From announcement to opening, it only took a matter of weeks for noted chef and restaurateur Tim McKee to take over Uptown Cafeteria and introduce a new, more sophisticated concept. During construction they kept the rooftop patio -- one of the chicest in this neighborhood -- open for business and haven't changed things too much up there since the changeover. What's most markedly different here is the food, a sprawling array of mix-and-match meat dishes, many featuring uncommon cuts like lamb saddle, feather steak, bacon chop, and crispy pig's ears; cold and warm vegetable sides designed to share; and oysters done fried, charbroiled, raw, or as shooters with a Bloody Mary or watermelon-margarita chaser.
We stopped by to get a first look at the smart menu, spare but stylish interior, fruity-leaning cocktails, and family-style service.
Dishes at Libertine are delivered to the table as they're ready, so pacing and courses aren't really a thing here. Instead it's recommended that you get a number of plates and plan to share lots of bites.
We heard so much about the beef bacon here, we had to make the Libertine BLT our first order of business. The L and T (and bread and mayo) parts of the sandwich were ultra-traditional, but the unexpected chewiness and woodiness of the beef bacon helped to keep things interesting. It's messy to eat, and perhaps not as good as the lamb bacon BLT at Saffron, but still worth trying.
With all the meat on the menu, it was surprising to see how well executed and straight-up delicious the crispy tofu dish was. Not only was the gingery-mirin sauce understated and complementary, but the tofu itself was nicely seasoned. The grilled ahi tuna (pictured at the top of the post) wasn't quite as raw as our server suggested, but was tasty all the same and cooked more to the doneness of a similarly sized piece of pork.
The honey-jalapeno fried chicken was succulent and light, crispy but without any greasiness, and really nicely cooked on the inside too. High marks for fancy fried chicken, which Minneapolis seems to be having a mini love affair with at the moment. No complaints about that here. A number of dishes are served with a single onion ring as a garnish, which is a nice touch.
Cocktails seemed to lean heavily to the jammy, fruity, sometimes a little too sweet side. But one unique concoction ended up being a total crowd pleaser: the New York sour. It's a simple blend of rye, lemon, and red wine over ice that is equal parts tart and sharp, but fully summery. We may be inspired to try this one at home.
Libertine 3001 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis 612-877-7263; libertinempls.com
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