The New Restaurant Scene
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Let’s review. September 2008—the month the investment bank Lehman Brothers tanked and the Dow plummeted 500 points in a day, thus ushering in the Great Recession—that month meant a lot of things to a lot of people. To this restaurant critic, it marked the day the music died. Sure, fine dining in Minneapolis–St. Paul had sputtered from the gung-ho days of just a few years ago, when it seemed like a new destination restaurant opened every week. Back then, you couldn’t possibly cover every single new restaurant. There simply weren’t enough pages, enough ink, enough time!
And then, in September 2008, everyone seemed to go from feeling rich to feeling poor, and the new pastime became not ordering tiny cups of saffron soup, but instead staring wide-eyed at newspapers and reading details of locals who lost their life’s savings to Bernard Madoff or Tom Petters. Suddenly, there seemed to be only restaurant closings: D’Amico Cucina, Bellanotte, Morton’s, Stone’s, the Times Bar & Cafe, and so many more. Overnight, $3 was the new $20, as proven by the hottest restaurant of last winter, Barrio Tequila Bar, which took one of our best white-tablecloth cooks, longtime La Belle Vie sous-chef Bill Fairbanks, and unleashed him on tacos. Wonderful tacos, but still: If $3 is the new $20, tacos are on the menu.
By the time spring came, there was such a famine of new restaurants to review that the local press (myself included) devoted a preposterous amount of attention to fast-food-chain debuts, like Smashburger. There’s one in St. Anthony. And now there’s one in Golden Valley! The parking lots have bright lines painted on the ground so you know just where to put your car! Marvelous. Capital was hard to come by all over, but nowhere so much as in the restaurant business. Only the strong survived.
But here’s the big news: The strong did survive! Some were reborn. Some even thrived, snagging hot chefs idled by the economy, and with them fresh cachet. Some even expanded. To wit: Alex Roberts and the Restaurant Alma crew have opened another Brasa, the nose-to-tail fast-casual spot, this time in St. Paul, and 112 Eatery is in the final throes of opening a Minneapolis North Loop pasta bar. Is your head spinning with all this news? I thought so. ¶ That’s why I present you with the issue I’ve been calling your Bunker Buster—as in, your key to bust out of your bunker and discover the glory of a Twin Cities restaurant scene that’s been remade in the last year. If you’ve been hunkered in your bunker hiding from bad news, it’s time to come out and notice that in your absence the world has been made anew. And it’s a delicious world indeed.