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DeRusha’s Twin Cities Restaurant Storylines of 2017-2018

There are many storylines to be pursued in the Twin Cities and Minnesota: the minimum wage is on the way to $15/hr here, without a tip credit for servers. What will happen? Will restaurants continue their shift to fast-casual? Will they add service charges? Will they close? Like most places, the restaurant scene here is exploding. So is the craft cocktail, brewing and distilling movement.  In recent years, restaurants have connected with the incredible farms that surround the urban core and are growing their own food, using the beef and pork within an hour’s drive, and really working to create a food culture in a region that didn’t have one. With General Mills and SuperValu based here, Minnesota has one of the largest food co-op cultures in the country; and a large volume of food entrepreneurs starting their own businesses.

Defining the Culture of the North

Local Beer & Spirits

Food Entrepreneurs

  • Boomchickapop: Angie’s Kettle Corn/Popcorn started in a Mankato warehouse
  • So Good, So You: Juice So Good, Coffee So Good (former Target buyer launched a juice brand)
  • WholeMe: founded by two women who wanted nutrient-dense snacks
  • Seven Sundays: Muesli & Bars
  • T-Rex Cookies (giant cookies, women-owned, quit corporate job to make cookies)
  • Mississippi Mushrooms (crazy mushroom growers, using spent grain from breweries)
  • Squarrel (square barrels to age spirits – 1/3 amount of wood)
  • Urban Organics (Largest aquaponics facility in the country in St. Paul)

Museum Restaurants:

  • FIKA at American Swedish Institute
  • Esker Grove at Walker Art Center (James Beard semifinalist for best new restaurant)

Eat-ertainment

Interesting Ethnicities

  • Asian population: large Hmong population (Hmongtown Market in St. Paul); Vietnamese population: (Pho is a favorite – Quang Restaurant, Ngon Bistro, Jasmine Deli)
  • Somali population: Safari Restaurant, Minneapolis; Afro Deli in St. Paul

Celebrity Chefs/Owners

  • Gavin Kaysen: NYC wunderkid comes home Spoon & Stable in 2014; Bellecour opened in 2017
  • The Governor’s Sons: Bachelor Farmer/Marvel Bar as well as clothing store Askov-Finlayson is owned by Gov. Mark Dayton’s sons Andrew and Eric.
  • Reality Show winners: Pimento Grill (won a Food Network show, got a food court restaurant);  Nadia Cakes (Abby Jimenez won Cupcake Wars, and moved here looking for a good place to raise her kids)

Farm to Table

  • Literal: Wise Acre Eatery (they own their own farm; 80% of food comes from it)
  • Birchwood Cafe: One staff member is in charge of ordering from individual farms, they provide a report each year to customers. Also delicious!

Chefs Improving School Lunch

  • MPS True Food Council: Chef Steven Brown from Tilia; Alex Roberts from Alma/Brasa; Ann Kim from Pizzeria Lola/Young Joni and others help the schools come up with more delicious recipes.

Worthy Restaurants For Tourism Roundups
Finer/Business Dining

  • Alma Restaurant, Cafe and Hotel (7 room inn above this amazing cafe. The cafe is perfect for every day, the restaurant is the most consistently high-quality, high-technique kitchen in town. Wines designed to pair perfectly with the food. Service team is warm and knowledgeable. It’s a restaurant you feel like you’d like to live in, and with the hotel upstairs, now you can.)
  • Bachelor Farmer (Incredible food, anchored in the ingredients of the Upper Midwest. Stunning wine program with cold climate whites and reds and an innovative approach letting any bottle be ordered as a half. Highly trained and talented service, rock star Marvel Bar in the basement is 4-stars in its own right.)
  • Spoon & Stable, Minneapolis (The hype is legit: Spoon and Stable is the best restaurant in Minnesota. Gorgeous room, incredibly consistent and delicious food, beautiful cocktail and bar program, best desserts in the state, highly polished service: everything about Spoon and Stable is about excellence. This is not a chef trying to impress you with his talent, this is about coaxing all the flavor out of ingredients you’re going to want to eat again and again.)
  • Corner Table, Minneapolis (Famous for it’s loving approach to pork, Corner Table can do no wrong – beautiful vegetables, some of the best pastas in town. Tight kitchen must foster incredible creativity – as the quality and consistency makes Corner Table my absolute go-to. Very creative and unusual wine list specializing in Germany, Italy and Austria.  Service experience is like a symphony – many moving parts come together in perfect harmony.)
  • Bellecour, Wayzata (French bistro food done to perfection. Bellecour is focused: French classics re-imagined using technique from today. )
  • Grand Cafe, Minneapolis (Chef Erik Anderson won awards in Nashville for Catbird Seat, now he and his partner Jamie Malone are killing it in a small cafe in Minneapolis)
  • Manny’s Steakhouse, Minneapolis (the big steakhouse for big business.)
  • Meritage, St. Paul (classic beautiful French in St. Paul)
  • Saint Dinette, St. Paul (famous for their burger and bologna sandwich, young Chef Adam Eaton may be the best under the radar chef in town)
  • Heyday, Minneapolis (most inventive food in town)
  • Monello, Minneapolis (high concept, fine dining, Italian)
  • Butcher and the Boar, Minneapolis (delicious sausages, comically large Fred Flintsone-style rib)
  • Saint Genevieve, Minneapolis (champagne by the glass, French bistro)

Casual Dining

  • Revival (fried chicken, southern, also BBQ in the St. Paul location)
  • Hola Arepa (started as a food truck, focused on Argentinian arepa sandwiches)
  • Young Joni (stunningly beautiful spot focused on wood-fired cooking and pizzas)
  • Travail (a circus, tasting menu only it’s food as theatre)
  • World Street Kitchen (Food truck from a fine dining chef Sameh Wadi becomes sit down global restaurant)
  • Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza (delicious pizza cooked over a coal fire)
  • Punch Pizza (owner founded Caribou Coffee, was invited to State of the Union by President Obama for paying employees a living wage)

The Best Restaurants In The Twin Cities

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of stars, as people who write about food often do. The only one giving stars is Rick Nelson from the Strib. I love Rick’s writing, I generally agree with his assessments of restaurants, but I’m pretty sure the concept of what makes a 4-star restaurant worth 4 stars is outdated. My own prior assessment is outdated.

I used to think a 4-star had to have a proper host stand, valet parking as an option, more than 2 single-stall bathrooms, and a certain level of formal service. 4-stars means top of the top. But what do you do when a fast-casual restaurant is perfection? That automatically gets dinged to a 3-star because it’s not formal. And that means it’s a half-star away from the 2 1/2 star restaurants, which essentially are the “eh, it’s ok” spots.

I’ve been working on my own list, I’ll publish in a separate post.

Here’s a starting point from Rick: 4-star reviews from Rick Nelson in the Star Tribune.

Those are the 4-stars. Now let’s look at the recent 3 1/2 stars:

I’d add my own top tier restaurants to this list:

What about Brasa? Is that 4 stars? How about Mucci’s? World Street Kitchen? What would you put as your 4-star? I’ll publish my list next week.

How Awesome Is Cossetta’s in St. Paul

Is it Cossetta? Or Cossetta’s? Technically it’s Cossetta, but I’m telling you, Dave Cossetta doesn’t care what you call it as long as you remember it’s in St. Paul, and it’s awesome.

They did more than a million guests on West 7th by XCel Energy Center, and more than 500,000 cannoli. At $4.25 a crack, that’s more than $2 million in cannoli. Read my story from WCCO, or watch the video below (Dave doesn’t do too many interviews – so this is a pretty cool story. I’m still not sure how I convinced him to do it.)

Going to Cossetta and wondering what to order: I recommend the Cossetta salad with zippy Italian dressing, the sausage and peppers is incredible, their pizza is among the best slices you can get in the Twin Cities, you have to go to the bakery and marvel at the fact that the whole thing was built in Italy and shipped over to St. Paul to be assembled, the market has the best selection of salami and sopressata in Minnesota and very good bread as well. What’s your go-to Cossetta order?

Cossetta Alimentari, 211 7th Street West, Saint Paul, MN 55102

Minneapolis and St. Paul Restaurant Recap From 2016

My Minnesota Monthly co-editor Joy Summers also runs the Minneapolis Eater website, and like every year she asked my thoughts for her annual round-up of year in review posts. I thought I’d share all my answers here, so you can see my favorites from 2016 and predictions for 2017.

What were the top restaurant newcomers of 2016?
Mucci’s, The Dirty Bird, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, Q Fanatic’s Minneapolis location, Alma’s Cafe: the big wins of 2016 were all about casual dining with big flavors and big heart.
What were your top restaurant standbys of 2016?
The Strip Club Meats & Fish, Punch Pizza Maple Grove, Borough
What was the biggest dining surprise of 2016?
The utter failure of restaurants with a lot of seats.  Scena in Uptown (which I really liked) opened and closed; Parella didn’t last long; Salt Cellar in St. Paul also bombed.
What was the saddest closure of 2016?
Saffron. Saffron had an incredible run, but knowing I won’t see Saed Wadi’s giant smile when I walked in, the great drinks at the bar, and the incredibly richness and depth of spice in Sameh Wadi’s food makes me sad.
What was your most disappointing meal of 2016?
Hoban Uptown. I ended up behind the bar looking at their wine selection because the server couldn’t tell me what was they had.
What was your best restaurant meal of 2016?
Tie: Corner Table’s French menu tasting was absolutely stellar, as was a Saint Dinette meal I had inside Xcel Energy Center. Both restaurants are run by incredibly talented, and incredibly kind people.
What are your headline predictions for 2017?
The Lexington finally opens!
Bagels are the new donuts: expect several local bagel shops to open next year
Sum up the 2016 restaurant world in one word.
Generous: It’s been an amazing year of chefs helping other chefs as they open (providing staff meals for each other, talking through challenges with getting approvals and licenses, coaching through troubles) as well as restaurants donating their time and business to charities

 

Charitable Giving Featured In The Star Tribune

What a thrill to be a part of this great article by Aimee Blanchette about celebrities giving back to charity in the Star Tribune! My kids pointed out that I’m probably the fourth or fifth celebrity out of five in their minds… but the idea of using a platform to give back is really important to me.

The Strib asked me to focus on one area of my charity work, so I talked about hunger. As a food reporter, it’s critical to me to speak out on issues of hunger, and shine a spotlight on the reality that nearly 1 in 5 Minnesotans have to make a decision at the end of every month: do I pay for my prescription drugs, buy clothes for my kids, or do I buy a healthy meal. That’s why I was the Chairperson of the Minnesota March Food Share Campaign this year [as Plymouth Magazine wrote about], and I’ll keep doing whatever I can to share more on issues of hunger with the audience.

I probable emcee about 30-40 different charity fundraising galas each year, so my charity interests run wide for sure. My other passion is the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital: we continue to proudly donate and volunteer our time with the U of M. If you’re interested in having me work with your charity – hit me up on !

A National-Level Food Experience at Scena Tavern

If I told you for $100 you could sit at the counter across from one of the most-acclaimed chefs in the country, and one of the most talented cocktail minds in the country, and spend two hours experiencing flavors that would blow your mind – you’d jump on it, right?

That’s what’s happening at Scena Tavern in Uptown. Chef Erik Anderson was named to Food & Wine’s Top New Chefs list, he ran a hugely successful restaurant in Nashville, and then came home. He’s opening his own restaurant called Brut this summer, but in the meantime he helped create the menu at Scena.

[Read my Minnesota Monthly review of Scena here.]

Scena is great – service can be hit or miss – and some people might not like the Uptown atmosphere of this Uptown restaurant – but overall I really like this restaurant. Great wine list, some of the best cocktails in town, and a really friendly and delicious menu.

But the Crudo bar weekend experience is truly on the level as the best restaurant experiences in America.

crudo erik
Erik Anderson
Nick Kosevich
Nick Kosevich

Imagine crudo dishes like dry-aged Yellowfin tuna, bottarga (roe) and jalapeno paired with Mezcal, lemon, grapefruit, Jamaican Oleo, cilantro, Corazon Bitters, seltzer! Crazy!

Hamachi with cucumber, hot beef fat, and picholine olive was paired with Bone Marrow-infused Auchtentashen Three Wood Whiskey.

I loved the Wild Striped Bass with chilled herb broth, and the Junipero Martini with Orange Bitters, the same herb broth and bergamot oil!

crudo striped bass

There was Spanish Mackeral with charcoaled skin, a gin gelee, and laurel oil paired with a Barrel-Aged Gin Martini. A martini unlike any you’ve ever experienced.

crudo hamachi

Look at this red prawn with the crispy shell on top:

crudo red prawns

If this were on the coasts, national media would be falling over themselves talking about the best bargain in food, the best experience you can have with an incredible pair of chefs. Plus Erik and Nick are really fun – this is a party. Eight seats at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays only.
Scena Tavern, 2943 Girard Avenue S, Minneapolis 55408. Reserve at crudobar@scenatavern.com