Q: Is there anything new in the southern suburbs?

A: You should check out PLate (16323 Main Av. SE., Prior Lake, 952-440-5500, plateonmain.com). The work of the Peterson family (and chefs Miguel Urrutia — his El Jefe food truck is a familiar fixture at the Prior Lake Farmers Market — and Honorio Rivera, a longtime vet of Prior Lake’s Perron’s sul Lago) is an instant community gathering spot, a stylish environment serving classic American grill fare at dinner and Sunday brunch. There’s a decent happy hour, too.

The folks behind Farmington’s Bourbon Butcher Kitchen + Bar and Eagan’s Volstead House have converted a former Applebee’s into Whiskey Inferno (14425 S. Hwy. 13, Savage, 952-855-4665, whiskeyinferno.com). The kitchen’s specialty of smoked meats is drawing crowds at lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.

In Minnetonka (which is more southwest than south, but that’s OK), food truck operators Diego Montero and Nicolas Nikolov have gone the brick-and-mortar route, opening DelSur Empanadas (14725 Excelsior Blvd., Minnetonka, 952-303-6081, delsurempanadas.com) and serving nine varieties of freshly prepared empanadas, along with a handful of sandwiches, salads and desserts.

And if you haven’t been to Pizza Karma (8451 Joyner Way, Eden Prairie, 952-467-6100, pizzakarma.com), you should stop in. Cookbook author Raghavan Iyer had the inspired idea of using naan, baked in showy tandoor ovens, as the foundation for a wide variety of globally inspired flatbreads.

Q: Where can a person buy a decent bagel in this town?

A: Believe me, the situation has improved considerably since the advent of Common Roots Cafe (2558 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-2360, commonrootscafe.com), Rise Bagel (530 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-354-3349, risebagel.com) and Meyvn (901 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-315-4608, meyvneats.com). Also, Baker’s Field Flour & Bread (bakersfieldflour.com) turns out really beautiful bagels and sells them at stores around town; I buy them at Seward Co-op (2823 E. Franklin Av., Mpls., 612-338-2465, seward.coop). Rise Bagel has a cool project, a collaboration with nearby Modist Brewing Co. (505 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-454-0258, modistbrewing.com) to create “No Bagel Wasted,” a lager made with honey and leftover bagels ground into a flour. Find it at the brewery’s taproom, where 10 percent of the beer’s proceeds will benefit TC Food Justice, which works to reduce food waste and hunger in the Twin Cities.


Q: How do you feel about the cashless restaurants that are popping up?

A: I’m mixed. I’m exactly the kind of consumer that these setups target, because I hardly ever carry cash; the only time I reliably have a stash of ATM dollars in my pocket is at the credit-card-averse Minnesota State Fair, and even that venue is becoming more plastic-friendly. Also, I can see why restaurateurs like the setup, for speed, accountability and safety reasons. Still, they bug me, because they seem inhospitable and exclusionary, even when they try to be welcoming. For example, Revolution Hall in Rosedale is a cash-free zone, but diners can purchase gift cards with cash at the gift shop, and use them at any counter in the two-story food hall. But that’s still inconvenient; how will you know how much to purchase in advance?

You know what else bugs me? On a recent visit to a cashless restaurant, I encountered the following setup: I ordered and paid on a touch screen. I picked up my food at a counter and carried it to my seat. I cleared the table, sorting my used containers at the provided recycling and landfill bins. There was almost no human interaction anywhere in the process. Here’s the issue: When I was paying, I was asked if I wanted to leave a tip. Um, for what? Other than the actual meal preparation, there was literally no service involved. Is this just me entering my latest get-off-my-lawn phase? I mean, McDonald’s offers a greater level of service, minus any tip inquiry or expectation.

Q: Any ideas for Valentine’s Day? We live in St. Paul.

A: I was going to suggest signing up for the four-course dinner ($65 per person) at Hyacinth (790 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-478-1822, hyacinthstpaul.com), because the storefront setup is charming and intimate, and chef/owner Rikki Giambruno and chef de cuisine Paul Baker are terrific cooks. However, the place only seats 40 people, and even with seatings at 6 and 8 p.m., those reservations are going to be at a premium. Why not pretend that Feb. 15 or 16 is Valentine’s Day? It’ll be a lot easier to get a table on those dates, and not only at Hyacinth. Or, if you can’t get a reservation, why not get romantic at a place that’s used to dealing with crowds? I’m thinking of Surly Brewing Co. (520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com), and spending time with your beloved in the brewery’s gigantic beer hall (sharing charcuterie, sausages, brisket and beer) or its second-floor pizzeria.


Q: Do you have a favorite restaurant fireplace?

A: The three roaring hearths inside W.A. Frost & Co. (274 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, wafrost.com) are pretty much the wintertime gold standard for this diner (there’s a fourth, a gas-fired setup, in the cozy lower-level lounge). Waldmann Brewery & Wurstery (445 N. Smith Av., St. Paul, 651-222-1857, waldmannbrewery.com) has a pair of toasty — and period-appropriate, since the historic building dates to 1857 — wood-burning stoves. For a completely opposite experience, Waldmann owner Tom Schroeder has found an ideal winter use for his beer garden, converting it into an ice-skating rink.


Q: Do you have any new brunch ideas?

A: Plenty. At Grand Catch (1672 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-348-8541, grandcatchmn.com), chef Sameh Wadi pumps up kitchen standards (seafood boils, a fantastic fried chicken sandwich, first-rate shrimp toast) with a long list of Southern-inspired dishes, many layered with Asian touches: tender buttermilk biscuits with a hearty sausage gravy and pickled green tomatoes, expertly made beignets with a lively strawberry-lemongrass jam and what might be the metro area’s most addictive shrimp and grits. There’s also a lobster-packed avocado toast, a Benedict piled with cool, sweet crab and fried chicken served with sweet corn pancakes rather than waffles. Portions are generous, prices are reasonable and the bar gets into the act, shaking up a long list of libations, including many alcohol-free options. It’s served 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

For something casual and fun, check out Sunday brunch (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) at Centro (1414 NE. Quincy St., Mpls., 612-345-5527, popolvuhmpls.com/centro), the counter-service side to chef Jose Alarcon’s Popol Vuh. The selection isn’t huge, maybe a half-dozen dishes, but the prices ($8 to $12) are right on the money, and Alarcon has a flair for pumping up familiar dishes, including huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, tortilla soup and avocado toast. There’s a long list of brunch cocktails ($7 to $10), too.

Q: My New Year’s resolution is to spend less money in restaurants. Are there any deals out there?

A: A favorite of mine can be found at five locations of D’Amico & Sons (Edina, Wayzata, Golden Valley, Roseville and St. Paul’s Grand Avenue, damicoandsons.com), where $15.95 buys a side salad (Caesar or mixed greens), a choice of any pasta or pizza on the menu and a bottomless glass of house red or white wine. There’s one caveat: It’s an early-bird special, served 4 to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.


Send your queries to rick.nelson@startribune.com.