Best Secret, Cheap Restaurant: Nick and Eddie

I’ve been hard at work on my “Cheap Eats” cover story for the March Minnesota Monthly, and it’s been terrifically fun, as I’ve mostly been revisiting a lot of inexpensive ethnic restaurants and getting reaquainted with how fab they are. (Like: Evergreen, La Loma, and Mai Village.) However, it’s always in my mind that the Holy Grail of Minnesota restaurants is one so comfy, sexy, and well-lit that you can take a first date there—and order a craveable entrée under $10. At the risk of stealing from my March story, I can tell you: I have found that Holy Grail! Hiding in plain sight. It’s Nick and Eddie.

Some background: Nick and Eddie almost closed last summer. The very New York-looking (open, museum-art museum-like, dark-wood accented, not trying too hard) Loring Park restaurant got behind on their liquor taxes as they tried to do the one thing ambitious chef-driven restaurants always do, namely, try to support too many people. So they parted ways with most of the adults in the kitchen (including founding chef Steve Vranian) and brought in young, hungry (and comparatively inexpensive) new chef Derrick Moran, essentially giving him the chance to work 24 hours a day, make his name, and save the restaurant.

Well, I can tell you the work he’s doing right now is astonishingly good. He is really one to watch, and more, one to seek out right away. Some highlights from my meal over the weekend:

• The $7 “brioche and egg starter” was a sort of ragu of shiitake mushrooms served upon asparagus, the concentrated slices of mushroom intense in potent sauce made from a sort of reduction of lobster bisque, the mushrooms’ intense umami (the fifth taste, also known as meatiness) even further intensified by shavings of Parmesan, the whole thing crowned with a poached egg as perfect as solid dew, and adorned with fluffy cubes of feather-light toasted brioche. Whoa! I’m lucky to get a dish or two a year executed this perfectly. It was delicious and essentially simple and real, but also done with the technique of a five-star kitchen. (The lobster base comes about because there’s real lobster in the macaroni and cheese; I didn’t try it but am now desperate to return and do so.)

• The $12 smorgasbord plate included a chicken liver pate as good as just about any foie gras I’ve ever had; it was creamy and as intense as a chocolate truffle center. The platter (easily sized for two or three to share) also held a big slice of pork rillettes, country-French and substantial, a smoked scallop with a few beads of salmon caviar, house-made pickled vegetables, and a few different types of house-made hard sausage, like an all-beef summer sausage. I looked at this plate and remarked: “This represents a good 40 hours of hand-labor” before I demolished it. Really good stuff.

• A $16 entrée of chicken and dumplings would easily qualify as the best chicken dish I’ve had in five years. I wish you could have seen it: The skin of the chicken so crisp it was as if it was coated in a micron or two of hard sugar, and the meat below the skin was salty and savory and devourable. The chicken comes with fat, country-style simple gnocchi, not super-rich ones, because the chicken itself is so rich, and also still-crisp half-moons of carrot. It looks like a farmhouse supper from three generations ago, and tastes like you’re dining in a five-star New York white tablecloth joint.

• A beautiful bottle of French Syrah-based vin de pays called Kalys for $26 was meaty and concentrated and beautiful.

• Some stuff I’m saving for the print magazine was equally good, but even cheaper. Entrées start at nine dollars!

For my breathtaking, gorgeous, meal-of-the-year meal I paid a tab I’d expect at a corner Chinese place.

Now, my one caveat: When I was at Nick and Eddie we were one of only two tables eating in the entire dining room. I have no idea how the place would handle a crowd. A loose poll among my friends, however, has revealed that most people think Nick and Eddie closed. It did not close! Use this insider information to your advantage. Unlike the dark days of last summer, Nick and Eddie does have beer on tap now, and also has a good—but limited—wine list including about 10 bottles all priced below $32. They also are not charging corkage (that is, they’re not charging a fee if you want to bring in your own wine.)

Okay that’s all I have for now. I’m off to see a far-flung suburb about some Persian food!

Nick and Eddie: 1612 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-486-5800