Roast Excellent

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

That said, I think my absolute favorite side at Brasa has to be the rice and pigeon peas with local smoked ham. This bright orange, chili-specked, deeply, profoundly flavorful rice tastes eerily similar to one of my all-time favorites—from Rick Bayless's classic Mexican Kitchen cookbook, the one that involves specialty markets, fire-roasting chili peppers, a mortar and pestle, and more time than I ever seem to have. Any of these sides can be had in a combo plate of four for $11, or on its own in a takeout portion sized to serve four for $7. So can the rest of the dozen sides, like the chive-flecked potato salad; the sweet, caramel-edged plantains; the good collard greens; crisp fried yucca sticks; sweet pickled garden vegetables; mild yellow rice with stewed rosada beans; garnet yams with andouille sausage; and exceptionally plain black-eyed peas with Berkshire bacon.

All of these dishes have been designed to work for both takeout and sit-down meals. As a takeout, Brasa responds to the quandary of how the heck to live your life once you've read The Omnivore's Dilemma and have committed to eating local, knowable food, but still have the same modern, overwhelmed, overworked American life that everyone else answers with scary, corporate-factory food. When that busy life makes cooking impossible, I'd guesstimate you'd spend $35 or so here on dinner for a family of four, and maybe $20 for two people.

As a sit-down restaurant Brasa is essentially a fast-casual charmer: The former garage the restaurant inhabits has been transformed with bright ochre walls, post-industrial design elements, and corrugated aluminum. It essentially feels contemporary, airy, hip. When you sit, you find a metal cup in the middle of your polished wooden table, a metal cup that holds napkins, paper menus, heavy steak knives, flatware, and those handy-wipe packs. You order a drink and your meat and three, or your four (there are no appetizers), and your server brings them on a real plate. When you're through with dinner, you can get real desserts, like a gooey individual chocolate Bundt cake dripping with chocolaty icing ($5) or, my favorite, a delicate tapioca and coconut pudding topped with a bit of mango puree, a scattering of fresh pineapple, and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, all of which work together to produce a dessert as straightforward and easygoing as a picnic.

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

Location Info

Map

Brasa Premium Rotisserie

600 E. Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Category: Restaurant > Latin American

Region: University

Wine and beer are served in real glasses, as are the good house lemonade ($2) and the cane-sugar Dr. Pepper, a glass-bottle treat that I knew nothing about: It has a perfume like real cherries—who knew? Wines are good but no-fuss. All are $7 a glass and identified only by varietal or style; the rosé I tried was floral, crisp, dry, and, really, everything you want in paying someone else to pick the wine for you. The beer list lets you choose which type of cuisine Brasa is for you on any given evening: Pick a Negra Modelo or a Corona if you think that Brasa is Latin American, a Red Stripe if you've decided it's Caribbean, a Stella if you feel it's a Euro bistro, or, heck, a Sam Smith Oatmeal Stout if it's a gastropub (all beers are $4, save the $5 Sam Smith). However, I think a profound case could be made for picking a Grain Belt or a Schell's Dark, because the place is Minnesotan in a way that really only comes into focus when you do some big-picture thinking of where we are, as a food culture, and where we want to go.

Brasa chef and owner Alex Roberts has done this big-picture thinking. His father runs a farm in Wisconsin, and Roberts has been a leader, by example, of the theory that local, sustainable, fresh, farm-driven ingredients produce the best possible foods ever since his white-tablecloth spot, Restaurant Alma, opened in 1999. He has also been reading the same sorts of books that I have, like Michael Pollan's aforementioned The Omnivore's Dilemma and Nina Planck's Real Food—books that lay out the case that: one, local food has environmental, economic, and ethical effects that make it unavoidably important; and two, that grass-pastured meat, eggs, and dairy are far healthier, both to eat and for the environment, than their industrial equivalents.

Brasa is connecting farm and table in a way that works for both farmer and city dweller. I'd argue that the place isn't Southern, Latin American, or anything so much as highest-choice Minnesotan, doing the nifty sleight of hand of turning Minnesota farm products into the food that Minnesotans want to eat. All of the chicken Brasa serves comes from local farms, specifically from Kadejan in Glenwood, though Roberts is working on finding a grass-pastured chicken farmer to add to the mix. All of the pork comes from a Berkshire pork cooperative in southwestern Minnesota. Berkshire hogs are an heirloom pork breed, a hearty old British hog that can live outside during a Minnesota winter, unlike the corporate "other white meat" pigs that have been bred to have no insulating fat. Hogs and chickens are also natural fits for small-scale Minnesota family farms.

So, how to fit our best food hopes of local and sustainable in with our actual food life of fast-casual and takeout? Brasa is one answer. More, Brasa is an answer at top volume—the place is built to move units. It's also the everyday answer for people looking to eat healthy: Eat your chicken with collards and chickpeas, and your cardiologist will applaud. It's also the answer for families: The food is the same stuff any well-meaning dad would assemble for his brood. Of course, anyone looking at Brasa will quickly notice that the place is built for replication. St. Paul, south Minneapolis, Edina: Begin to fight among yourselves for the next Brasa outlet. I hope Roberts opens a million of them. Anything that is such good news for outstate farmers and for in-town eaters deserves to be argued about in every coffee shop and visited on every motorcycle, and to serve as the centerpoint of any group of Minnesota neighbors, eating together.

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