But your years of waiting have finally come to an end: Funky Grits opens this week. No, for real this time. August 14, 11 a.m.
We popped by to chat with Brewington and check out the food last week. Here are five things to know before you go.
5. You like grits? They’ve got grits.
There are few three-word combinations in the English language more beautiful than “aged cheddar grits,” a phrase which occurs on not one but four of the Soul Signatures grits bowls, all $13. Vegans are catered for with more than the obligatory token item but two appealing choices, including a Cuban-style bowl with seared tempeh, Carolina gold rice, mojo de ajo, and crispy plantains. Those on the warpath for a serious meat binge will be hard-pressed to choose between the Perlo (braised pulled chicken, andouille sausage) and the Soggy Bottom (country ham, braised pork belly, red eye gravy).
4. The side dishes don’t mess around.
Like many ex-vegetarians, I spent years relegated to the side menus in meat-centric restaurants. Rather than turning me into an anti-side shrew, I like nothing better than a dinner plate made of soul food veg. While plenty of Twin Cities restaurants make a polite nod to the South, only a handful do a full-blown homage like Funky Grits does with its sides. Riffing across the classics with a few twists, you can choose from bacon-braised collard greens, praline sweet potatoes, skillet cornbread, Cajun red beans with Carolina rice, and the piece de resistance: the grits + cheddar bites. “It’s like a crispy fried crouton made of cheddar grits,” says chef Jordan Carlson.
3. It’s proof that southern cooking can be surprisingly healthy.
Don’t worry, Carlson knows his comfort food in spades. But this is a rare joint whose focus on Southern-inspired comfort food also includes a commitment to offering a slew of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. (Their heirloom grits, made of stone ground corn, are completely wheat and gluten-free.) You’re not forced to be totally healthy—there’s pecan pie and delicious fried things—but the wow factor is just as firmly rooted in the dishes that are actually good for you. A starter of corn-battered fried avocado skins ($9) sated that dastardly urge for something fried plus creamy plus salty, and I was surprised when Carlson admitted it was vegan and gluten free––because it tasted suspiciously like a State Fair food for which you’d wait in line. The salads, like the Bon Iver-inspired Skinny Love, with its quinoa, roasted sweet potato and orange-vanilla vinaigrette, also look promising. They’re not open for brunch quite yet (that unveiling remains top secret) but signs look good that this might be one of the best brunches in town for those hipster couples made up of one bacon fanatic and one gluten-free vegan.
2. It’s soul food with Minneapolis roots.
Jared Brewington goes way back with the south Minneapolis neighborhood where his counter-service restaurant now occupies a cozy corner storefront. Brewington’s father and grandfather both ran their own businesses in this neighborhood, and Funky Grits sits at the perimeter of the historically black business corridor that, from the Depression era through the 1970s, stretched all the way to Nicollet Avenue. (Some say that the demise of Central High School, Prince’s alma mater, dealt the final blow to the neighborhood’s tight-knit, community vibe.) Those deep local roots come through in dishes like Purple Reign, a standout beet salad enlivened by shallot confit and a citrusy vinaigrette, and the Bobby Marshall Burger, named for the All-American athlete who integrated Central High’s baseball team in 1900. Better known for football, he’s one of Minnesota’s true sports legends.
1. Come for the soul food, stay for the community feel.
To that end: Community isn’t just a buzzword here. “This is another place for people to hang out,” says Brewington, gesturing to a mod lounge behind the dining room where mid-century modern furniture invites guest to chill out after dinner with a beer or a glass of wine. (It's all been envisioned by Smart Associates, the design studio behind Saint Dinette, Betty Danger's, Big River Pizza, and more.) Families are welcomed not only by kid-appealing colors (lime green and popsicle orange) but by the children’s “Funkateers” menu. Also, chef Carlson has already been spotted soothing an irate toddler mid-tantrum: by magically materializing with a plate of perfectly cooked french fries in two minutes flat. If you arrive at the restaurant in a funk, they’re well-sorted to cure what ails you.
805 E. 38th St., Minneapolis