The burgeoning North Loop in Minneapolis is filled with eateries near and dear to me. Whenever possible and budget permits, you'll find me at Spoon and Stable or, for special occasions, Demi and Kado No Mise, where the tasting menu and sushi, respectively, only get better with time. Yes, there's Bar La Grassa and other popular haunts, too, but in the spirit of giving, here are other places I frequent, and what constitutes a wholesome day of eating in the neighborhood.
On mornings when I feel compelled to start with something other than full-fat skyr, granola and blueberries, I head to Bellecour Bakery, where Diane Moua's viennoiseries compel me to renege on my daily sugar quota. The almond croissants and their more indulgent brethren, the chocolate almond, remain enticing, but I skirt temptation and order the savory ham-and-cheese croissant. Really, it's the best of its kind: flaky, buttery with a béchamel-like creaminess that pads each bite with eye-drooping pleasure. I also opt for a smoked salmon toast, which is deceptively filling because it's heaped with smoked salmon, dill and mustard. The rye bread is thick and toothsome. I bid farewell to Martha, queen of Bellecour's counter.
After what constitutes exercise — a morning walk where I hoist my arms a little higher so it feels like I'm jogging — I work up enough of an appetite for lunch. While not strictly in the North Loop, Spice and Tonic, a relative newcomer, is close enough, and good Indian food is a rarity in these cities. Don't be fooled by their website, which looks like it's trying to peddle to Harley-Davidson acolytes. The restaurant, in fact, looks innocent: soft lighting, floral wall-to-wall carpeting, the kind of guest-appropriate chairs that my family friends from India would use to entertain.
Today the Lamb Rogan Josh is particularly tender despite the lean cut; the heady combination of spices in a tomato curry is as life-affirming as any other. Equally aromatic is the chicken makhani. The daal, or lentil stew, is textbook, as are the naans. Garlic is normally my go-to, but the Peshwari naan offers something different: little pops of raisins and cardamom that gently sweeten and counter the heavier curries. A hearty, memorable lunch all around — no less is expected from Joginder Cheema, the longtime chef/owner of Taste of India.
It's cold outside, so I spend the afternoon in a stupor. Dinner is later than usual, at Snack Bar, where the night is young and filled with the type of diners who like to have fun but still know how to behave. As Bar La Grassa's less-doted sibling, there's understandably less attention, which means it's easier to get into. No matter, really: The environs are just as dressy, maybe even more date-worthy if not for the acoustics. I sit at a booth, which is covered in gratuitous amounts of leather, and stare out at the long bar, where a bartender who looks like Jon Favreau holds court.
Chef/owner Isaac Becker loves acidity, and sometimes goes so overboard that you feel the hiss down your throat. You'll find enough of it in the salsa verde that brightens the game hen, one of my favorite dishes here. It's cooked only until a trace of pink still remains near the bone (brave), so it's juicy throughout, with crisp, justly seasoned skin. I order a slice of pizza, too, the chef's special. Today's is made with chanterelles and Minnesota sweet corn, with béchamel. The corn is sweet and glorious, the mushrooms woody, and the crust gives you the best of both worlds: a thin body, so it sates New Yorker purists, and a chewy cornicione, as appealingly thick as an Olive Garden breadstick. A slice is pliant enough to fold — which you should.
I didn't forget my greens, knowing my editor would (endearingly) police me if I did. After scarfing a few bites of spicy Chinese broccoli, I work up the desire to order another slice of pizza. But in the spirit of spontaneity, why not go elsewhere? Since Snack Bar ruined my ideal of corn pizza, nearby Wrecktangle, where I'd otherwise order the elote pie, is no longer an option. So I head to Boludo, founder Facundo Defraia's two-outlet chain built on empanadas. His empanadas are as good as they were at Martina, and the pizzas should share the limelight. My favorite is the pepperoni; in addition to those sweet San Marzano tomatoes, the pepperoni doesn't taste like a salt-lick, and the crust somehow is dense and airy.
For a nightcap, I head to Gori Gori Peku, the "hidden" bar above Sanjusan, next door to Kado No Mise. Much of its environs evoke the low-key, dressy Japanese cocktail bar — so dark that the bartenders have a reading light to ensure that they mix drinks correctly. The Old Fashioned I order certainly is stiff — just one sends me into my second stupor. But I'm alert enough to continually marvel at the drink's nuances: a blend of Suntory Toki, Yamazaki and Akashi whiskeys creates a fine balance. In lieu of sugar and bitters, there is fig syrup and koji kokuto, blending the taste of molasses and brown sugar, making it sweeter than the more saline-forward Old Fashioned served downstairs. Before that large cube of crystal-clear ice sweats even a little, I finish my drink and depart. No rest for the wicked.
If you go
Bellecour Bakery: 201 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-223-8167, bellecourbakery.com.
Spice and Tonic: 903 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-333-9020, spiceandtonic.net
Snack Bar: 800 Washington Av. N., Mpls, 612-383-2848, snackbarmpls.com
Boludo: 530 S. 4th St., Mpls., 612-446-3833, boludo.com
Gori Gori Peku: 33 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-338-1515, kadonomise.com
Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune's restaurant critic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @intrepid_glutton.