Before plunging into despair over the decline and fall of the Twin Cities dining scene, consider this: While there were what appeared to be a record number of restaurant closings, the metro area was inundated with a deluge of openings. The additional good news is that quantity is not drowning out quality, not by a long shot.
Gavin Kaysen, the Star Tribune’s 2017 Chef of the Year, launched Bellecour in Wayzata in March, giving diners a taste of scrupulous French bistro cooking, along with a spectacular bakery, the work of Spoon and Stable pastry whiz Diane Yang.
Chef Jamie Malone returned to a regular restaurant gig after a too-long absence, transforming the former Grand Cafe into a destination for modern French fare that’s interpreted through her own singular point of view and skill set.
St. Paul’s venerable Lexington came back to life — and then some — with a top-to-bottom remake (including a rooftop patio) led by chef Jack Riebel and restaurateurs Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald.
After decades of burying its restaurants inside the museum, the Walker Art Center wisely used food and drink as a welcome mat, and a great one, with Esker Grove.
Chefs Stephan Hesse and Tyge Nelson brought good times (love that bar) and sharp cooking skills to a new Mexican favorite, Pajarito.
Black Sheep Pizza guru Jordan Smith turned his obsession with Texas barbecue into wood-smoked reality with his excellent StormKing BBQ, and Sushi Fix founder Enkhbileg (“Billy”) Tserenbat translated a happy Mexican beach vacation into seafood-focused Baja Haus (then sold Sushi Fix). First-time restaurateur Anne Spaeth got an immediate grasp on what the dining-out public wants — “fast-fine dining” is how Bon Appétit magazine is describing the quick-service, high-quality trend — at the Lynhall.
Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood, already the region’s hottest restaurant real estate, got even hotter with the addition of Red Rabbit, Kado No Mise (and its Kaiseki Furukawa), Nolo’s Kitchen, Jun, Dalton & Wade and Rise Bagel Co.
Two former Piccolo chefs took over the lease (hence the name Tenant) of the diminutive space and took the tasting menu format in an exciting (and shortened) new direction.
There were plenty of significant late-in-the-year openings, too: Octo Fishbar, Hai Hai, Bardo, the Hasty Tasty, Martina, Book Club, Mizu, Lucky Oven Bakery and Benedict’s Morning Heroes; be on the lookout for reviews in the new year.
Can Can Wonderland and the Seventh Street Truck Park, two raucous but very different indoor food-and-drink playgrounds, made going out fun. Dough Dough — first as a food truck, then as a Mall of America outpost — did the same, by jumping on the cookie dough trend. Ditto the Naughty Greek, and its accessible and modern approach to food sold on the sidewalks of Athens.
The Marquette Hotel pulled its restaurant down to a more visible street location and dubbed it Jacques’; in January, the hotel’s former Basil’s, perched on a third-floor balcony overlooking the IDS Crystal Court, will become breakfast-focused the Jolliet House.
A few blocks away at the Le Meridien Chambers hotel, chef Mike Rakun’s Mercy dedicated itself to becoming downtown’s neighborhood hangout. Haskell’s Wine & Cheese Bar became the first food-and-drink outlet (well, after Target’s new liquor store) to open on Nicollet Mall after the thoroughfare’s endless renovation. Another downtown innovation: Elevate Food Hall, which draws a half-dozen popular quick-service counters on a single, above-the-skyway floor.
Other openings included Smith & Porter, Geno’s, Station Pizzaeria, Gray Duck Tavern, Green Lantern, Nine Twenty Five, Union 32 Crafthouse, Waldmann Brewery & Wurstery, Hazelwood Food & Drink, Twin Cities 400 Tavern, Sphere Bar + Restaurant, Rah’MN, Brunson’s Pub, Pad Ga Pow, Come Pho Soup, the Cove and Burrigato.
Plenty of restaurateurs double-up their businesses during the year, adding a second location, including Revival, Afro Deli, the Bad Waitress, Bay Leaf Indian Cuisine, Bep Eatery, Kyatchi, Cheesecake Factory, Coalition, Cov, Crisp & Green, Maya Cuisine and St. Paul Bagelry.
There was also a burst of coffeehouse activity, with the arrival of Botany Coffee, Cafe Astoria, Northern Coffeeworks, Vélo du Nord, a St. Paul branch of Spyhouse Coffee and second locations for Five Watt Coffee and Penny’s Coffee. Sisters’ Sludge moved to roomier digs and added beer and wine.
A number of chains established Twin Cities beachheads during the year, including GrabbaGreen, Tasty Pot, HopCat, Lao Sze Chuan, Portillo’s, Roti Modern Mediterranean, Costa Vida Fresh Mexican, Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse and Pork & Mindy’s.