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BEST NEIGHBORHOOD CAFÉ--MINNEAPOLIS Minneapolis 2001 - Auriga

A recent Strib story noted that the good people of Maple Grove suddenly have a "dizzying" abundance of restaurant options. Why, there's a Timber Lodge, a Red Lobster, and an Olive Garden! Turns out chains are drawn by the "sweet spot" of high incomes and education levels. Pshaw! You want to see a real sweet spot, check where Lowry Hill (haute urban tastemakers), Kenwood (real mansions draped with real ivy), and the northern Wedge (post-college apartment canyon) come together. At the heart of it all lies Auriga, the sort of neighborhood restaurant that makes a neighborhood more than just a zip code and a school district, something that enriches your life every day in untold ways. It's not just the often-dazzling food made by Doug Flicker, a chef with a penchant for the playful and the bold. It's a recent bowl of salt-pork-and-garlic soup ($6) full of grilled croutons and so beautifully powerful and controlled it was like a melody played on stand-up bass. It's also the smart, not-too-dear global wine list, easily sampled in the kickback azure bar. It's the way they've given temporary succor to former Local chef Steven Brown, to keep his bright talent around. It's the lovely summertime Saturday farmers' markets, which give the neighborhood organic zucchini, flowers, just-baked cinnamon rolls, and the best dog-walking destination imaginable. Most of all, Auriga is a great neighborhood restaurant because it improves its neighborhood in several dozen ways, and would be greatly mourned if it went. Unlike certain dizzyingly abundant restaurants we could name.

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