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What's hot this week: Twin Cities Halloween bashes, wine and beer dinners and a major chef showdown

October, along with the six inches of damp brown leaves covering your driveway, is on its way out this week and come next Tuesday, we'll be saying hello to November and feeling closer to those irking promises of polar vortexes. Never fear, if you want to distract yourself from the impending doom of winter, there is plenty to keep you busy. In the next two weeks, enthusiastic Minnesotans can indulge in Halloween festivities of the adult variety (think tiki drinks and crafted snack stations), loads of themed wine and beer dinners, all-you-can-eat bashes and the ultimate chef showdown, Iron Fork. Read it all here, folks.

Thursday, Oct. 27:

Chilean wine dinner at Piccolo – Looking for something to do tonight? Grab a couple of last-minute tickets to this five-course dinner features wines from – you got it—Chile. Tickets are $100 per person. Piccolo will also be hosting wine dinners on Nov. 3 (with master sommelier Jesse Becker), Nov. 10 (featuring Tuscan wines) and Dec. 8 (featuring Napa Valley wines). More info here.

Friday, Oct. 28:

Taste America, Twin CitiesThe James Beard Foundation’s national tour is making a stop in the Twin Cities for an epic night featuring Philadelphia James Beard award winner Jose Garces and local stars Thomas Boemer (Corner Table and Revival) and Michelle Gayer (Salty Tart) at the Radisson Blu Mall of America. A handful of other local A-list chefs will be on hand too, including Ann Kim (Pizzeria Lola), Jorge Guzman (Surly Brewing Co.) and Sameh Wadi (Saffron Restaurant & Lounge). A tasting reception precedes the four-course seated dinner. Tickets start at $250. More info here.

Saturday, Oct. 29:

Creep & Crawl 2.0 – If you’re too old to trick-or-treat but still want to find some mischief on Halloween weekend, consider Travail Kitchen & Amusements and Pig Ate My Pizza’s not-so-spooky bash complete with games, beer chugging stations and a best-costume contest. Entry is $65 and includes an all-you-can-eat cocktail-style feast loaded with small plates, buffets and interactive food stations. Drinks will be available for purchase. More info here.

Eat Street Social/ Hi-Lo Diner Periscope Pop-Up – The theme of this one-night event, suitably, is the unholy holiday, but, of course, with a tiki twist. Head to the hut hidden alongside ESS’ main dining area for some collaborative cocktails via head slingers at both establishments. And come in disguise! More info here.

Saturday – Sunday, Oct. 29-30:

Veg FestCompassionate Action for Animals will host the two-day festival at Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota. Vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters alike can partake in the lineup of veggie-based dishes and cooking demonstrations. Admission is free. More info here.

Sunday, Oct. 30:

Chef’s Dinner Benefit Cookie Cart is hosting its fourth annual benefit at the Town & Country Club in St. Paul starting at 5 p.m.. Volunteer chefs including Ben Weiss (Butcher & the Boar) and Chris Ulrich (Mucci’s Italian) will contribute to the four-course meal. Tickets are $150. More info here.

Oyster Bash Oceanaire Seafood Room is celebrating those beautiful bivalves and plenty of other seafood with the 3-9 p.m. party at the downtown Minneapolis locale. Bites including lobster rolls, oysters on the half shell and crab cake slides will be paired with an array of white wines. Indeed Brewing Co. will provide the beer.  From 4-8 p.m. The Whiskeys will serenade from the stage, live. Tickets are $75. More info here.

Thursday, Nov. 3

Iron Fork – The City Pages’ chef battle returns at International Market Square and this time, for – why not? – a taco throwdown. The basic idea? A secret ingredient is introduced and featuring that items, chefs have to make their best Mexican street food delight. Competing chefs include Miguel Pulacho of El Burrito Mercado, Alejandro Castillon of Sonora Grill and Angelo Pennacchio of Bar Luchador. Bartenders will also be duking it out for the title of 'Absolut Mixologist'. General entry tickets are $35 and include samples from a serious lineup of restaurants and cafes including Vieux Carre, the Third Bird, La La Homemade Ice Cream and 4Bells. More info here. 

Cedar + Stone, Urban Table dinner – this Mall of America restaurant is joining with Fulton Brewing for a $85, nine-course meal prepared by executive chef Laura Bartholomew and paired with nine Fulton brews. Only 12 seats are available. The menu includes the likes of beer-braised short ribs, kabocha squash with curry soup and scallops with Fuji apple and fennel. More info here.

Saturday, Nov. 5

Erick Harcey cooks with Jack RiebelUpton 43’s Chef’s Table returns, this time with chef Harcey joined by Jack Riebel, the executive chef of the anticipated the Lexington in St. Paul. The menu for the 10-12 course gala? That will remain a surprise. Tickets are $125. Wine pairings are available for $65. More info here. Read more about chef Harcey here.

Coup d’Etat cocktail class – In case you needed another excuse for day drinking, the Uptown behemoth will be teaching patrons to create six half-sized cocktails from 1-3 p.m. Tickets are $60. More info here.

Sunday, Nov. 6

Pig Party – Another all-you-can-eat showdown from the Pig Ate My Pizza people? Yep. And while they’re at it, they’ll throw in all-you-can-drink with the ticket price ($46, a steal). Fair State Brewing Cooperative will be on site providing the beverages. As usual, there will be PAMP ‘zas and plenty of shenanigans worthy of Mike Brown and Co. More info here.

Pigeonhole dinner – Join Lyn 65 owner Ben Rients and chef Jose Alarcon as the duo begins to develop the menu for their upcoming refined Mexican cuisine project expected to land in south Minneapolis next year. The five-course dinner will have three seatings, tickets are $45. More info here. Read more about the upcoming restaurant here.

(Photo of Pig Ate My Pizza by Leslie Plesse.)

Blue Plate's new restaurant, Mercury, opens in downtown Mpls.

To say it’s been a crazy few months for Stephanie Shimp and the rest of the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. folks would be an understatement.

In June, the Twin Cities restaurant group bought a 53-acre farm near New Prague, with the ultimate goal of sourcing produce for all of their restaurants – which include the Highland Grill, the Lowry, Freehouse and others. The company, amid three major projects – two restaurants and one events center – also recently moved corporate offices.  And then there was the State Fair in August in which Blue Plate ran popular venue The Blue Barn, an experience Shimp calls “a sprinted marathon.”

On Tuesday late afternoon, Shimp was juggling media interviews, a restaurant debut and finding babysitters for her kids shortly before she was scheduled to speak at the Charlie Awards Hot Topics panel that evening.

After leading reporters on a tour throughout the historic Soo Line Building, she re-emerged in the new Mercury Dining Room and Rail space to patrons swirling around the bar. 

“I guess we’re open,” she said.

Downtown Minneapolis’ newest addition is an eatery serving up ramped up classics off a menu Shimp calls “a little bit French, a little bit coastal Southern and a lot of new American” – in the stunning space formerly occupied by Brasserie Zentral, which closed in January, after less than two years in operation.

Asked whether that prior short life caused any apprehension, Shimp nodded, sincerely.

“It is nerve-wracking,” she agreed. “But I think we’re aiming for that niche. I think timing was tough for [Zentral] with all the construction. There was scaffolding all over the building. With downtown east emerging the way it is, with the stadium there, with the high-end apartments going in, we thought it was a go.”

The niche Shimp is talking about is the attempt to offer something approachable but distinct in a historic structure she feels is rare downtown. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the week.

“There are food trucks and the skyway on one end [of downtown  dining] and then you’ve got celebration and expense account dining,” Shimp said. “There’s not a lot in between.

Chef Jeff Woodyear – who was most recently at national chain McCormick & Schmick's location a few blocks away on Nicollet Mall – will be creating dishes such as Dixie fried chicken, several oysters dishes and scallops, and more. 

“I think of New Orleans, or Charleston,” Shimp said.

The space meanwhile, remains familiar from its last iteration with a few tweaks aimed at striking the balance between preserving a beautiful and historical building while also loudly signaling that there has been a change. The awnings have been removed, the room was painted white, and new furnishings were brought in, all in shades of dark wood and deep blue. A section of wall near the rear end of the bar was taken down to give the dining room and bar area a more open feel.

“It was more interior decorating,” Shimp said of the tweaks. “We really wanted to respect the architecture and the bones of the building.”

Next up on the docket? Continuing to work on another stunning space across the hall in the former location of Foreign Legion, which was also run by Zentral owners Russell and Desta Klein. It will be replaced with Shindig, Blue Plate's anticipated events center. The space, which contains a couple rooms and will seat 120 for a sit-down dinner, should be ready to host parties beginning on Nov. 20, according to Carly Clark, the sales and event manager.

As for Bottle Rocket, the other ongoing restaurant project of Blue Plate’s?

Shimp said they’re aiming for a Nov. 29 open for the lunch-and-dinner eatery that will take over the space formerly filled by Scusi (1806 St. Clair Av., St. Paul) – once they can complete the hiring and training necessary.

“As soon as we feel comfortable, like we’re running on all cylinders here [at Mercury],” Shimp said, “we’ll be onto the next.”

(Photo credits: Top and bottom photos by Tom Horgen; middle photo via Amelia Rayno)

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