Going out to eat. As a devout lover of conversation as well as food, I find myself waiting to be seated perhaps a tad too much. But how can I resist? There is no art form that embraces all five senses to the extent of the culinary arts. The aroma of pizza searing at eight-hundred degrees in a wood-fired oven; the resounding crunch of each corn chip coated in guacamole; the prickly shell of a crab leg you must vanquish before scarfing down the reward; the sight of perfectly-done eggs reminiscent in shape to the finest of Monet’s lilies; the symphony not Beethoven nor The Beatles can rival, twisting across the tongue in such a way that has never been tasted before, nor will ever be replicated exactly the same again. Visiting a great restaurant is no different than taking a trip to the MIA or the Walker. It’s a way of both supporting your community, and engaging with it. A place to talk and think, recharge and relish. That is why I feel compelled to share this here list with you. Yes, I know I’m no food critic, and I hope I don’t come across as any sort of snob for eating at wonderful restaurants. It’s just that I feel so strongly about the world-class culinary scene here in the Twin Cities that I must seize this opportunity to lay down some praise. Here we go:
The 5 Best Restaurants in the Twin Cities
(in my opinion, of what I’ve tried)
SPOON AND STABLE
Yes, this is a cliche choice. Yes, you can accuse me of being influenced by the buzz and glamour (and James Beard nominations) of this new establishment. I have long contemplated this North Loop hotspot, questioning the hype. However, besides the fact that the food is world-class, what ultimately convinces me of this establishments greatness lies in its story. Gavin Kaysen, owner and chef, has a tale that has been much-mythologized in the culinary world. Long story short, after growing up in Bloomington, he traveled across the country, working in the finest institutions, and eventually becoming Director for legendary Chef Daniel Boulud’s restaurant operations. He reached the top. He could have opened one of the highest calibre restaurants in any city he wanted. Yet, he chose to come home. Spoon and Stable is his ode to The Twin Cities. Minnesota’s finest dining, mirroring our home’s unpretentious nature, and hospitable reputation. But now I must speak of the food. In my (somewhat limited) experience, there is no finer venue to experience dishes which tease the tastebuds as Kaysen’s establishment. Of the meals I’ve had there, standing out above all else was the monkfish. Never has a dish brought such a warm embrace to my palate, balancing the savor of the thin bacon coating with the comfort of winter squash and sauce chasseur. Flavors came in waves, revealing combinations that could only be discovered through years of Kaysen’s labor. And as for dessert, Spoon and Stable has no shortage of decadent concoctions beckoning off the menu. As fantastic as the crepe cake is however, I must save my highest praise for the honey and cream cake. This dish has single handedly redefined my opinions of the entire genre of “cake”. Unparalleled. Now, Spoon and Stable’s menu is fluid, adapting with it’s team of talented cooks, bartenders, and servers as they lead at the forefront of the Twin Cities culinary expedition. There is no dish that will serve you wrong, for as long as this dining paradigm stays true to the Beacon of the North, I daresay they cannot steer us wrong.
Reason number one: the food. Reason number two: the aesthetic. Reason number three: the neighborhood. Tilia has proven to be an absolute staple in Twin Cities dining, situated in the Linden Hills neighborhood a short stroll away from Lake Harriet (and Sebastian Joe’s if you need an after-dinner fix). First things first, let’s talk about the food. The brainchild of TC legend Steven Brown, Tilia sets the gold-standard for the quintessential South Minneapolis upscale casual dining. They don’t take reservations (which can be both a good thing and a bad one), and the menu has solid middle-to-low pricing. In my experience you can’t go wrong ordering some of their shoestring fries to start. If you’re really doing things right it’s a summer afternoon at the hour when the sun has just begun to set and everything seems to be outlined in gold. Linden Hills is bustling with families parading from Wild Rumpus to cool down at SJ’s and star-crossed lovers are out on a date to the lake. Once you’ve scarfed down the fries, you and your hip-entourage move on to the pasta dishes–any of them, for Mr. Brown will not disappoint. The gnocchi will demand your attention, challenging your definition of what complexity can be achieved with sample flavors and ingredients. It will fill you with warmth and hospitality, working in unison with the restaurant itself, which so effortlessly connects kitchen, bar, and dining to the point where it feels much less like a business than a party of old friends, catered to by Mr. Brown. Tilia encapsulates everything which I love about Minnesota, sharing our state’s honesty and warmth with every bite.
Za. What a food. Infinite amounts of discussion has been allocated to the greatest culinary creation of mankind, so I’ll save you the redundancies. Instead, let’s focus on what is perhaps The Twin Cities best offering: Pizzeria Lola. Ann Kim, a Minneapolis-native (are you noticing a trend?) has nearly built an empire with her opening of Hello Pizza in Edina and the up and coming Young Joni in Northeast, but let us never forget her not-so-humble beginnings. For starters, Lola makes use of the finest of wood-burning ovens, searing your pizza at over eight-hundred degrees for a crust that is utterly unrivaled. However, just about anyone can make a decent za if given the right oven and some solid ingredients; so what makes Lola worthy of my list? Innovation. They have changed the game with so many of their delicious creations, however there are two that I’ll briefly mention (it was a hard choice). First up, The Boise. This savory pie has a cream base and, perhaps shockingly, loads of thinly sliced potatoes making up its core. From there Mrs. Kim throws on a coating of cheese and caramelized onions. At first glance, this may throw some for a loop, but let me tell you, the risks assumed with The Boise will remind you just how exciting food can really be. Perhaps overshadowing that magnificent pie then is The Korean Barbecue. This is Lola’s magnum opus: topped with barbecued short-ribs, arugula, soy-chili sauce, and a calculated amount of cheese, this pizza may have no rival. Your friend’s instagram from the photo-booth in the back may have gotten you to Lola, but the KB will keep you coming back.
Two huge factors in shaping whether I’ll love a restaurant are as follows: the size of the place and the size of the menu. Revival, through its dozen tables and minimalistic menu have won me over head and heels. The kitchen may have gained acclaim for bringing us northerners a taste of true southern-fried chicken, but if I were you, I’d get the chick to start or as a side. Whatever you do, you have to make room for the burger. Which burger? The only one on the menu, because the folks at Revival understand that people do not like choices. Show us what you’re good at. And by God do they know how to combine patty and bun. Coming in at a double stack with bacon as thick as the beef, the Revival Burger reminds us that The Twin Cities has more to offer than the Jucy Lucy. Southern comfort food, welcome to the North.
GEORGE AND THE DRAGON
Okay, I will admit that all of the other places on my list are a tad cliche. No one will be shocked by any of them, and they are all household names in the TC foodie community. However, George and the Dragon may be a bit of a curveball. This South Minneapolis (another trend here) eatery can make you feel more at home than just about any other place in town. At its core, GATG is a small square room filled with a couple dozen tables and a humble bar. There are some books to read, art on every wall, and a good chance some vinyl is spinning. It’s likely that the owner, Fred, is walking about and checking up on his patrons, inquiring about the food, and more importantly, how everyone’s night is going. If you ordered the Bangers and Mash, or maybe some mini-donuts at brunch time, there’s a chance your night is going a little better than fine. With its elegant take on pub-fare and commitment to the highest quality waitstaff, perhaps the only thing separating GATG from your home is the service and a life-altering dish known as The Asian Hangover. I could describe it for you, but I think it would do no justice, for where George succeeds is in taking the ordinary and reinventing it with the littlest of things (the consistency of the cheese in the mac, the subtle flavors radiating through the mashed potatoes, the difference between “mayo” and “wasabi mayo”). If there is one place that can please anyone, it has to be this South Minny gem.
bar la grassa
the pig ate my pizza