This year was a lousy one for the economy but—perhaps not coincidentally—a great one for cheap eats. Here are 10 of the best.
10. Thai Jerky at Moto-i
Surprisingly delicate and enthusiastically spiced (made still more delicious by a quick dip in Sriracha hot sauce), they were bursting with salty kick and funky umami: an almost obscene amount of flavor for the money.
9. Unibroue Quelque Chose from the Four Firkins
This stuff was only on sale during a Unibroue tasting at St. Louis Park's Four Firkins, but it's broadly representative of what a specialty store can bring to enthusiastic customers: Quelque Chose is a cherry-inflected Belgian-style beer that drinks equally well hot as cold. What it mercifully lacks in sweetness it makes up for with funky, layered flavor.
8. The Chocolate Egg Cream at Cecil's
East Coast deli fans appreciate the little things: house-made, deli-style pickles; blintzes; tender corned beef; and the chocolate egg cream, a humble mixture of milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer.
7. The Cheesecake at Citizen Cafe
Fluffy yet substantial, with a caramelized brown-sugar crust and a pitch-perfect balance of sweetness and cheese tang, the house-made cheesecake at Citizen Cafe would best a respectable New York City peer, to say nothing of the local competition. This is a dessert worth planning a meal around.
6. Chocolate Gelato at Fat Lorenzo's
It cost the owners of Fat Lorenzo's about $150,000 to put in an authentic Italian-style gelato machine, and the results are worth it. This stuff is rich beyond imagining, silky smooth, and cocoa-inflected as the dickens.
5. The Classic Jucy Lucy at the Nook
A tour of dozens of Lucys at a half-dozen places revealed that Casper and Runyon's Nook rules the roost with its combination of high-quality beef, perfectly balanced crispy-soft bun, and remarkably good house-made French fries.
4. Lift Bridge Harvestor beer
The Stillwater-based team at Lift Bridge Brewery is doing some exceedingly cool things with their business, concentrating on making beers that hit the sweet spot in appealing to beer snobs and newbies alike. Harvestor, made from locally harvested hops, is a pleasant shock: It's hard to believe something so hoppy can also be so smooth and mellow.
3. Wings at Chelly's
The quest for the perfect chicken wing ended this year at Chelly's in south Minneapolis. Remarkably light, garlic kissed, and golden fried with a light cornmeal breading, these things are surprisingly delicate and delicious.
2. Doubles at Marla's
One of the lynchpins of Trinidadian soul food is available right here in Minneapolis. Doubles are two puffy pieces of Indian-style bread cradling a hot and spicy mixture of chickpeas and tomato. They're ravishingly good in a way that will startle the uninitiated.
1. Espresso BBQ Wet Ribs from Q Fanatic
These are ribs you'll dream about. A liquid combination of coffee and caramel and soulful smoke flavor makes a wet rack of these ribs lick-the-plate delicious. It doesn't hurt that the meat is perfectly tender, gently clinging to the bone, ready to be pulled off with the slightest tug of a fork or teeth.
For 10 more 2008 bests, visit Hot Dish.