Five signs the Minneapolis restaurant scene is growing

The recession can bite it

Menus that highlight local, seasonal, or organic ingredients have become common enough to start sounding clichéd—and that's a good thing. Whole cadres of Twin Cities chefs have committed to conscientious shopping, and now a few restaurateurs are incorporating environmental considerations throughout their buildings—from the energy-efficient light bulbs in the lobby to the low-flush toilets in the restrooms. Kim Bartmann, of Bryant-Lake Bowl fame, opened Red Stag, the first restaurant in the state to meet the strict eco-requirements of LEED certification. Even small cafes, like Common Roots, are looking at their business decisions with a more holistic bent. At several local eateries diners can take leftovers home in biodegradable containers, or leave scraps on the plate knowing they'll head to the compost bin.

Hip neighborhood restaurants in underserved neighborhoods

I mean no offense by implying a lack of hipness in the Como, Victory, or Dayton's Bluff neighborhoods. I'm just saying that they tend to be sleepy residential spots, without much nightlife or commercial activity. (And that can be a good thing. Who wants to actually live in a hip neighborhood when you can never find parking and drunks pass out on your porch?) But these neighborhoods are now home to the food-forward eateries Obento-Ya, Sauced, and the Strip Club. Obento-Ya's bright little jewel box expanded our view of Japanese cuisine (sure, they serve sushi, but also little grilled skewers called robata) at university-student prices. Sauced, housed in an old 3.2 bar, brought contemporary bistro food and a nice wine list to an area mostly populated with diners, pizzerias, and sandwich shops. The cheeky steak joint the Strip Club revived a century-old building to serve retro cocktails and pasture-grazed meats and quickly became a neighborhood hangout.

St. Paul, often considered Minneapolis's shy sister in terms of its dining scene, has lost several restaurants in recent years—Fhima's, À Rebours, Margaux—but made a big comeback in late 2007 and 2008. The biggest coup was Meritage, former W.A. Frost chef Russell Klein's take on French-American bistro dining served in cute, Parisian-esque digs. Several of the west side's favorite weeknight-appropriate, family-friendly hangouts opened St. Paul branches, including Pop, Salut, and the Bulldog. I'm hoping 2009 will see St. Paul bring in more original concepts, like the Blue Door Pub and its mission to retool our indigenous burger, the Jucy Lucy. A little healthy competition never hurts.

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