Roast Excellent

Restaurant Alma's new kid brother, Rotisserie Brasa, turns local farm products into dine-in or takeout delights

Brasa, 600 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612.379.3030, www.brasa.us (website coming soon)

There's a biker coffee shop around the corner from my house, and in the 50 million times I've grabbed an iced coffee at the place, I've never heard anyone talking restaurants—until this week. The crowd was the typical crowd, tattooed beauties in custom Ducati jackets, grizzled vets with vintage Sturgis patches, and pale dudes in thick leathers who have that certain something about the eyes that hints that if you knew them better, they would probably fix your computer and then tell you a little more about Farscape than you'd rather know. The topic, however, was not just restaurants, but the very restaurant I had been to the night before: Brasa, which just opened in Northeast.

It's Southern, argued one group of bikers—the menu is a typical meat-and-three combo, but we don't know why it's got all those Mexican accents. It's not Mexican, said the other group, it's traditional South American, like that place in Uptown, with the Peruvian rotisserie chicken, but we don't know why it's got all those Southern vegetables, like collard greens. I thought of busting in on their conversation to clarify, like the film director in that scene in Annie Hall, but I figured I'd let it play out, and so spent an ungodly amount of time fussing over sugar packets, digging through my purse, and generally trying to make it look like I was not merely eavesdropping.

A bird of a different feather:  Brasa's fast-casual approach features  locally grown food
Daniel Corrigan
A bird of a different feather: Brasa's fast-casual approach features locally grown food

The only problem with the place, one customer went on, was that it was very expensive. No it wasn't, countered another—if you tried to cook the same things using ingredients from the Wedge it would cost you far more in food alone, never mind the work of cooking. But, said another, you could get the same thing from Boston Market at half the price! At this point, I stopped being self-satisfied with my eavesdropping, and began to wonder what would happen if this conversation went any further: If they mentioned that Brasa has beer and wine, functions brilliantly as a takeout, and is the brainchild of James Beard-nominated Restaurant Alma chef Alex Roberts, would my entire reason for existing on this planet be nullified, and would I just vanish in a puff of smoke? I silently reminded the good Lord that I had much work left undone (much of it laundry, but still), and thus the bikers were guided to other topics, allowing me to continue my earthly progress. Phew!

Happily, that progress soon returned me to Brasa, the greatest thing to happen to Minnesota takeout since the invention of those little handy-wipe packets—several of which are tucked into a cup on every table at Brasa. For those of you reading this hoping to learn that Brasa is just Restaurant Alma—one of the city's preeminent white-tablecloth, farm-driven restaurants—on a budget, take those handy-wipe packets as your warning shot: Brasa is something else entirely. And I think it's actually something newer and more revolutionary than it appears at first glance.

At first it seems, like those bikers noticed, a little Southern, a little Latin American, a little Boston Market. Brasa serves two meats and twelve sides. The meats? Rotisserie chicken and slow-roasted pork. The chicken is amply spiced, cooked on a traditional rotisserie until it's well browned, and served with a handful of lemon slices just when the skin is crisp and russety. It tastes like good, plain, roasty, delicious, homemade chicken. Nothing more and, importantly in a world of sodium-and-vegetable-oil-injected chickens, nothing less. (The chicken is available alone, priced at $5 for a quarter-chicken, $7.50 for a half, or $14 for a whole; and in various combination plates, like the half-chicken with two sides and coleslaw for $13.50.) The pork is even better: Berkshire pork shoulder is well seasoned and then slow roasted until parts are crispy, crackling, and salty, while other bits are soft as cheese—it's so scrumptious, savory, and comforting that you could eat it by the pound. If you do, it costs $14 a pound, though it's also available, like the chicken, in various combination plates, including a small roast pork with coleslaw and two sides for $11, and a large roast-pork plate for $13.50. A combo plate of both pork and chicken runs $14, with coleslaw and two sides.

Now, please know that these dozen sides are not to be underestimated. Brasa's cabbage salad, for instance, is, if not the best coleslaw in the state, a front-runner: White cabbage is sliced paper-thin, coated with a light, lemony vinaigrette, and tossed with fresh flat-leaf parsley and mint, creating the purest, most buoyant, cleanest-tasting coleslaw ever—it's the sashimi of coleslaws. The marinated chickpea and barley salad is another gem: For this, chick peas and barley are combined with micro-diced carrots and fresh thyme in a peppery vinaigrette that makes the healthy beans taste as robust and devourable as Cheetos.

The grits are, again, easily some of the best (or the best) in the state. Brasa uses heirloom grits—those in which the dried corn kernels are ground with old-fashioned stone wheels, not modern steel. This stone grinding happens at a lower temperature than steel milling, which allows corn's essential oils and more of its flavor to be preserved, and it also results in a more irregular texture. To see why this matters, all you have to do is try a spoonful of Brasa's sharp-cheddar-cheese grits: They're sweet, nutty, creamy, rich, spoon-coating, mouth-coating, good as dessert and good as anything Italy has to offer—if you ever wondered why grits aren't the American polenta, report to Brasa to see that they are.

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