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The U-shaped oyster bar of the Sea Change Restaurant at the Guthrie Theater is the perfect place for pescatarians.

Tom Wallace • Star Tribune file,

The 5-8 Club’s “Pig Pen” Juicy Lucy: Bacon-infused Cheddar cheese and bacon crumbles between two fresh ground-beef patties.

CARLOS GONZALEZ • Star Tribune file,

Ask Rick Nelson restaurant questions

  • Article by: Rick Nelson
  • Star Tribune
  • February 21, 2014 - 12:16 PM

Q: Any hints about reservation-friendly restaurants that are also really good and relatively new? I am frustrated by how many restaurants don’t take reservations.

A: You and me both. It’s a particularly vexing situation in the winter months, when many places don’t make a lot of allowances, space-wise, for people standing while waiting for a table. One relative newcomer that’s high on my roster of reservation-friendly favorites is the Lynn on Bryant (5003 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., www.thelynn onbryant.com). Oh, and if Lucia Watson has figured out a way to accommodate both reservation-seekers and drop-ins at her relatively small Uptown storefront (1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., www.lucias.com), and has been doing so for years, why can’t other restaurateurs follow her customer-friendly example?

Q: What are some good vegetarian/vegan restaurants?

A: There aren’t a lot of strictly vegetarian/vegan restaurants in the Twin Cities, but there are many that make a concerted effort at appealing to those demographics. A few that I really appreciate are World Street Kitchen (2743 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., www. eatwsk.com), Spoonriver (750 S. 2nd St., Mpls., www.spoonriver.com), Common Roots Cafe (2558 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., www.commonrootscafe.com), Mill Valley Kitchen (3906 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park, www.millvalleykitchen.com), the Gray House (610 W. Lake St., Mpls., www.thegrayhouse­eats.com), Galactic Pizza (2917 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., www.galacticpizza.com) and the Birchwood Cafe (3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., www.birchwoodcafe.com). For the B’wood, hurry in; the restaurant is temporarily closing after dinner service this Saturday for roughly 10 weeks to undergo an expansion/renovation.

Q: Is it too early to start thinking about farmers markets?

A: Well, when the thermometer reads in double below-zero digits, we can dream, can’t we? Fortunately, several markets are keeping summer alive with winter get-togethers. The Kingfield Farmers Market (www.kingfieldfarmersmarket.org) and Fulton Farmers Market (www.fultonfarmersmarket.org) team up to host a monthly winter market, at Bachman’s (6010 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., www.bachmans.com); the next one is this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Minneapolis Farmers Market (312 E. Lyndale Av. N., Mpls., www. mplsfarmersmarket.com) has an every-other-week outdoor market; the next ones are March 1, 15 and 29, from 9 a.m. to noon. The Mill City Farmers Market (www.millcityfarmersmarket.org) hosts a monthly winter market in the Mill City Museum (704 S. 2nd St., Mpls., www.millcitymuseum.org); the next iteration is March 8, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The bravest of them all is the St. Paul Farmers Market (290 E. 5th St., St. Paul, www.stpaulfarmersmarket.com), which hosts an indoor/outdoor market every Saturday (from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) all winter long.

Q: I saw your story a few weeks ago about great but closed restaurants. If you could pick one Minneapolis restaurant from the past that you would like to revisit, what would it be?

A: It might be Richards Treat. It closed three years before I was born, so I have no firsthand knowledge of the restaurant — which was a cafe, cafeteria, coffee shop and bakery, all rolled into one — but it was located on 6th Street near 2nd Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, and it was owned by two remarkable women, Lenore Richards and Nola Treat. My grandfather, who worked about a block away at Northwestern Bell for many years, talked about the restaurant with great affection. Along with a reputation for serving excellent food, Richards and Treat were authors of a bestselling food-service textbook, and their restaurant was a training ground for other women working toward careers in the industry. In its 33rd year, Richards Treat closed in 1957 (the building was razed and replaced by a skyscraper) and the two women retired.

Q: Are there any new restaurants we can check out, or look forward to opening soon?

A: Always. After being closed for nearly a year, Travail Kitchen and Amusements (4124 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, www.facebook.com/Travailkitchen) has kicked open the doors to its new home in downtown Robbinsdale, along with the Rookery, its more casual bar/restaurant counterpart. I can’t wait to check it out. A different kind of rebirth is set for Saturday, Feb. 22, namely, the revival of the iconic Hans’ Bakery (1423 5th Av., Anoka, http://hans-bakery.com).

Q: How do you decide where you are going to review each week?

A: We place a primary focus on the new, so I keep a running list of newcomers, or restaurants that have gone through some kind of change (ownership, chef, location). Fortunately, there is a near-bottomless list of material in these exciting restaurant boom times that we find ourselves living in.

Q: My boyfriend and I have a rare midweek day off next week and want to go someplace fun or special for lunch. We’re both pescatarians. Any suggestions?

A: I would take a seat at the counter at Sea Change (806 S. 2nd St., Mpls., www.seachangempls.com). Or drop in on one of my favorite Minneapolis lunch spots, Fika (2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., www.fikacafe.net), and enjoy chef Dustin Thompson’s beautiful forays into salmon.

Q: Any good western suburb restaurants that you would recommend that are moderately priced?

A: I have great affection for Curry ‘N’ Noodles (802 Mainstreet, Hopkins, www.currynnoodles.com). You might also consider the Glen Lake Cafe (14725 Excelsior Blvd., Minnetonka, www.glenlake-cafe.com), which opened recently and is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Q: Any suggestions on someplace fun, kid-friendly and with really good food?

A: I’d go to Brasa (600 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., and 777 Grand Av., St. Paul, www.brasa.us) — particularly chef/owner Alex Roberts’ roomier capital city outlet — and I’d start with the excellent rice bowls.

Q: I would like a good affordable late-night dinner option near White Bear Lake/Vadnais Heights. It seems there is chain after chain in the suburbs. I want to support local mom-and-pop shops. Any recommendations?

A: Have you tried indie-owned Olive’s Fresh Pizza Bar (4746 Washington Square, www.olivesfresh.com), or Pizzeria Pezzo (2143 4th St., www.pizzeriapezzo.com), both in downtown White Bear Lake? I’d start there.

Q: What is the best burger you have had north of the Twin Cities? If you haven’t tried Slim’s Bar and Grill in Bemidji you need to.

A: My immediate reaction is the monster I ripped into last summer at the Anchor Bar (413 Tower Av., Superior, Wis. (http://anchorbar.freeservers.com). Actually, I had two: a straight-up cheeseburger ($3.25, possibly the best deal in the Twin Ports), and then their famous house specialty, a burger topped with Swiss and cashews. Both were fantastic.

Q: What about non-beef burgers?

A: You ought to check out the Asian-style pork burger at Muffuletta (2260 Como Av., St. Paul, www.muffuletta.com). Or the terrific lamb burger, served down the street (dinner only) at the Colossal Cafe (2315 Como Av., St. Paul, www.colossalcafe.com). Or what I think is the Twin Cities’ best turkey burger, at the Craftsman (4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.craftsmanrestaurant.com), where chef Ryan Swaim is also offering an elk burger. Or the sublime bison burger at Chef Shack Ranch (3025 E. Franklin Av., Mpls., www.chefshackranch.com). Oh, and you can’t beat the fabulous lamb sliders served in the gorgeous lounge at La Belle Vie (510 Groveland Av., Mpls., www.labelle­vie.us); enjoy them with an order of fries served with curried béarnaise.

Q: What’s the most deliciously decadent burger in the Twin Cities?

A: It might be the over-the-top beauty at HauteDish (119 Washington Av. N., Mpls., www.haute-dish.com), which also does double duty as one of the metro area’s great burger deals. On weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m., chef Landon Schoenefeld puts together that fabulous burger with a beer for $10, with a single caveat: You must be seated in the bar.

Q: So who really “invented” the Jucy Lucy? And who do you think makes the best one?

A: Historians are unclear; perhaps the Minnesota Historical Society could take up the issue. Lore has it that it began at Matt’s Bar (3500 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., www.mattsbar.com) in the 1950s, but others disagree, principally, the good people at competitor 5-8 Club (5800 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., www.5-8club.com). There is also some controversy as to the origins of the Jucy Lucy name, but it’s probably some kind of Minnesota-ism; perhaps the Uff-Da Burger (as in, “uff-da, dat cheese sure is dang hot”) didn’t have the same poetic ring. The reason behind the loss of the “i” in juicy has also vanished into the mists of time, other than it’s a Matt’s thing; the fully vowel-ed spelling is used at the 5-8.

Beyond their novelty — and their position as a local and beloved culinary oddity — I’ve never quite understood the appeal of the Jucy Lucy. The patties themselves usually don’t have a ton of pizazz. Besides, given the (frequently bland) cheese’s molten nature, taking a too-enthusiastic bite too soon can lead to a visit to the burn unit at HCMC. Count me a fan of the Matt’s experience, though — it’s the epitome of the neighborhood take-solace hangout — and the fries, which are excellent.

My feeling is that the Twin Cities’ stuffed burger to beat can be found at the Blue Door Pub (1811 Selby Av., St. Paul, 3448 42nd Av. S., Mpls., www.thebluedoorpubmn.com), where there’s a long list of, yes, Blucys, all well-prepared.

Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib

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