One of the most pleasant discoveries I made when I moved from my hometown of Toronto to Minneapolis was that I wouldn’t be ditching a metropolis for the barren Midwest devoid of interesting food. Minneapolis is full of restaurants that are working very hard to deliver quality, seasonal and locally driven food that has an original point of view, if food can have a point of view, which I think it can. Being a graduate student in the Twin Cities means that I have excellent food, from the refined to the quotidian, available to me at prices that would be unthinkable anywhere else. Coming from Toronto, an expensive city in an expensive country, I was blown away by how reasonable food prices are in Minnesota. What follows is a short list of my favorite places to eat in town. It’s a work in progress – I plan to create new versions of the list as I visit new places and as the changes of life create new habits.
High end/fine dining:
Piccolo: If there is one restaurant in town that is an absolute must, I’d say it’s Doug Flicker’s gem of a restaurant. I always want to refer to Piccolo as a boîte, it is just so charming in its coziness. For $50 and change you get a five-course tasting menu full of dishes like creamy scrambled eggs with pickled pig’s feet and gazpacho with little cubes of icy saffron. I will be trying my hand at the latter dish sometime soon. There is a very good wine list and the service is always informed and hospitable. Plus, it’s in my neighborhood, nestled amongst the gorgeous houses of South Minneapolis. And if this means anything to you, it was Anthony Bourdain’s favorite place on his tour of the Midwest. (MPLS)
Meritage: There was a time when I tried to get into opera. Let’s pause and think about the absurdity of the statement and the banality of the goal. Save for one Sun Ra-esque performance of Turandot, I did not succeed in my goal. But the act of going to the opera in Saint Paul was always exciting because it meant an opportunity to dress up and, more often than not, a visit to my favorite French-inspired bistro in the Twin Cities, Meritage. It’s located in a gorgeous building in downtown Saint Paul. The space is very bright, has high ceilings, and charming tiles on the floor, along with mirrors galore and Parisian cafe chairs. In case you think it is schlocky, I assure you it is not. Meritage serves simple, solid French fare with no fuss. It is always perfectly executed. My favorites are the raw oysters, the seasonal salads, and the steak frites. My only real criticism of this place is that the portions are too big. I’d recommend Meritage as an ideal place to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, to take parents or other out of town guests, and even as a place to take fussy eaters. Incredible wine list. (SP)
112 Eatery: The restaurant that I’ve been to the most in Minneapolis. I can’t keep track of how many birthdays, dates, out of town guests, girls’ nights, and staycation meals I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying at 112. I also had an unfortunate first date here sometime back that resulted in a charming Craigslist Missed Connection with the even more charming 112 server who was witness to my misery. The focus is on small plates but we are in the Midwest so small means enough for 3-4 people to share. That means that you can try quite a bit of the menu without breaking the bank. I recommend starting with a cocktail; they make them nice and strong here. Perennial favorites are the tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs (yes!), the sweet and sour crab salad, oyster mushrooms with sea scallops (the mushrooms steal the show in this dish), and the lamb scottadito. Having said that, they also have a very simple appetizer of fresh ricotta with white truffle honey and bread that is amazing, and a wonderful prepared steak tartare. For dessert, I always share Nancy Silverton’s butterscotch budino with my dining companions. In addition to these and other solid menu mainstays, there are a few rotating seasonal dishes. Two more important things to note about 112: the kitchen is open late, which is a rarity in these parts, and the service can be a little surly at times, save for the aforementioned server. (MPLS)
Tanpopo: I didn’t expect to find a Japanese noodle house in Minnesota, but I’m really glad this place is around. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s not exactly high end, which is why I put Tanpopo in its own category for now. They have a number of different udon and soba soups, and a couple of ramen dishes, along with excellent teishoku, or set meals. My favorite is the mackarel teishoku. I wish that I lived a little closer to the restaurant because it’s the perfect place to tuck into on a cold, rainy or (more likely) snowy night. (SP)
Brasa: There are two locations of this restaurant that is equally influenced by southern/barbeque and Latin American cuisines. I am referring only to the Minneapolis location, as I have not visited the one in Saint Paul. The idea here is that you order several dishes to share, ranging from a few proteins to a number of vegetable and grain sides. Everything comes sized small, medium, large, which is brilliant because it really facilitates everyone getting what s/he wants. My favorites among the proteins are the pulled creamy chicken and the smoked brisket. The dish I dream about the most is the fried yucca. I have never, ever eaten yucca close to this. In fact, I never gave yucca much thought. Perhaps Brasa’s version is so wonderful because of the sauce that accompanies it. The sauce, pictured above, in the small silver bowl, is a creamy cilantro-lime sauce that I would happily bathe in if I could. Okay, maybe I’d just happily eat it every day. If you can’t make it to the Twin Cities any time soon, you’re in luck, because I found the recipe. Did I mention this place is very reasonably priced? They used to make a stellar pineapple-upside down cake that was Matt’s favorite dessert in the city, but they have stopped. Brasa, if you’re reading this, please, please put the cake back on the menu! (MPLS & SP)
Quang: This was not only the first place I ate in Minneapolis, it was also my very first destination after arriving at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport. The Twin Cities has a large Vietnamese population, making it rich in options for this wonderful cuisine. Quang is my favorite not only because of its proximity to my apartment, but also because it is amazingly good, satisfying food at a very reasonable price. I’ve never had a bad meal here. The only thing that would make it more perfect is if they delivered. Delivery, unfortunately, is not something the Twin Cities does well. My favorite dishes here are the various bùn salads, especially the grilled beef and egg roll, and the sea bass and shrimp phở, which is a weekend specialty. Highly recommended. Keep in mind , this is more of a casual place, not really the place for special occasions. (MPLS)
Patisserie 46: My neighborhood, Kingfield, is full of a lot of so-called hot restaurants. I think most of them are a little too hyped up, but if there’s one place that deserves all the accolades it receives, it is Patisserie 46, a wonderful French bakery and cafe. Where do I begin? Their breads are divine. Don’t even get their signature baguette near me, because I could eat the whole thing. We regularly get a loaf of their pain au levain. The pastries (scones, croissants, coffee cake) are deeply satisfying, but their fancy tarts and cakes are works of art. I can’t wait until the holiday season, when their zimtsterne cookies will appear. I know this is a cliché but their food takes me back to my time in Paris. The only negative thing I can say about Patisserie 46 is that the space is poorly organized. There just isn’t enough room where you line up to order and it’s always very busy so it’s hard to see what is on offer before it is your turn to order. And let’s just say that the clientele can be rather fussy and bad at navigating themselves in public space. The staff, bless them, seem to put up with it pretty well, though I don’t envy them. Don’t miss this place, especially if you’re packing a picnic to visit Lake Harriet. They have wonderful sandwiches, soups, tartines, and even a great sheet pizza. (MPLS)
That’s it for now. I’ll do a follow up post to this soon, with reviews of Rustica, Pizzeria Lola, Broder’s, Matt’s Bar, Bull Run Coffee, and more.
Have you been to the Twin Cities? What are some of your favorite places to eat?