1. Chefs returning to the kitchen
What a delight to find powerhouse talents once again doing what they do best. After a too-long hiatus, an inspired Jamie Malone is lighting up 38th and Grand in south Minneapolis at her grandly revitalized Grand Cafe. Elsewhere in Minneapolis, Asher Miller, who made a name for himself helming the kitchen at the Walker Art Center’s former 20.21, teamed up with restaurateur Kim Bartmann to create lively Book Club. Remy Pettus, who impressed as the opening chef at Eastside, is now his own boss at lovely Bardo. Barbette vet Sarah Master returned to Minneapolis — to Bartmann’s Red Stag Supperclub — after giving cooking at a northern Minnesota resort a shot. Following a frustrating construction schedule that could have been filed under “T” for “Taking Forever,” Jack Riebel skillfully steered the Lexington back to full-throttled life on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue.
2. The Surly effect
Following the surefire food-and-beer hit that is Surly Brewing Co., several taprooms went beyond food truck pair-ups and opened their own kitchens. Fulton Brewing outfitted a way-cool 1968 Airstream trailer into a kitchen for former Corner Table chef/owner Scott Pampuch, and beer-friendly deliciousness followed. Tom Schroeder painstakingly restored an 1857 limestone relic into his enchantingly Germanic Waldmann Brewery & Wurstery. Pryes Brewing (maker of Miraculum, one of the region’s great IPAs) included a kitchen in its new home, with owner Jeremy Pryes opening it up to an ever-evolving series of collaborators, including Red Wagon Pizza Co. and Seventh Street Truck Park. And Norseman Distillery has Keith Mrotek and Scott Ervin collaborating on a cocktail-friendly menu.
3. The tasting menu renaissance
Just when it appeared that the multicourse, fixed-price extravaganza was on the wane, astute variations of it began to reappear. Its purest form can be found at Kaiseki Furukawa, the serene aerie above Kado No Mise, where chef Shigeyuki Furukawa produces artful 10-course meals on Friday and Saturday evenings. Meanwhile, at the energetic Tenant, four chefs/servers compress six courses into roughly 75 minutes, a fun, no-frills approach that takes the weighty fuss out of the degustation process. At Lela, chef Stewart Woodman picked up the pace on his omakase (“chef’s choice”) evenings, seven-course extravaganzas at the kitchen’s 10-seat counter. New Corner Table chef de cuisine Karyn Tomlinson converted the menu to a Restaurant Alma-like three-course format and launched a “Feed the [expletive deleted] out of me and make it nice” meal that starts at $145 per person. Mizu programs a four-course, design-your-own option. Even the local monarchs of the tasting menu format, the crew at Travail Kitchen & Amusements, brilliantly tweaked the plan, offering a casual four-course “family meal” at their 16-seat bar.
4. More global flavors
Three cheers to the way the dining scene continues to embrace faraway flavors. Lucy’s Market & Carry-out introduces Ethiopian fare in a handy quick-service format. Hai Hai is a vivacious expression of the Southeast Asian travels of Hola Arepa owners Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem. Mizu — by the team behind nearby Acqua — is translating Japanese traditions to the shores of White Bear Lake. Chef Daniel del Prado taps into his family’s Argentinian and southern Italian backgrounds at Martina. And who would have predicted that (pretty) Thai-style ice cream would become all the rage, with three practitioners — LouLou Sweet & Savory, Wonders Ice Cream and Sota Hot and Cold — all jumping on the trendy bandwagon?
5. Bakery boom
It was a banner year for new bakeries. The diminutive, well-stocked bakery at Bellecour became a western suburban people-magnet the day it opened in March. Michelle Gayer expanded her considerable skills into breakfast and lunch when she launched a St. Paul version of her Salty Tart. Kristy Dirk, a Salty Tart vet, struck out on her own with her Lucky Oven Bakery, an instant cafe/bakery hit. The Mall of America got a little bit sweeter (and a whole light brighter) with Macarons by Maddie Lu. After years of wholesale baking, Molly Miller launched a handy retail outpost of Sift Gluten Free. A counter stocked with breads and sweets is a major component of Augustine Bar & Bakery. Bagel fanatics — and sisters — Jen and Kate Lloyd took their Rise Bagel Co. from an occasional farmers market stand to an honest-to-goodness shop, serving their peerless bagels (paired with all the right accoutrements) every morning, starting at 6 a.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. weekends. Two more destinations are on their way, in the next few weeks: It’ll be both sweets and savories at the Cookie Cups, and bakers Megan Bignell and Kyle Baker will add doughnuts, cookies and cupcakes to their house specialty, custom cakes, at their Thirsty Whale Bakery.
6. Deep-fried delirium
Doughnut fans found plenty of newcomers to keep them happy, including the debut of two first-rate newcomers, Cardigan Donuts and Rebel Donut Bar, plus a second incarnation of the gloriously over-the-top Glam Doll Donuts. Tim Hortons and Dunkin’ Donuts continued their expansion across the metro area. Sssdude-nutz owner Bradley Taylor went in the opposite direction of most entrepreneurs, dropping his Dinkytown brick-and-mortar location in favor of a food truck.
7. Brunch gets bigger
Everyone’s favorite weekend meal continued to grow across the Twin Cities, as chefs at Draft Horse, Borough, Surly Brewing Co., the Lexington, Bellecour, Red Rabbit, Delicata Pizza & Gelato, Bar Brigade, Dalton & Wade, the Lynhall, Pajarito, J. Selby’s, Martina and Esker Grove continued to redefine what it is to lazily merge morning into afternoon.
8. Vegan, rising
It’s getting easier for those following a plant-based diet to dine out. Last year’s breakthrough, the Herbivorous Butcher, seemed to inspire others to enter the market with passionately conceived formats, including J. Selby’s, Crepe & Spoon and Eureka Compass Vegan Food.