Each month, in our “Restaurant Rumble” conversation, MnMo food critics Jason DeRusha and Joy Summers review two restaurants and pick a winner.
Jason: The hype over chef Ann Kim’s Young Joni, a follow-up to her incredibly successful Pizzeria Lola, has been almost as hot as that copper pizza oven in the center of this new Northeast Minneapolis eatery.
Joy: It’s hard to get into, literally. The door has a deceptive handle—you just have to curl your fingers around what appears to be the door frame, have faith, and pull.
Jason: On a weekend night, if you don’t have a reservation, you can expect to cool your heels for about an hour for a spot at the first-come, first-served bar or chef’s counter. It’s worth the wait, especially if you pass the time sipping a cocktail in the adjacent speakeasy (walk outside and enter through the alley). The design has a hip, retro feel with lots of wallpaper, wood paneling, a reel-to-reel music player, and a cocktail menu in the form of an old-school photo album. And the drinks are consistently excellent, especially the Vaya Con Dios, made with mezcal, celery, citrus, and vermouth.
Bibim grain salad and grilled chili blue prawns
photos by tj turner
Joy: Adam Gorski, formerly of La Belle Vie, created the drinks and they are some of the best in town for their careful balance of sweetness, aromatics, spice, and booze. For food, the menu features some Lola mainstays, plus a few new pizzas, along with carnivorous and vegetable-based sharable sides, several of which are cooked over an open flame. Many dishes offer flavor profiles that balance roasted, earthy char with bright, zesty freshness.
Jason: The vegetable dishes are simultaneously simple and complex. Mushrooms are slowly fried in low-heat oil, confit-style, then finished on the wood-fired grill and tossed in chestnut miso butter. The white color of Japanese sweet potatoes tricks the senses—because I was expecting a traditional potato flavor, I was surprised by the starch’s sweetness—and I loved the contrast of the pickled chili sauce and crème fraîche.
Joy: The Thai sausage lettuce wraps are spicy, succulent, sweet, crunchy, and herbaceous all at once. I ate so many I barely had room for the pizza, but was compelled to make room for that lovely clam pie with a splash of fresh lemon. The Spanish-inspired Basque pizza, which pairs chorizo and goat cheese, is also a winner. Even the basic pepperoni and sausage pizzas are as nostalgic as they are delicious.
Jason: I wondered why Ann Kim just didn’t open a second Pizzeria Lola in Northeast, but after eating at Young Joni, I get it. This is Lola for adults: more great pizzas, globally inspired share plates, craft cocktails, and that sexy, sophisticated ambiance. Not that you couldn’t bring the kids, but you’d be more inclined to get a babysitter.
Young Joni Quick Tips:
Parking: There’s a small parking lot and plenty of street parking
Gluten-Free? Pizzas can be ordered with gluten-less crusts
Hidden Gem: Look for the door after the red neon light in the alley that leads to the secret speakeasy
This month’s “Restaurant Rumble” pitted the hip successor to Pizzeria Lola, Young Joni, against a former laundromat turned bakery/restaurant and bar by the owners of the Happy Gnome, Augustine’s Bar and Bakery. Find out which restaurant Jason and Joy chose as the winner in the March 2017 issue of MnMo.
165 13th Ave. NE. MPLS., 612-345-5719, youngjoni.com