Best Cheap Lunch in Minneapolis

Downtown Minneapolis lunch is probably the most competitive meal this state’s got. It’s the one where chefs, in broad daylight, without the assistance of their bar scenes (or the food-cost offset of alcohol dollars) get to ply their wares before the greatest number of everyday people. Interestingly, Minneapolis diners have proved a remarkably independent-minded bunch, supporting only the tiniest toe-holds for McDonald’s, Burger King, and their fast-food brethern, instead preferring independent restaurants. If I had to guess, I’d say that the most popular lunch downtown up till today had been the $10 lunch deal at Barrio. However, there’s now a rival for that crown!

It’s the $10 lunch at D’Amico Kitchen. Called the “DK Express Lunch,” it allows you to sit at a table in the snazziest dining room in the Twin Cities (the one filled with star pieces from Ralph Burnet’s bazillion dollar modern art collection), and once you sit at that table, you get a big expensive stemless water glass filled with ice water and the opportunity to order any three of the following: Tomato soup, a Caesar salad, a mixed green salad, a beet salad, spicy fried calamari, truffled mushroom risotto, a suckling pig panini, a grilled Asiago cheese panini, or a half meatball sandwich.

I didn’t try everything on this menu, but the Caesar salad was delicious—the dressing full of anchovies, it was robust and lively in just the right way—the beet salad was made of lots of gorgeous orange segments cut as prettily as jewels, the mushroom risotto was creamy but still had the exact right amount of bite to it, and the meatball sandwich! Swoon. Chef John Occhiato competed in the our Food and Wine Show at the end of February, and offstage he told me that after a career of great reviews for five-star Italian fine dining, he feared he was going to soon be known as the Meatball Hoagie Guy. Unfortunately, I fear he may be right. That meatball sandwich is just phenomenal: Tender, herb-flecked veal meatballs nestle in a zesty, bright red, perfectly acidic and bold tomato sauce, all tucked beneath a melted blanket of piquant provolone. Every time I’ve had one I’ve longed to do nothing but have another one, daily, and forever, in the way that certain experiences do, like addiction, or love. In any event: Whoa, that’s a good lunch!

If it’s your birthday, be sure to add the adorable and delectable gelato sandwiches, which are gelato sandwiched inside fresh macaron cookies which look like something whimsical space creatures would feed to one another. And that’s it—the best lunch I’ve had in downtown in ages, and absolutely worth your time and money, especially if you’ve got one of those offices that goes out every birthday in a big group. Come on, it’s a ten dollar three-course meal by a five-star chef in a gazillion dollar dining room! If you don’t like that math, you just don’t like lunch.

D’Amico Kitchen
901 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.