When owners Greg Cummins and mother-daughter duo Julie Hartley and Ami Francis looked around the vibrant North Loop neighborhood, they found a gap.
Sure, the community was buzzing with new restaurants, but not casual spots with great food that also checked the following boxes: healthy, cost-accessible, comfortable, and veggie-friendly.
Their bright, chef-driven counter service joint Sweet Chow—which opened Thursday—aims to deliver on those points while conjuring the dreamy flavors that Hartley, Cummins, and chef John Krattenmaker (formerly of FIKA) discovered eating street food on their recent adventures in Southeast Asia. The interior stays true to the North Loop’s industrial grandeur while striking an inviting balance between cheerful and tranquil. That cool wooden canopy over the service counter? Inspired, like, much of the menu, by a trip that Hartley and Cummins made to the northern Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.
5. Pho addicts will be pleased––and pleasantly surprised.
Hanoi street food serves as inspiration for Chef Krattenmaker’s take on the traditional Vietnamese soup. Expect a poultry rather than beef-based dish, with a flavorful fortified bone broth subbing for pho’s traditionally clear one. The Duck Confit bowl, for instance, is the kind of exuberant comfort food designed to banish the Minnesota winter chill, but it’s perfect for those ambivalent carnivores and flexitarians out there who might shy away from the, ahem, extravagant beef party that is a more traditional bowl of pho.
4. You might have just found your new go-to downtown lunchtime salad spot.
Chef Krattenmaker is particularly proud of his big and beautiful green papaya salad, a traditional recipe he’s jazzed up with lots of crunch and spice. Another standout: the chicken and mushroom salad with northern Thai chilies. If you’re more the sandwich type, there’s an impressive variety of banh mi-style baguettes, from BBQ cauliflower to double-fried chicken and crispy pork belly.
3. Cummins and Hartley are still concocting their cocktail list, but for now, the full bar gets serious competition from their innovative wine program.
A godsend for those of us who agonize over whether to splurge on the $13 glass and wonder if it’s really that much better than the $8 one, the well-defined list of five reds, five whites, two rosés, and and two sparkling wines is priced the same. Glasses go for $9, carafes for $23, and bottles for $36. Since the economics have already been sorted, your oenophilic ruminations can be blissfully confined to taste. You’ll also find six local craft beers on tap, as well as a nice selection of cold sakes and Korean soju.
Taking a cue from restaurants in Asian and European cities, as well as New York, Sweet Chow expects to introduce its own bicycle delivery service, with no middleman slowing things down. That means you’ll get everything fresh, hot, and fast––with a low carbon footprint to boot. Stay tuned.
1. Four words: Vietnamese coffee pot de creme.
You know that addictively dark, strong cold brew topped with a creamy layer of condensed milk and served on ice, so delicious it may as well be a dessert? Well, Krattenmaker’s gone the extra step and transformed this traditional Vietnamese coffee beverage into a decadent French-style custard dessert. It shares space on the well-priced dessert menu ($6-$8) with a traditional coconut sticky rice with fresh and grilled fruits as well as Chinese-style donuts rolled in chili-inflected sugar and served up with Nutella sauce. Thank goodness the menu is full of healthy salads and veggies that scream to be followed by a guilty pleasure.
116 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612-767-4605