Five signs the Minneapolis restaurant scene is growing

The recession can bite it

It was a good year for eating, as Twin Cities kitchens in 2008 turned out one delicious dish after another. Some of my favorites highlighted the Midwest's best homegrown ingredients, such as Heartland's primal pork belly with cranberries and squash or Porter & Frye's riff on wild rice soup. Other delightful dishes didn't look or taste like Minnesota at all. A bright, gel-encased blob of blood orange juice could have just as easily been served in the Twilight Zone as at Cosmos.

This past year, adventurous eaters lapped up slices of once-wagging tongue at the 112 Eatery, while classicists inhaled the killer ginger cake at Nick and Eddie. From gooey cheese curds to gobi Manchurian, many dishes were worth going to great lengths to acquire—which right now involves piling on enough layers of clothing to rival the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and digging the car out of a snow bank.

Restaurateurs are bracing for a slow winter, but I think we have reason to be optimistic about making it through the upcoming months. Overall, the Twin Cities restaurant scene is diverse, exciting, and offers good value. Looking back at developments of the past year or so, there are several signs that the Twin Cities dining scene just keeps getting better.

Highbrow talent tackles humble fare

Ethnic food goes upscale at (from top) Barrio and Dancing Ganesha
Alma Guzman
Ethnic food goes upscale at (from top) Barrio and Dancing Ganesha
Alma Guzman

Location Info



6545 France Ave. S.
Edina, MN 55435

Category: Restaurant > Cafe

Region: Edina

Minnesotans aren't known for their pretensions—we invented Spam, after all. Our top chefs don't sequester themselves in ivory kitchens or morph into product-endorsing, TV show-starring culin-ebrities. Catching up with three locals previously lauded as Food & Wine magazine's "best new chefs," we find that, today, they've made their talents more accessible, not less. Seth Bixby Daugherty started a nonprofit group, Real Food Initiatives, to bring more healthy foods into schools. Stewart Woodman opened a tiny neighborhood bistro called Heidi's, where everything on the menu costs less than $20. When Tim McKee moved his stunning La Belle Vie to Minneapolis, he retained the indulgent multicourse menus but added scratch-made bar fare for those with haute tastes and homemade-potato-chip budgets.

In the past few years we've seen several chefs with fine-dining pedigrees turn their attention toward diner fare (Town Talk) and Latin fast food (Brasa). This year, three others made their mark on even more modest cuisines: food cooked over campfires or served on the street. At the Lake House, Joan Ida, formerly of Triä and Goodfellow's, put a chef's spin on fish fry and s'mores. Ritz cracker-crusted crappie fillets tasted as delicate and sweet as a shore lunch—except they came with arugula and smoked-tomato aioli in lieu of a brewski. For dessert, a graham cracker crust topped with dark chocolate ganache and a homemade, flame-kissed marshmallow ruined me from ever enjoying the supermarket version again.

This summer, two Barbette/Spoonriver alumni, Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer, rolled out local, natural, fair-style fare straight from their gleaming white kitchen-trailer, Chef Shack. Carlson's bison burger packed enough punch to be eaten plain—though how could one resist the homemade ketchup, pickled vegetables, and sauerkraut? When followed by a sack of Summer's cardamom mini donuts or just-torched crème brûlée, indoor eating seemed highly overrated.

Ethnic goes upscale

While fine dining has perhaps scaled back, ethnic food appears headed in the opposite direction. In the recent past, local Mexican, Vietnamese, and Indian restaurants were no-frills, mom-and-pop-type operations that offered cheap, tasty eats and not a whole lot more. Recently, though, several ethnic eateries have upscaled the dining experience. Masa may have pioneered the trend, with its Nicollet Mall address, splashy decor, specialty cocktails, and polished service. Since then, we've seen several others follow a similar formula: Frogtown's elegant Ngon Bistro; Jasmine Deli's hipster sister, Jasmine 26; Dancing Ganesha's debut of haute Indian fare; plus the chic, Mexican-inspired eatery La Chaya. None of them really left the starting line with all cylinders firing, except perhaps for Barrio, the new Latin venture from Tim McKee and Josh Thoma. With time, I hope the others will create a more consistent dining experience that lives up to their venerable culinary traditions.

Restaurants reclaim historic spaces

How many cities can say they have a restaurant that operates in a gorgeous, impeccably restored, historic bank building? Well, Minneapolis now has not one but two—Bank and Max, each replete with marble columns, grand staircases, chandeliers, and vaulted ceilings. Restaurants can revive our most beautiful historic spaces by bringing them back into public purpose. This year, the 1870 Forepaugh's mansion in St. Paul received an influx of cash from its new owner, which should keep it looking great for decades to come. And the Foshay Tower transformed from depressing office space to urban gem with its posh hotel rooms and trendy restaurants. It's now home to Manny's, which might be the most important VIP restaurant in town, and my favorite new bar, the sky-high speakeasy Prohibition. The mahogany-lined cigar box was once the private study of the building's owner, Wilbur Foshay, but now anyone who buys a drink can enjoy its thrills. Sure, a restaurant's primary function is to feed us, but it doesn't hurt the city to have them as partners in historic preservation.

Taking eco-chic beyond the plate

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