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When Burnsville set out to create a semi-downtown from scratch (saddling it with that lame Heart of the City name) one detail planners got right was luring Jensen’s Cafe into the mix. Every Main Street needs a Main Street cafe, right? That’s exactly what this sunny, cheerful and perpetually crowded restaurant is, a welcoming focal point for its community and an offshoot of its more formal dinner-only sibling, Jensen’s Supper Club in Eagan. The kitchen is far more ambitious than, say, the Windmill. Or Perkins. Instead of one Benedict, there are six, and leitmotifs along the lines of strawberries-and-cream float through the pancakes, French toast and waffles rosters. The breakfast-all-day menu features such classics as crepe-like Swedish pancakes with tart lingonberry sauce, eggs scrambled with smoked salmon and finished with dill-laced hollandaise and cinnamon-caramel rolls served in gasp-inducingly jumbo portions. Lunch and dinner also emphasize selection, quality and value.
12750 Nicollet Av. S., Burnsville, 952-808-0500, www.jensenscafe.com
New in the neighborhood
Cupcake owner Kevin VanDeraa won top honors on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Champions” — the sort-of Super Bowl of the channel’s “Cupcake Wars” series — in July 2012, and he’s been on a major expansion push ever since. For the fourth outlet of his popular bakery, he’s landed at the former Pardon My French, attractively transforming it into the SOTR source for all things frosted, colorful and sugary, including a tempting selection of Crayola-tinted almond macaroons and lovely pastries. What sets VanDeraa’s Eagan iteration apart from his others is that he’s devoting part of the space’s vast acreage to the Mason Jar, a casual all-day cafe devoted to scratch-made favorites, including pancakes, scrambles and quiche at breakfast to a forget-about-Panera selection of thoughtfully prepared sandwiches (a classic Club, an open-faced tuna melt, a rich mushroom-based veggie burger), salads and chewy, well-topped pizzas. Top price is $13, and there’s a decent selection of beers and wines.
1565 Cliff Rd., Eagan, 651-340-6214, www.cup-cake.com
Two tastes of the East
The strip-mall Asian restaurant, one indistinguishable from the next, is alive and well SOTR. Still, two stand out. Hoban Restaurant turns out a lengthy roster of rustic, boldly flavored Korean favorites, with generally favorable results, starting with its homey selection of banchan, those tasty fermented, steamed and fried vegetable side dishes (the restaurant’s dedication to its karaoke facilities is similarly impressive). Meanwhile, tiny, inexpensive Satay 2 Go — it’s a 12-seater, tops — turns out lovely satay, noodle and rice dishes hailing from Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Japan. They take the “to go” part seriously, because the highly portable buns filled with barbecued pork or sweet red bean paste are not to be missed.
Hoban Restaurant, 1989 Silver Bell Rd., Eagan, 651-688-3447, www.hobanrestaurant.com; Satay 2 Go, 6670 150th St. W., Apple Valley, 952-891-8551, www.satay2go.com
Lakeville’s seafood surprise
Seafood-wise, there are no huge surprises at Copper River Fish & Chop House. Its roster is filled with salmon, tuna, scallops, shrimp, walleye and other routine entries. There are also expertly grilled steaks, a small selection of fresh oysters and other Oceanaire-like basics. What’s unanticipated is finding such an ambitious (and not inexpensive) restaurant in the parking lot of a Lakeville strip mall. The setting is a knockout, too, the dramatic former home of Copper Bleu and then Molly Cool’s Seafood Tavern. In this case, the third time appears to be the charm. Want to start small? Take advantage of the early bird special, served 4 to 6 p.m. daily: appetizer, entree and dessert for $30; a glass of house red or white is $3.
17516 Dodd Blvd., Lakeville, 952-432-2722, http://crfishandchop.com
Apple Valley’s gastropub
Stroll into the Valley Tap House, and the very first sensory experience is a wood-smoke nose tickle. It’s one of many major changes this sibling to the Lyndale Tap House in Minneapolis (and Prairie Tap House in Eden Prairie) has made to the building’s former tenant, a cookie-cutter sports bar. That fragrant oak scent permeates into the kitchen’s signature item, a mountainous sandwich of tender, highly seasoned and ruby-red roast beef, thin-sliced and stacked high on a toasted kaiser roll and dressed with a mild horseradish sauce. It’s superb. Without feeling formulaic, many standard-issue gastropub elements are present and accounted for, including soft pretzels served with a jazzy honey mustard, a monster bowl of ale-steamed mussels, Scotch eggs, maple-glazed pork belly and a long list of locally brewed craft beers.
14889 Florence Trail, Apple Valley, 952-431-2337, www.thevalleytaphouse.com
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