Best of the Twin Cities 2011
Variety is the spice of life, right? Sure, but we think the wondrous mix of things to do, eat, drink, buy, and enjoy in the Twin Cities is better described as, well, pretty sweet. It’s a veritable Candyland out there, and on the following pages we highlight the things that make us feel good as gumdrops. The tastiest focaccia (the best Dara’s ever eaten). The hippest cover band (they know Weezer’s The Blue Album front to back). The most honest auto-body shop (they do exist). And, yes, the best candy store. Admit it, we’re spoiled rotten here. And that’s a good thing.
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YoYo Donuts & Coffee Bar
Want to get upper level VP’s to come to your next brainstorming meeting? Then simply note in your invite that YoYo Donuts will be provided, and set your conference table with maple long johns garnished with full slices of bacon, s’mores donuts artfully topped with perfectly toasted marshmallows, and filled donuts plumped with filling fit for a restaurant’s best pie. YoYo Donuts proves what can happen when a bakery gives each and every donut some serious attention. And for the price of a trip to Minnetonka and $17 for a dozen, you can prove that when you host a meeting, it’s worth peoples’ time to come.
☛ 5757 Sanibel Dr., Minnetonka, 952-960-1800, yoyodonuts.com
Broders’ Pasta Bar
Name a better place in the Twin Cities that makes its own pasta from scratch. You can’t—because there isn’t one. This 17-year-old, family-run Italian restaurant is a rock of consistency, thanks to executive chef Michael Rostance’s 25-year history with the company (he started at Broders’ Cucina Italiana, the deli across the street, before Molly Broder and her husband opened the restaurant). Rostance takes a traditional approach to the pasta press, pushing the dough through an extruder made with bronze dyes (as opposed to the Teflon dyes favored by American manufacturers). This makes his noodles porous and spongy— chewy conveyor belts for a heavenly tomato cream sauce.
☛ 5000 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-925-9202, broders.com
There’s a certain art-meets-science wonder to the spice rack at Golden Fig. Each of the grocer’s 50 blends, from the blush-pink Bolivian Rose Salt to the rowdy, paprika-powered “Rebel Yell,” seems like a divine intervention from the flavor gods. But they’re actually engineered by owner Laurie Crowell in her off-site kitchen. With a chemist’s precision, Crowell creates concoctions that stretch the definition of “spice,” including reconfigured sugars—enhanced with, say, cherry cardamom or hints of maple—and “dip” kits, small pouches of seasoning that, when combined with mayonnaise and sour cream, create exotic spreads for bagels, sandwiches, and veggies.
☛ 790 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-602-0144, goldenfig.com
Surdyk’s has a cheese shop you can use the way a bibliophile uses a great bookstore. The clerk greets you, and asks what you’re there for. “I’m in the mood for something I’ve never had,” you say. “Something terrifically aged. Surprise me.” In response, the clerk unwraps the rare, precious, dense Bleu Mont Dairy cheddar, slices off a bit of tangy, nutty golden magic for you, and hands it over solemnly. As you let this unusual flavor experience envelop you, you suddenly realize that you have found a shop that not only sells cheese, but also—like a museum—curates the stuff in all its splendid, stinky, and sumptuous varieties.
☛ 303 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls, 612-379-9757, surdyks.com
W.A. Frost & Co.
Nothing points to the maturity and sophistication of a restaurant scene more than its cheese. Great cheese requires two things: first, dairy farmers with the upper-level artistry and economic ability to put their product into storage and not sell it for several years; and second, customers cultured enough to appreciate the flavors that evolve and wealthy enough to pay $20 a pound. No restaurant is more mature and sophisticated when it comes to cheese than W.A. Frost & Co., where they carefully select, care for, and present the best cheeses available. Pair it with something from Frost’s fantastic port and dessert-wine list, and just like that you’ve given yourself a profoundly delicious gift.
☛ 374 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, wafrost.com
Too many local Thai restaurants use curry as an obscuring veil to hide sins: cheap chicken, bleak broccoli, cardboard carrots. Not at Naviya’s.
At this Linden Hills gem, vegetables are exactly what the world’s food-gurus have been telling us vegetables should be: indulgent, sensuous, and extravagant. These bright broccoli florets and crunchy carrots are more than things you’re told you have to eat. They’re jewels that will dazzle and delight as they appear before you.
☛ 2812 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-276-5061
Mill Valley Kitchen
Nutritionists have been up in arms for years now: how can people lose weight if they never know what’s in their food? Enter Mill Valley Kitchen. It hides nothing: the calories, carbohydrates, and fat grams of every dish are listed so you can make healthy decisions for a happier you. Sure the wild-mushroom risotto sounds yummy, but at a quarter the calories, the sesame carrots sound even better. No wonder this bright, spa-chic spot has become the go-to restaurant for the health conscious. Finally, here’s a place where you can stick to your diet without fretting about your diet.
☛ 3906 Excelsior Blvd., Mpls., 952-358-2000, millvalleykitchen.com
It was a year of consolidation and difficulty for Minnesota’s cupcake world. But our own James Beard award nominee for best pastry chef in the whole darn country, Michelle Gayer, was always diversified at her bakery Salty Tart, offering everything from onion-topped milk tarts to sandwiches to tubs of frosting. And, of course, cupcakes. Try the Surly Furious chocolate, malty and deep, or the white lemon curd, bright and clean tasting. And then try whatever else is on offer—just because you can.
☛ 920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-874-9206, saltytart.com
2042 Marshall Ave., St. Paul; 4747 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls.; sweetsbakeshop.com
3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-822-1119, rusticabakery.com
Franklin St. Bakery
1020 E. Franklin Ave., Mpls., 612-879-5730, franklinstreetbakery.com
St. Paul Classic Cookie
2386 Territorial Rd., St.Paul, 651-227-4840, saintpaulclassiccookie.blogspot.com
Two Smart Cookies
181 Snelling Ave., St. Paul, 612-384-1069, smartcookieshop.com
4351 France Ave. S., Mpls., 612-925-3252, france44.com
[ Readers’ Pick ]
Voted on by Minnesota Monthly readers at MNMO.com