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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Minnesotans are used to paying top dollar for Italian balsamic vinegars. But are the secrets of great vinegar confined to Italy? They are not! Leatherwood fruit vinegars are made right here in Long Prairie, just northwest of St. Cloud, using a year-long process that starts with fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, then ferments and barrel-ages them until a miraculously tasty, tangy, zesty vinegar is produced. Use them to perk up lentil soup, improve pilaf, render a salad extraordinary, or otherwise turn your Plain-Jane cooking into something so zippy it will bedazzle even the most jaded Italophile of a cook.
There’s only one way to express the love one man feels for another man’s business in the Twin Cities: dinner at Manny’s. From the rolling cart of beef, with its astonishing $80 Bludgeon of Beef (and the even more astonishing $110 Double Porterhouse) to the bottles of rare wines (including the best list of Cabernet Sauvignons in the region), there’s nothing like Manny’s. Of course, don’t forget about the world’s best hash browns, the biggest brownie, and all the see-and-be-seen networking you can cram in between courses. And remember: if you were eating at Manny’s, you’d be somebody by now.
☛ 825 Marquette Ave., Mpls., 612-339-9900, mannyssteakhouse.com
Steakhouse on a Budget
The Strip Club
Any way you cut it, St. Paul’s Strip Club has been at the forefront of all things culinary: chef J.D. Fratzke has been the local leader in using grass-fed meat in his dishes; bartender Dan Oskey has been in the news for his Joia sodas (but it’s his inventive alcoholic libations that are making our world go ’round). Still, as spectacular as the food and drinks are, the single factor that has kept the Strip Club whirring through all the ups and downs (and downs) of this endless recession is its budget-friendly pricing. Soup for $4 and a $34 chef-driven, ethically raised, scrumptious strip steak? Now that’s the culinary vanguard.
☛ 378 Maria Ave., St. Paul, 651-793-6247, domeats.com
The over-use of the word awesome makes it all but impossible to use language to describe things that actually inspire awe. This fact becomes baldly apparent the moment one tries to put word to the feeling that comes over a bread lover when confronting the reverence-inducing offerings at Patisserie 46. Consider the mîche, a bread so profoundly rich and whole it may as well be meat. Or the individual cakes, which start with something like pistachio praline, continue to pique your curiosity with a filling of pistachio mousse, then swell to encompass wild strawberry gelée, and—finally—soar through meringue heights to crescendo in a virtuoso of white chocolate. What to do with a bakery that exists where language fails? Appreciate it, of course.
☛ 4552 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3257, patisserie46.com
To some, Tilia was the most anticipated restaurant of 2011. To others, the most-anticipated restaurant of the decade. Why? The waffles. Oh good golly, the waffles. Cornbread-based, topped with delicate lobster, hugged by spinach bathed in garlic-butter, and crowned with a bacon-touched hollandaise—not a gimmicky bacon hollandaise, but a whimsical bacon hollandaise that unites the waffle and bacon like the melody connecting the verses in a song—this is a waffle that will leave you humming with joy.
☛ 2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com
Clancey's Meats and Fish
Clancey’s is the place for meat lovers both highbrow and low. Charcuterie-obsessed gourmands drool over the locally sourced, fresh-cut exotica (pork jowls, homemade duck fat) and love the shop’s willingness to accommodate special requests (You want a pig pancreas? They’ll get you a pig pancreas). Regular working stiffs, on the other hand, pop in on their lunch breaks for the state’s best, belly-filling deli sandwiches. Order the roast beef for an invigorating, sinus-clearing blast of locally grown horseradish paired with very locally grown beef—all the meats at Clancey’s come from pasture-raised animals butchered on-site.
☛ 4307 Upton Ave. S., Mpls., 612-926-0222, clanceysmeats.com
Holy Land at the Midtown Global Market
Being judicious and thrifty at an olive bar is tiresome. How can you know which salty little treats are best till you try them all? That’s why Holy Land’s new olive bar at Minneapolis’s Midtown Global Market is so wonderful. For just $7 a pound, you can indulge in all the salty treats you desire. Treats like green olives the size of hens’ eggs, chili pepper-coated olives, lush kalamata olives, briny little Moroccan olives, wine-marinated olives…the list goes on and on. Add a bag of fresh pita, a container of hummus, and a block of feta and—voila!—you’ve catered your Mad Men viewing party on the cheap, and not at all tiresomely.
☛ 920 E. Lake St, Mpls., 612-870-6104, holylandbrand.com
Birchwood Café’s Key Lime
We know what you’re thinking. Key Lime pie? Too tart. Too acidic. Too garishly tropical for our refined Minnesota palates. But not so at the Birchwood, where this citrus-y pie asserts itself with subtlety and elegance. Its lime flavor creeps, rather than explodes, through a wedge of custard on a graham-cracker bed. It’ll leave a tingle at the corners of your mouth—a zing that is eased with the organic whipped cream topping your slice. No cheap-margarita flavor here.
☛ 3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474, birchwoodcafe.com
Sun Street Breads
The perfect baguette needs two things: a tender, airy crumb (known to laypeople as “the inside”) and a thin, crisp crust. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. But from the first day young baker Solveig Tofte opened Sun Street, there it was: simultaneously the most delicate and sturdiest thing in the world. Of course, Tofte had already made her name in baguettes at Turtle Bread, but somehow the loaves at her new shop dwarf even those. They’re so good they might even make you forget that Sun Street also has the best biscuit sandwiches in town, as well as French fries worth a drive across town.
☛ 4600 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-354-3414, sunstreetbreads.com
Mac 'n' Cheese
It sounds innocuous enough on the menu: noodles, king crab, tallegio, truffle. But this mac ‘n’ cheese is far from ordinary. Delicate curls of canneloni noodles stand in for the macaroni, and the cheese is a creamy Italian talleggio, made even funkier by a bit of truffle. That mushroomy base is taken in a whole other direction by the tender, sweet king-crab meat, only to be overthrown by all the other flavors: crunchy fish roe, buttery toasted breadcrumbs, celery leaves, parsley leaves, and chives. Slide a forkful into your mouth and let the sensuous, surprising, knee-weakening elements combine. If Earth holds a better mac ‘n’ cheese, we’ve never tasted it.
☛ 119 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-338-8484, haute-dish.com
Best Candy Store
3803 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-0261, sugar-sugarcandy.com
3805 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-721-3741
Alix in Candyland
5400 France Ave. S., Mpls., 952-915-1100, alixincandyland.com
For Popcorn and Fudge Lovers
Candyland in St. Paul
435 Wabasha St. N., St. Paul, 651-292-1191, candylandstore.com
4813 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3881, candyalley.comcastbiz.net
[ Readers’ Pick ]
Voted on by Minnesota Monthly readers at MNMO.com
Best French Fries
St. Paul Grill