had a terrific looking smoke ring and great texture (neither mushy nor tough) and would have been stunning if it had just had some real bark riding on the exterior. As it was? Pretty damn good.
A catfish filet was priced right at $8 and fried to a golden perfection in cornmeal, but didn’t offer a lot of flavor and came to us without sauce. We’ve had funkier catfish in the metro area and wanted more contrast to the cornmeal, which did most of the speaking for this dish.
Other sides were also worth ordering again – a silken mac and cheese that was incredibly delicate and tasted like it was drowned in butter, and a sweet, meaty take on baked beans that reminded us of the adzuki bean paste that gets stuffed into bao and other Asian sweets.
All in all, we were pleased to find one of the metro’s outstanding BBQ spots hanging out in the middle of South Minneapolis – we’ll be back. – J.N.
Loncheria Los Amigos food truck
Posted up at the former 3rd Precinct building
The generator powering this food trailer’s inner workings was loud. Like “lying under an airport runway” loud. The constant gas-powered mechanical drone honestly made us wonder how anyone working inside wasn’t sustaining permanent hearing damage. And yet, the two guys hanging out right next to the trailer’s order window slamming tacos seemed undaunted. This was probably, in our way of thinking, a good sign. As was the no-frills, basic red paint job and the big collage of food snapshots and numbered menu items pasted on the side fo the truck.
Loncheria Los Amigos was parked near the remains of the 3rd Precinct building. And while the turmoil that rocked the area is still evident even today, the surrounding businesses like the Hook and Ladder Theater, Moon Palace Books, Hub Bike Co-op, and Arbeiter Brewing are all emanating positive vibes. – M.C.
What can we say about this charming little food truck that we found parked less than a block from Arbeiter Brewing Company? Well, in a nutshell: DIAL BACK THE SALT, DUDES.
Minus the salt, the truck served us a good (if surprisingly finely chopped) order of Chicken Fajitas ($12) and a ravishingly attractive and macho Chilaquiles Verdes ($13). With the salt, though, our palates just about died on us. It was particularly telling that those of us who tasted the fajitas first thought that the chilaquiles were inedibly salty, and vice versa – it speaks to the sheer volume of salt and the degree to which it built up and blew out our tastebuds.
On the other hand: their large jamaica drink was less sweet and more astringent than most of the competition out there, very much to its favor – it was refreshing, sophisticated, and nicely done. Oh, and very, very large, probably more appropriately measured as a fraction of a gallon than a collection of ounces. – J.N.
Arbeiter Brewing Company
3038 Minnehaha Avenue
Arbeiter occupies the former Harriet Brewing space, but the experience is completely new. Redesigned from the ground up, it has an airy, open feel with big garage door windows on two sides and high ceilings to accommodate the brewing operation — and the requisite tall stainless brewing tanks — in the back.
The night we visited, the garage doors were all raised open to let in the breeze. Classic 80’s hair metal thrummed through the sound system. A few pinball tables along one wall blinked and jingled in a valiant attempt to lure anyone to come play. But this was a gorgeous summer night in Minnesota, and no matter how enticing it would be to hit a multiball on that classic Bally’s “Addams Family” machine, no one was inclined to leave the outdoor patio. Us included. – M.C.
After years of often good but sometimes inconsistent experiences with Harriet Brewing Company, it’s refreshing for Longfellow to have a reliably clean, reliably open, reliably tasty brewing company.
Arbeiter’s beers sport generally sport clean, refreshing flavors that don’t lack character, and we liked all three of the beers that we tried on a warm August night: an Italian Pils (a collaboration with Utepils) with a refreshing herbal-citrus hop bite, a German-style Haha Pils (comparatively clean and mild), and a blonde ale with a floral character. In our Dec. 11, 2020 newsletter, Jerard Fagerberg wrote: “Haha Pils is a straight up prove-it beer for Arbeiter, modeled after great Bohemian pilseners the likes of Pilsner Urquell and Radegast Premium. It should be Arbeiter’s north star beer, an exemplar of what a classically minded brewery can do with dedication to German traditions. Let’s hope it sticks around as a mainstay on taplines once the taproom can finally open.” – J.N.