Whether or not it’s broadly acknowledged, Twin Citians love newness.
To open a shiny, new inevitably Buzzy Darling not 15 feet from your other (much beloved) restaurant serving cuisine from the same region of the world… takes some serious chutzpah.
And yet, this is exactly what chef Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre did by positioning Snack Bar where Be’Wiched Deli once sold sandwiches. For about a month now, their new venture has been slinging a concise, Italian-inspired menu across the hall from their Bar La Grassa. From a certain angle, it's a ballsy move, courting comparison and competition like that.
Snack Bar’s menu consists solely of small plates and decadently customizable slices of pizza, served late on the weekends (like its BLG kin). The wine list is deep, with about a dozen options available by the glass, and the menu of spirits is well chosen and tight, which allows for a small but innovative cocktail list, plus a selection of no-proof selections as impressive as the real things.
Unlike most new contemporary Midwestern establishments, the atmosphere inside Snack Bar is anything but minimal, with dark colors and a big archway behind the bar tickling that spot where old library reading rooms might overlap with the Grand Central Oyster Bar.
Here you’re either a bar-sitter, or you’re not. Patrons can choose to belly up at the long U-shaped bar or spar for one of the half-circle booths in tufted blood-red leather. There are no mid-room cafe tables or flimsy chairs to feel bad about.
When ordering, the idea goes something like: two to three plates, plus a slice of pizza will probably satisfy on a per-individual basis. In practice, the menu requires some subtle navigation, even taking into account a high level of quality across the board.
With little written explanation of the plates themselves, orchestrating your meal proves tricky. Order that fried eggplant served with (a very mild rosemary) honey, sure, but if it’s paired with Sea Scallops and Shermoula (served over a bed of golden raisins and pine nuts awash in brown butter, $15), you’ll leave thinking Snack Bar’s food is on the sweet side.
Pair the Sweet Potato Gnocchi (reminiscent of Burch’s schupfnudel, and topped with stracchino cheese that melts like sauce, $12) with plates like the Parmesan Waffle with Proscuitto di Parma (whose meat portion simply drapes like a blanket atop a cheesy waffle, $8), and it might be difficult to appreciate one of the gourmet pizza slices at your disposal, having already eaten so much richness with little warning you were about to ruin your grand dining plan.
Order the outstanding Cheese Pastizzi (which looks unimpressive on the plate, but is actually something like a perfectly flaky empanada stuffed with buffala mozzarella, made with enough butter that it oozed, $6). Just do it.
But don’t order this pastizzi at the same time as the Garlic Fried Octopus ($10)—which is first poached before it’s tossed in a combination of olive oil and garlic chile flakes before frying our hyper-intelligent sea friend, creating the sort of dish that’s simple in presentation, yet capable of converting diners who believe octopus must be rubbery in texture if it’s the real-deal—and the Picci with Pistachio and Ricotta ($9), or you’ll be so full and tongue-tired the mere thought of putting pizza on top of it all will seem unnecessary... despite keeping well within the “two to three plates and a slice” recommendation.
To be clear, all of the dishes mentioned above are, individually, lovely—if a little beige in presentation. It’s only in combination that things get… fraught. This is where your server comes in. Ask them questions and let them guide you when necessary.
Reader, even with guidance from helpful servers and sharing plates between friends, it required a return visit to fit the pizza. It’s very easy to get surprise-full, or fatigued, on Snack Bar’s “small plates.”
And the pizza is very good—worth saving room for, even.
Served on four-day fermented sourdough crust, each slice is one-sixth of a 16-inch pie (i.e., big). Choose a Parm- and cream-based white, traditional red, or tomato-pancetta-pepperoncini sauce as a base before adding toppings to your heart’s content. Add-ons range from clams to fresh chiles, speck and cremini mushrooms to anchovies, BLG sausage, olives, and more.
No one can tell you How to Pizza but you.
Ultimately, if Snack Bar was intended as a non-compete waiting room for those whose BLG reservation hadn’t yet come up, customers might just end up cancelling based on their similar-yet-different offerings and an ambiance that makes you want to stay. It’s the latter that will bring me back time and time again, where I plan to snuggle deep into a booth and bask in a level of comfort and service few establishments are willing to furnish in the Year of Our Lord 2019.
800 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis