River City Rebirth

Minneapolis's restaurant scene is reborn—again!—This time with big money and farm-positive ideals.

Yet again, the Minneapolis food scene is being reborn. And yes, that officially marks us as having been born again more times than a Pentecostal crack addict. How many times is it now? Well, I'm counting at least twice since the millennium. The first time was in 2003, the year Cosmos and Restaurant Levain opened, and forever changed the nature of the tippity-top fine-dining foods Minneapolitans would eat. Those two restaurants served ambitious, esoteric dishes straight from the minds of their chefs, unhindered by the limitations of traditional cuisines. It was Cosmos and Levain that declared that Minnesotans would eat anything if it were good enough, and we entered a new era.

Time passed. Last year, 2005, the year of the Great Consolidation, the scene was reborn again, with Five, La Belle Vie, 112 Eatery, and a revamped Auriga all muscling onto the scene to declare, Fine dining, fine dining is what we do in Minneapolis, and you'll have to go to a world capital like Paris or New York to do it any better.

Through it all, of course, there's been a simultaneous, major drumbeat throbbing through the prairies: Local is important; organic is important; quality in, quality out, both for the environment and for the food on the plate. The chefs in the Twin Cities who have pushed for these principles, against all personal convenience and ease, have been frequently named in these pages. But I never thought I'd see the day when the next wave of Minneapolis restaurants would see big money and high style behind the importance of local, knowable, organic, farm products.

Brenda Langton at Spoonriver
Bill Kelley
Brenda Langton at Spoonriver

Location Info


Spoonriver Restaurant

750 S. 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Restaurant > Brunch

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Ladies and gentlemen, that day is here. Introducing the next big thing in how your food scene is about to be entirely remade.... Welcoming Cue and Spoonriver! There will be full reviews in these pages eventually, when the restaurants have had time to get on their feet, but by then the summer will be mostly over, and as the biggest thing in food this year is all happening this month, I figured you'd want to know.

For 20-odd years, Brenda Langton, of Café Brenda, has been quietly sticking to her principles and advancing the causes of the good, the local, and the real. Let this be a lesson about sticking to your guns, kiddies, because if you do good work, unwaveringly, even if it seems like nothing too flashy is happening for years and years, eventually the world will beat a path to your door. In this case the path in question is an 11-foot-wide, 100-foot-long new restaurant, Spoonriver.

"The whole restaurant is like a long, wonderful train car made of Venetian plaster," Langton told me when I spoke to her on the phone for this story, in the last phase of construction on the new complex. I say complex because Spoonriver isn't just a restaurant—it's a restaurant, a takeout deli, a full-service bar, and, in the summer, a key part of the Mill City Farmers' Market, which takes place in the plaza between the new Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum. (Where Chicago and Park avenues end, thus preventing themselves from plunging into the Mississippi.) The whole shebang is scheduled to open in mid-June, so it should be all going by the time this story hits the stands. If so, and you like unfussy, chef-driven, reasonably priced meals, incredible views, and local farm economies, you gotta get in there.

Spoonriver sounds as if it will be fancier than beloved sister restaurant Café Brenda, but will maintain the same low price points, while offering beautiful views of the Mississippi and the Stone Arch Bridge. While Langton will be the chef and force behind the restaurant, the day-to-day execution will be headed by the remarkable—and remarkably all-female—team of Liz Benser, a longtime Café Brenda chef, Lisa Carlson, the Lespinasse veteran cook who made her name opening Café Barbette, and, as pastry chef, Gwendolyn Efta. The restaurant will be open for Saturday breakfast from 8:00 a.m. (to complement the farmers' market outside), for Sunday brunch, lunch, dinner, and till midnight most nights.

Brunch will consist of light but intelligent fare such as fresh crepes filled with local Bar-Five smoked chicken, ricotta cheese, and vegetables, served alongside a green salad ($11.50); or a savory vegetable, tofu, and ginger scramble with a fresh salsa and toast ($9.50). Did I say tofu? Yes, I said tofu. Vegetarians, Spoonriver looks like the most exciting development in local vegetarian culture in the last decade, and while Spoonriver will have more local, sustainable meats than Café Brenda, it appears it will also continue Langton's tradition of winning every Best Vegetarian Restaurant award given out betwixt the St. Croix River and the Dakotas.

On that note, at lunch look for a Sloppy Jane (Joe's sister) made with savory sauced mock duck, or, for omnivores, a turkey-quinoa burger with a special tamarind-touched ketchup. (Both these lunch sandwiches are priced at $9.50 and come with pickles, cornichon, and vegetables.) At dinner, expect items such as an appetizer of a chickpea, sticky rice, and vegetable croquette with vegetable pickle and two sauces—one spicy, made with red-pepper harissa, and the other cool, made with minted yogurt ($6.50). Or, for an entree, roasted Minnesota lamb and vegetable ragout on a bed of fresh tagliatelli ($18). For dessert, expect things that are local, like a honey-buttermilk panna cotta; exotic, like coconut-milk tapioca with guava sauce; and specialty items like a vegan chocolate cake.

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