the kenwood’s Huevos rancheros, Pancakes with black walnut butter, and Spring hash with morel mushrooms. Photo by Terry Brennan.
In New York City, where most kitchens are hardly big enough to fry an egg, brunch is practically an institution. For whatever reason—church, parenting, yard work—Minnesotans have been slow to embrace the joys of a long, indulgent late-morning feast and socially sanctioned day drinking. But in the past few years, our best new restaurants have made brunch a don’t-miss meal. Local chefs are perfecting the classics, from pancakes to popovers, and creating new ones—crab toast or foie gras–topped brioche, anyone? Brunch may have a carefree tone, but that doesn’t mean the cooking can’t be serious.
The Kenwood’s Pancakes. Photo by Terry Brennan.
Pancakes: The Kenwood
Just a couple short blocks from Lake of the Isles, this plaid-clad restaurant feels as classic and luxurious as a cashmere sweater—especially the perfect pancakes served with real maple syrup and an elegant black-walnut butter. The menu reads like all your favorite breakfast dishes have grown up into a sophisticated adulthood. Just like you, right? So treat yourself and throw in a bottle of bubbly. thekenwoodrestaurant.com
Chicken & Waffles at Libertine. Photo by TJ Turner.
When you need brunch for your meat-and-potatoes dad, salad-eating sister-in-law, foodie best friend, and your kids, Libertine comes through. The bacon chop is fatty, decadent magic. (And what goes better with meat than a bloody mary? Libertine offers one with vodka, one with tequila, and one with whiskey and bone marrow.) The soft-scrambled eggs with blue crab are simultaneously light and bold, thanks to a kick of hot pepper. Begin your meal by sharing a whiskey caramel pecan roll or one of the plate-size donuts, made for the restaurant by Mel-O-Glaze. libertinempls.com
Kid at Heart: Upton 43
Upton 43 in Linden Hills has a totally different vibe than its sister restaurant, Victory 44, the gourmet gastropub on the flip side of town. The space is stark and modern, the menu contemporary Scandinavian chic. On the weekends, you could do Danish smørrebrød, but isn’t pickled herring a little much before noon? Leave that and the hearty grilled pork shoulder “bacon steak” for Dad in favor of experiencing the kitchen’s imaginative, deconstructive streak. Among the most avant-garde dishes is “milk and cereal,” a grown up version of the kids’ fave. Not Lucky Charms, but panna cotta topped with granola and fruit purée—and honey meringue bits in lieu of the heart-shaped marshmallows. upton43.com
The “p & B” sandwich at Icehouse. Photo by TJ Turner.
Brunch divides into two camps: those where you’ve showered and curled your hair, and those where you haven’t yet gone to bed from the night before, still breathing whisky and cigarettes. In the old days, the late, lamented Uptown bar was ground zero for the latter—Nirvana once ate pancakes there. Today, Icehouse hosts a more demure version of that scene, and books bands for brunch in addition to evenings. The food is far more sophisticated than the typical music venue. (Remember ordering a slice of pizza at First Avenue though a hole in the wall?) The new rock-and-roll is gustatory extravagance: a savory éclair with roasted pork belly and a runny egg. If that’s a little too over the top, go with the foie gras–topped brioche. When the weather’s too nice to sit in a dark cavern, the sunny back patio works better for cold-brew coffee spiked with caramel rum. icehousempls.com
Steak & Eggs: Burch
When in a steak joint, right? On weekend mornings, Burch’s prime filet and New York strip pair perfectly with poached eggs and sea beans, the marsh-dwelling version of haricot verts. The only thing missing is a side of Burch’s version of McDonald’s hash-brown cakes. (Only a Kenwood-side restaurant can sell $40 entrées at midday; for something less pricey, the $22 hanger is a solid alternative.) If you don’t eat beef, the crab toast artfully balances the sweet, briny meat with spinach and fried egg on grilled bread, doused in a light, lemony beurre blanc. Finish sweet with rice pudding or a treat from the pastry table. burchrestaurant.com
Asian Fusion: Cook St. Paul
On the one hand, this is a straightforward diner with fat, fluffy pancakes and eggs cooked to order. On the other, Cook St. Paul could only exist in this moment. The tables are stocked with a jar of irresistible hot sauce and the must-order drink is an update on the Arnie Palmer: lemonade mixed with Gray Duck chai. (It’s named after chef/owner Eddie Wu. There’s no need for modesty here.) Pair it with a rice bowl stuffed with succulent beef short rib and a super funky, spicy kimchi that lingers on the tongue and mind long after the meal is done. cookstp.com
Biscuits & Gravy: Sun Street Breads
Solevig Tofte is one of the Twin Cities’ best bakers, so it’s no surprise that she would create an incredible biscuit: flaky, buttery, richly flavorful. What’s unexpected is the soulful, spicy sausage gravy that makes Sun Street Breads (or their stand at the Kingfield Farmers’ Market, where it’s sometimes offered) a favorite weekend spot. Sun Street’s brunch also features specials such as homemade corned beef brisket hash and beloved regulars, including flapjacks made with the bakers’ sourdough starter. sunstreetbreads.com
Bogart’s Brown Butter-GLazed Donuts. Photo by TJ Turner.
Best New Donut: Bogart’s Brown Butter-Glazed
With a few experimental batches, Anne Rucker managed to do what Krispy Kreme hasn’t in 75-plus years of business: take the raised-glazed donut next level. Bogart’s rich brioche dough is fried, dipped in glaze, and then sprinkled with browned butter, glistening flecks that add a nutty complexity. bogartsdoughnutco.com
The best waffle in town was, of course, a special: infused with Earl Gray tea, topped with lemon curd, and briefly served at Groundswell in St. Paul. The special is gone (bring it back!) but the magic is not. Groundswell’s coffee (Dogwood) is perfect, the people are friendly, and the food fantastic. Especially the cornmeal waffle poutine, topped with cheese curds, sausage gravy, and chunks of sweet potato, and the chai-flavored cinnamon roll smothered in cardamom cream cheese frosting. And while you wait in line, because you may very well wait in line, you can check out the shop’s array of local jewelry and art. You never knew you wanted great coffee, pastries, brunch, and earrings all in one place, but at Groundswell, you do. groundswellmn.com
Top: food critics jason derusha and joy summers enjoy brunch on hola arepa’s patio. bottom left: tostada chilaquiles. Bottom right: the Locked Up Abroad. photo by tj turner.
Latin Flavor: Hola Arepa
This is the place where restaurant industry folks take their families on a rare day off. The space is as casual and affordable as you’d expect from a concept that began as a food truck—but it’s also gourmet pleasing. The namesake arepas, perfectly griddled corn cakes with a crisp edge and fluffy interior, are a blank canvas for chef Christina Nguyen’s sophisticated take on South American comfort foods: an array of tender meats, vibrant sauces, and snappy veggies. holaarepa.com
Spoon and Stable’s pastry selection. Photo by TJ Turner.
Special Occasion: Spoon and Stable
Dinner at Spoon and Stable doesn’t do justice to its lofty ceilings and warm-but-elegant décor. It’s best experienced when morning sunshine streams though the skylights and bounces off all the pristine white. While there’s plenty of action in the open kitchen, attention is best turned toward the pastry bar at the front counter. Brunchers can browse the rotating selection of treats piled on decorative trays—unexpected gems both savory and sweet, from pumpernickel puff-pastry bowls filled with salmon to white chocolate croissants dusted with pistachio crumbs. The pastries (priced at a reasonable $4 a pop) are ordered on a little card, then ferried to the table in vintage cookie tins, like a riff on dim sum. Follow it with fancies such as peekytoe crab tartine or grilled venison sausage with red pepper goulash. Save for the ho-hum coffee and jarring ’70s rock on the stereo, it’s this side of brunch perfection. spoonandstable.com
Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable. Photo by TJ Turner.
Dinner as Brunch: Eastside
Brunch has a tendency to go froufrou—over-easy eggs with their jellied yolks and lacy whites, carbs sprinkled with powdered sugar like so much fairy dust. By contrast, Eastside caters to hearty appetites, with plates that could double as dinner entrées: steak and eggs, bison burger, shrimp and grits with andouille sausage or a duo of lentils and duck sausage. (It’s largely paleo-friendly, save for the pastries, including delicate, pepper-charged popovers.) The cocktail list is as long as the food menu. It eschews the frilly cosmos sipped on Sex and the City in favor of sherry-based drinks that celebrate bitter flavors and pair well with food. eastsidempls.com
Buffet: Coup D’Etat
Brunch buffets get a bad name for their chafing dishes of watery ham and congealed scrambles. They’re often free with your room for a reason. Coup D’Etat makes the meal respectable by offering variety, abundance, and attention to detail. There’s the standard eggs and French toast, of course, as well as biscuits and gravy that would stand on its own and a delicious curveball gumbo. The berries are fresh, the dessert bar is cute, and the smoked brisket will entice carnivores back for seconds. And it’s all you can eat for the casino-cheap price of $20 (beverages are extra, including bottomless mimosas for another $10). coupdetatmpls.com
The Kingfield coffee at five watt. photo by TJ Turner.
Best New Coffee: Five Watt’s Kingfield
Move over, Northern Lite Mocha. Fuggedaboudit, Frappacinno. The baristas at Five Watt are the coffee equivalent of craft cocktail mixologists. Their signature Kingfield, in honor of the neighborhood, is an espresso/milk blend enhanced with hints of vanilla (for sweetness) and coriander bitters (for toasty warmth and a little exoticism). It’s finished off with a dusting of sea salt, which lends the same spark to a latté as it does caramel ice cream. fivewattcoffee.com
the croque heyday. photo by Terry Brennan.
Global Modern: Heyday
Heyday trades in understated elegance, with a brunch menu that traverses the globe: Cubanos and croques, curried lamb, bubble and squeak, a delicate pannekoeken. The tartiflette is a sophisticated riff on egg bake, a little crock of root vegetables and cheese topped with an egg. It’s paired with a clutch of salad greens and a juicy, housemade boudin blanc sausage link, meat finely ground and expertly seasoned. The meal rounds out with a few other brunch bonuses: lively agua frescas, caramel rolls topped with pepitas and sunflower seeds, and one more chance to order the famous chicken liver tart from the dinner menu. heydayeats.com
The Gary Coop’er hi-top at hi-lo Diner. photo by TJ Turner.
The New Old-School Breakfast: Hi-Lo Diner
The diner’s heart is its counter, a place to sit and eat by yourself, reading a paperback or just staring into space. Or at least that’s what people did before text neck. Back then we had the Art Deco Mickey’s, memorialized in a few Hollywood B-movies; the 14-stool, onetime alley-way Al’s; and, if it’s possible to still be a diner and not open ’till 9 a.m., the Band Box. Diner food, historically, consists of things that one guy manning the grill can manage: eggs, pancakes, hash. And at the best of them, breakfast is offered all day.
The Hi-Lo Diner. Photo by TJ Turner.
In recent years, a new wave of next-gen diners has come to town (in case of the Hi-Lo quite literally, when the vintage building was trucked in from Pennsylvania), re-polishing the nostalgic concept’s chrome. Tiny Diner’s angle is sustainability (solar panels, organic eggs); Nighthawks’ is cheffy twists on the classics (take a textbook pancake, then lace with bacon, kimchi, and scallion). But judging from the lines outside at quarter to 8 on a Saturday morning, the one winning over most hearts and minds is Hi-Lo. The cozy space evokes its 1950s birthdate: a one-lane eatery with a counter running along one side, and a row of booths on the other. Fun reflects off every surface, between the mirrored ceiling and the polished metal trim. The bartender’s chatty, offering cherry samples as he pours a Brandy Alexander blended with ice cream—the thrill-seeker’s answer to the health nut’s smoothie. The signature dish is their self-invented Hi-Top: puffs of fried dough (like an unsweetened donut, without the hole) topped with caramel apples or chocolate sauce, fried chicken, or lobster. It’s the best of everything, high and low.
the bachelor farmer cafe. photo by tj turner
The Cities’ Best Brunch That’s Not Really Brunch: The Bachelor Farmer Café
They call it brunch and, technically, it is a breakfast-lunch hybrid, but it lacks the usual trappings: no cooked-to-order eggs, no bloody mary, no cozy booths to facilitate a couple hours worth of gabbing. The Bachelor Farmer’s new counter-service café feels like a glorified coffee shop, going so far as to list its daily Chemex brews at “market price” (even in the North Loop, that’s asking for eye rolls). And yet, the food is one of the metro’s best reasons to wake up. The spare menu doesn’t trigger much anticipation: The food reads healthful, simple, plain. But the open-face sandwiches have better command of flavor/texture pairing than many dinner entrées. For starters, soft, ricotta-style cheese topped with beets and hazelnuts; shredded duck confit layered with roasted cabbage and pickled turnips; silky, chunks of cold-smoked salmon studded with mustard seeds; a ham and cheese for the gods (roasted meat, melted Camembert, sweet-and-sour celery root). Paired with an umami-rich salad of shaved cabbage, roasted almonds, and cheddar vinaigrette, you’ll never miss the hollandaise. On second thought, what’s the point of brunch without a little indulgence? That’s what the pastry case is for, especially the medal-worthy puffs filled with pastry cream, chocolate, and caramel. thebachelorfarmer.com/cafe
Harriet Brasserie’s patio. Photo by Jeff Johnson.
Brunch Classics: 10 Favorites that Stand the Test of Time
The former bakery is as charming as Grandma, though she probably never made you eggs on cocotte: a little ramekin of poached eggs and ham in truffle cream with pillows of puff pastry floating on top. grandcafempls.com
This cute Linden Hills eatery offers brunch every day. Favorites include crab benedict or the crawfish and grits—best enjoyed on the patio. lakeharrietbrasserie.com
hell’s kitchen’s lemon-ricotta hotcakes and bloody mary. Photo by Todd Buchanan.
The late Mitch Omer was never one to do anything small, and his legacy lives on at Hell’s Kitchen’s build-your-own bloody mary bar: 35 feet of specialty olives, cheeses, beef sticks, and nearly 250 hot sauces. Balance the booze with lemon-ricotta hotcakes or Mahnomen porridge. hellskitcheninc.com
Even though its namesake founder has moved on, Lucia’s remains as appealing a brunch spot as it was three decades ago. The restaurant sourced local before it was trendy, so the frittata du jour and vegetable hash employ what’s fresh and in season. Finish with a sweet crepe from the adjacent to-go cafe. lucias.com
When in Paris—or at least downtown St. Paul’s best approximation—skip the breakfast “Américain” in favor of the omelet du jour or eggs Florentine. But first hit the oysters on the half shell or a fruit de mer platter. meritage-stp.com
After surviving a BMW crashing through its front window a decade ago, the old Lyndale Avenue coffee shop eventually moved down the street and became a full-service bar/restaurant, holding on to its everyone’s-a-regular vibe. Tattoo-clad servers deliver breakfast versions of pizza and poutine—plus sides of Muddy’s signature sticky-sweet billionaire’s bacon. muddywatersmpls.com
Nicollet Island Inn
Nicollet Island Inn’s restaurants has long hosted the swankiest brunches: three- or five- course affairs that begin with a basket of pastries and lead into the likes of tres-leches French toast and flank steak. Only the pretty riverfront view stays constant. nicolletislandinn.com
In terms of sheer variety and abundance, Chinese brunch is best. Dim sum’s delightful, abundant parade of bite-size noshings—ribs, taro cakes, buns, sesame balls, dumplings—seems designed to reflect the term’s direct translation, “touch the heart.” Order to your heart’s content at Pagoda’s $30 all-you-can-eat dim sum feast (including bottomless mimosa), weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. pagodadinkytown.com
petit gateau from patisserie 46. Photo by TJ Turner
If brunch is about treating yourself, then it should always include dessert. Follow a P46 quiche or ham-and-Gruyere croissant with a sweet kouign amann, éclair, or even chocolate cake, served here in the form of a jewel-like petit gateau. patisserie46.com
Chef Steven Brown takes pride in perfectly cooked eggs, whether they’re smoked, slow-poached, softly scrambled, or fried. Order ’em in a Reuben benedict or mortadella sandwich, and pair with a coconut-lime donut. tiliampls.com