When I heard Muddy Waters, the iconic, pioneering south Minneapolis coffee shop, had lost its lease and was moving a few blocks down Lyndale Avenue, I never thought I’d review it. What would I say: “Coffee, still hot!” But my first visit to the new Muddy Waters had my heart beating faster (no coffee involved) with a revelation: this is it! This is the paradigmatic new Minneapolis restaurant, the restaurant that could open every six blocks throughout the entire city. (I had this sense once before in my restaurant-reviewing career about neighborhood sushi spots, which we all know have subsequently comprised a full quarter of new restaurant openings, so take heed!) This most recent revelation happened over, of all things, a plate of two hot dogs in perfect, just-baked, tender buns, topped with fancy fennel sauerkraut and finished with a Surly Bender mustard. I had this revelation not only because the hot dogs were delicious, but because they were five dollars. Well, five and a quarter. But we have not had an under-six-dollar lunch contender in this town for years.
If you’re at Muddy Waters for dinner, there are fish tacos for seven dollars that feature big delicious fillets decorated with handfuls of herbs and good salsa. What’s the comparable seven-dollar dinner in Uptown? In a sit-down restaurant with great desserts, there isn’t one. (Speaking of desserts, try the gingersnap-banana pudding, with its gorgeous torched-meringue crown, or the intensely flavorful cappuccino semifreddo, which tastes like coffee ice cream delivered on stilettos.)
I didn’t find a single dud on the new Muddy Waters menu: the pizzas reminded me of New York street-corner fare, thin crusted and crisp with the perfect blend of sweet and forthright flavors. The golden-beet salad was exquisitely gilded with vanilla bean. The pot roast was good enough to rival the Modern Café’s version, thanks to the five-day process used to make it. The lamb bolognese was tender as tears, lightened and freshened with carrot, deepened with pecorino cheese, and served over expertly pan-seared potato gnocchi, each nubbin of golden goodness more delectable than the last. Not bad for a bar! Which is what Muddy Waters is, boasting loud rock-and-roll on the sound system, whiskey for those who want it, and 30 good tap beers to pair with the food (including local stars like Surly and Furthermore).
If you’re surprised to hear of a delicate lamb Bolognese in a bar, you’re not alone. But when I learned that the chef, Scott Hurlbut, worked in some of Minneapolis’s most esteemed kitchens (Restaurant Levain under Steven Brown, Solera under Tim McKee) and left fine dining to run the legendary old Uptown Bar for a year, well, it all fell into place. Now, he brings fine-dining cooking to a place with the heart and spirit of the old Uptown—Muddy Waters is the only-in-Minneapolis restaurant Minneapolis has been waiting for, but never knew it.
Don’t call it a coffee shop. The new Muddy Waters is a gastro-pub serving excellent grub nearly around the clock.
Ideal Meal: The golden-beet salad with the fried mortadella at lunch; with the lamb bolognese at dinner. Tip: Pastry chef and head baker Sarah Botcher trained at Patisserie 46—don’t miss her spectacular pastries and desserts. Hours: Monday–Friday, 7 a.m.–2 a.m.; Saturday–Sunday, 8 a.m.–2 a.m. Prices: Lunch, $4-$10; Dinner, $6–$18. Address: Muddy Waters, 2933 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls., 612-872-2232, muddywatersmpls.com