First Look: Tiny Diner has big potential

Tiny Diner is now open in Powderhorn

Tiny Diner is now open in Powderhorn

The latest addition to Kim Bartmann's ever-evolving eatery empire (Red Stag, Pat's Tap, Kyatchi Sushi, Barbette, etc.) is a mini restaurant on a major mission.

Tiny Diner is not only bringing all-day, all-organic meals to Powderhorn, they're working to be as self-reliant and sustainable as possible, drawing energy for the building from huge solar panels on the patio roof, keeping bees to make their own hyper-local rooftop honey, composting food waste, using cisterns to collect and store water, and maintaining a garden that will teach permaculture practices to the community and provide food for the restaurant. All that and they're making pie, too. 

We stopped by for dinner to check out the beer list, the big old patio and kids play area (complete with a willow thicket hut), sample the house-made soft serve, and see how Bartmann has interpreted the concept of a modern urban diner. 

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There's a practiced familiarity to the food here, perhaps that has something to do with how often we eat at Bartmann's other restaurants. But Tiny Diner's distinct angle is in its all-day breakfast, family friendliness, and wide range of options in terms of price and fanciness. They're also planning to feature a different US city every few months to use as a source of inspiration for special dishes. They launched with Philadelphia, so if you're a fan of cheesesteak flavors (done here as pepper, Wiz, and beef-smothered French fries), Whoopie pie, and the processed meat wonder known as Taylor pork roll (a staple at diners in New Jersey and Philadelphia), you'll want to plan your trip to Tiny Diner sooner rather than later.

We opted for regular menu items, but went for a combination of classic diner fare and more refined dishes to see where Tiny Diner's strength lies. 

Round one, the appetizer round, definitely went to the fancy-pants dish: smoked turkey liver mousse with pickled berries. We know, we know. Who isn't doing a liver mousse these days? But the unctuous, smooth, and smoky quality paired against the slightly bitter greens, thin slices of radish, and briny berries was delicious. Additionally, the caraway toasts the mousse was spread on were perfectly sturdy and buttery. 

The batter-dipped onion rings had great crispness and a certain, handmade old-fashioned kind of charm, but were unevenly breaded so thicker coating tasted a little raw and the thinner areas were burned. However, the house made barbecue sauce that came on the side was intriguingly tangy and treacly. 

The entree round was more of a toss-up, a nail-biter if you will. Once we saw the soft-shell crab with fried brown rice, it was hard to think of actually ordering any of the other main dishes. The rice itself had a texture somewhere between fried rice and risotto. There was still al dente bite in the rice, but a slight creaminess bound the bits of carrots and scallions all together. Topped off with a magazine cover-ready sunny-side fried egg (a promising indication of the caliber of breakfast) and a whole crispy crab covered in sweet chili sauce, this dish gave us a lot to love. But at $16 we couldn't help but notice we got a whole lot of rice and a smallish, bordering on overcooked crab. Even if the portions were a little off, the flavors were spot-on. 

For our money the stronger contender was the Deluxe Burger, a rare example of a toppings-loaded burger that stays neat, tasty, and well-balanced until the last bite. Here they cook a loosely packed grass-fed patty to order and layer it up with gouda cheese, really perfectly cooked bacon (again, another signal that breakfast here will be killer), lettuce, tomato, an onion ring, and a little Bearnaise-inspired aioli. It's the kind of burger that makes you wonder why you don't order burgers more often. 

Dessert was a tie between the icy, but subtly sweet house-made vanilla soft serve and a slice of tart raspberry pie. The slice was served very cold and the pastry, more like a shortbread than a flaky crust, probably would have been more workable at room temperature. There's room for improvement, but we're happy to keep taste testing those desserts while they fine tune. 

To finish, we had to try out Tiny Diner's aperitif wine cocktails. The restaurant only has license to sell wine and beer, but they're doing a lot within those liquor limits. An Aperol Spritz with lots of zesty orange flavor, bubbles, and little Lillet, was refreshing and bitter where the Bonal Collins was more tart, almost like a mildly boozy fresh lemonade. The beer list is impressive, with a heavy emphasis on local picks like gluten-free beers from Burning Bros., a few from Indeed, and Schell's Zommerfest. Teetotalers and kids will appreciate the house-made blueberry cream soda -- sweet, summery, and totally indulgent. 

Though there's a big range of what's offered, and we have no problem paying a little more for food with purpose and integrity, we were a little surprised at the prices on some entrees, feeling that $36 lamb chops may not be at the top of most customer's order lists. That said, we can't wait to come back for breakfast and sample the special dishes from the next featured US city. Tiny Diner is already making a sizable impact.

Tiny Diner
1024 E. 38th St., Minneapolis

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