Once again, a stellar food-and-drink destination has sprouted from farmers market roots.
Dumpling co-owners Bunbob Chhun and James Munson got their start selling bánh mì sandwiches to coffee shops, then matriculated to a stand at a few farmers markets. “It was a great opportunity to test recipes, and have face-to-face interactions with customers,” Chhun said.
A series of pop-ups in restaurants followed. After searching for a year, Chhun and Munson landed their own brick-and-mortar spot, a modest storefront that had been occupied by Ming’s Palace for 21 years.
“They were ready to retire, and we were ready to open,” Chhun said.
A win-win all around, especially for fans of eclectic Asian comfort food.
The signature dish was served two ways, both excellent. One variety, plump and delicate, was crisped on the stove and filled with well-seasoned pork; the other combined the winter larder flavors of squash, spinach and sage inside an empanada-like fried snack and paired with a lively coconut-turmeric dipping sauce.
Other small plates include chicken wings, smartly rendered skewers of chicken and shrimp, and cream cheese wontons, usually so dreary but here a study in contrasts between delicate, flaky dough and rich filling.
For larger appetites, the ramen, redolent of much-nurtured pork and mushrooms, is a must. Ditto the lo mein. By all appearances, all that previous bánh mì experience did not go to waste.
The kitchen is turning out what’s probably my favorite new fried chicken sandwich. The chasm between the extra-crispy skin and the ultra-juicy meat (the flavorful thigh to the rescue) was tantalizingly pronounced. The bun is a spongy bao, and garnishes include crunchy, vinegary pickles and spiced-up aioli. It’s ridiculously good.
As for the stroganoff (!), “it’s a great illustration of where we like to take our food,” Chhun said. Consider this: Chinese egg noodles topped with sauteed mushrooms and onions. “But rather than deglazing the pan with brandy or wine, we use fish sauce, for an extra level of umami,” he said.
The beef is brisket, slow-roasted for five hours, pulled and then crisped on the grill. Finishing touches include a runny poached egg, and bonito flakes. “It’s classic and comforting, but also funky and interesting,” he said. Agreed. At $16 — the menu’s top price — it’s also a fairly decent value.
Dessert was a peculiar yet oddly appealing pairing of (so-so) chocolate ice cream and (excellent) French fries, a fast-food junkie’s dream. Service was attentive and well-informed, and the decor playfully evokes a 1980s strip mall, in a good way.
The one bummer? No reservations. However, the bar pours a handful of colorful sake cocktails, seven inexpensive and well-chosen wines by the glass and a few craft beers, all lessening the waiting pain. Oh, and takeout is available Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
4004 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., 612-724-8795, dumplingmpls.com. Open 4 to 10 p.m. Sun.-Mon. and Wed.-Thu., 4 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.