Written by Katie Chang, published February 2, 2018
In 1996, Oprah posed the question to Prince; to which he simply replied, “It’s so cold it keeps the bad people out.”
Though it may seem strange to the rest of the country, Minnesotans have learned not to just live with, but wholly embrace their frosty environs. To prove the point: Eric Dayton, co-owner of the restaurant Bachelor Farmer, helped found the Great Northern, a 10-day all-outdoor festival taking place now through Super Bowl Sunday. Of how this idea hatched, he says, “It’s about getting outside and embracing winter as our signature season. Plus, we’re Minnesotans, and nobody does the cold better.”
As for the culinary landscape, it’s never been more thrilling. “Our dining scene is at its best right now because chefs and restauranteurs are bolder than ever,” says Jamie Malone, executive chef of Grand Cafe. “We are cooking what we want, and creating restaurants we dream of going to. We are not holding back.” Below, a shortlist of restaurants to check out during your next visit to the city.
When acclaimed chef Jamie Malone took over this beloved 70-year old restaurant mainstay late last year, she ushered in a softer, more feminine aesthetic (hand-painted wallpaper, pink pillows, and lots of potted plants), alongside a menu of irresistible French cuisine ranging from choux pastry filled with chicken liver to crispy tarte flambée. As Malone’s technique is, in her words, “rooted in history, while being elegant and lusty,” dining at Grand Cafe is always a lively, if not boisterous experience; champagne and sherry-graced marble carts weave throughout the space, the staff is ever-bubbly, and the food presentation is positively pretty—everything is served on delicate, mismatched China.
Since you’re in the Twin Cities, make the most of your visit by driving out to the charming sister city of St. Paul, whose dining scene is teeming with young talent. Leading the wave is Saint Dinette in the up-and-coming neighborhood Lowertown. Upon first glance of chef Adam Eaton’s menu—shishito peppers, pork schnitzel, and bucatini with uni— you'll notice the chef isn’t guided by a particular cuisine but an overarching philosophy. “I love walking the tightrope between refined technique and casual cuisine,” says Eaton. “When you strike the right balance, you can reimagine familiar flavors in new ways.” If you need further proof of how this balancing acts works, look no further than the top-selling bologna sandwich. House-made and griddled, the meat is piled high, capped with gooey cheese, and tucked between a toasted brioche bun.
Even though it opened in 2011, this all-day cafe and restaurant owned by brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton remains one of Minneapolis’s most popular dining destinations. During the day, the cheerful, colorful cafe doles out coffee, fresh pastries, and open-faced sandwiches and come dinnertime, more substantial fare of sprouted northern grains, toasts with beef tartare, and duck breast with broccoli and cauliflower. On Sundays, a hearty three-course supper is served for $36, helping guests gently ease in into the work-week.
Argentinian-born chef Daniel del Prado pays homage to his Spanish father and Italian mother at this Linden Hill newcomer. And in true Argentine fashion, many of the chef’s dishes are cooked over the roaring wood-fired grill. In addition to much-loved beef entrees, del Prado sears pristine seafood and shellfish to nuanced, tender perfection. And the house-made pastas should not be missed. Vegetarians will delight in the pillowy gnocchi finished with tender carrots and grassy oregano, while carnivores will find comfort in the toothsome fusilli made with braised lamb leg. Another thoughtful nod to the chef’s heritage is a $5 gnocchi bowl offered on the 29th of every month. As Argentinians are paid once a month (and money is tight at the end of the month), tradition calls a humble bowl of pasta for good luck.
From chef Ann Kim (also the owner of hot spot, Pizzeria Lola) comes Young Joni, a bustling restaurant in the Northeast neighborhood. Like Lola, there’s a strong pizza-presence on the menu, but also a few Korean flourishes; there's a short rib and scallion-topped pizza, and an ancient grain bowl tossed with daikon in a gochujang vinaigrette. After dinner, exit the restaurant and swing a corner through the adjacent alley until you see a red light, which signals that Young Joni’s lively Back Bar is open. With its low lights, vintage furniture, and working record players, that space feels like someone’s slightly secretive but exceedingly hip basement.
In 1999, Alex Roberts (who cut his culinary chops at New York’s Gramercy Tavern and Bouley) returned to his hometown to open Alma in a sleepy neighborhood that lines the Mississippi River waterfront. Roberts was one of the first chefs to introduce farm-to-table eating to the local dining scene and since and he has expanded his business to include a buzzy cafe and hotel. The sunny all-day Cafe Alma serves breakfast (the house-made croissants and scones are standouts), lunch, dinner, and cocktails while the boutique inn features seven, room chicly-appointed with exposed brick walls, wood canopy beds, and handmade toiletries. The original restaurant is as alluring as ever and now offers dinner à la carte or prix fixe.