Crave Downtown

Is the sixth time the charm?

I think I can claim credit as Crave’s toughest critic. Crave, of course, is the pan-everything restaurant sensation that launched in 2006 and dazzled Minnesotans by serving everything a diner might think to want: sushi, pizza, steak, pasta, walleye, even cioppino. Recently, the chain has expanded in other states, wooing customers in places like Nebraska and Florida. The owners have also launched sister restaurants in Minnesota, namely Sopranos and Urban Eatery, hiring high-profile chefs to run them, specifically JP Samuelson (formerly of jP’s American Bistro) and Jim Kyndberg (formerly of Bayport Cookery), who brought many of their former line cooks and sous chefs with them into the Crave empire.

Through it all, this particular critic kept picking at her Crave-and-Co. plates and sighing: What do they do well besides succeed? The food is so hit-and-miss; so often sloppy and poorly executed….

But that was then.

Not only is the new Crave, located in the old Palomino space in downtown Minneapolis, the best Crave I’ve ever been to, it is also a solid restaurant, perfect for groups and parties, and exactly what Crave always should have been. Exhibit A: the spicy lamb burger. Strikingly similar to the one at Urban Eatery, it is delicious—spicy, gamey, and tangy, just like a gyros sandwich, but cleaner tasting and more substantial. Exhibit B: the sushi. Here, it is at a much higher level than I’ve ever seen Crave accomplish. The Mexican sushi roll was a particularly amusing and well-executed smash-up of Japanese grace (raw tuna) and Mexican spice and herbs (chili and cilantro). The downtown Crave has the same splashy Italian art-glass-and-excess style of the other locations, but it also has a beautiful rooftop patio, perfect for dining under the stars or an after-work happy hour. If they can keep this up, I predict great success for these hometown folks.

825 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-332-1133,