Horizontal Hunger

Three of the best lunch options in the Minneapolis skyways prove you can get restaurant quality on the run

That's how it is in the horizontal city: You get your neighborhood at home, and a whole new neighborhood at work, with a whole new set of neighbors. And some of them might even have Japanese restaurants. (Zen Box Japanese Eatery, 6 Quebec Building, Skyway Level, 607 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis, 612.341.3313; www.zen-box.com.)

 

ZELINO

Zen revelation: Husband and wife team Lina Goh and John Ng serve healthy, authentic Japanese food--in the skyway
Allen Beaulieu
Zen revelation: Husband and wife team Lina Goh and John Ng serve healthy, authentic Japanese food--in the skyway

Location Info

Map

Zen Box Japanese Eatery

601 Marquette Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Zelino is the brassy, classy backdoor to-go counter where you can get treats prepared in the kitchen of Zelo, under supervision of chef Jason Gibbons. Why should you care? Because I have been eating like a queen from this little back door, and you could be dining like royalty on the go, too. First, let me draw your attention to the phenomenal lasagna salsicca: Here, for $6.95, you get a vast brick of hot lasagna in which layers of chewy homemade pasta are sweetened with light, lovely ricotta, enrobed with scarlet rivers of lush, gorgeously concentrated red sauce, the kind that only comes from long cooking over low heat with good olive oil, and first-rate bits of sausage and meat, the immensity of it all crowned with creamy pillows of mozzarella. Mamma mia, that's a lasagna! Each bite is so rich, each square inch is so filling, each separate part (the noodles, the sauce, the cheese) so well thought through I just about wept happy Italian tears. I can't think of a better lasagna in the state.

The soups at Zelino are also excellent: The lovely tomato basil is as red as a rose, as zippy as a sports car, and as thick as a phone book--but far more pleasant on the tongue. The chicken fennel is chockablock with fresh vegetables and has more real chicken in it than a 12-inch sub from one of those corporate sandwich chains. (Soups cost $3.95 a pint, and come with a chunk of ciabatta, that airy, toasty bread Zelo makes fresh every day.) Every salad I tried, from lemony couscous to balsamic-touched grilled vegetable to bold Caesar, was good enough not just to eat, but to try to pass off at the next potluck as your own. (Oh, that Caesar: It came covered with golden strips of real parmigiano reggiano, it was presented with a bag of toasty, good olive oil-touched croutons, and even boasted a thick dressing with just enough garlic and anchovy to bring a smile to a restaurant critic's lips: They didn't dumb it down!)

Aside from the panini, which are entirely lackluster once they get cold, I have to confess I was fairly blown away by the excellence of Zelino. My only real problem is that they close at 2:00 p.m. Imagine the domestic harmony that would break out in Minnesota if folks were commonly bringing home lasagna, soup, and salad such as this! (Zelino, Medical Arts Building, Ground Floor, 831 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.333.7000.)

 

GOOD TO GO

Atlas has long been Minneapolis's premier Persian restaurant, and, till lately, that information and a buck seventy-five would get you on a city bus at rush hour. That was then. Nowadays, you can use that info to understand why it is that some of the best sandwiches in the history of the Minneapolis skyways exist at all.

See, there's a Persian tradition which involves mincing meat, blending it with herbs and spices, molding it on steel skewers, and char-grilling it until it is both roasty and delicate--a kabob. Well, calling these resulting jewels kabobs seems ridiculously inadequate but, you know, that's the word we have. But if we all keep in mind that a chef of great skill in this tradition can make a kabob as ethereal as lace.... Anyhoo, the chefs at Minneapolis's Atlas make all kinds of kabobs from minced meats and spices, like chicken and saffron, or lamb and herb, and char-grill them on steel skewers. Then they slip them off the skewers and carry them upstairs to the Good to Go skyway sandwich shop, where they are held, warm, in steam pans, to await your lunching pleasure.

When you order one of these "fire-roasted wraps," your server will take a flatbread, squirt a little sumac aioli on it, sprinkle on a handful of fresh-chopped basil, parsley, and cilantro, and add your choice of basmati rice, cucumber spears, tomatoes, diced red onion, minced jalapeños, and long leaves of romaine lettuce. Then he or she will finish the composition with a sirloin, chicken, lamb, or pork kabob, roll the whole thing up and voilà! Best Persian restaurant in the city quality, plain old skyway prices: $3.75 for a small, $5.50 for a large.

The chicken kabob, or wrap, or whatever you want to call it, pairs delicate and mild saffron minced chicken with the bright, herbal salad of accompaniments to create a wrap that is zingy and light. The deep and gamy lamb version is like a gyro run through the Canyon Ranch spa, made healthy and wonderful. I also wholeheartedly recommend Good to Go's first-rate Greek salad, full of kalamata olives, perky feta cheese, and all the good stuff, for $3.95.

I talked to Good to Go and Atlas co-owner Hadi Anbar on the phone for this story, and he was very concerned lest I pigeonhole Good to Go as a Persian or Middle Eastern place. "We don't want to give people the wrong idea that it's a Persian restaurant," he told me. "In the Skyway we have to cater to all kinds of different people, that's why we also serve turkey club sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches, and such things. In fact, we are planning on expanding this idea, perhaps in another six months or nine months, if we can perfect the idea."

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