Although we never enter restaurants expecting a free lunch -- that is, unless a friend bought an online coupon that's about to expire -- the moment we notice those telltale baskets lined in white linen hiding warm rolls, we rejoice.
For some, the free bread before the meal is merely an afterthought. But a few restaurants in the Twin Cities have gotten the message: Deliver a pretty bangin' bread basket and other delectable freebies to whet our appetites, and we'll love you forever. Curb the dreaded hangries with these complimentary nibbles.
Atop our list is the 112 Eatery. Yes, the 112 Eatery delivers a stellar dining experience overall, but it also provides a pre-set snack starter, including a melange of olives, spiced almonds, and endless loaves of crusty baguette, begging to be slathered in soft, fluffy butter. After you've stuffed yourself with your salads and entrees and one of the many indulgent desserts on the menu, make sure to save just a small cubic centimeter of room in your separate dessert stomach for the incredible homemade cracker jacks that accompany the bill -- a gesture that surely softens the blow.
It's no surprise that Bar La Grassa, owned by the same folks as 112 Eatery, rates pretty high as well. If you're lucky enough to get a table, a small saucer of cannellini beans arrives floating ethereally in an light oily bath, surrounded by small chopped pickled vegetables. Once you've mastered toothpicking the buttery beans out of their sauce, we suggest sopping up the rest with a piece or two or three of the hot and fresh bread that is also provided. And as with 112, even if you indulge in multiple pasta dishes, a whole de-boned roasted chicken, and a large plate of caramel crepes, a flock of tiny decadent chocolate sea salt truffles tag along with the damages, bidding you a bittersweet farewell.
But gratis snacks aren't limited to the fanciest, priciest places. Plenty of affordable spots give you a little something for just showing up. Mexican Eat Street favorite Pancho Villa upholds the noble tradition of free chips and salsa. Face it, you've definitely filled yourself up with multiple baskets of chips before your birthday enchiladas even made it to the table.
Salut Bar Americain in St. Paul and Edina offers delicious personal-sized baguettes for brunch, lunch, and dinner, along with large ramekins of butter with crunchy sea salt flakes, so that by the time your quiche shows up you're all "what quiche?"
Sit at the sushi bar at Origami in Uptown and you'll get a complimentary dessert of fruit and pocky, two delightful chocolate-covered biscuit sticks.
Broders' Pasta Bar graces your table with a fine assortment of breads in its basket, boasting a country loaf, a focaccia, and a peppery homemade cracker. Axel's in Mendota serves huge, fluffy popovers and cinnamon butter with just about any order, and during brunch you can swap that baby out for a caramel roll the size of your head. If you're on Hennepin Avenue, an evening at Rinata starts with a freshly baked loaf of bread accompanied by olive oil and a flavorful tapenade.
At the mall? Good Earth will start you off with various cracker breads and black bean hummus before your kale smoothie and White House-approved turkey burgers arrive. Romano's Macaroni Grill shows up with a mini loaf of freshly baked rosemary bread (and plentiful crayons for coloring after your server awkwardly writes his name upside down on your table paper). Even the Cheesecake Factory offers two types of bread to line your stomach before you stuff it full with a 2,000-calorie salad that could feed a family of six.
Honorable mentions are given to places such as Pizza Luce and Fuji Ya. Pizza Luce doesn't offer much up front, but on the way out, you've probably been known to grab a fistful of the chocolate mints that come with the check. And while they're certainly not edible, the free, bitter almond-scented washcloths that begin your dining experience at Fuji Ya are refreshing and remind you that it actually feels good to cleanse your hands before a meal.
Needless to say, we've really only scratched the surface. Are there any breadbaskets and/or freebies we missed that you love? Let us know! And if anyone can name an Asian restaurant that still does the fried wonton strips with sweet and sour sauce, we beg you. Hit. Us. Up.
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