Rhapsody in Lambchops

Downtown Minneapolis's new 112 Eatery conquers, serves the Holy Grail: Cozy, cheap, charming fine dining till 1:00 a.m.

The wine list adds something wonderful too, to your meal and to life downtown generally, as it's value-oriented from top to bottom. For $23 you can get a bottle of Rosenblum Cellars' Vintner's Cuvée XXVII Zinfandel, all deep spice and thrumming blackberry sea. For $29, a silvery ice bucket will stand glamorously beside your table full of the lemony and ethereal French bubbly from Saumur, Cuvée Bouvet Brut from Loire producer Bouvet-Ladubay. If you've got more to spend, you can snare big-name wines at a lot less than they're priced elsewhere downtown. I bet it's going to be one of those restaurants that servers from other restaurants drink at so they can learn the wine lists at their own workplaces.

Meanwhile, the main event for other chefs around town is sure to be the stringozzi with lamb sugo, a pasta unlike any other offered in the state. Chef Becker told me it took him three months to come up with the recipe for these wiry, twisty long noodles. It was worth it--they're just fascinating. Resilient and chewy, yet pliant and yielding, the pasta is the main event in the dish, as it should be, simply adorned by a few long-stewed bits of tender lamb and a sparsely added tomato sauce, which has, in its background, hints of depth from nutmeg and wine. The pasta costs $8 for a half-order and $16 for a full plate. All of the pastas are available in generously portioned half-orders; vegetarians, please note the adorable seared gnocchi with lemony slices of young artichoke.

But back to the stringozzi: When I thought about who out there isn't going to like 112 Eatery, I thought, there are going to be people who get this stuff and say, "This pasta's kinda hard. It's messed up. And there's hardly any sauce! For $8." So, if you're one of those people who like to write in and tell me to give Baker's Square another chance because it's such a good value, give this place a miss. But if you're one of those people who write in complaining, "Everywhere I go, I could have made everything that's on the table, but much better, for much less," I think we have finally found your restaurant.

Perfect Pairings: Married owners Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre bring something truly new to town with 112 Eatery
Jana Freiband
Perfect Pairings: Married owners Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre bring something truly new to town with 112 Eatery

If you want final proof, try the choucroute bread pudding, a $7 side dish. This stuff is crazy. Crazy how? It's a savory bread pudding made with sauerkraut, chunks of ham hock, shimmers of pork belly, beads of onion, and lumps of Italian sausage, all baked into an eggy, custard-knit bread pudding. It's echoing with caraway; it's rich, creamy, salty, chewy, and has texture to burn; there's a whole world in that sucker. Pair it with a big, bready beer, like a Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale ($6.50), and you will likely be so full up with the intensity of life that you won't even be able to speak.

Which is why you should get some soothing, restorative desserts. The sweets, by Leah Bolfing, are simple and charming. My favorite was the chocolate pot de crème ($5), a deep, dark chocolate pudding that will likely find an after-show cult following as strong as the one to rise up around that bacon-and-egg sandwich. The subtle, foamy stack of frozen mousses that make the mousse terrine (lately apricot, coconut, and light cinnamon) are a fun, frivolous, cheery way to end the meal, as is the complimentary cardamom caramel corn, a spicy little gem that accompanies every check as a cheerful little grace note.

Sometimes when I find myself this gaga over a restaurant, I ask myself: Have I completely slipped a gear? Am I on the take? What has happened to me? In this instance, I think the answer is that, after eight years of a professional life of minutely observing restaurants, I had gotten very sick of the typical cheap chintzy cheats of the industry: the 400 percent wine markups, the appetizers engineered solely for their marvelous food-cost ratios, the $12, nothing-special burger, the restaurants designed to please the lowest common denominator--which start at compromise and end with good enough, the oily up-selling, the entrées where the white space on the plate is supposed to connote some attainment of social status. I had gotten sick of it, without even knowing how sick of it I was.

112 Eatery is that rare thing, the cure for the malady you don't even know you have. It's a restaurant for restaurant people, for people who want and expect the good stuff, and know exactly what it costs. It's a place that knows exactly how things are done, but throws it all out the window and does something new. It is, in short, a revolutionary thing in this town, and something that speaks explicitly about the development of our local restaurant culture, about the size, number of participants, and sustainability of it all. And if St. Pierre and Becker can do all that, why can't I have just one little cloak of invisibility?

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