Signs of life on light-rail construction zone

After a rough and seemingly endless spell of light-rail construction, which pushed dozens of restaurants, markets and other food-related businesses to the economic brink, it's great to see a restaurant opening on St. Paul's University Avenue.

Get ready to say hello to the Daily Diner Frogtown (615 W. University Av., St. Paul, When the doors open Monday, the restaurant, which anchors the busy corner of Dale and University in the Frogtown Square project, will serve breakfast and lunch daily, and dinner Monday through Saturday.

Chef Jason Koehn, a 20-year Champps Americana vet, is promising a menu of all-American favorites, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and cooking traditions culled from what has to be one of the Twin Cities' most culturally diverse neighborhoods.

But this isn't your garden-variety restaurant-opening story. Along with feeding the neighborhood, the Daily Diner also will serve as an on-the-job-training and career-skills outreach project of the 111-year-old United Gospel Mission.

The mission hopes to initially train 25 to 30 people a year at the restaurant, preparing them for outside work in the hospitality industry.

Meanwhile, on a different stretch of Central Corridor light-rail construction, the Kitty Corner Cafe (806 Washington Av. SE., Mpls., www. has materialized in the Stadium Village neighborhood.

Occupying a tiny slip of real estate — and tucked in between outlets of Punch Pizza, Noodles & Co. and Dino's Gyros — the small quick-service shop is specializing in tender, dressed-to-the-max waffles (Nutella with walnuts and bananas, strawberries with white chocolate and crushed peanuts), a favorite from owner Zuhal Sari's native Istanbul, along with a few panini (pesto-turkey, beef-chipotle chile). Organic, fair-trade coffee, too. The cheery shop is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Signs of spring

Warm weather can't be far away, because dining destinations in Minneapolis parks are opening for the season.

Sea Salt Eatery (4801 Minnehaha Av. S., is already up and running and Tin Fish (3000 E. Lake Calhoun Pkwy., is scheduled to open April 26.

Bread & Pickle (4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., hasn't set a specific opening date yet. "The soonest is probably April 20," said owner Kim Bartmann. "If you could ask the Lord to quit making snow, then we might be able to open by then."

Other Bread & Pickle news: "I'm fairly confident that we'll be serving beer and wine this spring," said Bartmann.

Hey, big spenders

Manny's Steakhouse (825 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., has a newbie on its menu, and it's a doozy: a 20-ounce bone-in New York strip, dry-aged for an impressive 65 days.

It is a connoisseur's cut of beef, the flavor intense and rich, the texture sublimely dense yet tender. Seriously, wow.

Its $65 price tag comes with a Manny's-sized portion of sticker shock, but as stratospheric expenditures go, this one is worth it. I'll also note that my dining partner and I split one, and still managed to take a third of it with us in a doggie bag. The leftovers? Magnificent.