Go Get Sauced

The upscale North Side restaurant shows how the neighborhood is changing

Not once but twice I tried to go to Sauced during its regular hours and found the restaurant closed. The first time, on a Sunday evening, the parking lot was empty and the neon beer signs were dark. A note on the door explained that the staff had taken Mother's Day off. Totally understandable: Mom trumps everything. No big deal. The second time my efforts were thwarted, though, I was a little peeved. It was a Friday night, and the dining room was packed—with a private party, to which I hadn't been invited.

I'm sure my experience was less typical than unlucky, but it did give me pause. What to make of a new restaurant that hasn't bothered to take down the old restaurant's sign? Of an open kitchen with a box of Franzia on the shelf and two young guys in baseball caps at the stove? Of a place with Star Wars on the television, a waiter clad in leather pants, and a name that's a slang term for getting schnockered? Was Sauced a contemporary bistro or a fraternity-house kitchen?

Admittedly, I was hypersensitive about the impression that Sauced was making. It's an underdog facing an uphill battle, the only restaurant in north Minneapolis with truly food-forward ambitions. Yeah, that's what I said: north Minneapolis. And what came to mind? Violence? Drugs? Prostitutes? Fried-chicken joints? Foreclosed homes? Failing schools? To most Twin Citians, the North Side is synonymous with urban blight, and nothing more.

A taste of things to come? Chicken skewers in coffee mole and orange-cilantro butter sauces
Bill Kelley
A taste of things to come? Chicken skewers in coffee mole and orange-cilantro butter sauces

Location Info



2203 44th Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55412

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Camden


2203 44th Ave. N., Minneapolis
612.588.2228; www.saucedmn.com
appetizers $8-$12; entrées $15-$20

But north Minneapolis isn't a homogenous place. (That'd be like saying Phillips and Linden Hills are the same.) While the southern part of the neighborhood has struggled, the northern part, where Sauced is located, is becoming reenergized.

The building that houses Sauced has evolved in a way that reflects changes in the sleepy, working-class neighborhood, as longtime residents sell their bungalows to young professionals. Many of these new homeowners rented in northeast or south Minneapolis, and they're seeking the same amenities they found in their old neighborhoods, including foodie-on-a-budget dining options. First, the cute brick building was a 2.3 beer joint called Penn Station, then it was Rix Bar & Grill, which served upscale bar food, and now it's Sauced. The simplest way to compare the changes might be by the burger toppings: American cheese to jalapeño bacon to veal demi-glace.

As soon as an order of chicken skewers arrived at my table, it was clear how far North Side cuisine had come. The three kebobs—arranged like a tepee, sprinkled with orange zest, and dunked in a painterly swirl of two brown and yellow sauces—would have looked more at home in the Walker Sculpture Garden than in the neighboring diner or pizza-and-pasta joint down the street. And the way the acidic brightness of the citrus butter contrasted with the dark chocolate/coffee notes of the mole—holy tongue shui—you'd have to cross a river or a freeway to find something else like it.

John Conklin, who took over the kitchen and launched Sauced this winter, says he believes Rix's menu, which offered items like pasta nachos, fried green beans, and chicken wings "sold the neighborhood short" and didn't distinguish it enough from chain restaurants in Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Center. He cites the fact that he's seen two-year-olds come into the restaurant and eat scallops and mussels as evidence that neighbors are hungry for more refined tastes. "The only other real option they have is Applebee's," he says, "and it kind of kills me to see that."

Conklin developed his scratch-cooking mentality from his mentor Michael McKay, whom he worked under at the Sample Room in northeast Minneapolis. ("I was like, 'Make me your slave and teach me everything you know,'" Conklin says of his apprenticeship.). But his menu is less traditional than McKay's was at the Sample Room, and than the one at Mayslack's, where Conklin most recently worked. Sauced's dishes are refined yet recognizable, Conklin says, to "anybody who's even a half-ass foodie." And while the cuisine and ambiance feel upscale, the vibe is relaxed. "You can come in cutoffs," Conklin assures.

Lunch service at Sauced has been a little slow so far, which is too bad, as the sandwich section is perhaps the menu's most outstanding. The "crack burger," addictive as its name implies, is among the Cities' best, with its grilled sourdough bun, melty blue cheese, and roasted tomatoes, all ladled with velvety veal stock. It's an explosion of savory flavors, a bona fide umami bomb. The turkey cubano—turkey, ham, tomatoes, pickles, caramelized onions, gooey gruyère, and rustic mustard aioli—dripped and slopped from its tinfoil wrapper, as if to remind us its ambitions were far beyond those typically found between a baguette. And the vegetarian sandwich isn't shy on flavor, with Brie, avocado, tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms served on rosemary/kalamata olive bread. (If they're serving puréed gazpacho, be sure to add a cup.) The sandwiches cost $10-12, which is steeper than those at nearby restaurants, but a small price to pay for perfection.

Conklin was confident enough in his sauces to name the restaurant after them—and he should be. I thought the tomato-based ragout in a seafood special was a nice complement to the shrimp, scallops, and saffron risotto it contained, just as the buttery orange-ginger sauce brightened the seared ahi tuna. A tangy blueberry barbeque sauce spiced up the pork scaloppine, and a currant demi-glace on the grass-fed beef tenderloin made up for the fact that a medium-rare order was brown all the way through.

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