Rick Nelson is here to answer any and all dining-related questions. Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: We have a significant anniversary coming up. Where should we celebrate?
A: My immediate reaction is to recommend Piccolo (4300 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-8111, piccolompls.com), in part because it’s an extraordinary experience, one that will feel entirely suitable to your occasion. Another reason is that this four-star gem is not going to be around forever. Chef Doug Flicker and his business partner and spouse, Amy Greeley, are closing up shop March 11. Actually, don’t wait for a special occasion to book a table.
Q: Thursday is our date night. Any suggestions for helping us out of our rut?
A: How about pizza? Every Thursday evening, baker Solveig Tofte pulls pizzas from her ovens at Sun Street Breads (4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3414, sunstreetbreads.com) in the $7.50 to $11 range, and they’re delicious. Choose from basics (tomato sauce with mozzarella, or pepperoni with roasted garlic) all the way up to a blend of crème fraîche, bacon, goat cheese, red onions, serrano peppers and arugula. There are salads, too, and a pair of grinders (one filled with Italian-style meatballs, the other a mix of lentils, ricotta and almonds), plus beer and wine. Hours are 5 to 8 p.m.
Stylish Gyst Fermentation Bar (25 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-758-0113, gystmpls.com) also does the Thursday night pizza night thing, but it’s held just once a month, on the third Thursday, so plan accordingly. Along with featuring its own house-pickled vegetables, the kitchen taps ingredients from three Minneapolis purveyors: Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, Red Table Meat Co. and the Lone Grazer Creamery. Expect to pay $12 to $15 (gratuity inclusive) per pizza. The next one is scheduled for Feb. 16, from 5 to 10 p.m.
On the upper end of the spectrum, Spoon and Stable (211 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-224-9850, spoonandstable.com) chef/owner Gavin Kaysen goes into tasting menu mode on Thursday evenings, reserving the seats at the restaurant’s chef’s counter. Cost is $125 per person (tax and gratuity inclusive), with a $60 beverage pairing option. Reserve at spoonandstable.tocktix.com.
Or there’s always the blue plate special at the modern-day diner that is Nighthawks (3753 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-248-8111, nighthawksmpls.com). On Thursday, the specialty du jour is meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans ($18), and it’s terrific.
Any chance you could get a sitter for Wednesday? That’s the one day that Fika (2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-4907, fikacafe.net) serves dinner. It’s early — 3 to 8 p.m. — but that’s OK. It’s a school night, right? Reasons to visit? The Nordic menu’s top price is $15. And, meatballs.
Q: We can’t get into our favorite restaurant for Valentine’s Day. Any suggestions?
A: How about cooking at home on the 14th, and treating yourself — and the family — to brunch on the 12th? The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska) is serving a brunch from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., featuring omelets, roasted pork loin, lemon-rosemary chicken, mascarpone-stuffed French toast, yogurt with granola and fruit, au gratin potatoes, desserts and more. Cost is $19.99 for ages 16 and older, $10.99 for ages 6 to 15 and free for ages 5 and under. Even better: There’s no gate admission for brunch service. Reservations at 612-301-7602.
Q: We’re always on the lookout for a good wine bar. Do you have any suggestions?
A: You should start with Terzo (2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-0330, terzompls.com), which the Broder family bills as its “modern Italian restaurant and wine bar.” There’s so much going for it, including an appealing environment, a convenient we-accept-reservations policy, terrific fare (don’t miss the broiled whole branzino), a well-informed staff and an all-Italian wine list that is (or at least should be) one of the prides of the city. Thirty-six selections are available by the half-glass, glass and half-bottle, and the cellar’s impressive, deeply researched inventory is anchored by 125-plus exports from the Piedmont region.
Q: How about a new brunch idea?
A: The news of the moment is that Surly Brewing Co. (520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com) is now serving brunch. “Omar [Ansari, the brewery’s founder] has wanted it for forever,” said chef Jorge Guzman. “I sat down with the team and asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ ” Not an easy answer, because brunch service can’t add a lot of complications to the already booked-to-the-limit kitchen. (For those who haven’t been to Surly, know this: The gigantic beer hall is seemingly packed into perpetuity.) The solution: A basics-filled menu underscored by a strict no-substitutions rule, one that can fit into the kitchen’s framework. Selections ($8 to $16) include fried chicken with country gravy over biscuits, Toad in the Hollow with shaved bologna, cinnamon rolls (“They’re huge,” said Guzman), chilaquiles and a breakfast platter heaped with scrambled eggs and toast with pepper jelly, sausage links from Lowry Hill Meats and the kitchen’s own thick-cut and grilled bacon. Brunch is served 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. There’s beer, too.
Q: Encountered any disappointments lately?
A: I recently took a tour of the newly restored State Capitol. That’s not the disappointment. The opposite, actually. It’s a fascinating way to spend 45 minutes and check in on how $310 million in taxpayer dollars were spent (quite beautifully, as it happens), and it’s free. The only downer? Thinking that I would enjoy lunch in the basement’s Rathskeller Cafe (75 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, mnhs.org/capitol). Wrong.
The German beer hall-like dining room is a charming and unexpected setting, and the staff was friendly and helpful. But the stunning House of Cass Gilbert deserves way better than this indifferent operation, its dreary menu managed by food service giant Taher, Inc. Given the jaw-dropping surroundings, you’d think the company would enthusiastically showcase a few iconic state foods. Nope.
Would it kill Taher to serve, say, a wild rice soup, since every Minnesota sixth-grader knows that wild rice is the state’s official grain? (Here’s the irony: The restaurant proudly features a fantastic image of Ojibwe tribe members gathering wild rice, circa 1920s.) Or bake up a special blueberry muffin, since the pastry is, yes, the state’s official muffin? Or offer walleye, since — you got it — it’s the state’s official fish. What a missed opportunity.
Should you go, it’s open for breakfast and lunch only during the legislative session. But I strongly encourage you dine elsewhere. Try Market House by D’Amico at the nearby Minnesota History Center (345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, 651-259-3036, damicomarkethouse.com), for starters.