The Toast: OMNI Opens, Junkyard, Cocktails at Parella, Insight Turns One

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

This week in the Toast: the cocktails and infusions program at the newly opened Parella, Junkyard Brewing Company of Moorhead, the one-year anniversary of Insight, and Maple Grove’s newly opened OMNI Brewing Co.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Cocktails and Limoncello at Parella

Upscale Italian is on the lips of chefs and diners alike this year as Il Foro and Monello opened their doors. Now add Parella — which just opened in the Uptown space that housed Figlio for 25 years — to the list.

It’s impossible to ignore the connection to the former beloved late-night Italian oasis, given the cuisine and the aromas wafting from the wood-fired oven, but beyond the layout, which hasn’t changed one bit, Parella doesn’t have much in common with its predecessor. The food moves in a more refined, modern direction, and the cocktail list tows the classic line pretty hard.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

There is a right way and a wrong way to do classic cocktails, and without the support of a knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff, even a fair bar program will flop. Executing the classics takes either perfect skills or some kind of proprietary twist, or both. When a Manhattan appears on a cocktail list, it has big shoes to fill.

This Manhattan, made with Dolin Rouge vermouth and Amarena cherry syrup, was quite poor. It demonstrated a dramatic lack of flavor, and Parella’s twist, “date-infused Koval oat whiskey,” was entirely lost. We had to remove the oversized ice cube for fear of the anemic flavor worsening.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Across several visits to both the dining room and the bar, we found the service to be lacking. No staff member initiated a conversation about the two house-made limoncellos, perhaps indicating that the spirits are not yet deserving of the spotlight. Indeed we found the beverages somewhat immature, with intense heat and sugar that did not seem refined or properly aged. The aroma in both glasses flooded the nostrils with heat — the kind that prickles the nose hairs.

The classic lemon had a bit of an edge over the grapefruit thyme, which displayed little herbal character and a falsely sweet, chemical-meets-Kool-Aid taste. The lemon was also less hot, in the alcoholic sense, and the grapefruit was more generic citrus than grapefruit.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Parella (and its liqueur) needs some time to mature. It may have the ingredients to please Calhoun Square, but those seeking refined Italian fare should look elsewhere. And for limoncello? That’s easy — Monello has that one in the bag.

Parella3001 Hennepin Ave S #1200, Minneapolis, MN 55408; 612.353.5444, Mon-Thu 11:30 a.m.-midnight, Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun 10 a.m.-midnight

Junkyard Brewing

In case Moorhead hasn’t been on your short list of weekend getaways, let me offer a reason for a visit: Junkyard Brewing and their experimental, tiny-batch brews.

After opening in 2012 and expanding last year to include a taproom and a 3-barrel system, Junkyard continues to impress craft beer drinkers with the breadth and quality of its beers.

A handful of draft sales around the Fargo-Moorhead area ensures a local fan base, but the operation is so small that Junkyard products rarely reach the Twin Cities. Four of their beers appeared at the Craft Brewer’s Guild Autumn Brew Review, and each was a solid choice.

Free Candy, a Belgian-style quadrupel, is brewed using candi sugar in the boil. This increases the alcohol content and feeds the yeast without adding heaviness the way increased grain does. This example, while on the sweet side, displays the power of yeast and avoids the pitfall of being too palpably alcoholic. Brettanomyces and oak aging heavily increase the complexity of this batch and showcase Junkyard’s ability to combine flavor profiles effectively.

Even more drinkable is the Experimental Sour with Hibiscus. In contrast to many sours that are extremely tart, this hits the palate in a more approachable way. Its moderate tartness doesn’t overwhelm the floral notes, and the bright cereal malt shines through.

Junkyard Brewing Company 1416 1st Ave N, Moorhead, MN 56560; 701.936.5545; Mon-Thu 4-10 p.m., Fri 4 p.m.-midnight, Sat noon-midnight, Sun closed

Paige Latham / Heavy Table
Paige Latham / Heavy Table

OMNI Brewing now open

The northeast metro, formerly a brewing desert, is seeing some big changes this year. Anoka’s 10K Brewing is breaths away from opening, and Big Lake has brought craft drinkers Lupulin Brewing Company. But for those in the inner suburbs, fear not. OMNI Brewing opened its doors to the public on Sunday in Maple Grove. A packed tap room was offered the first sips of a pale ale and an IPA from the only brewery within miles.

Founders Steve Hayes, Justin Walsh, and Zack Ward ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to make their homebrewing-gone-pro dreams a reality. Their plans include expanding beyond standard-issue beers to more creative and unique brewing techniques.

The old Schwann’s space makes sense for the new business owners, as a lot of cold storage is key. Converting it into a taproom appears to have been a success. A mix of high-top tables, a bar, and more cozy seating offers places for different encounters, and a shuffleboard table entertains drinkers.

Paige Latham / Heavy Table
Paige Latham / Heavy Table

Two beers are now on draft at OMNI: Pilot Pale and Hopfull IPA. The pale ale is a major success. It has a nicely balanced hopiness that is sustained throughout sipping, neither getting lost or intensifying in the aftertaste. An array of cereal notes anchors the entire glass, and it is very drinkable.

After tasting the Pilot Pale, sipping the IPA is a shock. In fact, looking at it is quite surprising. It is obviously unfiltered, but it appears as though the particulates weren’t even allowed to settle before kegging. It is a very murky copper color with chunks of sediment at the bottom of the glass and — in our pour — a small piece of hop floating in the receding ring of head.

Unfortunately, the little green leaf does not foreshadow what is to come. The bitterness falls short of the IPA designation, and the flavor doesn’t begin to rival that of the pale ale. Off flavors of oxidation creep in towards the end of each sip, with soggy newspaper and rainy dog park elements building beyond what is tolerable.

Perhaps this failure was the result of rushing this beer to market. Although it would not solve all the issues, some time resting — or “cold-crashing” in brewing terms — would improve its murky appearance and muddled taste.

OMNI Brewing, 9462 Deerwood Ln N, Maple Grove, MN 55369; Mon & Tue closed, Wed-Thu 4-10 p.m., Fri 3-11 p.m., Sat noon-11 p.m., Sun noon-8 p.m.

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table
Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Insight’s First Anniversary

After a successful opening by industry standards, Insight Brewing has concocted a serious celebration beer in honor of its upcoming first anniversary. Given the wealth of professional brewing knowledge on the part of co-founder and head brewer Ilan Klages-Mundt, it should come as no surprise that Insight is releasing a high-gravity, barrel-aged selection called Gravity Well. We previewed it last weekend and can’t help but contribute to the well-deserved hype.

According to Klages-Mundt, the concept behind Gravity Well, an imperial stout, “came from working with breweries in Denmark and at Goose Island in Chicago.”

While the capacity at Insight has doubled in only a year, and cans are on the horizon, what excites brewing staff the most is the initiation of a barrel program. “Working with barrels is like working even more so with a living organism, because barrels need a lot of tending to. They breathe throughout the process, which actually decreases our yield, but also changes the beer inside,” explains Klages-Mundt. Blending is a major component of barreling, as each barrel offers different nuances.

Look forward to additional barreled beers this year along with cans beginning in October.

After aging in rye whiskey barrels, the bold imperial stout takes on a depth of flavor from its own chocolate and toffee notes plus vanilla and oak from the barrels. We were very impressed with the distinct liquor notes that neither hide behind the roasted malt nor overpower the beer. It was a sleeper hit that rings in beers to come.

Insight Brewing, 821 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55413; 612.722.7222; Mon-Thu 3-11 p.m., Fri 3 p.m.-midnight, Sat noon-midnight, Sun noon-11 p.m.