Good Day CafÃ©
Restaurant breakfasts can be such a snoozer: eggs and toast and hash that you could have just as easily whipped up at home. But at the Good Day CafÃ©, adjacent to the Metropolitan Ballroom in Golden Valley, brunch is a meal worth the wake-up call.
The cafÃ©’s bright, sunny space feels like a place where the country-club class gathers when they want to loosen their ties and slip off their loafers. Proprietor David Webb has taken his successful restaurant formula (he and his brother Rick collectively own Zelo, Ciao Bella, Bacio, and the restaurant that Good Day replaced, Coco Lezzone) and applied it to the breakfast biz. Morning standards are dialed up a notch: The eggs Benedict are served with lush crab cakes, the fried-egg sandwich piled high with ham and avocado. And they’re supplemented with a bevy of bakery items, from beignets to caramel rolls, and a full coffee bar that delivers a sure-fire sugar-caffeine kick-start.
The only problem with Good Day is that, during peak times, it’s impossible to get a table. If they ever start taking reservations, we’ll never sleep through breakfast again.
Best Meal: The glazed-doughnut pancakes with an obnoxiously rich chocolate-coconut coffee drink dubbed the Almond Joy. 5410 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley, 763-544-0205
The first meal of the day is as elegant as the last at the Nicollet Island Inn, a historic hotel on the edge of the Mississippi. The Nicollet’s $30, five-course plated brunch starts off with petite house-made pastries and then offers a sampling of traditional and trendy fare. After a meal of egg-and-sausage bake, chicken-liver bruschetta, crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e French toast, and grapefruit gelÃ©e, you’ll want to celebrate with another mimosa. 95 Merriam St., Mpls., 612-331-1800
Business all boils down to trust, so if you need to seal a deal while you dine, pick a place that’s an institution, not the latest flash-in-the-pan. The problem with traditional restaurants, however, is that sometimes they’re too traditional—the food hasn’t changed for decades. Bank, though, offers both timelessness and taste. It’s housed in an elegant, historic space—the Art Moderne lobby of the former Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank in downtown Minneapolis—but the restaurant is brand new, with a menu of enlivened classics.
The food may be familiar, but it has a modern, luxurious touch: The deviled eggs are sprinkled with three types of caviar; the Kobe-beef burger comes topped with smoked bacon, sharp Cheddar, and roasted tomatoes; the grilled salmon is accompanied by ramps and trumpet mushrooms. The drink selection may be the best of the menu lists, as the carefully crafted cocktails are made with fresh herbs and juices. A blueberry mojito, watermelon margarita, or Bank’s titular drink—garnished with flecks of gold leaf—should ease even the most difficult negotiations.
Best Meal: Start with the hot-chili raspberry cosmo, the shrimp rolls, and the arugula salad. Then have the lamb with braised white beans, ratatouille, and rosemary-mint gremolata followed by a few tiny, shotglass-size desserts. 88 S. Sixth St., Mpls., 612-656-3255
With its mahogany woodwork and polished brass, the St. Paul Grill’s classic dining room feels like the clubhouse for last century’s railroad magnates and lumber barons. The frosted-glass partitions between the booths allow extra privacy for politicians and power brokers to seal deals over steaks and single-malt scotches—the same way they’ve been doing things for decades. 350 Market St., St. Paul, 651-224-7455
Photo by Terry Brennan
Photo by Terry Brennan
Unless you plan in advance, date night is going to have to be a late-night if you want to snag a table at CafÃ© Maude. The former Connor’s Deli space has been mobbed by its Armatage neighbors since it opened this summer—and for good reason.
CafÃ© Maude possesses a comfortable sophistication: The walls are painted dark hues of red, gold, and blue, and the room is furnished with plush benches, eclectic art, and mismatched light fixtures. On weekends, live bands play experimental jazz or world music. It all goes together precisely because it doesn’t: Opposites attract, just like you two, right?
The creative drink list was crafted by La Belle Vie’s stellar bartender Johnny Michaels, and a blackberry mojito or fig-espresso martini is sure to relax the mood. For a non-alcoholic alternative, the sassy marshmallow Peep—topped blue raspberry lemonade makes a great flirtation device. Snacky, sharable small plates range from the substantive half-a-chicken or hanger steak, to lighter salads, sides, and flatbreads. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s done right. Seared ahi tuna, for example, can be a clichÃ©, but Maude’s version—served on buttery toasts with guacamole, microgreens, and citrus vinaigrette—is a sublimely tasty take. And none of the dishes are more than $12, so your cheap date doesn’t have to feel like one.
Best Meal: The Woman of Leisure lychee cocktail paired with the ahi tuna and the mixed-green salad with avocado, duck confit, and citrus vinaigrette. Be sure to save room for the delightfully light lemon cheesecake with blackberry compote. 5411 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-5411
Though romance isn’t immediately associated with this acclaimed Warehouse District gastropub, 112 Eatery is a great date spot for several reasons. First, securing a reservation the requisite month in advance is a testament to your commitment. Second, the main dining room has the intimacy of a speakeasy, with noise levels that require diners to lean in close. Third, you can linger as long as you want to, as the kitchen turns out its amazing meals— bacon, egg, and harissa sandwiches, steak tartare, tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs, and more—until 1 a.m. 112 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-343-7696
A neighborhood restaurant should be like a little black dress: versatile enough for multiple occasions. When Restaurant Levain re-opened as the more casual CafÃ© Levain, it went from being a special-occasion restaurant to one equally suited for an impromptu date, a glass of wine with the neighbors, or dinner with the in-laws.
The bistro menu features such rich, delectable dishes as roast chicken, short ribs, and duck-leg confit, slow-cooked to maximize flavor. Levain’s fare is as comforting as its dining room, a cozy space with butter-colored walls and wood wainscoting. The service is the sort that makes you feel like a regular—whether you live in the neighborhood, or you just wish you did.
Best of all, the food and wine lists offer great value. All entrÃ©es are $20 or less and come with a complimentary side (caramelized Brussels sprouts, macaroni and cheese). The wine list offers many bottles from Restaurant Levain’s original list—with prices discounted by a third. It’s a restaurant suitable for many occasions and affordable enough for multiple ones.
Best Meal: The roast chicken, sautÃ©ed mushrooms, and the chocolate torte. 4762 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-7111
One of Minneapolis’s original neighborhood restaurants, Lucia’s has been an Uptown institution for more than two decades. Chef/owner Lucia Watson was one of the first to emphasize local, organic ingredients and prepare them simply to let flavors shine. In Lucia’s warm, homey dining room, cooking with the seasons isn’t a new trend—it’s a philosophy that’s been perfected year after year. 1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., 612-825-1572
Toast Wine Bar & CafÃ©
Though Scott Davis is a restaurateur (the one-time partner in Auriga spent more than seven years running the front-of-the-house and serving as the restaurant’s sommelier), he’d make a great editor, as he knows how to pare things down, to separate the wheat from the chaff. With Toast Wine Bar & CafÃ©, the restaurant he opened last year with his wife, Erin Tomczyk, Davis proves that less can really be more.
The restaurant is tucked into a tiny, awkward space on the edge of Minneapolis’s Warehouse District, but high tables and tiny candles make it feel pleasantly intimate. The space was too small to accommodate a full kitchen, so the menu at Toast is a short list of soups, salads, cheeses, charcuterie, cracker-crust pizzas, sandwiches, and crostini. But these are just the sort of light bites perfect for pairing with wine—and Toast has a well-curated list. There may not be a lot of familiar names, but that’s the point: Davis wants to introduce his customers to small regional wines they’ve never tried—or even heard of.
Best Meal: Pairing a glass of Cristalino Cava RosÃ© or a bottle of Hou Hou Shu sparkling sake with a few crostini, such as the herbed goat cheese with summer squash, and the scrambled egg and chorizo. 415 N. First St., Mpls., 612-333-4305
The 30-seat Heartland Wine Bar adjacent to Heartland Restaurant is a great way to enjoy chef Lenny Russo’s meticulous Midwestern cuisine in a more relaxed setting. The two-dozen wines-by-the-glass are as critically regarded as they are affordable and they pair perfectly with smaller-portioned entrÃ©es, such as the Lake Superior cisco with braised chard and sweet corn—crayfish relish. 1806 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul, 651-699-3536
Fogo de ChÃ£o
Silly Americans think all-you-can-eat means casino buffets and the annual Nathan’s Famous hot-dog-eating contest. But Brazilians know how to do conspicuous consumption with class, well beyond the 40 days of Carnival.
The South American steak house, the churrascaria, made its way to downtown Minneapolis last spring via the chain restaurant Fogo de ChÃ£o. Drawing on the tradition of cowboys roasting dinner over open fires, hunks of flame-seared meat are served tableside at Fogo, cut followed by cut. Gaucho chefs, Brazilian men dressed in billowing pants, pull skewered meats out of the fire and rush around the room. After a trip to the colossal salad bar, guests call the gauchos to the table by flipping a colored paper disc from red to green, and the meat marathon is on.
The generous gauchos can encourage overeating, though, so part of the challenge is knowing when to say when. If you go for lunch, you’ll get the same meal for half the price—and reduce the temptation to gorge yourself to get your money’s worth.
Best Meal: The stellar salad bar plus a few bites of the picanha prime sirloin, beef filet, and the bacon-wrapped chicken and beef. 645 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-338-1344
As Uptown Minneapolis’s hottest nightspot, Chino Latino features food from the “hot zones,” including a crowd-pleasing slow-roasted whole suckling pig, prepared per Cuban tradition. The most daring dish on the menu is that South American staple, the guinea pig. The rodent-like creature is served splayed out, jaws to claws, on a bed of rice, potatoes, and hominy—a presentation you won’t soon forget. 2916 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-7878
Wayzata Eatery and Wine Bar
Diners in the western suburbs don’t need to venture to downtown Minneapolis for remarkable eating since the Wayzata Eatery opened in the Colonial Square shopping center last summer. The interior is far classier than the strip-mall surroundings might indicate: A raised platform of dark wood booths and a wall-length wine cabinet surround a cluster of granite-topped tables. And the vintage posters advertising leisure cruises on Lake Minnetonka seem particularly appropriate to Wayzata’s clientele, who likely dock their sailboats at the Tonka Bay Marina.
The restaurant functions as a test kitchen for Taher, a food-service management company based in Minnetonka, so while the menu offers something for traditionalists, like the beef tenderloin with reduced balsamic glaze, it also has plenty for more adventurous eaters, such as the crÃªpe-wrapped crab cake served with broccolini, pea shoots, and carrot-ginger purÃ©e.
Some of the most successful items are those that fuse classic fare with creativity, such as the curried egg-salad sandwich and the manchego cheese bites with quince-paste dipping sauce—a gourmet take on fried cheese curds.
Best Meal: Start with an order of the manchego cheese bites, then balance out the grease with the healthier—but equally tasty—Thai wilted steak salad. Save room for a slice of the homemade red velvet cake. 1179-A E. Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata, 952-288-2866
Some of the state’s most authentic Italian is served where you’d least expect it: in an elegant, vaulted-ceiling dining room that’s tucked among the McMansions of suburban Lilydale. I Nonni, which is owned by the Marchionda family (the founders of Buon Giorno Italian Market), serves fresh-made pastas, homemade salumi, and tender osso buco that’s worth the drive from anywhere in the Twin Cities. 981 Sibley Memorial Hwy., Lilydale, 651-905-1081
OVERALL DINING EXPERIENCE
Photo by Terry Brennan
Photo by Terry Brennan
When Ralph Burnet, the local real-estate mogul, convinced celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to run the restaurant in his new boutique hotel, the Chambers, it garnered international notice. Minneapolis was knighted with culinary cool, A-listed alongside Shanghai and Paris.
From the start, Chambers Kitchen’s arty, sophisticated space attracted business types, cultural creatives, theatergoers, and nightlife-lovers—less for its substance than for its style. But, over time, the kitchen staff proved they could pull off French-Asian flavors as well as their leader, who spends most of his time in New York: The duck l’orange is so distinguished you’d think it had been prepared by Vongerichten himself. The globally influenced menu incorporates local flavors, too, offering salt-and-pepper walleye with basil and chilies alongside chicken samosas.
Between the stark, sunny, main-floor dining room; the dark, clubby rathskeller; and the fifth-floor roofdeck bar, Chambers has proved the place for breakfast meetings, power lunches, dinners, cocktails, and occasional celebrity-spotting.
Best Meal: The rice-cracker-crusted tuna appetizer, the striped bass in a subtle sweet-and-sour sauce, and any of the ethereal desserts—especially the passion-fruit soufflÃ©. 901 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-767-6900
When the mod, celestial Cosmos opened four years ago, it was the city’s first haute hotel eatery. With new executive and pastry chefs installed this spring, the creative flavor pairings—from coconut-poached halibut to avocado custard—continue to be as innovative as the dining room’s futuristic dÃ©cor. Graves 601 Hotel, 601 First Ave. N., Mpls., 612-312-1168
Minneapolis’s Warehouse District has historically been home to artists, but today, culinary creatives are taking their place. Chef Sameh Wadi, whose cousins own Holy Land deli, is challenging the notion that fine dining equals European cuisine by fusing Middle Eastern flavors with formal techniques.
The result is delicately plated cross-cultural combinations unlike anything else in town: beef carpaccio with truffled brown butter and crispy chickpeas, blue- crab salad with curry, avocado, and citrus. Wadi’s flavor palette is as refreshing as it is complex: Even a BLT can seem innovative when it’s made with house-cured lamb bacon and roasted-tomato jam. Brave diners can try the pint-sized lamb brain, which tastes something like a hybrid of sweetbreads and fried oysters, while less adventurous eaters can stick with the upscale bar foods, like charmoula-spiced mini-burgers and French fries served with a creamy feta dipping sauce. Like the food, the space finds a nice middle ground between classy and casual as the airy dining room’s exposed brick and saffron-colored walls balance the formality of its white linens and wineglasses.
Best Meal: Braised-beef ravioli with eggplant and harissa, crab salad, and the BLT. 123 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-746-5533
For celebrating the good life, La Belle Vie has all the right elements: lavish French-Mediterranean food, a 12-page wine list, expert service, and desserts made by pastry wiz Michelle Gayer-Nicholson. The best way to enjoy La Belle Vie is its eight-course Chef’s Tasting Menu, but if you’re on a budget, try the four-course version served in the lounge. 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440
Alexander Roberts, the chef/owner of Restaurant Alma, knew his acclaimed Minneapolis eatery was a little too formal for most mid-week meals. So he opened Brasa Rotisserie to apply the same seasonal/local/organic philosophy he uses at Alma to everyday eating.
Roberts took over the former Betty’s Bikes and Buns in northeast Minneapolis and when the old brick garage was covered with bright orange paint and corrugated metal, it suddenly felt like South America.
Brasa’s Latin soul food is simple but satisfying: Meals are built by combining slow-roasted pork or chicken with a choice of Southern-style sides. The pork narrowly edges out the chicken as a main course—they’re equally tender but the pork has richer flavor and seasoning—but both can be ordered with such sides as collard greens, pickled vegetables, pigeon peas and rice, yams with chorizo, and cilantro-flecked cabbage salad. There’s a short wine and beer list and just a few desserts to keep decisions refreshingly uncomplicated. And the home-style meals are ideal for takeout.
Best Meal: Pork with fried yucca and a creamy puddle of sharp Cheddar grits—plus an order of the coconut-tapioca pudding with passion fruit and pineapple. 600 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-379-3030
You already have your regular Eat Street burrito joint to enjoy a couple tamales while you cheer on the Mexican futbol team. But when you want to turn down the mariachi music and eat your tacos with a fork, there’s Masa, an upscale Mexican concept pioneered by D’Amico and Partners. While the splashy, contemporary setting may stray from tradition, the authentic fare—margaritas, guacamole, pozole, and flan—doesn’t. 1070 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-338-6272
GOURMET BURGER JOINT
Photo by Terry Brennan
Photo by Terry Brennan
Harry’s Food & Cocktails
While its origins may be disputed (Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club both claim its invention), there’s no question that the Jucy Lucy—a cheese-stuffed beef patty, grilled until the cheese turns gooey—is Minneapolis’s most significant culinary contribution. It’s a shame that this hot, melty marriage of meat and cheese is often made with inferior ingredients.
When chef Steven Brown helped launch Harry’s Food & Cocktails in downtown Minneapolis, he made sure to remedy the situation. His take on the Lucy is the Cowboy, a patty of Angus beef stuffed with barbecued pork, cheese, jalapeno, and cilantro—a spicy, delicious mess. Nine other burgers are topped with everything from proscuitto and Brie to smoked paprika and manchego cheese, and served on pillowy buns as rich as buttermilk biscuits. The thin-cut fries are served on the side, tucked into paper envelopes with retro graphics. If you don’t do burgers, try the sunflower salad: butter lettuce with smoked salmon, golden beets, sunflower seeds, and sprouts.
Best Meal: The Gourmet burger, topped with earthy morel mushrooms and melted GruyÃ¨re cheese. 500 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-344-7000
The restored Arts and Crafts—style dining room at The Craftsman is an elegant setting for a three-course dinner—or a gourmet burger. All four Craftsman burgers are made with meat from local farms and luxuriously topped: basil aioli and micro greens on the turkey burger, for example, and walnut-arugula pesto on the bacon-and-venison version. 4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-722-0175
No focus group would have told Gail Mollner and her husband, Chris Stevens, to use antlers as their signature decorative item when they renovated a former Caribou Coffee in south Minneapolis last spring. Surprisingly, though, the gothic look works, because the gnarled horns, moody paintings, wrought-iron fixtures, and pen-and-ink graphics lend an air of intellectualism to the otherwise unserious bright, cheery space.
Blackbird’s menu is part bistro basics—caesar salad, cream of celery soup, turkey Waldorf sandwich—and part unexpected—a Vietnamese bÃ¡nh mÃ¬, or oxtail hash. The best thing about Blackbird is its flexibility: You can order off the lunch menu during breakfast hours, you can order off the breakfast menu until 2 p.m. During “tidbit time,” from 2 to 5 p.m., Blackbird offers a snacking menu, with such items as apple-Brie cracker-crust pizza and almond-crusted chÃ¨vre with fried shallot and apricot chutney, each for less than $10.
Best Meal: The crawfish hotdish followed by a slice of carrot cake with goat cheese frosting. 815 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-823-4790
Throughout its various incarnations, from Grand Bakery, to Bakery on Grand, to, now, Grand CafÃ©—3804 Grand Avenue South has always been the charming gem of Minneapolis’s Kingfield neighborhood. The blond wood floors and antique accents give the tiny storefront a European feel of refined rusticity. And the homey fare—walleye cakes, warm beet salad, pot roast, and homemade buttermilk custard—is as tasty as it is timeless. 3804 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-8260
The hip Japanese bistro, Obento-Ya, looks like it belongs in Uptown Minneapolis rather than southeast Como Avenue, a university-area neighborhood whose sidewalks are shared by transient college students and lifelong Nordeasters alike.
The bright, tiny storefront looks like it was furnished at a Japanese Ikea, with bamboo partitions, pendant lights, and brightly colored soy-sauce pots. The young servers are as enthusiastic about Obento-Ya’s familiar fare—sushi, soba noodles—as they are about its lesser-known items, such as grilled and fried skewers of meat and vegetables called robata and kushi-katsu. The best of the spit-roasted snacks we tried were the light, sweet tempura-style Japanese pumpkin and its salty-fatty opposite, two bites of quail egg and bacon. The bento boxes offer the most variety and their contents are presented as stylishly as the dÃ©cor: A portion of meat, fish, or poultry is served in a lacquered compartmentalized box that includes rice, greens, and Japanese potato salad, a creamier, crunchier, and less vinegar-y riff on the American version. The only drawback to Obento’s bento? Not enough of those dynamite Japanese pickles.
Best Meal: The cod bento box supplemented with a few kushi-katu and robata and a Ramuni Japanese soda. 1510 Como Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-331-1432
This Lowertown loft is as soothing as the home-style Japanese cooking. Tanpopo serves delicious bowls of soba and udon noodles and simple teishoku meals of fish or tofu paired with rice, miso soup, and salad. The delectable sesame flan is characteristic of a meal at Tanpopo—minimal, perfect, and finished far too soon. 308 Prince St. #140, St. Paul, 651-209-6527