Mission: Accomplished

Mission American Kitchen gives the people what they want, from upscale potato chips to ribs and root beer floats

Mission American Kitchen & Bar
IDS Center
80 S. Eight St., Minneapolis
612.339.1000
www.missionamerican.com

Americans are divided on many important topics. Which steward of hereditary millions should send our young rural poor to Iraq? What trait should our automobile lord over our neighbors? Financial strength? (Escalade!) Physical strength? (F-450!) Moral strength? (Prius!) Should Ronald Reagan's image be graven on the ten-cent piece, or, more simply, just branded onto each of our foreheads? Such are the divisions that rend us.

From bar snacks to foodie finds: Mission's fried catfish and a glass of Dr. M Prum '01 Riesling
Bill Kelley
From bar snacks to foodie finds: Mission's fried catfish and a glass of Dr. M Prum '01 Riesling

Yet, on one topic, we are undivided.

It is this: When poppers are served, like, wooooo!

Whether they're jalapeño poppers at the sports bar, amyl nitrate poppers at the leather bar, popcorn poppers in the rec room, or Champagne poppers shooting streamers on New Year's Eve, this much is certain: When the poppers come out, dismay goes on the shelf, and Americans smile as one.

So why don't you check out the olive poppers ($4) at Mission American Kitchen & Bar?

Here's what they are: green olives, of average size, stuffed with blue cheese, breaded, and fried till they bounce around the plate like little worlds of salt and pop. Toss one in your mouth and every cell in your body will turn as one to look at the beer taps. Woooo!

No matter that your eyes see a tasteful room of terra-cotta and cinnamon colors, of plush booths, white tablecloths, visible wine cellar, and copper wall art, your cells respond: Hey, it's time for dismay to go on the shelf--we got poppers here!

Mission American Kitchen is the new restaurant that has taken over the old Aquavit space in the IDS Center, and it's a very likable, plain American restaurant that, if you can imagine such a thing, sort of splits the difference between a businessman's expense-account destination, a 1960s cocktail party, a soul-food shack, and a place your wife will find acceptable on your anniversary.

I mean, for the ladies, Mission offers attractive lighting, a lovely wine list, oysters, and a chocolate soufflé as memorable as an onscreen kiss. For the expense-account crowd, Mission offers comfort foods tailored to the most crotchety elderly client (roasted chicken and scotch), to his diet-obsessed wife (steam-fried salmon and chardonnay), to your most rambunctious new hire (barbecued ribs and a beer), and to your most status-obsessed boss (ask for the soon-to-debut reserve wine list, or content yourself with Far Niente cabernet, $140, if you must). The dimensions of a 1960s cocktail party can be uncovered once you set some creamy deviled eggs ($4) and potato chips with sour cream ($3.50) next to your martini. Finally, as for the soul-food shack: The place makes fantastic fried catfish, and truly notable pork ribs.

Whichever aspect of Mission most appeals to you, it's unquestionably a nice addition to downtown. At dinner, you can start your Mission experience with some nicely creative but appealingly unflashy original cocktails designed by Dona Culver. The Mission Manhattan ($8), made with cherry-infused Woodford bourbon, is a charming version of the classic, with the cherry released from its traditional role as garnish and freed to fragrance, but not dominate, the whole drink. The Mission Statement martini might be the martini of the year. It's a traditional martini, terrifically dry, made mostly with Shakers Rye vodka, and, instead of the classic vermouth, perfumed with a touch of Inniskillin ice wine, and garnished with a trio of fat, dangling purple grapes. The touch of ice wine lends the drink the slightest honeyed, apricot sort of nose, but doesn't interfere with the brisk essence of the classic martini, which is, above all, dry.

For appetizers, you can stay crisp and clean with oysters on the half shell ($2.50 each) or individual shrimp ($2.75 a pop). Although most of the rest of the options are rich snack foods, like the plate of decadently lush, incredibly filling deviled eggs, or a big bowl of golden and brown, crisp and curling house-made potato chips presented with a bowl of sour cream for dipping. (There's also a fairly dull plate of house-made crackers presented with a small dish of warmed chèvre, tomato dip, and a basil spread to enhance them, for $8.)

Salads like the tomato, bacon, and dill ($7) are good, though also rich; I was surprised at first that this salad had no greens--order it and you receive a sculpture of two halves of a tomato clapped around two crisp strips of bacon, the whole thing dressed with a creamy house-made dressing and liberally garnished with clumps of dill--tasty, tasty, tasty. And hey, if you don't tell your mom that we are now calling bacon and dressing a salad, I won't tell my mom, and we'll see if this one won't fly under the radar.

A few of the entrées are truly delicious, like the catfish and the ribs. Now, over the last decade I have become something of a connoisseur of soul-food, chicken shack-style fried catfish. I have seen it served dry as a plank, crisp as a potato chip, rich and gamy, wet and frightening, but never in all my days have I seen it so very white, plump, plush, and tender; never have I seen it so golden and curling; never have I seen it as pale as cod, as light as bubbles. Now I have! I think we can verily crown the new catfish kings of the upper Mississippi: Mission! For $15 you get that catfish, as well as a whole pile of homemade fries, which are fresh, crisp, and tender, and just very, very good.

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