Q: I know Mother’s Day is the biggest brunch day of the year. But how about a few brunch ideas for the rest of the calendar?
A: As a firm believer that the melding of breakfast and lunch is one of nature’s most inspired creations, I’m happy to report that the Twin Cities is in the midst of a brunch boom. Here are some recommendations.
At Waldmann Brewery & Wurstery (445 Smith Av., St. Paul, 651-222-1857, waldmannbrewery.com), chef Karl Gerstenberger crafts weisswurst, those pale Bavarian veal sausages, and also serves eggs baked with Iowa-made Cheddar, with baked goodies from nearby Brake Bread; brewmaster Drew Ruggles serves an unfiltered, Bavarian-style Weissbier. Christina Nguyen and Birk Grudem already demonstrate major brunch game at their Hola Arepa (3501 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-345-5583, holaarepa.com), and they’re doing similarly exciting dishes (fried rice cakes with scrambled eggs, yam-potato hash with fried eggs and lime leaf tofu sauce) and drinks (a fish sauce-splashed Bloody Mary, Vietnamese coffee with coconut rum) at their tons-o’-fun Hai Hai (2121 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-223-8640, haihaimpls.com).
I’ve heaped praise aplenty on the almond pancakes, lobster/fried-egg “toast,” crab Benedict and empanadas filled with creamed leeks and Gorgonzola — and I’ll continue to do so — at Martina (4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls., 612-922-9913, martinarestaurant.com). Count me a fan of chef Adam Eaton’s weekend flights of fancy (oh, that plate of shrimp and grits) at Saint Dinette (261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-800-1415, saintdinette.com). And chefs Tim McKee and Shane Oporto just launched brunch at Octo Fishbar (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-202-3409, octostp.com), serving buckwheat waffles with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs with baby squid and chorizo, brown butter pancakes, crab legs, a pork burger and more.
Q: Can you suggest a quiet restaurant?
A: I’m taking that to mean that you want to carry on a conversation? It’s possible at cozy Tongue in Cheek (989 Payne Av., St. Paul, 651-888-6148, tongueincheek.biz), where chef Leonard Anderson is currently offering a great Sunday-through-Thursday date-night deal: two “teasers” (the East Side equivalent of an amuse-bouche), four small plates, two cocktails and a dessert, for $69. Similarly small-scaled Bardo (222 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-886-8404, bardompls.com) can also be conversation-friendly, particularly if you’re seated at one of the tables in the snug upfront bar. Even when it’s full — and that’s often — I’ve found that the Lynhall (2640 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-870-2640, thelynhall.com) and its casual, roomy setting (and all-purpose menu) isn’t overwhelming, sound-wise.
Q: I follow your Burger Friday blog [find it at startribune.com/taste]. Are there any recent burgers that really stand out?
A: I’m still thinking about the terrific “Butcher Burger” that Taher Inc. is featuring as part of its nicely upgraded menu at the Rathskeller Cafe at the Minnesota State Capitol (75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul). The name reflects the beef’s source: Lowry Hill Meats in Minneapolis, and its spectacular, naturally leavened bun is baked at Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, also in Minneapolis. The basement-level cafeteria is open weekdays during the legislative season, which comes to a close May 21, so hurry in. On the subject of Lowry Hill Meats (1934 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-999-4200, lowryhillmeats.com), butcher Erik Sather recently did the world a favor by switching his Wednesday-only burger ($10) — one of the city’s tastiest, without question — to an available-daily commodity. In the “Stop it, you’re killing me” department, Sather has also added French fries ($4) to his menu.
Q: I can’t wait for summer. What’s on your list of outdoor dining spots?
A: I’ll send three your way, how’s that? Along with its uncomplicated farm-to-table fare, a reason I enjoy summertime dining at Wise Acre Eatery (5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577, wiseacreeatery.com) is because co-owners Scott Endres and Dean Engelmann also operate the neighboring Tangletown Gardens, and their restaurant’s patio always wins Best Landscaped honors. I’ve always been impressed by the enormous, well appointed patio at Porter Creek (14201 Burngarten Dr., Burnsville, 952-698-1888, portercreek.com). And I love the enchanting, mosquito-free screen porch at the Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea House (1632 S. Ferry St., Anoka, 763-422-4160, madhatter- anoka.com) in the equally enchanting, 161-year-old Woodbury House, which overlooks the Rum River.
Q: When you’re traveling, how do you determine where you’re going to dine out?
A: I’ll admit that I don’t find chime-in websites — Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, for example — all that helpful, or reliable. Because I’m a newspaper (and newspaper website) guy, I rely upon the discerning, all-knowing opinions of my fellow restaurant critics: Tom Sietsema at the Washington Post, Brett Anderson at the New Orleans Times-Picuyane, Phil Vettel at the Chicago Tribune, Providence Cicero at the Seattle Times, Michael Bauer at the San Francisco Chronicle, Devra First at the Boston Globe, and so on.
Q: Are the parks restaurants opening soon?
A: A few are already up and running, and how great is that? Sea Salt Eatery (4825 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., 612-721-8990, seasalteatery.wordpress.com) and the new year-round Spring Cafe (1360 Lexington Pkwy., St. Paul, springcafestp.com) are already making people happy in Minnehaha Park and Como Park, respectively. Sandcastle (4955 W. Nokomis Pkwy., Mpls., 612-722-5550, sandcastlempls.com) is aiming for early May, and Bread & Pickle (4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls., 612-767-9009, breadandpickle.com) is opening on May 17. As for Red River Kitchen • City House (258 Mill St., St. Paul, redriverkitchen.com), “We’re hoping for early May,” said chef J.D. Fratzke. “The opening date is up in the air right now, as we are subject to the life-giving waters of the Mississippi River.”
Another sign of spring? The return of the ever-dwindling population of drive-in restaurants, including the Dari-ette Drive-In (1440 E. Minnehaha Av., St. Paul, 651-776-3470) and the Minnetonka Drive-In (4658 Shoreline Dr., Spring Park, 952-471-9383, minnetonkadrivein.com). By the way, Wagner’s Drive-In (7000 W. Broadway, Brooklyn Park, 763-533-8262, wagnersdrivein.com) remains open year-round. Weather-permitting — it’s Minnesota, so you never know, right? — the Peppermint Twist (115 Babcock Blvd. W., Delano, 763-972-2572, thepepperminttwist.com) will open May 3.