Three breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurants are redefining the Minneapolis neighborhoods they serve.
If I were to conjure up my ideal food stand for the fanciful pavilion next to the Lake Harriet bandshell in Minneapolis, it would probably resemble Bread & Pickle. At this role model of a new enterprise -- the work of restaurant guru Kim Bartmann, she of Bryant-Lake Bowl, Red Stag Supperclub and Barbette -- lovely touches abound, so much so that they give a person hope that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board is starting to understand that good food is a key component of a sterling parks system.
My infatuation began on a humid afternoon with a hugely refreshing Arnie Palmer -- not to mention a hibiscus-flavored punch -- that was such a welcome change from the dreary Coke/Diet-Coke/Sprite world we find ourselves living in. A breakfast egg sandwich, stacked high with thick shavings of an insanely good ham, is incentive enough to finish that around-the-lake a.m. walk; ditto the fruit-packed blueberry muffins.
I'd make a regular habit of the chicken salad sandwich, a paragon of simplicity, just a generous portion of flavorful forked meat mixed with bits of crunchy celery and lively tarragon, all held together with traces of mayonnaise and layered inside a soft ciabatta roll. Nothing wrong with the two-fisted burgers, the snappy all-beef hot dog or the enormous roast turkey sandwiches.
Vegetarians aren't forgotten. The egg salad sandwich is a definite keeper, with plenty of hard-cooked egg tossed with a garden's worth of dill and scooped into slices of tangy sourdough. And count me a fan of the spinach wrap swiped with gutsy hummus and filled with fresh chopped vegetables. Stumbling upon such vibrant, freshly prepared fare in a Minneapolis city park was unimaginable even five years ago, and for that diners can thank the path forged by Sea Salt Eatery and Tin Fish, the predecessors of Bread & Pickle at Minnehaha Park and Lake Calhoun, respectively.
More pluses: The operation is so green-fixated that I wouldn't be surprised if it appeared on a list of the city's recycling sites. The accommodating staff is composed of a platoon of hyper-nice school-age workers. The cash register accepts plastic. Espresso drinks are created with care. And Bartmann has the good sense to stock her scoop case with some of the region's best ice creams, from Sonny's and Izzy's.
There's one downside: prices. Not that the quality doesn't justify it, but a $6.75 quick-service cheeseburger has got to look steep to a beach-loving city kid -- particularly one accustomed to McDonald's price tags. I imagine that one taste will make them converts, and in that Bartmann is transmitting an important message to her audience: You do indeed get what you pay for.
Brothers Adam and Andrew Sieve grew up in the restaurant business. Specifically, the Traveler's Inn Restaurant in Alexandria, Minn., owned by their dad and uncle and, before them, grandparents Ben and Helen "Hazel" Sieve. After careers in banking and education, the brothers listened to the siren song of the food-and-drink world and have returned to the family business. Late last year they landed in northeast Minneapolis, delivering their own particular brand of comfort-food-with-a-twist to the former Pop!,
Their work is more than living up to its predecessor. I felt a great deal of affection towards the quirky, fun-loving Pop!, which fed its neighborhood well. I'm happy to report that I'm feeling the love toward Hazel's Northeast, too.
The Sieves' mind-set can be summed up in a single dish. It's a magnificent open-faced sandwich they call the Turkey Commercial, which is a mountain of succulent dark and white roasted bird, mounded high on a pile of mashed potatoes which is in turn resting on a slice of thick-cut white bread. The whole shebang is smothered in a rich, just-like-Mom-made gravy, and a side of orange-accented cranberry sauce lends a bright flavor note. It's $10, and it seems impossible that it could be consumed by someone in a single seating.
The brothers are serving the foods they grew up eating: nothing fancy, but wholly satisfying, and made from scratch. There's a well-seasoned and expertly braised pulled pork sandwich, a half-dozen variations on the burger and a host of plentiful salads. Breakfast swings from feisty black bean cakes topped with poached eggs to granola pancakes finished with fruit compote, and dinner includes tasty ground lamb skewers paired with a cucumber-tomato relish, a plate of Swedish meatballs (a Pop! classic, reborn) and a daily risotto.
Sure, I hit a few misfires (the soups, for example, tasted of nothing but salt). The sweet-sweet-sweet desserts' most notable qualities are their ample proportions. The cute space is peppered with eye-catching works by local artists. It's tough to find a price over $13, and the vast majority fall under $10. Service epitomizes Minnesota Nice. Hazel would probably have demanded nothing less.
If Mayor R.T. Rybak hasn't proclaimed a Darryl Weivoda Day somewhere on the 2011 calendar, then he needs to get on it. That's because Weivoda, who has spent a lifetime in the hardware business, has recently added restaurateur to his résumé.
He's the driving force behind the Lowry Cafe, which opened earlier this summer around the corner from his North End Hardware and Rental in the blossoming Lowry-Penn commercial district. For many Twin Cities neighborhoods, an all-American classic like the Lowry would be familiar territory, but in restaurant-starved north Minneapolis, its presence borders on civic-miracle status. Cue the parade.
The comfort-minded staples of short-order cooking are all here, and nicely done. The Lowry is the brand of restaurant that takes pride in a well-crafted club sandwich, knows how to fry up thin, golden French fries and goes to the effort to prepare baking powder biscuits that rise high in the pan before they're smothered in a hearty pork sausage gravy.
Eggs Benedict boast slightly smoky ham, a supple hollandaise and eggs cooked exactly to order. Burgers are big and juicy. The hash browns are tender and lightly golden. If I found myself in the mood for a big-old meatloaf dinner, or thick-cut pork chops brushed with barbecue sauce and a huge helping of creamy mashed potatoes, I'd head to Lowry and Penn.
Prices are more than reasonable, portions are generous and the service, fast and friendly, is ripped from the pages of the "Anything else you need, dear?" book. Weivoda lures price-conscious crowds with a Wednesday evening taco bust (beef or vegetarian, $9.75), a Friday night all-you-can-eat fish fry (beer-battered cod and all the trimmings, $10.95) and a Saturday date night ($32 for two entrees, a bottle of wine and a sweet).
Dessert is uncomplicated: A Betty Crocker-ish brownie, and five fine flavors of Sebastian Joe's ice cream. Sunshine floods the cheery and spotless storefront, an appealing mix of booths, tables and counter seats. Welcome to the neighborhood. You've been missed.