We finally got the memo. Minnesotans weren’t meant to feast on sweet corn and strawberries in winter. The best restaurants to debut in 2010, by coincidence or perhaps the power of their mantra, were those that marched to the locovorian cadence: Hup, hup. Eat regional and seasonal.
Leading off is a winner recently launched by Chef Don Saunders. In fact, he calls it In Season. To get the point across, he lists winter’s ingredients on one side of the menu—butternut squash, rabbit, pomegranates, chestnuts, etc.—while the flip side details their magical unions in dishes such as oysters and pork belly with sweet-and-sour cabbage; pappardelle noodles with rabbit ragout; beef cheeks with root veggies and red wine; and so on. Having learned his lesson at the former now-shuttered La Fugaise, this time, the menu won’t challenge your pocketbook.
5416 Penn Ave. S., Mpls.
Several of the year’s best new places represent fortunate rebirths after a hiatus because of fire or fortune. Blackbird has roosted newly in digs twice as big as formerly. The decor has skewed a little more urbane, but not to worry—the romantic chandeliers, the glam mirrors, and the quirky antler collection remain. So do several don’t-you-dare-touch-them menu items: the iconic walleye po’ boy and banh mi sandwiches; the duck roll; and the empanadas. But pay attention to new ventures, too, such as the butternut squash/ricotta brûlée, or the grilled squid with fennel sausage and smoked tomato beurre blanc. Speaking of regional/seasonal, nothing says it like chicken with fried livers, frisée, apples, and walnuts in mustard vinaigrette.
3800 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.
Blackbird’s former neighbor, Heidi’s—also up in flames last winter—is reopening in January at a new location at Lake and Lyndale in Minneapolis. Expect some of Chef/Patron Stewart Woodman’s all-time faves, accented by new dishes he has worked on in the interim. Larger room, more seating, and a tree—a big one!—smack in the center of the room.
2903 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
Heartland left the heart of Mac/Groveland to head to St. Paul’s Lowertown, and a bigger, spiffier site in which to consume Chef Lenny Russo’s all-consuming passion for crafting from the here-and-now. Choose from daily-changing prix-fixe carnivore or veggie menus touting provender so local, it probably never saw the insides of a semi.
289 E. 5th St., St. Paul
Rice Paper made the move from a room tiny as a closet to a larger, bright and cheery site at 50th and France in Edina. Owner An Nguyen leads the culinary vanguard by presenting food that’s fresh, colorful, and healthy, but stripped of grease and MSG. Try the Tamarind Rice Trio, reminiscent of treats she savored in her Vietnamese village; the sweet and tender coconut shrimp; the Ruby and Jade Curry, named for its colorful ribbons of cabbage; and the South Sea Mussels, bobbing in their garlic-laced broth. Nice wine list, too.
3948 W. 50th St., Edina
In the Minneapolis Warehouse District, Haute Dish borrows classic dishes from your Minnesota granny’s cookbook, and deconstructs them to wow more modern palates—sort of like taking a Grant Wood painting, and letting Picasso have at it. Case in point: the Steak and Eggs. Instead of medium-rare and over-easy, the beef comes tartare-style, and the egg appears in a hole—à la an English pub—except the bread with the hole is uberrich brioche, and it comes with a bonus shooter of tomato water with a raw oyster in the bottom. Here’s how the nouveau Tater Tot Hot Dish goes: succulent, insanely tender short ribs ringed by a mighty mound of haricots verts (anorexic string beans) and “tots” composed of white sauce with a lode of molten cheese in the center. The café occupies the former Café Havana space, still all dark and clubby.
119 Washington Ave. N., Mpls.
Northeast Social Club
In what fast is becoming a rockin’ stretch of dining real estate, 13th Avenue NE in Minneapolis—home of the lovely Modern, quirky 331 Club, boho Erté, and Eire-centric Anchor—is joined by the Northeast Social Club. Although new, the storefront café is as old-timey as its title indicates, thanks to a lengthy bar to belly up to, an antique tin ceiling, and beneath it a bellicose mural of epic proportions. Eddie, the chef, doesn’t fall into lockstep behind the town’s trendsters. Instead, consider his offbeat salad of grilled asparagus sided by fresh-pulled mozz; the housemade lamb sausage served up with watercress pesto; or the St. Louis-style ribs sided with a swell smoked-tomato barbecue sauce. In line with the neighborhood’s ethos, nothing’s over $20, either. Except the attitude of our server—as the credit card companies say, priceless.
Northeast Social Club
350 13th Ave. NE, Mpls.
Although the guerillas of the corner cafés seem to be winning our loyalty and dining dollars, several corporations have captured our hearts, too. Parasole’s latest love child, Mozza Mia, took over the former Tejas space at 50th and France in Edina. It’s slick; it’s chic; and it’s a dead-simple, two-beat menu: mozzarella in several mutations and wood-fired pizzas. Both are housemade daily. Both are divine
3910 W. 50th St., Edina
Coming our way from Chicago, Pinstripes took me by pleasant surprise. Also in Edina, the complex offers the modern 3 B’s—no, not classical music, but everything else needed for a night out: bowling, bocce, and bistro dining. Soaring window walls overlook snowcapped pines, while indoors, a stone fireplace blazes. Backstage, the kitchen’s smokin’, too. Can’t miss on the soups du jour, including a homemade tomato that’ll put Campbell’s out of business. Gotta love the trio of tenderloin sliders, too, with foie gras-scented mayo, and topped with a blizzard of shoestring fries. The wondrous Eggplant, Parmesan, and Portobello panino converted the veggiephobe at our table. We went nuts over the Italian jambalaya risotto (fusion cooking at its best), as well as the flaky halibut dressed for success in pine nuts and a side of spinach-artichoke risotto. Let me warn you about the cheesecake with its brûléed topping, and the apple-pear bread pudding: Don’t let anybody tell you that crime doesn’t pay.
3849 Gallagher Dr., Edina