Table Talk

Since I moved back to Minnesota, after more than a decade living elsewhere, the most common question I get—from friends, family, coworkers, homeless guys—is this: What has changed the most since I last lived here?

I’ve managed to develop two answers to this line of inquiry. The long answer is comprehensive, complicated, and nuanced, and it usually takes an overhead projector, a pipe organ, and a fog machine to do it justice, which is probably why I save it for people I don’t like. The short answer goes like this: light rail and restaurants.

It’s a glib, overly simplistic response, of course, one that has the benefit of being somewhat true. It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago when “fine dining” in the Twin Cities was essentially synonymous with “steak house,” when there were but a few lonely foodie outposts valiantly doing battle against a tide of bad chain restaurants, when a nice night out meant mediocre Italian food at a place with plastic grapes hanging from the ceiling.

Times have changed, thank God. In a single week not long ago, I had lunch at a Tibetan spot one day, a Latin place the next, and a great neighborhood bistro on yet a third. I have friends all over the country—people who, mind you, have never been to the Twin Cities—who like to reference La Belle Vie when talking about the country’s great restaurants. A couple of years ago, I was talking to a magazine editor in New York about a well-known chef in Chicago. When she tried to explain the chef’s plans for his newest endeavor, she didn’t compare it to any restaurant in New York, Los Angeles, or even Chicago. She said it was going to be like Minneapolis’s 112 Eatery.

There’s a drawback to living amid such a rich and varied dining landscape, though: It requires a lot of work, to find out which restaurants are worth your time and money, to discern which places offer something timeless and which are merely trendy.

That’s where this month’s cover story comes in. Written by the magazine’s tireless and talented associate editor, Rachel Hutton, the piece identifies the Twin Cities’ best new restaurants in 13 different categories, from brunch to business lunch, from date-night spot to gourmet-burger joint. And since some great, older establishments often get overlooked in the constant search for the latest dining experience, we’ve also singled out a restaurant in each category that has stood the test of time, a selection of can’t-miss classics to go along with the fresh finds. If you can’t find a restaurant in this issue that you feel compelled to visit, you’ve clearly been standing in front of the fog machine too long.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out another must-read story in this issue. Written by Tim Gihring, the piece, “The Warriors at Home,” details the struggle some Native American veterans in Minnesota have faced obtaining benefits rightfully owed them by the federal government. At a time when the feds have come under increasing scrutiny for the treatment—and mistreatment—of Iraqi war veterans, Gihring’s piece is required reading, reminding us that, for some soldiers, the fighting doesn’t end when they find their way home.

Andrew Putz
aputz@minnesotamonthly.com

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