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Continued: Diner's Journal: Chef Shack Ranch, Empire Pastry + Coffee and Relevé Champagne Lounge

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  • Last update: February 6, 2014 - 3:29 PM

At breakfast, there are dense, heavy muffins. They’re enriched, popover-style, with a high egg ratio, tenderized with buttermilk and filled with a can’t-miss mix of savory a.m. ingredients: bacon, green onions and white Cheddar. Turns out she’s also a biscuit savant, turning out delicate, flaky versions that she splits and layers with a punchy Cheddar and a thick slice of succulent, salty ham.

Empire is home to one of the city’s great quiches, with super-creamy custards pooled inside delicate pie crusts and filled with an ever-evolving array of complementary fillings. For the gluten-intolerant, there’s a similarly boffo frittata.

Moist, dense blondies are dressed with a dark caramel flecked with Maldon sea salt. Crackle-topped, wonderfully chewy chocolate-chip cookies have that can’t-miss salty-sweet bite. Golden scones are appropriately heavy with cream and butter.

And saving best for last, don’t pass up the opportunity to revel in a square of Amy’s improvement on the St. Louis baking tradition known as gooey butter cake. It doesn’t look like much, but boy, appearances are deceiving. The bottom is light and yeasty, the top is a spongy, butter-and-vanilla overload and in the center is a scandalous amount of pastry cream. It’s one of life’s rare forget-about-chocolate moments, and it should be savored by all.

451 NE. Stinson Blvd., Mpls., 612-331-3877, Open 6:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.

Pop! goes the cork

Although nearly 11 years old, the chic, otherworldly surroundings at Cosmos, one of the glories of Twin Cities dining, haven’t aged a minute. With one exception (OK, two). First: saddling the restaurant’s promising new champagne bar with the ever-so-1980s name of Relevé is a rare disconnect for the finger-on-the-pulse crew at the Graves 601 Hotel. (Second? Scarring this high-end dining environment with an intrusive flat-screen TV, the interior design equivalent of aiming for Tiffany & Co. but hitting Jared the Galleria of Jewelry.)

Technically, Relevé is really more of a counter set up next to the lounge’s existing marble-topped bar. It’s stocked with a representative selection of bubblies, tapping 11 by the glass ($9 to $22) choices that are best enjoyed in a design-your-own three-pour flight ($17). A greater range of options falls in the by-the-bottle inventory, which starts with nine approachable 187-milliliter choices and matriculates into a rare-for-Minneapolis excursion into names like Cristal, Dom Pérignon and Armand de Brignac, with similarly rarefied prices. That making-merry sound of popping corks? Free. There’s also a short and thoughtful list of champagne cocktails.

Perhaps because sparkling wine sort-of goes with everything, chef John Occhiato doesn’t adhere to hidebound champagne-bar edicts. Yes, there are raw oysters, beautifully presented hamachi, creamy stuffed eggs, a beyond-silky chicken liver pâté spread on toasted brioche and lovely cheeses.

But those hungering for say, caviar, forget about it. Instead, there are glossy editions of happy-hour standards: superb ground sirloin sliders, a brittle cracker-crust flatbread topped with sneakily spicy chorizo or rich duck confit and sweet caramelized onions and, for snacking, truffle-scented popcorn. Prices hover in the low teens, and service is as smoothly professional as always.

601 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-312-1168, food served 5 to 10 p.m. Sun.-Wed. and 5 to 11 p.m. Thu.-Sat., bar open to 2 a.m. daily.


Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib


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