The Twin Cities restaurant industry was in the spotlight Sunday when the Charlie Awards were handed out at the Pantages Theatre.
The award for Outstanding Restaurant went to northeast Minneapolis southeast Asian restaurant Hai Hai. Chef/co-owner Christina Nguyen and her husband, co-owner Birk Grudem, were not present to accept the award; they were traveling in Vietnam. Hai Hai was recently named one of the best new restaurants in America by Esquire magazine.
The other finalists in that category were Martina and Grand Café.
Handsome Hog chef Justin Sutherland, who is currently competing on “Top Chef,” won the award for Outstanding Chef. The Lowertown St. Paul chef was up against Karyn Tomlinson of Corner Table in Minneapolis and Ann Ahmed of Lat14 in Golden Valley.
“I’ve always lived by surrounding yourself with people better than you,” Sutherland said as he accepted his award — a white plate — and named several chefs he looked up to throughout his career.
Later, at the after-party at Seven Steakhouse, he said the win caps an eventful year: the opening of a second restaurant, being named managing partner of his restaurant group, and his newfound television fame. “Everybody thinks I’m crazy for doing so much and how busy I am, so this is 100 percent dedicated to the strong team I have around me that allows me to do these things,” he said. “There’s a lot more to come, but I just feel very blessed.”
Luke Shimp won Outstanding Restaurateur for his kindRED Hospitality, which owns the Red Cow and Red Rabbit restaurants.
On the beverage side, awards went to Lift Bridge Brewing Co. for Best Brewery, up against Indeed Brewing Co. and Summit Brewing Co.
Marco Zappia of Martina and Colita, who was last year named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” won for Beverage Innovator. Sean Jones, who is behind the bar at Fhima’s, was named Outstanding Bartender.
“I really want to thank the guy who didn’t show up for his shift, so I got to be a bartender,” Jones said in his acceptance speech.
Other awards went to Christina Kaelberer of Edwards Dessert Kitchen for Outstanding Pastry Chef; Meritage for Outstanding Service; Joshua Walbolt of Lat 14 for Rising Star; Can Can Wonderland for Entertainment Restaurant Venue; Chowgirls Killer Catering for Outstanding Caterer; and Birch’s on the Lake for Hidden Gem.
Saint Paul College educator Nathan Sartain was named Community Hero. Students from Saint Paul College and ProStart prepared the food served at the after-party.
The eighth-annual Charlie Awards were founded by James Beard Award-winning journalist Sue Zelickson, and are named after the storied former Minneapolis restaurant Charlie’s Café Exceptionale. Zelickson, columnist for Minnesota Monthly, was honored Sunday with a Lifetime Achievement Award.