Isn’t it great to re-encounter a favorite restaurant, and discover that it’s even more appealing than you remember?
Such is the case with me and Blackbird.
Now in its 10th year, it has always been a spot-on example of a top-performing neighborhood restaurant; affable, affordable and blessed with a pronounced allergy to boredom. It’s a credit to the prowess and hard work of co-owners (and spouses) Chris Stevens and Gail Mollner.
In January, the couple made a change in the restaurant’s organizational chart, elevating six-year veteran Peter Lutz to the role of executive chef. He’s done nothing but run with the opportunity — particularly at dinner — turning out cooking that’s complex, well-sourced and frequently impressive.
A coarse sausage that combines pork shoulder, charred green onions and confit chicken legs — with bits of bacon for a smoky finish — has become my favorite introduction into Lutz’s ambitious world. Like much of his cooking, it’s humble yet imaginative, filled with depth and contrast but free from the expectations of a specific cuisine.
That impulse is echoed in his approach to spaghetti, lightening it with the complementary flavors of peas, mint and feta. It’s a lovely slice of summer on a plate, and one of the prettiest vegetarian dishes that I’ve encountered in ages.
Salads are little works of art that start with an inspiring ingredient — preserved kumquats, sweetly caramelized dates, a feathery heirloom lettuce, pickled milkweed, prime heirloom tomatoes — and then arrive as carefully composed exercises in color, texture and flavor contrasts.
Sure, Lutz has a tendency toward the overwrought (everyone needs an editor, right?). But he also doesn’t forget that he has a neighborhood clientele to please, offering tasty, inexpensive snacks (an excellent pickle plate, for example), along with an ever-changing burger, for those who want to drop in and hope for a seat at the exceptionally comfortable bar.
He’s also maintained the core of the daytime menus. Rest easy, fans of Stevens’ Swedish pancakes; they’re still there, and still irresistible.
The basic desserts — house-made ice creams, Key lime pie — don’t aim any higher than “crowd-pleaser” level, but they hit their mark.
The wine, cider and beer lists are the work of general manager Sarina Garibovic, and they’re full of fun quirks and reasonably priced finds. Service is as hospitable as always.
Blackbird, 3800 Nicollet Av. S., 612-823-4790, blackbirdmpls.com. Open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
A tale of two brunches
Brunch has debuted at two newcomers, and each iteration is worth checking out.
Delicata Pizza & Gelato, the latest from restaurateur Matty O’Reilly (Republic, Bar Brigade, Red River Kitchen), just kicked off its brunch service, and the counter-service spot is steering clear of the pancakes-and-quiche circuit.
Instead, chef J.D. Fratzke and his crew pull together a menu that borrows key items from the evening’s pizza-heavy format.
There are a half-dozen shareable breakfast pizzas ($9 to $14), with the kitchen’s thin, crisp crusts heaped with soft-cooked eggs and a long list of a.m.-friendly ingredients; try the one weighed down with roast chicken, pickled onions, a roasted chile sauce, sour cream and queso, a sharp combination.
A hearty slab of strata ($7) makes full use of the equally rustic pork sausage (a pool of the kitchen’s zippy marinara sauce is a welcome finishing touch), and a grinder-style sandwich ($9) takes an omelet-like approach to fillings, tossing in peppers, onions, sausage and bacon.
Starters include five bite-size cinnamon rolls ($5) fashioned from pizza dough (more appealing on paper than in reality), and sides ($3 and $4) include crisp bacon, roasted potatoes and scrambled eggs.
Service is pleasant and swift, the setting is clean if Spartan and there’s a very sweet patio, one that needs to be taken full advantage of while weather permits.
Meanwhile, the all-you-can-eat brunch has made a resurgence, this time at Dalton & Wade.
Rather than go the buffet route, this North Looper has kicked off a terrific family-style brunch program. Twenty bucks buys bottomless levels of all kinds of goodies: smoky, thick-cut bacon; super-creamy scrambled eggs; roasted fingerling potatoes tossed with sweetly caramelized shallots; dense, flaky biscuits with brightly fruity preserves; thin, cut-against-the-grain slices of the kitchen’s tender brisket; a so-so toss of so-so field greens; and tender doughnut holes, filled with cherries. Want more? Order more. It’ll keep coming until you cry “uncle.”
Nothing fancy, but all well-executed in the kitchen’s Southern roadhouse wheelhouse. For smaller appetites, there are a half-dozen a la carte options, including Benedicts fashioned from brisket or smoked trout ($8 to $16) and a few dishes ($9 to $11) that make full use of those biscuits. The bar gets into the act, with a.m.-friendly cocktails and punch. The first-rate service, sunny setting and blues- and rockabilly-heavy soundtrack are added bonuses.
Delicata Pizza & Gelato, 1341 Pascal St., St. Paul, 651-756-8123, delicatastp.com. Open 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat. and Sun. Brunch served 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat. and Sun.
Dalton & Wade, 323 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-236-4020, daltonandwadempls.com. Open 4 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Thu., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri. and Sat., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun. Brunch served 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.
Dinkytown, after dark
It’s the best thing to happen to Dinkytown since Al Bergstrom took over the Hunky Dory in 1950 and eventually renamed the place Al’s Breakfast. OK, that might be an exaggeration. But get this: Al’s Breakfast is now open at night, twice a week, serving until 1 a.m.
Take advantage while the weather cooperates, because the diner’s famous yellow linoleum-topped counter is off limits. Instead, while an Al’s veteran mans the griddle, another staffer takes orders at the door. Eating is strictly a stand-up sidewalk setup.
The bulk of the menu cleverly adapts Al’s favorites to street food portability. Fillings from a handful of omelets — supplemented by hot-off-the griddle hash browns — are diverted into highly portable burritos dubbed “Al’s-urritos.” Hot dogs, an Al’s newcomer, are sold both plain and gussied up.
Yes, there are pancakes: tender, nut-brown buttermilks, served straight-up or packed with blueberries (sadly, the restaurant’s famous walnut-blueberry combo, shorthanded to “Wally Blues,” isn’t an option) or chocolate chips. They’re a happy reminder of the after-dark cravibility of breakfast fare.
Top price? A food trucklike $10.50. Like daytime Al’s, its p.m. iteration is strictly cash only.
Al’s Breakfast, 413 SE. 14th St., Mpls., 612-331-9991, alsbreakfastmpls.com. Open 6 a.m.-1 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sun. Late-night hours 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri. and Sat.
A late-season success
It’s a shame that the long-awaited rooftop patio at the remade Lexington is making its debut just at the time when the weather will quickly become less and less cooperative.
The menu radiates chef/co-owner Jack Riebel’s affection for Hawaii, and for the tiki subset — think Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s — side of the supper club universe.
All hail the dumplings — their duck-foie gras filling borrowed from a stroganoff Riebel was featuring downstairs — that are steamed, delectably browned and served with a tangy hoisin- and rice vinegar-based sauce.
Another treat? A snappy-skinned pork-wild boar sausage that’s not shy with the spiced-up heat. It’s served on a superb house-baked bun and topped with a zesty mustard that Riebel imports from Maui and a relish of candied jalapeños that’s sweetened with pineapple.
A massive burger is topped with ham and a colorful pineapple slaw. Chicken wings arrive, hot out of the fryer, in a pair of variations, either five-spice spicy or in a sticky, sweet-hot chile-honey glaze.
To appease vegetarians, Riebel takes a kung pao approach to broccoli, subbing out the peanuts with Polynesia-appropriate macadamia nuts, and those following low-carb diets will flip for the tender, juicy chicken satays. Dessert is a deep-fried, Bismarck-like sweet bread, with one exception: rather than being stuffed, the coconut filling is re-imagined as a dipping sauce.
Everything arrives on trays or in disposable paper boats, and most prices fall in the $12-and-under range. Geoffrey Trelstad’s festive rum tiki cocktails ($12) more than help set the proper mood.
Starting Monday, Riebel plans to offer that wild boar sausage and a half-dozen other rooftop snacks in the Lex’s bar during a “Poly” happy hour (4 to 6 p.m.). Next on the horizon: brunch, followed by lunch.
“We’re phasing things in incrementally,” he said. “This isn’t an easy operation to conquer. There are a lot of moving parts.”
The Lexington, 1096 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-289-4990, the lexmn.com. Rooftop open daily at 3 p.m. Last seating 9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 p.m. Fri. and Sat.