The second-annual Charlie Awards, an event honoring the Twin Cities and metro area restaurants and key individuals who contribute to our exceptional, ever-expanding food scene, were held yesterday afternoon at the Pantages Theater. Hearty congratulations to all the finalists and winners, but perhaps the night's most recognized industry professionals were Christina Nguyen and Birk Gruden of Hola Arepa.
The duo took home the award for Best Emerging Food Professional, which "honors a person (or persons) making an impact in the Twin Cities professional restaurant and food community and has been working in the restaurant and food community for five years or less." Additionally, Hola Arepa's slow-roasted pork arepa won for Outstanding Food Truck Item, making Nguyen and Gruden the only repeat winners of the night.
Who else was honored, and what restaurants and food items should you be adding to your must-try list? Here are more details on the Charlie Awards' top picks:
As brunch faded into cocktail hour, awards were also presented to Tilia for Outstanding Restaurant; Lenny Russo of Heartland for Lifetime Achievement; Meritage for Outstanding Service; Doug Flicker of Piccolo for Outstanding Chef; and Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart for Outstanding Pastry Chef.
Several categories were added this year, including one honoring an exceptional Community Hero, which was awarded to Brenda Langton of Spoonriver by Mayor R.T. Rybak for her considerable role in bringing organic foods, sustainably resourced products, and healthy eating to the forefront of our local restaurant scene over her three decades in business.
Also of note was the award for Outstanding Restaurant Design, which went to the Bachelor Farmer, and the award for Outstanding Bartender, which was deservedly given to Johnny Michaels of La Belle Vie/Icehouse/Masu/Barrio/everywhere you drink.