Restaurant year in review

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2013 - 10:15 AM
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Ann Kim, owner of Hello Pizza in Edina.

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Goodbye, Heidi’s

It was an annus horribilis for Stewart and Heidi Woodman. Birdhouse, their casual Uptown restaurant, closed in June after a yearlong run. In October, their four-star Heidi’s closed, a few months shy of its third anniversary at Lyn-Lake (its original home at 50th and Bryant in south Minneapolis was destroyed by fire in 2010).

 

Rise and fall

It was a roller coaster year in the bakery world. Closings included Sweets Bakeshop, the Bikery, Jack’s Bakery, Pardon My French and the short-lived rebirth of BC2. Jerabek’s New Bohemian closed and reopened.

Fortunately, the sad news is far outweighed by a record number of openings. Glam Doll Donuts brought fanciful deep-fried temptations to Eat Street’s early birds and later-night-ers. Fred Mische and Mandy Chowen revived their rural Minnesota artisan breads (and sweets) business, relocating it to an industrial park in Eden Prairie and calling it, naturally, Fred’s Bread. A franchise of Las Vegas-based Nothing Bundt cakes also chose the southwest suburb for its first Minnesota location, which specializes in, yes, Bundt cakes of all stripes.

Cupcake veteran Alicia Hinze paired with business partner Jennifer Lueck to launch the Buttered Tin, immediately turning Lowertown into a breakfast/lunch/bakery destination. Cossetta Alimentari debuted its extraordinary Pasticceria, a haven for Italian pastry and gelato lovers.

And in St. Louis Park, baker Anne Andrus (teaming up with business partner Emily Ackerman) began embracing her love for all things Midwestern — pies, coffee cakes, butter-packed cookies and breads — at Honey and Rye Bakehouse.

Cupcake expanded twice, moving into Eagan and St. Paul, Cocoa & Fig launched an Edina branch and Chez Arnaud found a downtown Minneapolis outlet for its éclairs, tarts and croissants at the French Corner Bistro & Bakery.

Bakerypalooza is showing no signs of stopping. In 2014, real estate broker Kelly Olsen is reviving Anoka’s fabled Hans’ Bakery, Sugar Love Bakery will materialize in Woodbury in mid-January, Bars Bakery is launching an outlet on the skyway in downtown St. Paul, Patrick and Azita Bernet are branching out their Patrick’s Bakery & Cafe with a Maple Grove outlet and Bogart Loves baker Anne Rucker is launching Bogart Doughnut Co.

 

End of an era, times three

The lights went out on three long-running local icons with a collective 232 years of service: Peter’s Grill (age 99), Serlin’s Cafe (age 67) and the River Room (age 66).

A classic, officially

In May, the James Beard Foundation bestowed 59-year-old Kramarczuk’s with its “America’s Classics” award, which honors “restaurants with timeless appeal and that are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” “This award doesn’t belong to me,” said second-generation owner Orest Kramarczuk. “It belongs to my parents, and my children, and whoever is going to come after that. It belongs to all of us.”

 

Was it something we said?

Primebar called it quits in March, ending a tenure that lasted less than eight months. The Calhoun Square restaurant and bar — the work of Chicago-based Restaurants-America — is preceded in death by Il Gatto and Figlio.

 

 

Farewell

Other significant closings include Biella, D’Amico Kitchen, El Mesón, Enjoy!, In Season, Kinsen Noodles & Bar, Joe’s Garage, Mezzanine, Nectar Wine Bar & Bistro, Tiger Sushi (Lyn-Lake), True Thai and Uchu.

These guys never stop. Thank goodness.

It felt as if 2013 was the year that Mike Brown, Bob Gerken and James Winberg, the boundlessly energetic cooking triumvirate behind Travail Kitchen and Amusements, made news every time they turned on the stove. First they announced an ambitious new home for their downtown Robbinsdale hot spot (and, true to their hands-on nature, they’re handling much of the construction themselves). Then the trio closed said hot spot and quickly reconfigured it into Pig Ate My Pizza, showing Twin Citians that there is indeed more life to this familiar genre. Lots more life, in fact. Then, while construction commenced on their new place — which will include a drop-in neighborhood cafe and bar called the Rookery — they started conducting pop-up events in the kitchens of their friends’ restaurants. Their hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show attitude culminated in Umami by Travail, a short-lived (roughly three months) Asian-inspired effort in a hastily converted former fried chicken fast-food outlet. In their spare time, the social media savants also managed to make Kickstarter history, raising $255,669 from 1,090 backers (and exceeding their goal by nearly $181,000). Another fundraiser — the “2014 Sexy Chef Calendar ($20, available at http://tinyurl.com/nollp3v) — is sure to be a talker. Travail 2.0 opens in early January.

 

 

More on Kickstarter

Travail wasn’t the only one to find success on the crowdsourcing circuit. Birchwood Cafe raised $112,126 from 980 backers. The Rabbit Hole received $15,521 from 176 supporters. Chris and Danielle Bjorling don’t have a site for their Copper Hen Cakery but managed to raise $11,893 from 199 followers. With these kinds of numbers, this brand of fundraising will only increase.

 

 

Seeing double, triple, quadruple and more

A sign that the economy has rebounded? The number of restaurateurs who expanded their portfolios.

Pizzeria Lola owner Ann Kim got into the slice shop business with Hello Pizza. Amore Victoria chef/owner Alejandro Victoria turned to favorites from his mother’s Mexican kitchen with Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar. Cafe Ena chef Hector Ruiz closed his El Mesón but opened a tapas bar, RincÓn 38, and is this close to launching a burgers-and-malts comfort food joint called La Fresca.

Thomas Kim and Kat Melgaard took their Left Handed Cook to the next level. Earlier this month they closed their must-visit counter at the Midtown Global Market, just a few weeks after opening the Rabbit Hole, their Korean gastropub, in a nearby spot in the MGM, with plans to revive the Left Handed Cook as a lunch-only restaurant-within-a-restaurant.

Raise your black ale stout: The Blue Plate Restaurant Co. (Highland Grill, Scusi, the Lowry, etc.) jumped into the craft beer craze, big time, with the Freehouse, their own breakfast-lunch-dinner-late night brewpub.

The Nova Restaurant Group — the company behind the Hazellewood Grill and Tap Room and several Rochester properties — injected some much-needed life into a tired Eden Prairie strip mall with Tavern 4 & 5.

Also in the western suburbs, 318 Cafe owner Tom Peterson converted a former bakery into the neighborhood-minded Glen Lake Cafe.

Second iterations of Acqua, Bar Louie, FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar, Surdyk’s Flights, Origami, Rojo Mexican Grill and the Blue Door Pub also materialized.

 

 

Wine bar, plus

When the Broder family — brothers Thomas, Charlie and Danny and mother Molly — opened Terzo, the companion to their 19-year-old pasta bar and 31-year-old deli, they showed the Twin Cities exactly what a wine bar could (and should) be, and then some.

 

 

Other significant openings

The jam-packed year of restaurant debuts also included Eat Street Buddha Kitchen Lounge, Groundswell, Lake & Irving, Mason’s Restaurant and Barre, Milton’s, Prairie Tap House, Royal Bangkok, Seventh Street Social, the Tan­giers, Teque Arepa, Vitali’s Bistro and Vo’s.

 

Cover chef

Jamie Malone of Sea Change joined the prestigious fraternity of Food & Wine magazine’s annual “Best New Chefs” issue, the first Minnesotan to be so honored since 2006.

 

A “Top Chef” first

It took 11 seasons, but Minneapolis finally fielded its first “Top Chef” contestant in 2013: Sara Johannes. The Shoyu chef did well for herself, competing through the ninth episode before being eliminated.

 

 

Winning concept

Another reality series — this time, the Food Network’s “Food Court Wars” — spawned a year’s free rent for a Minnesota winner: Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, a kind of Chipotle-meets-jerk cooking that’s definitely spicing up Burnsville Center’s food court.

Good work

The Union Gospel Mission got into the restaurant business in April with the Daily Diner Frogtown. The casual eatery serves two purposes: feeding the neighborhood with a two-eggs-over-easy menu of American classics, and providing a training ground for the mission’s needy clients. The program’s first two graduates matriculated into apprenticeships in St. Paul restaurants earlier this month.

 

At the lake

Piccolo chef Doug Flicker, his spouse Amy Greeley and their longtime pal Chele Payer made the phrase “concession stand” sing with Sandcastle, their summer-only enterprise on the western shore of Lake Nokomis. Memo to the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board: More where this came from, please.

 

Mr. Ambassador

Lenny Russo, chef/co-owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market, was the first Minnesotan to be named to the elite American Chef Corps, a culinary partnership with the U.S. State Department and the James Beard Foundation. The corps links chefs — including Rick Bayless, Dan Barber, Marcus Samuelsson, José Andrés and dozens of others — to embassies and foreign audiences where they showcase American culinary traditions and foods. The three-time James Beard award nominee — traveling with bags of wild rice — spent two weeks in Slovenia in April, in a journey chronicled in an eight-episode Slovenia television series called “Seasoned by Americans.”

 

 

 

Steak sticker shock

The battle for the Twin Cities’ most expensive steak heated up when Manny’s Steakhouse began offering a 20-ounce bone-in New York strip aged for 65 days, for $65. Then the restaurant one-upped itself with an 85-day aged bone-in rib eye for $85. Not to be outdone, Burch Steak and Pizza Bar began to serve certified Japanese A5 Wagyu beef: $70 for a 4-oz. New York cut, $140 for 8 oz.

 

On the grow

Whole Foods Market made a major Twin Cities splash in 2013, adding stores in Maple Grove and downtown Minneapolis, and announcing the development of a new St. Paul location. It looks as if next year (and probably beyond) belongs to local natural foods co-ops. Mississippi Market plans to open a third St. Paul location, Lakewinds Natural Foods is building its third store — in Richfield, complete with a Peace Coffee bar — Seward Co-op is expanding to a second south Minneapolis outpost and the Wedge Co-op is easing stress on its packed quarters with a renovation and the creation of an off-site commissary. Meanwhile, grass-roots efforts are underway to launch Robbinsdale Food Co-op, and work continues on making Wirth Cooperative Grocery in north Minneapolis a reality.

 

 

 

Summer fun

Another happy trend was the ever-growing number of restaurant-sponsored outdoor festivals, including memorable events hosted by the Bachelor Farmer, Smack Shack, Zen Box Izakaya, Borough, Butcher & the Boar, Barbette and Travail Kitchen and Amusements.

 

Ups, downs at Mickey D’s

Both downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul said goodbye to their McDonald’s franchises in 2013. But Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport saw the return of Golden Arches. McDonald’s lost its lease in Terminal 1 in 2011, and is back with a 24-hour operation near the entrance to Concourse D.

 

 

 

Scooping it up

Ice cream fanatics had a lot to celebrate in 2013. Honey & Mackie’s brought small-batch ice cream-making to Plymouth. Izzy’s Ice Cream opened a second scoop shop in a showy building (designed by Duluth architect David Salmela) on Gold Medal Park. And quality-crazed Sweet Science Ice Cream started making pints of its premium product available in the tasting room and tea bar at Verdant Tea.

 

 

On the move

When it relocated from New Hope to Plymouth, the 37-year-old Sunshine Factory gained a new name: the Factory Bar & Grill. Spill the Wine left the still-in-flux neighborhood between the Guthrie Theater and the doomed Metrodome and headed to the border between Lyn-Lake and Uptown. After an 18-month hiatus, the Mill City Cafe has a new home, an expanded menu under a pair of chefs, Matt Kempf and Tommy Begnaud, and a new name: the Mill Northeast. Speaking of revivals, the Ideal Diner and Adbul’s Afandy came back to life, the former in the same northeast Minneapolis location, the latter in Stadium Village near the University of Minnesota.

 

 

 

Mobile growth

The food truck scene continued to show no sign of market saturation. The industry’s most telling trend is the move toward brick-and-mortar establishments. Food truck pioneers Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer closed the year by funneling their Chef Shack into the Chef Shack Ranch, their modern-day take on the truck stop. Potter’s Pasties launched a permanent takeout counter. Sushi Fix turned on the lights in Wayzata. But in terms of sheer audacity, nothing tops the transformation that Smack Shack owner Josh Thoma achieved when he opened the doors on his sprawling, instantly popular North Loop lobster house in February.

 

 

Fab fast food

The owners of Masu Sushi & Robata should be handed the award for Outstanding New Chain-in-the-Making. Their One Two Three Sushi debuted in the IDS Crystal Court to instant crowds, and its quick and affordable design-your-own-roll format has already spawned two siblings: another on the downtown Minneapolis skyway, and a third in Dinkytown.

Artful collaboration

Stock & Badge — the union of talents behind Dogwood Coffee Co., Rustica and Victory 44 — gave birth to delightful Parka, then turned its considerable attention to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a major overhaul of the museum’s 13-year-old food-and-drink venues. Look for a new coffee bar, a remade restaurant and Half Pint, a kid-focused cafe.

 

Coming soon

The forecast for the next 12 months? Busy.

Russell and Desta Klein are crossing the Mississippi River and taking on a major project in the revitalized Soo Line Building in downtown Minneapolis, but they’re not replicating their four-star Meritage. Instead, they’ll be conjuring up the schnitzel and foie gras flavors of Austria and Hungary with Brasserie Zentral. The project, slated to open in the spring, will also include a cheese lover’s wine bar they’re calling Foreign Legion, along with a retail wine-and-spirits shop and Cafe Zentral, a casual skyway-level breakfast-lunch spot.

Kaskaid Hospitality — the juggernaut behind Crave — is converting a former Old Chicago in Uptown into Boneyard. The Southern comfort food-centric restaurant and bar is aiming at a March-April opening.

The team behind the Strip Club is looking at Lowertown — across Wall Street from the St. Paul Farmers Market — for its next venture, which they’re calling the Saint Dinette.

Still in its freshman year, Luke Shimp’s hamburger-centric Red Cow has proved such a hit that he’s already opening a second, at Selby and Western in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill. And the former Serlin’s Cafe will become Cook St. Paul.

Come spring, look for a new landmark lighting up northeast Minneapolis: the 60-foot Ferris wheel at Betty Danger’s Country Club, the work of Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge owner Leslie Bock. At Riverplace, the folks at Wilde Roast Cafe are taking over the former Kikugawa and opening Mattie’s on Main, a modern-day saloon. After conquering the world of fro-yo, the ownership behind the fast-growing Yogurt Lab is getting into the quick-service salad and juice-bar business with Agra Culture Kitchen & Press. That same Uptown building will also be the home of Coup d’état, brought to you by the team behind Borough and Parlour.

In the suburbs, Italian-New American Vivo Kitchen will replace the former Enjoy! in Apple Valley. In downtown Excelsior, look for the Suburban, which is promising hot dogs, burgers and pizza. In Minnetonka, Macy’s is reconfiguring its restaurant offerings in its expanded and renovated Ridgedale store. Restaurant Alma vet Ben Rients is stepping out on his own with Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar in Richfield.

Trend tracker

Hot: Maple. Brown butter. Goat. Weekday brunch. Bitters. Late-night hours.

Not: Deafening restaurants. No reservations policies. The blatant misuse of “handcrafted,” “artisanal” and “sustainable.”
Enough already: The proliferation of frozen yogurt franchises. Eggs on everything. Horizontal barn wood. Overpriced wine dinners.

‘Thanks’

While my Star Tribune expense account covers my work-related dining-out charges, I manage to divert a not-insignificant chunk of my take-home salary into restaurants. I’m grateful for the many memorable off-the-clock meals I enjoyed in 2013, particularly those at Al’s Breakfast, Be’wiched Deli, Foxy Falafel, Gray House, Lucia’s Restaurant, Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, Restaurant Alma, Sapor Cafe and Bar and Sun Street Breads.

 

Seeing stars

Our top-reviewed restaurants of 2013 included:

⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

Burch Steak and Pizza Bar

⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ½

Borough, Corner Table, the Lynn on Bryant, Union Fish Market, Vincent

⋆ ⋆ ⋆

Smack Shack, Terzo, Union, World Street Kitchen

 

 

Best in show

Burch Steak and Pizza Bar joins an impressive pantheon of previous Star Tribune Restaurant(s) of the Year, including:

2012: Butcher & the Boar

2011: The Bachelor Farmer

2010: Piccolo

2009: Bar La Grassa

2008: Manny’s Steakhouse

2007: Brasa, Saffron Restaurant and Heidi’s (closed)

2006: Masa, Midtown Global Market and the Mill City Farmers Market

2005: 112 Eatery

2004: Al Vento and Corner Table (different ownership)

2003: Solera (different ownership)

 

Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib

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