Best New Restaurants 2013
We rounded up the best new dishes, drinks, and dining experiences that 2013 had to offer. Bon Appetit!
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5 Best Drinks of the Year
Verdant Tea’s Chai
Verdant Tea’s chai harnesses three base teas (Wuyi oolong, Yunnan black, and Laoshan black), two kinds of honey, raw cane sugar, and almond milk—plus 20-some spices, everything from the expected cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger to saffron and elderberry. The result is subtly sweet and intriguingly complex. • verdanttea.com
Parlour’s Ango Flip
In Borough’s basement bar, they take a staid bar ingredient, Angostura bitters, and flip expectations on their ear—instead of a topper, it’s the base of the Ango Flip. The result is heady, herbal, and spice-infused, with an ultra-creamy finish. • boroughmpls.com
7th Street Social’s Cry Baby Cry
The barmen at this neighborhood joint may exude old-school hospitality, but their drinks—including our fave, the Cry Baby Cry—often look ahead. The Baby’s mix of hard cider, prosecco, and ginger beer blends the crispness of a fall day with tart apple, bubbly buzz, and ginger zing. • seventhstreetsocial.com
Union’s Margie Had Sex in the Pantry
Feeling frisky? Margie Had Sex in the Pantry is quite the flirt (go figure). Think White Russian, but with a more beguiling blend of vanilla, maple, and cardamom. Best sipped during a blizzard, snow-globe style, under the glass dome on the restaurant’s rooftop. • unionmpls.com
The Torpedo Room’s Corn Tiki
The visuals at Eat Street Social’s new Torpedo Room are bold—thatched roof, stuffed marlin, open flame—but the drinks are skillfully subtle. The Corn Tiki is an Upper Midwestern reinvention of the classic Painkiller, with sweet-corn cream in lieu of coconut, and mulled apple cider instead of pineapple and orange juice. It’s both jolly and complex, a sort of craft-cocktail eggnog gone tropical. • eatstreetsocial.com
The Most Anticipated Restaurant of the Year
By Tim Gihring
On September 10, the chef-owners of Travail had the greatest payday of their lives. They posted a video on Kickstarter of themselves dressed as farm animals, asking for $75,000 to replace their Robbinsdale restaurant with a new Travail three doors down—twice the size of the original, including a craft-cocktail lounge called The Rookery. Within hours they had the money; when the campaign ended several weeks later, they had more than a quarter-million dollars. “Overwhelming and humbling,” says James Winberg, one of the chef-owners who began the restaurant with $2,000 in 2010. “We were on the verge of tears.”
The verge, but no waterworks. These are dudes, after all. Dudes with sweet ’staches known to blast Outkast, challenge patrons to beer-chugging contests, and rarely lose. (“If you want to throw down,” they warned on their Kickstarter webpage, “you will most likely be destroyed by one of us.”) Dudes who promised backers a “volcanic 2014 Travail Sexy Chef Calendar,” in which they’re hoping to include an image of the rather hirsute chef-owner Mike Brown posing shirtless like a bear, with another chef standing over him with a rifle, as though he’d bagged him.
On a recent weeknight at Pig Ate My Pizza, the spinoff pizza joint now occupying the original Travail, the bartender dances to disco while a Miss Piggy movie plays overhead. And yet the food is uniformly exquisite, from the charcuterie to the tomato basil soup to the creamy dessert poured out, in typical Travail form, with a puff of liquid nitrogen. “Travail wouldn’t have worked five or eight years ago,” asserts Travis Stanfield, manager at Pig Ate My Pizza. “The average person is now a foodie. More people now realize how good food can be.”
That’s partly Travail’s doing. They’ve democratized fine-dining, trading big, expensive entrées for smaller, more affordable plates, and swapping hushed, hidden kitchens for boisterous, in-your-face cooking that practically begs the diner to participate in the fun. The full name of the restaurant, after all, was Travail Kitchen and Amusements. And they meant it—they wanted to party.
They still do. Most of the Kickstarter cash will go toward new kitchen equipment—these dudes are gastro-gearheads and “we don’t want to stop pushing ourselves,” says Winberg. Read: more party tricks. The new Travail, which at press time was expected to open between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, will only offer tasting menus, as though you’d crashed a dinner party (at Will Ferrell’s house). The Rookery will feature micro-plates between $2 and $20, and cocktails that will no doubt be invented when something flung from the kitchen lands in something flung back. There will be long communal tables and counter seats that invade the kitchen space itself. “We want our guests as close as humanly possible,” Winberg says.
Such populism may appear gimmicky, a ploy to ply money from anyone crazy enough to fork it over to a for-profit business on Kickstarter. But such craziness isn’t unprecedented: The forthcoming Veronica Mars movie recently reached its $2 million crowd-funding goal in 11 hours. People will pony up, cult-like, for things to which they’re deeply attached. They feel part of the club. As they certainly should at the new Travail—they paid for it.
Four More of Our Most Anticipated Restaurants
Brasserie Zentral, Café Zentral, Foreign Legion
Russell and Desta Klein melded comfort and sophistication, St. Paul-meets-Paris-style, at Meritage. Now they’re taking over most of the Soo Line building in Minneapolis. At street level, Brasserie Zentral will serve up schnitzel and schnapps and other Central European classics, and the adjacent Foreign Legion wine bar will focus on the region’s wines and cheeses. Café Zentral will bring wieners and crepes to the skyway masses. They’re all slated to open this spring.
It took way too long for Sonora, Mexico’s famous hot dogs, to migrate to Minnesota, when Sonora Grill opened in the Midtown Global Market back in 2012. Starting this month, the bacon-wrapped beauties will also be available at the restaurant’s second location in the former Molly Quinn’s space in Longfellow. The sit-down menu will keep beloved the market’s pinchos (meat skewers), bocadillos (sandwiches) and caramelos (tacos), while adding more scratch-made, gourmet Latin dishes.
Betty Danger’s Country Club
A Ferris wheel in Nordeast? The city approved, so here it comes! Psycho Suzi’s revived the tiki bar; now its sister restaurant/destination will bring an amusement park experience into the city, with mini golf, a Minnesotanized Tex-Mex menu and, yes, a dine-in Ferris wheel, which will start spinning in early 2014.
Kim Bartmann defined the food-forward neighborhood hangout for a generation of young Twin Citians, with Bryant–Lake Bowl, Barbette, Red Stag, and Pat’s Tap. She’s also been a pioneer in greener eating, promoting local, sustainable ingredients, composting programs, and LEED-certified building. Her new Powderhorn eatery, Tiny Diner, expected to open this month, builds on this ethos with a solar array that dwarfs the tiny restaurant itself and produce picked from an onsite garden and urban Honey House Farm, just a few miles away.