Best of MN, 2019: Food & Drink

The best food and drink Minnesota offered in 2019—covering new vegan stops, barbecue, whiskey, and more
Maple Old Fashioned Smoking Gun cocktail at Brick & Bourbon
Maple Old Fashioned Smoking Gun cocktail at Brick & Bourbon

Photo by Terry Brennan

Food & Drink

New Barbecue

When did Minnesota become barbecue central? This year has been ridiculous for new burnt ends and juicy brisket options.

Jon Wipfli serves some of the state’s most exciting ’cue out of his Animales Barbeque Co. food truck, which took up permanent residency behind Minneapolis’ Able Seedhouse + Brewery. Travail was doing barbecue catering; now people are lining up at 5 p.m. for Minnesota Barbecue Company in northeast Minneapolis.

Another truck success story: Bark and the Bite opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant for affordable, tasty meats on St. Paul’s west side. Beast Barbecue is feeding late-night smoked wing lovers in northeast Minneapolis. And the iconic Market Bar-B-Que literally packed up its entire downtown Minneapolis building and painstakingly recreated it in northeast. Fire up the pit, cook it slow and low, and we can’t get enough.

New Whiskey Eateries

Cold weather brings out an affinity for the warming burn of brown liquors around here. Suburban restaurants focused on whiskey and bourbon have been proliferating: Brick & Bourbon expanded from a small spot in Stillwater to a massive restaurant in Maple Grove, with locations in St. Cloud and Eden Prairie slated, at press time, to open soon. The team behind the Volstead House in Eagan opened Whiskey Inferno Meat House in Savage and Bourbon Butcher Kitchen + Bar in Farmington over the past year (detect a theme?).

And the new Hotel Crosby in Stillwater has a tremendous selection of whiskeys in their restaurant, MatchStick. Each restaurant serves a mean Manhattan, often arriving in a box filled with smoke. And don’t be afraid to ask for help finding hidden gems on lists that often run a dozen pages.

MatchStick
MatchStick

Photo by Roxanne Krietzman

Second Acts

This has been the year of the restaurant 2.0: the hot Minneapolis restaurant crossing the river to St. Paul, or vice versa.

Pimento Jamaican Kitchen has inventive, bold flavors on Eat Street in Minneapolis, and now in the 651 at Keg and Case Market. When Tim Niver’s riff on a deli, Meyvn, failed to draw a dinner audience to LynLake, he flipped to a second outpost of his neighborhood Italian favorite, Mucci’s.

The team behind Travail did the restaurant shuffle in downtown Robbinsdale, moving Pig Ate My Pizza into their flagship’s old building—and adding an exciting chef’s-table tasting menu. For restaurants looking to expand to multiple units, the role model is Punch Pizza, which recently opened a Roseville location, its twelfth in the metro. Growing slowly, hiring smartly, and keeping true to your mission is a solid recipe for success.

La Voya
La Voya

COURTESY OF LA VOYA

New Food Neighborhood: The Airport

Weather, construction, and pragmatism have many of us resigned to arriving at MSP Airport a couple hours before flights. Fortunately, the transformation of the restaurant scene has made the extra time a delight.

Get a Juicy Blucy at Blue Door Pub, or a fried-chicken-meets-fried-dough “Hi-Top” at Hi-Lo Diner, or crispy rice fried shrimp at PinkU Japanese. This year will close out with a new cocktail bar from Minneapolis distillery Tattersall, Bottle Rocket from the team behind Edina Grill and the Freehouse, and the Lexington chef Jack Riebel’s the Cook & the Ox. For extra-early arrivals, spend the night at the airport-connected InterContinental Hotel, dine at La Voya, and get a cocktail at Bradstreet Craftshouse. Put your seat in the upright position and enjoy.

New Vegan Options

The Twin Cities’ burgeoning wave of plant-based eateries includes Seed CafeTrio Plant-Based, and gluten-free bakery Innate Foods. In addition, existing businesses are offering more vegan options, like the brunch pop-ups at Dulceria Bakery.

“We have seen a lot more up-and-coming businesses doing the pop-up thing, not necessarily brick-and-mortars,” says Laura vanZandt, who manages social media for the Herbivorous Butcher and blogs at Bite-Sized Beet. For example, Hope’s Vegan Kitchen sells croissants and cookies at farmers’ markets, and Prairie Vegan Pies offers pastries at local events. Another new development is Vegan Invasion, a completely plant-based food-and-drink festival held in July.

Popol Vuh
Popol Vuh

PHOTO BY KEVIN KRAMER

New Wine Program: Popol Vuh

When we dine out, we often take it for granted that we can order a wine from the same part of the world as the cuisine: a glass of Chianti with lasagna, or Burgundy alongside boeuf bourguignon. What about the wood-fired Mexican cuisine at Popol Vuh in Minneapolis?

“As a restaurateur, you always want to offer something to guests they can’t get anywhere else,” says owner Jami Olson, who traveled to northwestern Mexico’s Baja region to research its centuries-old wine industry.

“Getting down there and just tasting with the winemakers is very inspiring,” Olson says. “If you have a story that goes with the wine, to share with [restaurant] guests and servers, that offers the next-level experience.”

Popol Vuh’s still-growing Mexican wine program offers nearly a dozen selections by the bottle, sourced from St. Paul-based New France Wine Company. In 2018, vice president Erin Ungerman took on building the company’s Mexican wine portfolio as a passion project and included Olson in the process.

“It’s exciting for me,” Ungerman says. “I’ve loved the wines from this region for a long time. We’re seeing a trend in our dining scene of more-upscale Mexican restaurants—you’re seeing that across the country—and that’s driving these wines.”

New France works with a third-party importer to bring in the wines from small, boutique wineries in the Baja region. “The way I describe it, it’s Napa Valley meets the Wild Wild West,” Ungerman says. “There’s such a rawness, a raw, wild edge to the wines. I love that they’re in their own bubble; they’re not influenced by what’s happening in wine regions in other parts of the world.”

Unlike other wine regions, Baja does not have specific standards governing which grapes and techniques winemakers can use.

“I love that there’s this sort of artistic spirit there—there isn’t one grape varietal they’re known for, everyone is growing everything,” Ungerman explains. “There are grape blends I’ve never tasted before.” At one winery she visited, she notes that 130 varietals were planted on 40 acres—“That’s crazy!”

“They’re just scratching the surface,” Ungerman adds. “This is a region that’s a diamond in the rough, and I’m excited to see five years, 10 years down the road what the wines look like. I think it’s just going to get better.”

At Popol Vuh, Olson plans to add a Mexican wine pairing to the tasting menu. She will continue to visit Baja once or twice a year to connect with winemakers and has scaled back the rest of the wine menu to make room for more Baja wines.

“People love them,” she says. “Why wouldn’t you want to try something you haven’t before? Why not try a Mexican wine while you’re having Mexican food?” –Stacy Brooks

Harold's on Main
Harold’s on Main

COURTESY OF FARGO UNDERGROUND

New Bar: Harold’s on Main

Several musicians—including Minneapolis singer Har Mar Superstar and former Spoon bassist Rob Pope—brought the neighborhood bar of their dreams to life near the Fargo-Moorhead border last February. At Harold’s on Main, Heggies pizza and Hamm’s pints occupy the same pedestal as rotating food trucks and crafty house cocktails like the Dirty Preston (silver tequila, mezcal, coconut, lime juice, Licor 43, and nutmeg). Tying it all together is a noticeable where-everybody-knows-your-name ethos. Loosely inspired by the long-gone local icon Ralph’s Corner, Harold’s on Main is exactly where you want to be stuck when a snowstorm hits and last call is hours away.

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