I've summarized seven days of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, dropping in on newcomers and revisiting old favorites. Here are five restaurants worth a visit.
Uptown’s outdoor hangout
“What happened to Tin Fish?”
That’s the question I heard several times as I was waiting in line at the refectory on the northwest shore of Bde Maka Ska, the body of water formerly known as Lake Calhoun.
New setup, new menu. Lola on the Lake owner Louis King is borrowing elements from the crowd-pleasing stands he operates outside U.S. Bank Stadium on Vikings game days, offering meaty baby back ribs, rib tips, heaping helpings of tantalizingly smoked mac-and-cheese and several versions of chicken wings. There’s a first-rate pulled pork sandwich, and tender smoked chicken gets funneled into tacos, sandwiches and salads. Few prices exceed $12, and most items land between $6 and $10.
Catering to Tin Fish regulars, King fries or grills walleye, slipping it into sandwiches, tacos and a meal that also includes fries and potato salad. Local labels (Castle Danger’s shandy-esque Summer Crush, anyone?) dominate the beer roster. The spacious lakeside patio is a jewel in the park department’s crown.
As for the Lola name, it was inspired by King’s daughter Lauryn, who, unbeknown to her father, was referring to herself as “Lola” on social media.
“When she was apprehended and sentenced, the joke was that ‘Lola’ would live forever,” said King with a laugh. “And Lola has been on quite a tear since then.”
3000 E. Calhoun Pkwy., Mpls., 952-451-8481, lolascafemn.com. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Gotta-have carrot cake in Hopkins
After 21 years of chicken wings and sub sandwiches, Big 10 Restaurant & Bar owners Tom Hutsell and Todd Dupont decided it was time for a change. Good for them.
They’ve remade their downtown Hopkins restaurant into Thirty Bales, and western suburbanites should be rejoicing. With a focus on Midwestern ingredients (the restaurant’s name is a reference to the number of hay bales consumed daily by Babe the Blue Ox, the bovine sidekick in the Paul Bunyan tales), the food is worlds away from its predecessor, without losing the feeling of approachability and affordability.
“Lord knows we’ve never had a chef before,” said Hutsell. “I can make a really good sub. That’s it.”
The duo wisely turned to consultants (and Wise Acre Eatery vets) Beth Fisher and Caroline Glawe — the former for food, the latter for beverages — to transform the place.
Fisher seems to delight in refreshing otherwise familiar fare with a slight but focus-shifting twist. I loved her Southern-fried spin on deviled eggs. “That’s just me and my Southern roots,” said Fisher. “I’m always looking at different menus in the South, and I ran across deep-fried deviled eggs and thought, ‘How the heck are they doing that?’ ”
Viewing it as a challenge, she started playing around in her kitchen, eventually landing on a recipe where cooked egg whites are rolled in milk, seasoned flour and panko, then fried. The yolk mixture is spooned into the center, post-frying (and a bit is spread on the plate, serving as an anchor), and each egg is garnished with bacon and chives. The results are strangely addictive — that outer shell is delicately crispy, not heavy or greasy, and the whites remain firm and creamy. If they were speared on a stick, Fisher would have a runaway hit at the Minnesota State Fair.
An actual fair-inspired dish is the gotta-have carrot cake. The dense, moist, not-too-sweet treat is a ribbon-winning recipe from Glawe’s 4-H teenage years.
“She’s really proud of it,” said Fisher. “Even though she always says, ‘It’s just spice cake with carrots.’ ”
Each piece is finished with a gigantic knob of thick cream cheese frosting, a solution that grew out of a time crunch, when they weren’t able to perfectly frost the cake.
“I thought, ‘Just put a big blob on each piece,’ because everyone wants more frosting, right?” said Fisher. “Then I hit it with vegetable confetti, which is ground-up carrots and beets. I love it.”
I did, too. The menu is full of similar stories. And sharp ideas, all executed by chef David Gausman: pumpernickel topped with roasted mushrooms, asparagus and ricotta. Salmon roasted on cedar planks, glazed with maple and served with a lively and colorful pilaf. Tender beer-braised pork, stuffed into a sandwich or served with pasta. A sturdy wedge salad finished with tons of blue cheese and a bright tomato-shallot dressing. A cheeseburger dressed with a sweet bacon-apple jam. Cracker-crusted walleye with wild rice.
Glawe has crafted a cocktail list ($8 to $13) that’s worth surfing — including a half-dozen vivacious mocktails ($6 and $7) and has reinforced her knack for rooting out appealing, reasonably priced wines. The bar’s two dozen taps focus primarily on local craft beers and ciders.
Physically, it’s a whole new restaurant, too. It’s lighter and brighter, with a center-of-the-room bar surrounded by tables and booths and flanked by an open kitchen.
1106 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-930-0369, thirtybales.com. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thu., 11 a.m. to midnight Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sun. Reservations accepted.
A gem on Douglas Drive
It had been a while since I’d visited Milton’s. My mistake.
Francine Weber opened her easygoing gathering place in 2013, naming it for her father, Milton Freeman, and focusing on the kind of uncomplicated scratch cooking that he prepared when she was a kid.
“When our customers tell me, ‘This is so good,’ I always wonder, ‘What did you grow up eating?’ ” she said with a laugh. “I guess I never realized that we ate as well as we did.”
Weber’s son Charles Freeman runs the kitchen, where the charcoal-fueled grill is supplemented by pimento wood (the secret behind the restaurant’s popular jerk chicken) or mesquite, which lends a subtle smokiness to all kinds of dishes, including baby back ribs (and rib-enriched nachos) and a Saturday favorite, prime rib with all the proper trimmings.
It’s the family-friendly place for well-stuffed sandwiches (try the classic California Club) and burgers, hearty salads and larger plates along the lines of shrimp and grits. Breakfast ranges from cream cheese-stuffed French toast to scrambles (including a version that includes meat pulled from those ribs) to a steak-and-egg sandwich. A pleasant setting — including sidewalk seating — and super-nice, on-the-go staffers.
Weber is no stranger to the restaurant business; her husband, Philip Weber, owns the popular Park Tavern in St. Louis Park.
“We live in Golden Valley, and I couldn’t find a place nearby where I wanted to go, you know?” she said. “I’ve always wanted a little neighborhood place. I had no idea it would be so well received.”
3545 Douglas Dr. N., Crystal, 763-535-9373, miltonsvvb.com. Open 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (bar open to 10 p.m.) Mon.-Thu., 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (bar open to midnight) Fri.-Sat. Reservations accepted for parties of six or more.
A big deal on the North Side
For those who haven’t been to Tori 44, go.
Co-owners Jason Dorweiler and Asiya Persaud — the duo behind St. Paul’s terrific Tori Ramen — took over the spot most recently occupied by Victory 44. It’s roomier than their original, perpetually packed Saintly City location, and that extra real estate allows for starters (grilled skewers of chicken thigh, liver and heart), rice dishes and desserts. There are covers-the-bases wine, sake and beer lists, too.
As in St. Paul, they’re producing what’s easily some of the region’s most compelling ramen — complex, imaginative, beautifully composed and prodigiously satisfying, with most falling in the $8-$13 range — and they’re accomplishing it with a twist: no pork. They also manage nods to those following vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets.
Another innovation: in-house noodle production, a tremendously exciting leap forward in the local ramen universe. Not only are they making the most impressive noodles in town, but peeking into the windows and watching the process, makes for fascinating theater. Yeah, go.
2203 44th Av. N., Mpls., 612-345-7078, toriramen.com. Open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wed.-Sun., and open for dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Wed. and Thu., 4 to 11 p.m. Fri. and Sat., 4 to 9 p.m. Sun.
Daily brunch in Wayzata
Benedict’s Morning Heroes isn’t brand-spanking new — it debuted last fall. But after nine months of solid crowds, the place feels as if it’s hitting its stride.
Chef/owner Mike Rakun takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to breakfast (omelets, steak and eggs, brioche French toast), but supplements those basics with deep dives into classics: seven clever varieties of Benedicts (try the arepa-carnitas version, or the tenderloin-crab twist on surf-and-turf) and seven different — and delicious — pancakes, the variety best enjoyed in a $15, three-flapjack “flight.” Nice, right?
Thoughtful details abound: hash browns that are crisp on the outside, tender and piping hot on the inside, and a monkey bread that will be a hit with the sweet-tooth set.
For those not into traditional a.m. fare, there are carefully composed sandwiches, a few salads and a daily soup. The prices aren’t diner-cheap, but Rakun’s emphasis on quality and freshness doesn’t say “greasy spoon,” either. The setting is stylish and sunny, and there’s a horseshoe-shaped counter that’s ideal for meeting new people.
845 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-923-1903, benedictswayzata.com. Open 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.