Best Of :: Food & Drink
Those of us at City Pages enjoy tater tots at least as much as the next person, but sometimes you want to go beyond the fryer staples for your happy-hour snacks. That's when you should head to the Mill Northeast and order from the Mid Menu, which is available every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and also Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to midnight. All the food items on it (except the oysters) cost $5 apiece, so order with abandon. The butternut squash bisque, with maple mascarpone and spiced pepitas, is a great way to start, or there's an arugula salad with apple and goat cheese. Beef or veggie sliders are topped with white cheddar, and there's a plate featuring a pork hot link from Butcher & the Boar, with cauliflower giardiniera and mustard crème fraîche. Mussels are bathed in a spicy tomato sauce, and there's a rotating selection of raw oysters on the half shell (for $2 each). You'll need something to wash that all down of course, so it's fortunate that there is always a featured craft cocktail for $6 (recently it was a delicious apple, ginger, and bourbon concoction), along with $4 taps and house wine and $3 tall boys. Oh, but you really do want something deep-fried? You're in luck there too: Alaskan cod pops with tartar sauce, or the Mill's elevated versions of French fries (with Pecorino Romano and béarnaise) and Faribault caveman cheese curds (made with cave-aged cheese and accompanied by a sweet house-made beet and beef ketchup) will hit the spot.
Though there are many worthy contenders, Rustica still makes the best baguette in town, and a great baguette is the bready backbone of any bakery worth its Maldon Sea Salt. Rustica's baguettes are crisp, perfectly proofed, airily structured, and baked in a high-heat stone hearth oven to achieve that shiny, knockable exterior. It makes an amazing base for spreads, sandwiches, and appetizers, and it's an ideal soup companion, which is good news, because the bakery serves all those items as well. Try the fancied-up adult grilled cheese, an individual-sized savory focaccia with roasted tomatoes, or the insta-cure-all chicken and dumpling soup with celeriac and plenty of fresh herbs. And we know it's been said a lot, but it bears repeating that the bittersweet chocolate cookie here, one of the bakery's best-selling items year after year, is an absolute knockout.
We like to start our days the way we end them — in close proximity to a bar — and at Ward 6 we can get our morning caffeine fix in a tall glass of Surly Coffee Bender. Best of all, we get to follow up that jolt with any number of exceptional early-in-the-day dishes. Breakfast poutine here isn't just a riff on the wonder of a great French fry, it's a way of life. A dish of crispy potatoes smothered in sausage gravy and gooey fresh cheese is more than enough to fortify you against even the coldest Minnesota day. Ward 6 also passes the test of a great breakfast — a perfectly cooked egg — with flying colors every time we order. Harissa-spiked Hollandaise makes for a killer eggs Benedict, and the so-called Disaster breakfast scramble will destroy any ills you may have caused yourself the night before; plus, sweets fans can bury their faces in the mountain of powdered sugar that tops the beignets or dive face first into a pile of impossibly fluffy pancakes. Ward 6 is truly a breakfast joint for breakfast lovers.
While you're standing in the inevitable weekend brunch line at this Powderhorn hot spot, flip through the local zines on wall racks, or the mugs handmade by one of the owners, or the stack of postcards, including those with the slogan, "Modern Times Café: Where the Punks Take Their Parents." It's true: Modern Times hosts all kinds, and while the inside of this café has plenty to look at — colorful tables, rotating wall art — best of all are the diners next to you. There are punks, sure, tattooed and shaking off their hangovers with a heaping helping of the Tucson Tough Guy scramble. But there are also little kids, old couples sharing a paper at the counter, and all the other types that make up Powderhorn's vibrant neighborhood. The service is of the excellent, flipping-tables-but-still-making-sure-your-coffee-mug-is-always-full variety, but nothing beats the food. Modern Times is that rare place beloved by vegetarians, vegans, gluten-averse, and carnivores alike, with sides ranging from tempeh to bacon. Every item on the menu is unpretentiously marked with a dietary category, and all of those items — from the hearty veggie scrambles to the generous migas to the decadent croques — are delicious.
Even after you've ordered the holy trinity of brunch beverages — water to hydrate, coffee to caffeinate, and a Bloody Mary to wash away your sins, amen — you've still got arguably the most important decision ahead of you: what to eat. Pick the wrong thing, and you're wallowing in bed for the remainder of the day; choose wisely, and you'll be vaulted back into the realm of the living. Allow us to assist you in your time of need. The breakfast poutine at Muddy Waters is far and away the most comforting, most hangover-busting hero-on-a-plate you could hope for. A bed of crispy home fries is topped with a generous helping of salty soft cheese curds, a fried egg, and rich gravy — which can be made vegetarian and served with mushrooms and other grilled veggies upon request. A perennial favorite of brunch regulars, the breakfast poutine was recently removed from the menu, but we have it on good authority that if you ask nicely, you can still get yourself a plate of this miracle cure. And if you can enjoy it al fresco on Muddy Waters' shady patio, all the better.
The Bloody Mary will forever be bedfellows with that cruelest reality of a fun night on the town: the hangover. At the Triple Rock, the bartenders never lose sight of the utilitarian purposes of this brunch staple, boozing it up generously with vodka, adding a sweat-inducing dose of hot sauce, and tossing in enough pepper to make your mouth pucker. If drinking one (or two or three) of these hair-of-the-dog miracle-workers doesn't get your mind right, then it's probably time to go back to bed — or else hit the whiskey. And coffee. Of course, the T-Rock Bloody is no taste-bud vulgarity, either; even the most sober among us will appreciate how the spicy aftertaste complements the savory acidity of the tomato juice. Not that there's anything pretentious about it: Presented in a plastic pint glass, this Bloody won't come topped with a burger or doughnut or any other nonsense that should actually be brunch itself. There isn't even salt on the rim, just a pickle, olive, and lemon wedge — all of which makes for a damn fine Bloody.