Other significant openings
In a remarkably fertile year for restaurant debuts, these newcomers definitely enriched the local dining-out scene: Gather, In Season, Masu Sushi & Robata, Mill Valley Kitchen, Pizzeria Lola, Sun Street Breads and Wise Acre Eatery. Also worth noting: Aji Contemporary Japanese, Current, Element Pizza, the Green Room, Green Spoon, Hazel's Northeast, Indochin, Joan's in the Park, Kinsen Noodles & Wine Bar, the Lowbrow, McCormick's Pub & Restaurant, Mozza Mia, On's Kitchen, Peoples Organic, Rosa Mexicano, Rusty Taco, Rye, SIX15 Room and Zen Box Izakaya.
Adding a second location was the 2011 business plan for a number of Twin Cities restaurants, including American Burger Bar, Black Sheep Pizza, Blue Point, Burger Jones, Chez Arnaud, Grand Szechuan, Krungthep Thai (Bangkok Thai Deli's Eat Street outpost), Little Szechuan, Mesa Pizza, My Burger, Pardon My French, Pig & Fiddle (from the makers of the Muddy Pig), Pittsburgh Blue, Sweets Bakeshop and the Town Hall Tap (a Town Hall Brewery expansion).
Entrepreneurs of the year
Who had the busiest year in the restaurant industry? It's probably a three-way tie. First up: Kim Bartmann (Barbette, Red Stag Supperclub and Bryant-Lake Bowl), who launched just-about-perfect Bread & Pickle at the Lake Harriet bandshell and Pat's Tap, the happening, Skee-Ball-friendly Nicollet Avenue gastropub. Then there's the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. (Highland Grill, Edina Grill, Longfellow Grill, 3 Squares), which opened Scusi (casual Italian with a forward-thinking wine bar) and the Lowry (breakfast-through-late night in Uptown). But the honors might go to Crave super-siblings Kam and Keyvan Talebi, who not only knocked out two new properties -- Sopranos Italian Kitchen and Urban Eatery -- but also threw a big chunk of change at downtown Minneapolis with a gigantic new Crave, complete with a game-changing rooftop terrace.
It was also a banner year for street food, in all its entrepreneurial forms. Whether it's a truck, a cart, a van, a trailer or a stand, each effort definitely added vitality to sidewalks, parking lots and markets all over Minneapolis and St. Paul, particularly newcomers Hola Arepa, Natedogs, Gastrotruck, Potter's Pasties & Pies, Vellee Deli, Saucy Burt's, Untamed Cart, Scratch Food Truck, Bogart Loves, Gai Gai Thai and Origins Coffee & Tea.
Reality TV shenanigans
Some prize. In May, Jamawn Woods, a Detroit autoworker and the extremely likable winner of NBC's "The Next Great American Restaurant," opened Soul Daddy, a soul food-lite chain-in-the-making, in New York City, Los Angeles and the Mall of America. Eight weeks later, the show's backers pulled the plug, all three restaurants were closed and Woods, who had planned to move to the Twin Cities to be close to his megamall flagship, was out of a job. One out-of-court settlement later, and Woods plans to relaunch his business in Detroit, opening in the spring. Relive the drama at startribune.com/nextgreat.
Change of address
Moving vans were busy this year. Muddy Waters traded up from its tiny 24th-and-Lyndale home for roomier digs up the street at Lyn-Lake, transforming itself from a coffeehouse to a bar and restaurant (and a swell patio). Wilde Roast Cafe said goodbye to its longtime E. Hennepin Avenue address in favor of the Riverplace real estate that was once ruled by Yvette, Sophia and, most recently Picosa, expanding its menu and adding tableside service, a scenic stretch of sidewalk seating and a gelato scoop counter, which is exactly what this pedestrian- and bike-friendly district needed. Process-obsessed Kopplin's Coffee also busted a move, replacing its original Randolph-and-Hamline home for a more spacious storefront at Marshall and Cleveland avenues.
The all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet category expanded faster than the average American waistline, with Hibachi Buffet, Ocean Buffet and Teppanyaki Buffet.
He's just not that into us
What is it with the Twin Cities and high-profile chefs? Specifically, how the relationship never lasts. First Marcus Samuelsson and Aquavit. Then Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Chambers Kitchen. This year, it was Wolfgang Puck's turn: his 20.21 at the Walker Art Center and Wolfgang Puck Express at the Mall of America both disappeared. Puck fans aren't entirely out of luck, though; the California chef still has his name on a quick-service cafe at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Erik Anderson bid farewell to Sea Change, moving to Nashville and launching the critically acclaimed Catbird Seat (with Porter & Frye vet Josh Habiger); he was replaced by Jamie Malone. At Barbette, Kevin Kathman was out, and Chris Hinrichs is in. D'Amico Cucina vet John Occhiato stepped in for Hâkan Lundberg at Cosmos. When 20.21 closed, Asher Miller breathed new life into Tucci Benucch. Jorge Guzman (Tejas, Corner Table) took the helm at Solera. Kristin Tyborksi (Porter & Frye, Mill City Cafe) and Derik Moran (Nick and Eddie) stepped into the departing Jack Riebel's shoes at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant. Dan Calloway (of Pescara in Rochester) took over from Michael Harper at Grand Avenue's grand dame, the Lexington. Annette Colon traded the Turtle Bread Co. for Sun Street Breads.
New in Northeast
After years of sitting fallow, the lights are finally back on at the former Bobino. Owner John Rimarcik (Monte Carlo Bar & Cafe, Annie's Parlour, Convention Grill) re-christened the space Rachel's, focusing on an all-American grill menu.
Good news on the North Side
For a neighborhood devastated by a May tornado, it was good to hear some happy news coming out of Minneapolis' North Side: Victory 44 expanded into the coffee and breakfast business, the Lowry Cafe kicked off its breakfast/lunch/dinner service and the new West Broadway Farmers Market brought together fresh-food vendors with shoppers.
Maple-glazed bacon (and carb) goodness
It was all about the doughnut in 2011, thanks to the busy deep fryers at YoYo Donuts & Coffee Bar (a late 2010 addition), the Donut Cooperative and Mojo Monkey Donuts.
The year was not without a number of notable restaurant closings, including Aperitif, Cake Eater Bakery, Curry Up, Duplex, Favor Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, Il Gatto, the Independent, the Inn, Jun Bo, the Kitchen, Kozy's Steaks and Seafood, Liberty Frozen Custard, M&S Grill, Mix Fusion Bistro, NorthCoast, Om, Pearson's Edina Restaurant, Porky's, Purple Sandpiper, Savories European Bistro, Schumacher's Hotel and Grill 212, Shorty & Wags Original Chicken Wings, Sunnyside Up Cafe, Totino's Italian Kitchen, Town Talk Diner, 20.21, Volnay Bistro and Wayzata Eatery.
Going, going, gone
Saturday marks the final day for Cafe Twenty Eight. The 10-year-old Linden Hills restaurant, a model of neighborliness, has lost its lease. "It's a sad thing, because the business is still strong," said co-owner Linda Haug, noting that her November numbers were up 15 percent over 2010. "But we're happy with the 10 years that we've had."
Under a rock
It sounds like a "News of the Weird" item: In April, a boulder rolled down the Wabasha bluffs and crushed the back of the building housing Bread Coffee & Cake. Fortunately, baker/owner Robert Dubuc -- who continues to nurture his sourdough starter -- hopes to reopen in a new location in 2012.
Forum fades away, again
One of the year's biggest bummers was the failure of the Forum. Reviving the long-shuttered art deco landmark of the former Forum Cafeteria -- and, most recently, the much-missed Goodfellow's -- was a gamble for first-time restaurateurs Jim and Stefanie Ringo. Unfortunately, they lost, and their version of the Forum lasted barely a year. The landmark downtown Minneapolis room sits dark, once again, its future uncertain. Is there an angel out there?
On the avenue
Talk about spontaneous combustion: Nicollet Avenue south of Lake Street in Minneapolis is on fire, culinarily speaking. In 2011, the street added gastropub Pat's Tap, modern-day corner bar the Lowbrow, biscuits-and-braising mecca Sun Street Breads, cupcake-crazed Sweets Bakeshop and locavore-loving Wise Acre Eatery, an impressive roster that piled critical mass onto an already potent list of food-loving draws that includes La Chaya, Corner Table, Anodyne, Blackbird, C&G's Smoking Barbecue, the Kingfield Farmers Market and others. Our wish for 2012? A relocated Kmart, reconnecting this vital thoroughfare to its bustling Eat Street counterpart to the north.
Everything old is new again
Of the many remakes that stood out -- including Java Jack's becoming Jack's, Sgt. Preston's reborn as Republic -- what really stands out is Saffron Restaurant & Lounge, where brothers/co-owners Sameh and Saed Wadi dropped the white tablecloths, lowered prices, expanded their culinary horizons beyond their North African-Middle Eastern roots and made their Warehouse District restaurant an even more compelling reservation.
Professionally charming pub potentate Kieran Folliard sold his interest in his food-and-drink empire (the Local, the Liffey, the Cooper, Kieran's Irish Pub) to follow his dream and bottle his own Irish whiskey. Folliard's 2 Gingers label hit local liquor stores in November.
Who smells a trend?
Several high-profile chefs moved from restaurant kitchens to private clubs, including Hakan Lundberg, who left Cosmos for the Minneapolis Club, and Scott Pampuch, who turned his Corner Table kitchen over to his staff to feed the members of the Minnesota Valley Country Club in Bloomington.
One less critical voice
City Pages, we can only ask: What were you thinking? In September, Rachel Hutton, the alternative weekly's highly readable restaurant critic, was told that her job was eliminated and that her beat would be filled by freelancers, a curious strategy for a world with an increasingly ravenous appetite for food-and-drink coverage.
And the award goes to . . .
The Ivey Awards celebrate the rich local theater scene. Now the Charlie Awards -- the brainchild of Ivey impresario Scott Mayer and WCCO Radio's Sue Zelickson -- are toasting the Twin Cities restaurant community. First-time honorees were mostly marquee names: Piccolo (Outstanding Restaurant), Tim McKee (Outstanding Chef) and his La Belle Vie (Outstanding Wait Staff), Khanh Tran of Cosmos (Outstanding Pastry Chef) and Richard and Larry D'Amico (Lifetime Achievement), but the sweetest recognition was bestowed upon servers Cheryl Brezny and Roxanne Olson of Jax Cafe and Marcia Freeman of Murray's -- collectively, the three women have more than a century of service on their time cards.
It must been a champagne-soaked night when the September issue of Bon Appetit landed in the mailbox at Travail Kitchen and Amusements. That's because the magazine named the risk-taking, fun-loving restaurant one of the nation's 10 best newcomers.
Thanks to the city of Minneapolis for replacing annoying quarters-only parking meters with credit card-friendly devices. As it spreads to commercial areas from Dinkytown to Uptown, one definite upside is that the new parking program is making dining out so much more convenient. Will St. Paul follow suit?
One especially delicious 2011 trend was the growth spurt in excellent brunching opportunities, including superb weekend repasts at Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market (buckwheat pancakes with walnut butter, pan-fried Lake Superior herring), Tilia (braised pork shoulder over corn bread with a poblano Hollandaise), HauteDish (a foie gras Monte Cristo), Wise Acre Eatery (Best. Bacon. Ever.), Blackbird (basted eggs over oxtail-root vegetable hash) and Be'wiched Deli (pastrami/fried egg/harissa sandwiches).
A law we can all love
The Legislature spent most of its 2011 season in a partisan gridlock, but one piece of legislation that did manage to make it out of the Capitol allows microbreweries to open a single tap room for on-site, pint-sized sales to beer lovers. Minneapolis also tweaked several liquor-related zoning regulations, for the better. Can statewide Sunday liquor sales -- or, dare we dream, beer and wine in supermarkets -- be far behind?
And the winner was . . .
Congratulations to Isaac Becker, chef/co-owner of 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa, who was named Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation. Becker, who gave one of the shortest speeches on record at the Oscars of the food world in May in New York City, lovingly shared his moment at the podium with his spouse and business partner, Nancy St. Pierre.
Cheers to Strip Club mixmaster Dan Oskey and the other makers of all-natural Joia Soda, for teaching us that Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper have nothing against the refreshing qualities of lime-hibiscus-clove and black cherry-pomegranate-ginger fizziness.
There's plenty for diners to look forward to in 2012.
In early Februrary, former Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant chef Jack Riebel launches his Butcher & the Boar gastropub/beer garden at 12th Street and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis.
After a 13-year run, the Oceanaire Seafood Room is moving out of its remote Hyatt Regency Hotel quarters next month, for a splashy street-level address at 6th Street and Nicollet Mall; look for an added lunch menu.
The Northeast Social crew is expanding to Eat Street, taking over the 26th and Nicollet site formerly occupied by Azia. Just up the block, Mike Ryan and Matthew Bickford are launching Icehouse, a music-friendly play on their Be'wiched Deli. "We're full steam ahead and ready to make a splash this spring," said Bickford.
Passengers moving through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport will be happy to run across more than a dozen local chefs -- including Russell Klein of Meritage, Ann Kim of Pizzeria Lola, Doug Flicker of Piccolo and Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart -- when an ambitious remade Concourse G food service debuts in January.
Masu Sushi & Robata will debut a second location in the spring, taking over the former Soul Daddy spot at the Mall of America.
St. Paul's Blue Door Pub is bringing its stuffed-burgers menu to a location in Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood, the owners of the Ugly Mug hope to pick up where the Inn left off in downtown Minneapolis and the Lyndale Tap House folks are promising more of the same with the Valley Tap House in Apple Valley. Also in the south suburbs: Zest! Bar & Grill opened this week, delivering craft beers, cocktails and an eclectic menu to indie-starved Eagan.
Brenda Langton of Spoonriver (and co-author Margaret Stuart) will have "The Spoonriver Cookbook" published in the spring.
Our condolences to the family, friends and diners of True Thai chef Anousone Phanthavong, who was killed in a hit-and-run incident in April, and to the colleagues, customers and loved ones of Good Day Cafe owner David Webb, who died in August. In the 1970s and 1980s, Webb and his brother Rick Webb launched CocoLezzone, Winfield Potter's and Rupert's.
Our top-reviewed restaurants of 2011 included:
★★★★: The Bachelor Farmer, Heidi's, Meritage
★★★1/2 : Saffron Restaurant & Lounge, Tilia
★★★: Gather, In Season, Masu, On's Kitchen, Pizzeria Lola, Sun Street Breads, Wise Acre Eatery
For all the memorable meals I enjoyed in 2011 on my own dime -- and not on my Strib expense account, truly a ringing endorsement -- at Al's Breakfast, Birchwood Cafe, Black Sheep Pizza, Chef Shack, Modern Cafe, Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, Restaurant Alma, Rice Paper, Rustica, Sapor Cafe and Bar and Yum! Kitchen and Bakery.