Can a restaurant define a neighborhood?
These days, the North Loop in Minneapolis is more about the manufacture of hip lifestyles than, say, tractor parts, baking powder, or, in the historical case of 730 Washington Ave. N., O-rings, seals, and gaskets. Those gizmos have given way to the holy trinity of urban revival: luxury apartments stacked atop a food-forward restaurant and a subterranean cocktail bar.
Borough, the restaurant, and Parlour, the bar, have quickly been mobbed by hip young office workers as well as aging boomers in pleated slacks. (For developers hoping to continue the neighborhood’s renaissance all the way north to Plymouth Avenue, consider this your reassurance.) Borough’s décor is a mash-up of the industrial and heritage movements, all shiny ductwork, concrete, and wood. It looks primed to host the next Northern Grade pop-up market. Is that really a cheese grater doubling as a lampshade? Are we really going to eat champagne potato-chip soup? And foie gras with ice cream? Yes, yes, and yes!
The restaurant is a tonal shift for its owners, Brent Frederick and Jacob Toledo. (A tour of Toledo’s LinkedIn page: owner/operator at The Pourhouse, owner/operator at The Maple Tavern, owner/operator at Cowboy Slims, bartender at Bellanotte, inside sales at Laird Plastics….) The two are proving that guys who know how to run an annual Beer Olympics can also impress foodies of the sort who wouldn’t know a kegstand from a crépinette.
To do so, they tapped a smart culinary duo, Tyler Shipton and Nick O’Leary. The two chefs met while working at Travail, the famously laid-back gastro-lab in Robbinsdale, and got along so well that they decided to become roommates. If you caught Saffron chef Sameh Wadi’s appearance on Iron Chef, a shorter-haired O’Leary was one of his assistants.
Unless you’ve secured a reservation, most visits to Borough won’t go farther than the bar. Parlour’s food list is limited, but the space has an alluring vibe. Large windows capture the energy of passing foot traffic, the visual equivalent of an ambient soundtrack, and noted barkeep Jesse Held (co-founder and president of the North Star Bartenders’ Guild) lets his creativity run wild. A Flippin‘ Good Drink lives up to its name by blending milk stout with bourbon and egg to taste almost like bitter dark chocolate. Before visiting Parlour, I hadn’t seen a Panty Dropper on a drink list since Held’s tenure at the Town Talk Diner. This version turns an odd couple—dill aquavit and sparkling sake—into a marriage made in heaven.
Upstairs, if you reserve a table or snag one of the first-come-first-served barstools, you’ll have access to the full food menu. But here, the drink list is limited to a few updated classic cocktails, including a moody Old Fashioned that tastes like something to nurse fireside, for as long as it takes glowing coals to become ash. These are drinks not so much poured as created. When we ordered a round, our server said, “I’ll get those crafted for you.”
Servers carefully describe the plates they present, a helpful habit since the kitchen’s style is the culinary equivalent of fashion’s layered look: every dish seems to be accessorized with multiple herbs, sauces, and gels. Even Borough’s most familiar bar foods have features you won’t recognize. The burger is topped with a whitish froth that slumps off the side of the patty like a tiny avalanche: American-cheese foam that tastes nothing like the plastic-wrapped plastic we ate as kids. Here, for a couple of extra bucks, you’ll get far better ingredients and attention—house-ground sirloin, a house-made bun and pickles—than at the neighboring dive bars.
Despite their humble pub-and-picnic roots, the Scotch eggs at Borough are sure to be nearly as coveted by food-lovers as a Fabergé. Each bacon-wrapped sausage orb is split to reveal an egg yolk cooked to a perfect five-minute-20-second gel. They’re served with a mind-bending beet mostarda, which looks as ruddy as ketchup but tastes like sweet, earthy mustard.
Shipton and O’Leary also turn the least likely of bar foods into ideal snacks, as suitable as shell-your-own peanuts for pairing with a beer. Cauliflower, for example, is prepared like Italian fritto misto: fried so the edges are just browned, then tossed with fried oysters, fresno chiles, pickled tempura-fried jalapeños, and caper berries. They’re plated with what looks to be gravy but turns out to be a buttery cauliflower purée. (The easiest way to encourage vegetable consumption: add fat, spice, and acidity.)
Octopus is one of the last things local diners might expect to find at a pub, but the dish has quickly become one of Borough’s bestsellers. The ultra-tender tentacles are as innocuous as chicken, their oceanic origins barely detectable in a flurry of Asian flavors: coconut-sweet butternut-squash curry, a pungent fermented black bean/soy sauce glaze, and a hint of ginger vinaigrette.
Shipton and O’Leary excel at this comfortable blurring of casual and upscale, nailing the Travail-esque ethos of accessible adventure, particularly in dishes such as champagne soup, a creamy potato purée that’s simultaneously savory and bright, garnished with both luxurious black truffle and plebeian potato chips. A fish you’ve eaten hundreds of times feels novel when prepared as a new Nordic duo—poached-salmon fillet and smoked-salmon mousse—and paired with beet, apple, caraway, dill, and horseradish foam. And a fish many diners have never tasted—sturgeon—is prepared as a cozy stew. Our server aptly described the fish’s meaty texture and mild flavor as akin to pork tenderloin, and it made perfect sense with white beans and ham.
The fried chicken, deconstructed then reassembled in a form that our server referred to as “chicken nuggets cubed,” isn’t immediately identifiable. Chicken sausage is sandwiched between breast meat in little blocks, then coated in ground breadcrumbs and fried—McDonald’s never served anything like this. Crisp chicken-skin chips can be used to scoop up the accompanying puréed potatoes and onion gravy. The only thing the dish needs is less salt—after a multi-course meal at Borough, you’ll likely be guzzling water.
For dessert, I like the margarita-style cheesecake, with a saltine-cracker crust and garnished with lime curd and tequila gel. But your best bet is to end your meal in a different section of the menu, ordering one of the medium plates: a sweet-savory foie gras.
The foie is prepared au torchon, molded to a cylindrical shape before being poached and sliced into discs. The genius comes from its pairing with crushed pecans, puréed yam, house-made marshmallow, and maple ice cream. It’s as decadent as Thanksgiving—if you’d substituted buttery foie for overcooked turkey then loaded up at the dessert buffet. You’ll part with $18 for the thrill, but, like everything I’ve sampled from Borough’s menu, it’s well worth the cash.
The Perfect Dish
Even the Borough staff disagrees on whether the foie gras should be served as an appetizer or dessert. Chefs often serve the ultra-rich duck liver with a sweet foil, such as a glass of Sauternes or a dab of cherry jam, but Tyler Shipton and Nick O’Leary push that concept to the extreme. They pair the foie with puréed yams, house-made marshmallow, and maple ice cream—it tastes like an abundant fall harvest.
The North Loop has quickly become the Twin Cities’ hottest dining neighborhood,
with this upscale pub as its capstone.
Ideal Meal: Start with the octopus and cauliflower, then follow with the salmon. Foie gras for dessert.
Tip: Parlour serves a terrific fish and chips, which isn’t available upstairs.
Hours: Daily 5 p.m.–2 a.m.
Prices: Small plates $7–$18; large plates $19–$25.
Details: 730 Washington Ave. N., Mpls.
Rachel Hutton is a senior editor at Minnesota Monthly.