If there were any restaurant in the Twin Cities we most expected to flourish, Parka was it. Yet since opening last year, the south Minneapolis coffee shop/bakery/nouvelle-bistro has had more than its fair share of ups and downs. Once a collaboration between Victory 44's chef Eric Harcey, Dogwood Coffee, and Rustica Bakery, Parka seemed like a sure thing, but with a fluctuation in staffing and a fairly complex, labor-intensive menu, things just never seemed to click.
Now Harcey's out and the remaining folks at Stock & Badge, the collaborative company behind Parka and Grain Stack in the MIA, have brought in a brand new food director to revamp the menu and try to turn around a slightly sullied reputation.
Enter Sam Kanson-Benanav, the new food director of Parka. Kanson-Benanav is trying to mix things up in an interesting way, steering the menu in the direction of quality sourcing over molecular gastronomy. The majority of the new menu focuses on breakfast and brunch food served all day. Here you'll find a variety of interesting and tantalizing breakfast sandwiches ($8-$9); a pancake parfait that includes a flax seed pancake, pistachio and pepita granola, apple butter, cranberry raisin agrodolce, and your choice of dairy yogurt or cultured coconut yogurt ($11); and a salmon gravlax served on a sprouted rye loaf with soft scrambled eggs, smoked rainbow trout roe, pickled red onions, shallots, and pickled mustard seeds ($13).
In addition to the variety of breakfast items, Parka's new menu also features a variety of salad and snack options. An endive and arugula salad ($8) and a whitefish bruschetta ($12) both sounded like great light dinner or starter options, but on this visit we opted to try the grilled wedge salad.
This salad features a whole head of grilled bib lettuce, carrots, red onions, shaved egg, and BBQ chicharones. The salad is dressed with two different types of dressings, a creamy chive buttermilk and a spicy peppadew French. While flavor-wise, this dish has a lot to offer -- the grilled lettuce added a delicious, earthy dimension to the dish, and both the crispy BBQ chicharones and the spicy peppadew French dressing added a tremendous amount of punch -- but these fairly aggressive flavors completely overtook the flavor of the chive buttermilk, especially since the salad was impressively under-dressed. The plate was also deemed functionally flawed as many of the garnishes would slide right off the plate as we tried to eat. This dish is an aesthetic delight, and if the flavors were all presented in balance with one another, it could be a truly fantastic salad.
In terms of snack food, the options are few, but Parka's menu features a charcuterie ($13) and a cheese plate ($10), both comprising products made in the Midwest. You also have your choice of classic French fries or Polenta fries ($6). We went for the basket of smelt fries ($10). Locally sourced smelt, green beans, and cauliflower florets are all dredged in corn meal and deep-fried until crisp, and are served with a trio of sauces: a tangy papadew relish, a zippy horseradish sauce, and a very classic tartar sauce. With a pinch of salt, this would make for an awesome late-afternoon snack alongside a refreshing pint of craft beer.
The menu offers a few options that are suited to lunch and dinner fare. A classic Reuben ($11) served with house-cut chips certainly comes off as a standout option, and the new Parka burger ($11) made from Peterson Limousin beef, topped with horseradish kraut aioli, sriracha aioli, pickles, red onion, Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, and served on a brioche bun is certainly a departure from the previous "perfect burger." We ordered the special softshell crab sandwich ($11) which was served on top of a flavorful and creamy slaw on a soft, sesame seed bun. Served with a side of crisp French fries, this sandwich was definitely our winning pick on this trip.
Parka's menu is definitely heading in the right direction, but we'd love to see a few more lunch and dinnertime options, along with a few more snacks. If Parka can start to pull everything together and clean up a few of those loose ends, we have high hopes for this neighborhood joint.
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