Diners well versed with the quick-service skyway restaurant and food truck universes in downtown Minneapolis will not find anything particularly new or remarkable about Revolution Hall.
But for those measuring it against shopping mall fast-food court standards, this impressive and enormous newcomer is, yes, a revolutionary — and welcome — step forward.
Most food halls are occupied by an array of tenants, often mom-and-pop vendors. But this operation is the work of a single operator, New York City-based Craveable Hospitality Group, a framework that has both advantages (consistency, for starters) and disadvantages; namely, fewer opportunities for creativity, quirkiness and other compelling attributes.
Don’t expect, for example, to encounter halva or housemade Braunschweiger, two (of many) culinary standouts at the brilliant new Keg and Case Market food hall in St. Paul.
At Rosedale, a two-story space formerly occupied by Borders Book Shop features 11 different concepts that are made to appear as if they sprang from the work of 11 individual entrepreneurs. Most of the menu items feel as if they’ve been chosen based upon the number of memes they can generate on social media. If there’s a mass-market dining trend, chances are that it’s present and accounted for at Revolution Hall, in a test-marketed-to-death kind of way.
But a lack of spontaneity isn’t all bad. At Angry Taco, flour tortillas are stuffed with combinations — pork carnitas, chicken tinga — that are notable for their appealing color, flavor and texture contrasts, and kudos for stocking a counter with a host of fresh condiments.
Saltbrick Burger sports a flashy (so much so that it’s actually patented) beef aging process that relies upon bricks of pink Himalayan salt, a controlled environment, and time. The results are delicious, well-garnished burgers. The hand-mixed shakes — supplemented with booze for the over-21 crowd — are also a treat.
Oceantail’s trendy sushi burritos — and still sort-of trendy poke bowls — are certainly better-than-average food court fare. Field Greens is one of those modern-day salad bar operations that boost the standard laundry list from the produce department with lively dressings (ginger-miso, tahini-yogurt) and interesting embellishments (pumpernickel croutons, roasted butternut squash, kimchi). There are also vibrant smoothies and cold-pressed juices fashioned from fresh ingredients. Nothing too complex, but well executed.
Would I rather have a roasted turkey sandwich with cranberry-infused mayo and Thanksgiving-style stuffing than a dreary Subway sub? Of course. The Handwich Shop also offers a pair of half-size sandwiches for $8.95 (another winner stacks a pretzel roll with smoked ham, sharp Cheddar and a sweet honey mustard), accentuating one of Revolution Hall’s greatest appeals: variety.
Unfortunately, a pervasive blandness also blankets much of the proceedings. At Honeycomb Chicken + Waffle, I loved the golden, crisp-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside waffles, which boast a slight sourdough quality. But the fried chicken — again, prepared with some skill — that filled the center of this waffle sandwich was labeled “Tennessee Hot,” yet it landed closer to the “Minnesota Hot” end of the spice spectrum.
The comfort food-esque options in the case at the Handwich Shop — meatloaf, mac-and-cheese — have a supermarket deli vibe. The noodle dishes and dumplings that I tried at Canal Noodles didn’t wow me; ditto the overdressed, underbaked pizzas at Caputo Pizzeria. Still, little of the food was unpleasant or disappointing.
“It’s fine,” said a friend of mine, picking at a three-cheese calzone. “Just, fine.” And really, in a genre dominated by the dreariness of Panda Express and Sbarro, “fine” is an improvement.
A dessert destination
PieCaken, the hall’s bakery, is clearly the attention-grabber. Food Network personality Zac Young is the concept’s driving force, and his work — which includes the shop’s namesake, a crazy but oddly alluring Turducken-like mashup that layers pumpkin pie, pecan pie and spice cake into an over-the-top talker — is executed with diligence by pastry chef Andrew Dinsmore.
I prefer the more restrained confetti cake, a four-layer slab finished with fragrant strawberry frosting. Each festive bite pretty much belts “birthday party.” Although “restraint” is a word that doesn’t really belong in this exercise-in-overkill place; if Mattel operated a Barbie Bakery, it would surely resemble this pink, smile-inducing, sprinkles-obsessed setup.
There are well made cupcakes and cookies, along with pastel, plus-sized macarons done up in funhouse flavors, from strawberry margarita to peanut butter and jelly. For mall-walking morning appetites, Dinsmore turns out a decent almond croissant (of course there’s a sprinkles-covered croissant, which is amusing but also an American affront to French baking) and pleasant, not-too-sweet sticky buns, sold at the adjacent Steel Tree Coffee.
Taking a cue from the mall’s Caribou Coffee outlet, this counter stocks a few morning breakfast sandwiches — bagels with an egg and bacon, smoked salmon and all the right fixings on rye — and a full line of tea and coffee drinks. Surprisingly, in an operation where every potential labor savings appears to have been studied with a Harvard Business School level of scrutiny, this spot, with its showy, manually operated La Marzocco espresso machine, doesn’t take any shortcuts.
Kudos also to Barrel Bar, where beverage manager Michael Lindgren stocks dozens of whiskeys, bourbons and ryes, along with a half-dozen locally brewed beers and ciders and a brief list of reasonably priced by-the-glass wines. (Downstairs at Angry Taco, Lindgren oversees similarly extensive tequila and mezcal inventories, along with a quartet of fun, made-for-a-group slushy drinks.)
Right now, Lindgren is advancing suburban mixology by barrel-aging Old Fashioneds using Minnesota-made liquors and liqueurs. Think about that for a second: You can enjoy a barrel-aged craft cocktail under the same roof as Piercing Pagoda and Build-A-Bear Workshop. If that doesn’t signal a turning point in the trajectory of the Great American Shopping Mall, nothing does.
Plan accordingly, because Revolution Hall is a no-cash zone. It’s the largest Twin Cities venture to date to go that route (those with cash can purchase gift cards in the hall’s gift shop). There’s irony here, because keeping cash out of commercial transactions feels decidedly undemocratic, especially for a place that takes plenty of opportunities to visually capitalize on the good old red, white and blue. Didn’t George Washington fight for universally accepted currency?
Another inadequacy: the head-scratching lack of plastics recycling.
“We’re currently working with the mall on an all-encompassing recycling program,” said Kevin Krejsa, the hall’s director of operations. “That will include food waste.”
Unlike many food halls, this one has an abundance of seating, arranged in thoughtful and comfortable configurations: bar and counter stools, roomy picnic-style tables, two- and four-tops, banquettes. A diligent crew labors, successfully, to keep the place tidy.
Breaking from mall tradition, there are lots of windows, which means plenty of natural light, although the parking lot views aren’t much to look at. Most of the food is prepared to order, and menus are designed with speed in mind. Prices are relatively competitive. Conveniently, diners can order from multiple venues at a single flat-screen kiosk, and most stands offer child-tailored options.
Oh, and other good news for the 50-year-old mall: With the advent of Revolution Hall, Rosedale nixed its tired first-floor food court, which was as emblematic of the 1980s as any John Hughes movie. Now that’s some Marie Kondo-like decluttering that we can all get behind.
Revolution Hall ⋆⋆
Info: 1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, revolutionfoodhall.com
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Steel Tree Coffee opens at 7:30 a.m., most other concepts open at 11 a.m.
Service: Cash-free transactions, at easy-to-follow electronic kiosks or with (friendly) staffers.
Price ranges: Tough to find food prices over $13; many $10-under.