Best New Restaurants
9 Trends That Put the T.C. Food Scene on the Map
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This year, after many long years of kneading, fermenting, and pot-stirring, the Twin Cities dining scene finally received the attention it deserves. Sure, it took a visit by President Obama and a reporter from the New York Times to make the rest of the country take notice, but the coasts finally clued in to what you and I have known for quite some time: the Twin Cities are serious food towns. We have a talent-rich, ingredient-forward, wide-ranging dining scene that deals in everything from haute French technique and laboratory science to Hmong sausage and cave-aged cheese.
Remember the architecture boom of 2005 and 2006, when a slew of new, high-profile buildings caused the rest of the country to crane its neck toward our wind-swept plains and perceive, for the first time, a little arts mecca on the prairie? Our dining scene has now had that same effect, proving once more that Minnesotans are more than our nose-to-the-plow Ole and Lena caricatures. We’re creative, ambitious innovators.
In the decade I’ve spent following the development of Twin Cities restaurants, I’ve watched the give and take of this evolution. Bite by bite, restaurateurs nudge diners out of their comfort zones and, over time, the edgy becomes mainstream. Guided by exacting chefs, bar patrons who formerly made do with mass-market lager and frozen commodity meat developed a taste for hopped-up craft brew and grass-fed beef—ground in-house and hand-pattied, of course. Five years ago, with some trepidation, chef Sameh Wadi listed lamb brains on his opening menu at Saffron. Now he can’t take them off.
Last year’s pack of new Twin Cities restaurants reflect Americans’ desire for more flexibility and choice—even if they’re sometimes contradictory. And the best of the crop embody several national dining trends. Read about them here and then go taste them for yourself.
These days, calling yourself a carnivore is almost a dare. If you’re not sucking marrow out of bones or filling your gullet with foie gras, you’d better be gnawing gristle off a dinosaur bone.
The Spot: Butcher and the Boar
Butcher and the Boar is an unapologetic meat fest, pairing grilled-and-smoked flesh with bourbon and beer. If you’re in the mood to eat what looks like a Neanderthal murder weapon, chef/owner Jack Riebel and his headband-wearing crew do smart work with their beef long rib, slicked with tar-black molasses barbeque sauce. Even more impressive: Riebel’s ability to match his meats with complementary flavors that round out a dish.
The Signature Dish: Berkshire Pork and Cheddar Sausage
Not content to merely slide his cheese-stuffed, house-made Berkshire pork sausage into a traditional bun, Riebel adds broccoli, apple, rye crisps, and a hard-cider sauce—a combination that sounds crazy, but tastes fantastic. // Butcher & the Boar, 1121 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-238-8888, butcherandtheboar.com
Technology has collapsed geographical distance into the space of a button’s push and the Internet has improved chefs’ access to ingredients, techniques, and tools from all over the world.
The Spot: Harriet Brasserie
Harriet Brasserie feels very rooted in Minneapolis, inhabiting a vintage fire station, but its menu is très multicultural, possessing French, Asian, and Latin influences. The decadent burger is as much a classic as the bison tartare, Brazilian coxinha, and crawfish and grits.
The Signature Dish: Crab Benedict
Harriet’s Benedict circles the globe, pairing French hollandaise with Latin poblano peppers and Slavic blini. // Harriet Brasserie, 2724 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2197, harrietbrasserie.com
Items I’ve eaten in the course of reviewing this year: two foie-gras-topped burgers, three bacon-topped doughnuts, and a bacon ice-cream sundae, along with pork-belly-stuffed lettuce wraps, buns, and savory éclairs. (Let’s hope my physician is not reading this….) Counterbalancing the bacon-topped-bacon trend, diners are also seeking more healthful options when they dine out.
The Spot: Birdhouse
At Birdhouse, Stewart and Heidi Woodman of Heidi’s have created a place where diners might eat every day—without packing on extra pounds. But forget the vats of undercooked chickpeas and bricks of dense whole-wheat bread that you subsisted on in college: this is California spa cuisine reinterpreted, as flexible as it is substantial. For example, the kitchen cleverly reimagines pork charcuterie as terrines made from mushrooms and pâté made from peas.
The Signature Dish: Sweet-Pea Pâté
The mint/goat cheese/sweet-pea pâté topped with a swirl of tangy crème fraîche tastes like the first day of spring—and far more indulgent than its calorie count would suggest. // Birdhouse, 2516 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-377-2213, birdhousempls.com