Q: Do you have a favorite place for hot chocolate?
A: I’ve been a forever fan of the selection at Kopplin’s Coffee (2038 Marshall Av., St. Paul, kopplinscoffee.com), where the menu offers three options. All rely upon top-shelf ingredients, an effort that makes all the difference. Two start with premium organic whole milk from Iowa’s Kalona SuperNatural; the first combines Valrhona cocoa with Callebaut semisweet chocolate ($5 and $7), the second uses that same cocoa then adds Valrhona single-origin dark chocolate ($6 and $8). There’s a nondairy option, too, which calls upon almond-infused cocoa butter, cinnamon oil, Valrhona cocoa and almond milk ($6 and $8). And I’ve recently become a convert of the mellow, super-popular hot chocolate at Edwards Dessert Kitchen (200 Washington Av. N., Mpls., edwardsdessertkitchen.com), where pastry chef Jasmine Weiser and her crew stir premium milk chocolate and dark chocolate into simmering whole milk ($5), then pour it into a wide cup that, on a cold winter’s day, doubles as a very effective hand warmer.
Q: I miss your weekly Burger Friday series. Have you encountered a great burger anywhere lately?
A: Here’s two that I would recommend, both in the ’burbs. The first is at RH Rooftop Restaurant (6801 France Av. S., Edina, restorationhardware.com), the glamorous greenhouse-inspired property at the top of the enormous new Restoration Hardware store in the southwest corner of the Southdale parking lot, where a double-patty American cheeseburger with all the right trimmings goes for $21. Meanwhile, at the Burger Dive counter inside Rosedale’s new Potluck food hall (1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, potluckmn.com), chef Nick O’Leary is frying up the same heavenly double-patty cheeseburgers ($9.50) that he’s cranking out of the kitchen at Tony Jaros River Garden (2500 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., burgerdivemn.com). It was my favorite new burger of 2019. Be sure to order the Cheddar- and sour cream-filled pierogies, they’re fantastic. By the way, I sort-of miss Burger Friday, but I’m really enjoying its replacement, where I run through the five best dishes I encountered during the past week of eating. It’s posted Friday morning at startribune.com/taste.
Q: Is there a trend that you’re into these days?
A: It’s not exactly a brand-new movement, but I’m fascinated by the pop-up restaurant scene, in part because it’s helping young, adventurous chefs find their audiences. A great example is Yia Vang of Union Hmong Kitchen (find it at Sociable Cider Werks, 1500 NE. Fillmore St., Mpls., unionkitchenmn.com), a pop-up whiz who just announced that he’s working to open his own restaurant, Vinai. Another newcomer is the Merchant Series, the work of chefs Tate McAllan and Aaron Buendorf, who met while cooking at Lat14. Their next outing is Jan. 23 at the Undergound Music Cafe (408 3rd Av. N., Mpls.), when they’ll be offering a six ($50) or nine-course ($70) dinner of what McAllan is calling “progressive Minnesota” fare. “We like to take ingredients from the area and represent them in new and exciting ways,” he said. “As much as our parents told us not to, we like to play with our food.” Tickets are available at eventbrite.com, or bit.ly/37Lk8NF. At the start, the plan is to stage a dinner every two months. “Until we develop a following,” said McAllan. “Then we’ll do them once a month.” Chart their progress on Instagram, @merchantseries.
Q: New year, new diet. I’m going vegan, but I’m having a difficult time dining out. Suggestions?
A: The Twin Cities metro area has vegan restaurants of all stripes, including Fig + Farro (3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., figandfarro.com), Trio Plant-Based (610 W. Lake St., Mpls., trioplantbased.com), J. Selby’s (169 N. Victoria St., St. Paul, jselbys.com), Eureka Compass Vegan Food (629 Aldine St., St. Paul, eurekacompassveganfood.com) and Seed Cafe (3252-B W. Lake St., Mpls., seedcafempls.com). Vegan East (2409 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., and 2179 4th St., White Bear Lake, veganeast.com) is a vegan bakery, and Crêpe & Spoon (339 22nd Av. NE., Mpls., crepeandspoon.com) offers vegan ice cream and crêpes. And be sure to check out the daily ready-to-eat menu at the Herbivorous Butcher (507 1st Av. NE., Mpls., theherbivorousbutcher.com).
Q: Anything new on the horizon?
A: As always, there’s plenty. One project that’s particularly exciting is south of the Twin Cities. Chef Greg Jaworski is in the process of moving his (terrific) 14-year-old Nosh Restaurant from Lake City, Minn., to a historic building in downtown Winona. He’s renamed the place Nosh Scratch Kitchen (102 Walnut St.), and is hoping to open by the end of the month, with a plan to continue his lively take on seasonal, locally sourced fare. He’s starting with dinner, six nights a week (“That’s a dream of mine, not working Sundays,” he said), and may add lunch service once Fastenal, the city’s largest employer, completes an expansion of its nearby downtown headquarters. Jaworski closed the Lake City location in July, and he’s happy to see his new 60-seat property finally finish its construction phase and come to life. “It’s a cool building, with great bones, but it’s an old building, which is why we’re six months behind schedule,” he said. “It doesn’t have the unbelievable view of the Mississippi that we had in Lake City, so we’re turning the focus to the plate. We’re going to find out what’s more important: the food, or the view. It’s going to be a fun challenge.”
Another happy prospect, this time in the Twin Cities, is the impending expansion of Pajarito (605 W. 7th St., St. Paul, pajaritostp.com) into the 50th and France district in Edina. The contemporary Mexican restaurant is going into the space (3910 W. 50th St.) that was last home to the short-lived Moderna Kouzina but is known to diners for Mozza Mia and, before that, Tejas. Can’t wait.
Q: Can you give me a few wine bar suggestions?
A: I like the cozy Riverview Wine Bar (3747 42nd Av. S., Mpls., theriverview.com), and not just for its proximity to the fabulous Riverview Theater. You should definitely check out the Vine Room (756 Mainstreet, Hopkins, thevineroom.co), a newcomer that focuses — although not exclusively — on small and midsize California producers. And while Terzo (2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., terzompls.com) isn’t technically a wine bar, the Broder family maintains an impressive and extensive all-Italian wine list and offers 30-plus by-the-glass options. Book a table for dinner, and check out the four-courses-for-$45 option.
Q: Do you have any favorites on Eat Street?
A: Plenty. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s the restaurant-heavy stretch of Nicollet Avenue between downtown Minneapolis and the thoroughfare-blocking Kmart store just north of W. Lake Street. There are far too many to mention here, so I’ll keep my answer short. There’s 30-year-old Quang (2719 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., quang-restaurant.com), for all kinds of Vietnamese cravings; if nothing else, go and check out its super-stylish new look. I’ve always enjoyed Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine (2608 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls. peninsulamalaysiancuisine.com), and I admire the creative energy behind the bar at Eat Street Social (18 W. 26th St., Mpls., eatstreetsocial.com). The New American cooking is always spot-on at the Icehouse (2528 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., icehousempls.com), a far cry from most music venues with food. Check it out for weekend brunch, along with its neighbor, the charming Copper Hen (2515 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., copperhenkitchen.com). And I can’t talk about Eat Street without mentioning the gotta-have flatbread sandwiches at Zettas (2424 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., zettasmpls.com).
Q: My wife is celebrating a milestone birthday. Can you suggest a fun place for the two of us to celebrate?
A: Think about booking a table at casual, tiny Tenant (4300 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., tenantmpls.com), where the cooking crew serves a six-course dinner for $60. Immerse yourselves in chef Leonard Anderson’s five-course tasting menu ($70 for carnivores, $65 for herbivores) at fun and funky Tongue in Cheek (989 Payne Av., St. Paul, tongueincheek.biz). Or take a seat at the kitchen counter at Popol Vuh (1414 NE. Quincy St., Mpls., popolvuhmpls.com) and watch as chef José Alarcon works his contemporary Mexican cooking magic at his wood-burning hearth; I highly recommend his five-course ($65) tasting menu.