A Better Brasserie
Harriet Brasserie lives up to the expectations of a
I’ve never liked paying for breakfast that I might just as easily have made myself—except maybe at Curran’s, where a fried egg and toast is so cheap that I consider the $1.99 a dishwashing fee. With good ingredients, even a middling cook like myself can turn out a restaurant-quality omelet. It takes about five minutes. And you don’t even need to put on pants.
That’s not to say that there aren’t breakfast foods worth going out for, including dim sum, black-and-white pudding, and the new Harriet Brasserie’s crawfish and grits, which is as novel a treat in south Minneapolis as being addressed as ma’am. The dish is the Bill Clinton of breakfasts: the down-home grit of coarse-ground corn, the sharp wit of vegetable fricassee, and the smooth social grace of ripe avocado, combined with the bad-boy spice of andouille sausage and coated in a runny-yolked egg’s creamy drawl. It’s fuel for hiking the Appalachian Trail. Or strolling Lake Harriet, at least.
Harriet inhabits Café Twenty-Eight’s old space in Linden Hills, the onetime Minneapolis Fire Department’s Station No. 28. Alterations were minor, as the quaint brick building already possessed a surplus of charm, between its vintage patina, multi-paned windows, and snug patio, where diners have been known to stop dog-walkers and shower their charges with snuggles and kisses. It’s hard for a restaurant to get any more histori-chic than one that’s left an old fire pole intact. (And the architectural preservation is even more appreciated as the neighborhood’s original housing stock has been increasingly infiltrated by the starter castle, that invasive species from the suburbs.)
Linden Hills became a bona-fide dining destination last year, drawing crowds from far beyond the neighborhood when the popular chef Steven Brown opened Tilia, his longtime-coming solo venture. Harriet may never achieve the buzz of its much-lauded neighbor, whose foodie fare has made hour-long waits common. But the two businesses seem more complementary than competitive, much like 112 Eatery and Saffron in the city’s Warehouse District.
Harriet was launched by Alain Lenne and chef Fernando Silva, formerly of French Meadow Bakery who most recently helped open Eat Street Social and co-owns La Belle Crêpe on Nicollet Mall with Lenne. The menu includes French staples, but also has quite a bit of Latin influence: pork rillettes, quiche Lorraine, and Belgian waffles meet tostadas and ropa vieja, along with a few fusions, like mussels paired with sambal oelek, the Asian chili paste. The brasserie is a versatile place that’s casual enough to bring the kids, yet elegant enough for a romantic tête-à-tête. It’s both accessible and exciting: a neighborhood bistro that serves octopus with the head on.
The restaurant’s staff seems in good sync, perhaps because it’s stacked with family members, including Silva’s wife, Lenne’s ex-wife’s step brother, and a married couple—manager Brie Roland and chef de cuisine Dustin Thompson, formerly of Tilia. (Several staffers work at both restaurants, actually.) The team shows good taste in curating the always-changing meat-and-cheese plate offerings (well-appointed with grilled bread, olives, marmalade, and pickled onions), as well as their wine and beer lists, which include everything from a $2.50 can of Wisconsin lager to a $22 bottle of Belgian sour ale. Sustainability is a priority for the kitchen staff, which often works with ingredients from local farms, including some grown on the restaurant’s own plot of land in Lakeville.
Continuing a trend seen at several new neighborhood restaurants, Harriet’s entrées tend to play a secondary role to the small plates. A duck-leg confit entrée, for example, featured a bird sourced from Wild Acres and cured in-house, but it lacked the expected intense salty succulence. My friends and I felt we might just as well have purchased the duck confit down the street at Clancey’s.
The offerings change regularly, though, and another night I found a vegetarian entrée far more lively: two fried pheasant eggs paired with grilled asparagus, fingerling potatoes, and a mild, creamy kohlrabi purée that contrasted with a sharp ramp dressing. For the same $12 price, the grass-fed beef burger is an equally attractive carnivorous option. The juicy, well-seasoned patty is topped with bacon, cheddar, sautéed oyster mushroom, and truffle aioli. The shoestring-thin, skin-on French fries are something of a palate cleanser from all the umami.
The restaurant’s best meals are those assembled from small plates. Start with the delightful coxinha (co-SHEE-na), a pair of Hershey’s Kiss–shaped croquettes eaten on the streets of Brazil but uncommon around here. Break through their fried crust—the staff suggests eating them with your hands, as cutting coxinha is supposedly bad luck—to reveal a spicy mixture of potato, shredded chicken, and gooey cheese. The braised pork belly has a similar appeal, its richness tempered with smoke (it’s cooked in a corn husk), soft grits, braised greens, and epazote (eh-pah-ZOH-tay), a medicinal, slightly bitter herb that’s native to Latin America and grown on the restaurant’s farm. The bison tartare takes a page from fusion-style sushi, contrasting the pure, smooth texture of the musky raw meat and egg with the rough char of grilled bread, creamy rémoulade, fresh herbs, and jalapeño bite. All three plates feel indulgent but not excessive.
Silva and Thompson are skilled at creating “synergy bites,” layering tastes and textures in a way that feels composed and dignified—a mille-feuille, not a dog pile. Take the niçoise-esque salad, whose bevy of Asian substitutions leave it really nothing like the classic. Tuna is sesame-soy-cured, in the style of a Hawaiian poke; edamame replaces haricots verts; taro chips stand in for potato; and flying-fish roe represents the hard-boiled egg. It’s an odd assembly—and certainly not for everyone. But I appreciated the ingenuity and look forward to ordering it again.
One of the things I love about dining at restaurants is discovering combinations that I would never have put together myself, such as tofu and yucca with pungent, salty black-bean paste; sweet red peppers; the mosquito sting of shishito peppers; and refreshing watercress. When I recognized the kitchen’s constraints for the dish—it’s vegan—I was even more impressed. I can’t remember the last time I ate a more satisfying animal-free dish.
At Harriet, more is more, except when it comes to dessert, where the simplest choice is the most stunning. Deconstructed Key lime pie is fine, but the tres leches cake is ambrosia for the ages.
Harriet Brasserie’s international bistro fare helps make downtown Linden Hills a bona-fide dining destination.
Ideal Meal: Start with the Brazilian coxinha, then pair pork belly with tofu hash, and finish with tres leches cake. Tip: Sipping a Bull Run cappuccino on Harriet’s patio is the neighborhood’s best laptop-free coffee-shop experience. Hours: Daily 8 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sun.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m. Prices: Small plates $6–$16; entrées $14–$34. Address: Harriet Brasserie, 2724 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2197, harrietbrasserie.com
Rachel Hutton is a senior editor at Minnesota Monthly.