Borough & Parlour makes good company
There's no denying the North Loop is on fire right now. Not literally, of course. Though if it had been, that water main break a few weeks back might have succeeded in putting it out. But seriously, this section of the Warehouse District is on a major roll with successful restaurant ventures: Black Sheep, Bachelor Farmer, Be'Wiched, Fulton Brewery (and the food trucks it attracts), Bar la Grassa, the very newly opened Smack Shack, and now the hits just keep coming with Borough and Parlour, the fruits of a joint effort by Travail alums Tyler Shipton and Nick O'Leary. The two young talents met at Travail, and they have both enjoyed time training at some of the Twin Cities' best-loved restaurants including Saffron, Porter and Frye, and Bar La Grassa, under influential local chefs like Sameh Wadi and Steven Brown. What does this all add up to? High expectations. So I'll just cut to the chase: They live up to them.
But the menu and environment Shipton and O'Leary have created add up to more than just a composite of the other great restaurants where they've worked. Borough possesses a sort of easy grace: casually dressed servers, no-pressure pacing of meals, a stripped-down interior that uses food and the surrounding industrial space as an inspiration for decor (check out the cheese-grater pendant lights — such a cool idea — and the old-school icebox storage near the kitchen). It's the kind of restaurant you really want to make time for. And you should, because the more time you spend here, the better your experience. That's not code for "service is slow" or "plates must be dissected methodically," but simply means there's so much to learn and do in the two separate spaces that make up what's sure to be the North Loop's latest hot spot.
I'd suggest arriving about a half-hour before your reservation (and I would definitely recommend a reservation) so you can start your night at Parlour, the latest example in the growing trend of having a separate but still closely attached bar as part of an overall restaurant concept (see also: Bachelor Farmer's Marvel Bar and Union's Marquee). This is where founder of the NorthStar Bartenders Guild and mixologist extraordinaire Jesse Held (or one of the other fountains of knowledge that make up Parlour's staff) will help you select a cheekily named cocktail from Parlour's wordy drink list, or invent a whole new concoction based around your booze preferences. "If you tell me what you like, I can make it into something delicious," a bartender told us when my dining companion expressed wariness at one of the signature drinks called the Panty Dropper — a cocktail that she admitted contained so many unfamiliar ingredients, all she recognized was the lemon. She wisely decided to take a gamble on the brightly scented combination of dill-infused aquavit, Hana Hou Hou Shou — a rosy sparkling sake, and orange bitters over ice. If you're a little groggy or dreaming of a non-freezing day, this will wake you up and bring you right there.
Parlour's menu (which includes a few snack and dessert plates) contains totally different drinks than the ones offered upstairs at Borough, but worry not. You can tote your half-finished cocktail up a concrete stairwell (which feels a little forbidden and secret passage-like) just in time to be seated in the restaurant. Here O'Leary and Shipton have created a smart menu full of varying sizes of equally artful plates. Flavors are succinct and upfront, and dishes frequently feature the same ingredient in different forms, such as parsnips both braised and pureed. It shows the kitchen has both imagination and a reverence for the products they're using. Some of the starter-sized items included a creamy, potato-based soup finished with champagne and poured over (at the table) fingerling potato chips, chives, and ribbons of truffles shaved right onto the side of the bowl. The rich soup was followed by Brussels sprouts with Robiola cheese, apples, walnuts, and cider, which beautifully highlighted the contrast between the cooked and raw components. The endive salad with homemade yogurt, little jewels of pomelo, and olive tapenade was less impressive — a bit watery and overdressed — but the hands-down star of the small plates was the golden caramelized cauliflower with fried oysters, lovely whole caper berries (rarely seen but always appreciated), and some pickled chiles over a schmear of cauliflower puree, which made for a wonderful study of the vegetable.
The larger entree-sized plates seemed to be where Shipton and O'Leary could best put that signature Travail whimsy to use. A spin on a traditional fried chicken dinner took the form of a sort of chicken roulade, filled with smoky chicken liver, and rolled in crispy breadcrumbs. Served with braised mustard greens, a gently (maybe a little too gently) cooked egg, mashed potatoes so buttery they're reminiscent of Joel Robuchon's famous puree, a bit of soubise gravy — a sauce made by deeply caramelizing onions and blending them into bechamel — and finished with shaved, brilliantly colored watermelon radishes. The dish was smart, sophisticated, and quite delicious, if a little heavy-handed with the salt — which was my only overriding complaint about the food at Borough. An otherwise excellent house-made fettuccine with sage leaves and squash suffered the same salt issue, as did the firm and fleshy plate of scallops with pancetta and maitake mushrooms, which look like sea creatures but eat like the meat of a mythical beast. Speaking of which, the incredible slab of king trumpet mushroom that comes with Borough's preparation of strip steak almost upstages the beef. Almost. Served with little pockets of fresh, oxtail-stuffed pasta and little dots of Taleggio cheese, this dish is robust and well-executed, but could benefit from at least one sweet or acidic component. There was better balance in the seasoning of the grilled sturgeon dish, where the bit of char mixed in nicely with the light herbaceous broth, making the gigante beans (which already have a special place in my heart) especially toothsome and flavorful.
The style of service really enhances the experience at Borough (and Parlour too) and you get the very clear sense that everyone who works there truly and passionately cares about what they're doing. Questions and explanations are handled with consideration and no condescension, which is a surprisingly difficult line to ride, but food like this deserves to be discussed when it arrives to your table. Servers give sort of an artist's statement of each dish, which is helpful and appreciated since the descriptions in the menus are intentionally spare. I felt welcomed, educated, and not at all like I was being "sold" to. Cheers to pulling that off, Borough.
Technique and a even a bit of molecular gastronomy drive the dessert offerings. The "Margarita" is a play of sweet and sour with buttery, nearly solid lime curd atop a crumbled crust of Saltine crackers. The ultra tart gelees of tequila (yep) and lime work splendidly with the sweeter marshmallow cream-like spread on the plate. More unexpected twists come with the chocolate torte. Eat it quickly so you can get the full experience of whipped textured frozen espresso and sophisticated pearls of cherry and goat cheese ice cream. It's like Dippin Dots for grown-ups. Fantastic.
So with the addition of Borough and Parlor, the North Loop continues to cement its reputation as Minneapolis's premiere neighborhood for great restaurants and killer cocktails. Now if only we could get something fabulous to go in that old empty Trocaderos space ... stay tuned.
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