Cheap is the New Hot

Got Champagne tastes and a Grain Belt budget? Welcome to the Minneapolis of your dreams.

So, is Minneapolis over? That's been the question on everyone's sad, Syrah-stained lips ever since the winter massacre, when our fine-dining standard-bearers Auriga, Levain, and Five all flamed out in the brief space between Thanksgiving and Groundhog Day. Would Minneapolis look back on our brief time in the food-pioneer sun the way Marine on St. Croix looked back on their years as lumber barons? Surveys say no—or at least my surveys of local movers and shakers say no. There are a lot of very interesting restaurants on the horizon, and they all have two things in common: lunch-bucket prices and executive-suite tastes. Check it out:

Alex Roberts, famed as chef and co-owner of local darling Restaurant Alma, is opening Brasa Rotisserie in Northeast. It will combine the Peruvian model of wood-charcoal roasted meats with the American Southern soul-food model of a meal in which your choice of meat is paired with three side dishes. "Rotisserie cooking is such a timeless cooking method," Roberts explained to me as he took a break from diapering his newborn son, celebrating his James Beard award nomination, and supervising construction on his new restaurant, which is in the old Betty's Bikes and Buns space on East Hennepin.

"The problem has been that most rotisserie cooking people experience today is done by major grocery stores or chains that shoot everything full of sodium phosphate first, so the chicken is tender but kind of weird and dry, and has this aftertaste like [instant] ramen [noodle] powder. I've been working with brining and marinating to get tender meat that doesn't taste like ramen powder—and I think you'll like it," Roberts said. "With that we'll have what I call pan-Creole food, food that encompasses dishes from the American South, and then the whole Caribbean and Atlantic rim—Brazil, Mexico, Texas, the South. Grits, rice and pigeon peas, things made with ground masa, sweet corn, cabbage, candied sweet potatoes, rice—basically soul-food ingredients."

Breaking ground to break bread: Alex Roberts will open Brasa Rotisserie this summer
Jana Freiband
Breaking ground to break bread: Alex Roberts will open Brasa Rotisserie this summer

Of course there can be many a slip between cup and lip, but at this point Roberts expects Brasa to serve chicken and slow-roasted pork shoulder as well as a dozen side dishes. There will be a wealth of takeout options with portions sized to feed whole families. Those dining in at Brasa will order cafeteria-style, including beer and wine and homemade Mexican flavored waters, like tamarindo, and the food will be brought to their table. "Our goal is to get all the meats locally, but it looks like we'll be starting with all local pork and a percentage of local chickens, and working up from there. I've always wanted to do this concept," explained Roberts. "Feeding people I love, affordably." Expected opening date? Hopefully mid-June: When you see the umbrellas outside above the patio tables, zip on in.

Kim Bartmann, local restaurant legend and owner of groovy, chic, sustainable restaurant powerhouses the Bryant-Lake Bowl and Café Barbette, is opening a new supper club, the Red Stag, in Northeast. What constitutes a new supper club? Green building practices, good wine, and, you guessed it, affordable pricing.

"To me, a supper club is where I grew up," Bartmann told me. "A supper club is northern Wisconsin...and it's not the food so much—which is steak and fish-fry—as it is about hanging out with friends and family, talking all night, drinking cocktails; the dining is your entertainment. You're not planning on going anywhere else, and there's an expectation you won't get killed by the check." Bartmann is looking at working some kind of retro entertainment into the evening, perhaps with a movie screen showing old concert footage from artists including Led Zeppelin and Ella Fitzgerald. The chef will be Billy Baskin, formerly of Cosmos, and the food will be scrupulously local—grass-pastured cheeses, local grass-fed beef, and so forth.

"I really want to push the envelope on the whole farmer thing even more," Bartmann said, explaining that this next level might involve working more toward the nutrition of her guests, or it might involve helping the farmers she works with reach the Twin Cities market. "The more you learn about farming, sustainability, health, the more you see it's all really just one big issue," she said. "And at the end of the day, maybe we can all have our steaks and our conscience, too." And, don't forget, fully fund our retirement plans. Expect the Red Stag—named in a tip of the hat to the White Stag supper club in Sugar Camp, Wisconsin—to open "soon," on First Avenue between the old Banks warehouse and City Salvage.

Tim Niver, one of the founders of Minneapolis's pioneering, uber-chic, uber-cheap restaurant the Town Talk Diner, also has an inexpensive, takeout-oriented, cafeteria-style restaurant in the pipeline. Tentatively called the East Lake Pasta Shop, it's slated to go into the old Carne Asada space on the corner of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue. "We'll do gnocchi, ravioli, nice big hand-tossed salads, grilled chicken and shrimp, lots of vegetarian options, and just really great [pasta] sauces." The chef at the East Lake Pasta Shop will be Dan Ritter, who has some notable experience with sauces, pasta and otherwise. When Niver met him Ritter was working as saucier for Julian Serrano at the Picasso restaurant at Bellagio in Las Vegas.

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