Margherita pizza at Zelo
It feels like several lifetimes since the corner of 9th Street and Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis was alive at happy hour. But finally, one of the last holdouts of the pandemic has reopened. Zelo is back.
Before you go putting on your power lunch suit, note that it's only open for happy hour and dinner for now. Still, the devotees who have endured the Italian restaurant's three-year limbo seem to have found their way back. On a recent weeknight, the bar area was packed and there was a healthy showing under the dining room's elegant arched ceilings and globe chandeliers.
Most of Zelo's greatest hits have returned, including the popular tortiglioni rossa, house-made pastas and enduring apps like calamari. My server, who had been with Zelo for 20 years until the state-mandated shutdown, said the dish he missed the most during the closure was the pizza, fired in a grand wood-burning oven at the back of the main dining room. I ordered the margherita ($15.95) in his honor. A sturdy crust was brushed with bright, unadulterated crushed tomatoes, dotted with house-made mozzarella and basil confetti, and just enough good olive oil to form tiny pools on each slice.
It was worth waiting for. (Sharyn Jackson)
831 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-333-7000, zelompls.com
Three Dips at Rosalia
It's almost easy to forget about sweet little Rosalia. Tucked away off a side street in Linden Hills, at the back of Martina, it's the one restaurant in Daniel del Prado's impressive portfolio that didn't get a big, showy opening. Instead, the doors opened during the pandemic, in the fall of 2020, with a wood-burning oven and a room flanked by a wall of windows. But it has steadily built a loyal following, and it's a lovely place to meet a friend for a leisurely lunch on yet another dreary Minnesota day.
We started with the three dips ($21), but it easily could have been a whole meal. Creamy hummus, zingy carrot tahina with peanut harissa, and tangy baba ganoush are served with charred flatbread, available in regular and an absolutely delightful gluten-friendly variety. We almost couldn't believe the tug, stretch and tear of the GF flatbread that seemed just so ... gluten-y. The dips are a textural delight with crunchy fried chickpeas garnishing the velvety hummus, the chunky-yet-smushy baba ganoush topped with caponata and even the Italian parsley bringing a grassy brightness to the party. It's a dish worth revisiting. (Joy Summers)
2811 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-345-5494, rosaliapizza.com
Pork Abura Ramen at moto-i
Crossing Lyndale Avenue, the wind sent a deep chill right through us, hitting at an angle that made our eyes water. It begged the question, will winter ever end?
Settling into moto-i with a flight of sake ($13) and a big bowl of noodles, our spirits thawed pretty quickly. The brothless pork abura ramen ($14.50) was brimming with a deeply smoky pork shoulder, which complemented — both flavor- and texture-wise — the tart pickled red onions, scallions and bonito flakes. A light sauce of chili oil and ponzu gives it a slow burn, and a jammy poached egg helped hold it all together. It was the fortifying meal we really needed.
Coming in a close second were the gyoza ($8), which held a mix of maitake mushrooms and tofu with a hint of warming spices, topped with a slightly sweet sauce — one of several vegan menu items. We also appreciated the in-depth sake lesson and the fact that our server explained the new 12% surcharge right upfront.
Open since 2008, the Uptown sake brewery is on several must-visit lists during patio season for its stellar rooftop space, but it's also a cozy spot to longingly wait for spring. (Nicole Hvidsten)
2940 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-821-6262, moto-i.com
Coastal fish and chips at Coastal Seafoods
The State Fair is only five months away, but for those of us who can't wait — I'm counting the days — Coastal Seafoods is paying homage to the late August stick-food extravaganza during this very un-summerlike fish fry season. In their fish and chips, you get two Fulton beer-battered cod fillets, pierced with a stick and deep-fried into crunchy nirvana. As a delivery system, the fish on a stick is as delightful for fried-fish fanatics as it is for a 4-year-old.
The $16.99 meal comes with fries, slaw and tartar sauce, and you can add another 4-ounce fillet for $7. Best of all, it's available all year long. (S.J.)
2007 E. 24th St., Mpls., 612-724-7425, coastalseafoods.com
Rudy Gobert Edition XO cognac by Frapin
There are some invitations that are too good to turn down — and the opportunity for 5-foot-4 (and that's aspirational) me to sip cognac with 7-foot-1 Timberwolves player Rudy Gobert was one of them. Before I say anything else, I have to admit: this is wonderfully ridiculous on all levels. The cognac is not available for purchase yet. The closest bottle of the company's regular spirits I could find online is in Tennessee and costs more than $100. So, this isn't exactly as useful as many of our "5 Best Things."
But it was so good. Much like Champagne, cognac is derived from the ancient art of grape distillation and must be made in a specific region of France. Frapin has been making cognac since 1270; Gobert, who is from France, is the brand's U.S. ambassador, but recently collaborated with the makers to create his own exclusive cuvée. Gobert's appreciation for the power of crystals influenced the label, and his love of the smooth, oaky vanilla flavor informed the blend inside the bottle. The result is a truly luxurious sipping experience. It seemed almost sacrilegious that it was mixed into the highest-shelf Manhattan I'll likely ever sample. But, on its own, I can imagine reclining fireside, swirling the rich, caramel-colored spirit and slowly sipping in its opulence.
Someday soon these bottles will be available in Minnesota, but even the brand representatives didn't know at what price. I only hope that if you can afford it, you'll invite me over. I'm really fun at parties and enjoy drinking above my pay grade. (J.S.)