What’s Your Fantasy Restaurant? Here’s Mine.

I got a fascinating letter from Minneapolis reader Naomi:

“I have a suggestion for a column,” she wrote. “There are all these empty restaurant locations scattered around Minneapolis and St. Paul; I surely am not the only person who eyes particular spots and thinks, ‘I wish someone would open a ___ in that building. Then I’d have ____ where I could walk to it / pick up takeout on my way home from work / etc.’ (Admittedly, sometimes you have a fantasy and then someone grabs the space and does you one better. I spent years looking at the empty Pizza Pie & I building thinking, ‘You know, we have had no decent delivery-type pizza around here since Casalenda’s closed. I wish someone would open a good pizza place there.’ Instead, I’m getting a Turtle Bread outpost in that location once they’re done renovating. It had never even occurred to me to want one of those, but I’m certainly not complaining.) My fantasy restaurant: On Lake Street at around 33rd St., on the north side of the street, there’s this large, empty restaurant that was an upscale Ethiopian place for a while. (I ate there once, but liked Blue Nile better. Apparently lots of people had that reaction because they didn’t last long.) Every time I pass it I think, ‘I wish someone would open a tapas bar there.’ I love tapas. Solera is awesome, but it’s an EVENT for us to go to Solera. It would be so neat to have a tapas bar we could just drop by because we didn’t feel like cooking….”

Very interesting proposition, Naomi. Aside from just generally yearning for the Steven Brown and Stewart Woodman restaurants to open, my wish list of the ultimate fantasy restaurants for the Twin Cities would include:

1) Some legitimately thoughtful, cuisine-based vegetarian restaurants. I know I have a reputation as a committed carnivore, but this often arises because so much local vegetarian food is more about the ethics than the deliciousness. How about that space in the new French-condo building on Lyndale between 22nd and 24th, and what if it hosted a restaurant dedicated to Korean vegetarian kimbap, and the various fermented and pickled vegetarian arts? I get so tired of the same 10 vegetables all winter, and I’m sure local vegetarians are too.

2) Belgian frites! I’ve been waiting for this one for my whole adult life. Why is it someone can’t do the same thing they do at the State Fair, and just commit to a local potato farmer, and sell the potatoes? This could go Uptown, Downtown, Dinkytown, you name it. Anywhere there’s a bar.

3) Wisconsin cheese! I know there’s plenty of Wisconsin cheese around here, but have you ever been driving through Wisconsin and stopped at one of those dairies where they make their own cheese in the back, sell it in the front, and everything is just so good and cheap and fresh and friendly? Dairy State Cheese Company of Rudolph, Wisconsin, come here, we need you!

4) An Italian bakery: We are a lucky land, blessed by many wonderful bakeries, but they’re all kinda-sorta French by way of San Francisco. I’d love a real Italian bakery. Where does a Minnesotan go for seeded breadsticks, pignoli cookies, and tricolore marzipan bars? While I’m just dreaming, a coal-fired Italian bakery would be fun.

5) Fried chicken, Korean, soul food—chef-driven or otherwise. I thought Landon Schoenfeld’s fried chicken plate last summer at Haute Dish was genius—but it’s part of his ever-changing menu. Why hasn’t any local Minnesotan decided to stick a flag in it and spear fried chicken as their claim to fame? God knows New York and California have been working this corner of cuisine till every inch of deliciousness has been explored—and we have something they don’t have, we actually have the chickens! It would be so easy to get never-frozen chickens from Callister or Wild Acres… But on that note, have you ever been to a market in France where they have giant rotisseries of chickens, and the fat drips down and bastes pans of potatoes at the bottom? Or why isn’t there any Latin American, vast grills-of-charcoal chicken to be had? There is a lot of connect-the-dots cooking to be done between the excellence of local farms and showcasing it. I hasten to remind you that the awesomeness of Brasa all started with chef Alex Roberts making the decision to showcase the fabulous free range, pasture-raised Berkshire hogs of the great Northstar state.

And that’s my wish list. What’s yours?