The Tap: Restaurant Formats That Work

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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

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


  • 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


  • DiNoko’s (Nicollet Avenue location; 42nd Avenue location is now open)
  • Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar (closing at the end of July)
  • Le Town Talk (reopened as Town Talk Diner and Gastropub)
  • Salsa a la Salsa (Uptown location)
  • Il Foro



Screenshot from Wild Mind Ales website
Screenshot from Wild Mind Artisan Ales website
  • Wild Mind Artisan Ales Taproom, 6031 Pillsbury Ave S, Minneapolis | As per the press release: “Wild Mind will predominantly produce wild, sour, farmhouse, saison, and rustic ales in the traditional European method: through barrel aging and blending, which produces beers with rich, deep, complex flavors.
  • Five Watt (Roastery and Cafe), 2904 Harriet Ave S, Minneapolis | August | Former Uptown Imports location.
  • Bad Waitress (second location), 700 Central Ave NE | November
  • La La Homemade Ice Cream, 3146 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | July | Homemade ice cream shop going in the former Shoe Zoo location in Uptown.
  • Game Sports Bar, 2841 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis | Summer 2016 | A gay-clientele-focused sports bar replacing Salsa a la Salsa, which replaced BoneYard, which replaced Old Chicago. They’re in the hiring phase.
  • Barbecue Joint Name TBA, 816 Lowry Ave NE, Minneapolis | 2016 | A Kansas-City-style barbecue place “with no chairs and tables” opened by some combination of the Travail team.
  • Red Rabbit, 201 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis | Autumn | Red Cow owner Luke Shimp’s new spot will offer “a variety of dishes including handcrafted pizzas, oysters, pasta, fresh salads and more.”
  • Clockwerks Brewing Company, 25 4th St N, Minneapolis | Summer
  • Trapeze, 1600 W Lake St, Minneapolis | Early Summer | A new Kim Bartmann “bubbles and toasts” bar opening next door to Barbette.
  • Mercury Dining Room and Rail, 505 Marquette Ave S, Minneapolis | Autumn | Scratch fare from the Blue Plate Restaurant Company in the old Brasserie Zentral space. The former Foreign Legion will become the Shindig Event Center.
  • Erik the Red, 600 1st Ave N, Minneapolis | Summer | Nordic-influenced barbecue from the owner of Devil’s Advocate.
  • Kaiseki Furukawa, 30 N 1st St, Minneapolis | October | Classic kaiseki (progressive small courses) dining. We can’t wait.
  • Young Joni, 165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis | Summer | Anticipation is high for this new wood-fired pizza and Korean spot by Pizzeria Lola / Hello Pizza boss Ann Kim.
  • Bakers’ Field, The Food Building | July | Bread made from grain milled on site at the Food Building in Northeast Minneapolis. The bakery’s owner is Steve Horton, formerly of Rustica. Listen to Steve talk about the project on The Weekend Starts Now podcast. The bakery has begun selling its naturally-fermented breads at the Mill City farmers market.
  • Revival, 525 Selby Ave, St. Paul (former Cheeky Monkey space) | Summer | A second location for the popular fried chicken spin-off of Corner Table. The original location will also be expanding and offering take-out.
  • Project TBD at old Walker Library in Uptown, 2901 Hennepin Ave S | Architectural details available here.
  • Cafe Alma, 530 University Ave SE, Minneapolis | 2016 | Slated to be an all-day cafe with a liquor license and a six-room hotel upstairs, as Alex Roberts explains in this Q and A with Rick Nelson.
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.
  • Twin Spirits Distillery, 2931 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | 2016
  • McKinney Roe, 550 4th St S, Minneapolis | September | Contemporary American food by the owner of O’Donovan’s Irish Pub and Lola’s Lakehouse.
  • Utepils (formerly Bryn Mawr) Brewing, 225 Thomas Ave N, Minneapolis | Fall 2016

St. Paul

  • Black Coffee and Waffle Bar, Marshall and Cretin Aves, St. Paul | Second location. Plenty of build-out evident, things seem to be cookin’.
  • Parco 400, 400 N Sibley St, St. Paul | ??? | A new Italian restaurant opening in the old Trattoria Da Vinci spot in Lowertown, the culinary side to be headed up by Troy Unruh, formerly of New York City’s well-known Del Posto. Facebook page is eerily quiet, website is a placeholder.
  • Babani’s (second location), Wabasha Street S. | September | A second location for the country’s oldest Kurdish restaurant.
  • Ha Tien Grocery (second location), 1959 Suburban Ave, St. Paul | Fall 2016 | One of our favorite stops on our Green Line Checklist is expanding into a second location.
  • Tori Ramen, 161 N Victoria St, St. Paul | 2016 | Chicken-focused ramen shop in the former Lee and Dee’s.
  • Bottle Rocket, 1806 St. Clair Ave, St. Paul | 2016 | A reboot by the Blue Plate Restaurant Company of the former Scusi space with craft cocktails.
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
  • 11 Wells Millwright Cocktail Room, Historic Hamm Building, St. Paul | 2016 | A restaurant aspect to the space is rumored to be under consideration.
  • The Lexington (new ownership), 1096 Grand Ave, St. Paul | ??? | 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. Their Facebook page says, “Keep calm. We are opening soon.” Last Facebook update: March 8.

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