At breakfast, lunch and dinner, in restaurants across the Twin Cities area, chefs have taken their focus off the plate and are concentrating on what's in the bowl.
Agra Culture Kitchen & Press
Every morning at 7, the southwest Minneapolis branch of this healthy-fare chain fires up a half-dozen breakfast bowls, creatively combining eggs with tasty goodies from the kitchen’s nutrition-minded pantry. My favorite? The virtuous blend of chewy kale and tender spinach (wilted on the stove and made lively by a generous shake of red pepper flakes and a squeeze of lemon), plus warm, nutty quinoa and a fried egg ($8.50). What a fortifying and delicious way to jump-start the day. The fresh juices — including a zesty carrot-ginger blend — are another draw.
3717 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-345-5442, agra-culture.com
This tiny, sunny skyway spot could have evolved from a food truck, such is the pointed focus of owners Mark and Thanh Myhre. They skillfully channel a discerning range of ingredients into a handful of quick-service vehicles: spring rolls, soup or sandwiches. The best is, naturally, a bowl. It begins with a tangle of cold, slurpy rice noodles ($7.95) before moving on to all manner of colorful add-ons: garden-fresh basil and cilantro, pert bean sprouts, frisky jalapeños, tangy pineapple, grilled meats or tofu and a handful of lively sauces. Bep (Vietnamese for “kitchen”) is the couple’s first restaurant; here’s hoping it’s not their last.
100 S. 5th St., Mpls., 612-338-5189, bepeatery.com
Co-op Creamery Cafe
Chef Lucas Almendinger takes an outside-the-box approach to breakfast. For starters, there’s a bowl ($14) filled with crispy-skinned fried chicken, pungent fermented cabbage, toothy brown rice and a pair of picture-perfect poached eggs. Even more impressive? A creamy risotto of Arborio rice ($13) that’s quietly perfumed with onion and garlic, gently sweetened with a smoky bacon jam, sprinkled with a flurry of wispy, lightly crispy fried leeks and anchored by one of those sublime poached eggs, sourced from Dancing Hen Farm in Weyerhaeuser, Wis. Talk about putting the good in “good morning.”
2601 E. Franklin Av., Mpls., 612-230-5575, coopcreamery.coop
Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
When bitten by the I-don’t-feel-like-cooking bug, my appetite frequently turns to com tam (“broken rice”), a dish named for its featured ingredient, a steaming rice made from grains fractured during the milling process that’s favored by budget-minded cooks. Chef Hai Truong serves it with traditional pork, or tofu, but my go-to version is with grilled chicken, the edges of the juicy meat glazed to tantalizing crispiness. Punchy pickled carrots and cucumbers — and a slice of cool, ruby-red tomato — complete the dish, a combination that’s disarmingly simple and wholly satisfying. “That’s the way I grew up eating,” said Truong. “A protein, rice and something vinegary and crunchy.” Perfect, right?
799 W. University Av., St. Paul, 651-222-3301, ngonbistro.com
One Two Three Sushi
With the advent of this growing chain, owner Sushi Avenue – the region’s largest supermarket supplier — has also become skilled at quick-service rice bowls ($7.99), lavishing ginger-scented white rice (or brown rice) with a laundry list of tasty, mix-and-match toppings, including edamame, pickled daikon radish, earthy shiitake mushrooms, soft poached eggs, a few sauces and a handful of proteins, from fried pork cutlet to tempura shrimp. It’s the Japanese version of the Chipotle burrito bowl; just add chopsticks.
220 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-259-7832; 80 S. 8th St., Mpls., 612-354-3040; 50 S. 10th St., Mpls., 612-236-4757; 318 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-208-1341; 101 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-340-5012, onetwothreesushi.com
This 50th-and-France sushi newcomer (the “Sota” is a nod to Minnesota) is no stranger to rice bowls, turning out familiar lemon grass chicken, eggplant-bok choy and shrimp tempura renditions. But this proto-chain tiptoes into meat-and-potatoes territory by replacing rice with Tater Tots ($9.25). There’s a pile-on of the kitchen’s fragrant five-spice pork, and the bacon chutney’s subtle sweetness is counterbalanced by a Sriracha-fueled mayonnaise. What an inspired, stick-to-your-ribs idea.
5005 Ewing Av. S., Mpls., 612-315-3659, sotarol.com
World Street Kitchen
Culinary historians will one day look back at WSK’s Yum Yum Rice Bowl — and yes, that enthusiastic name is no exaggeration — as the origin of the local rice bowl phenomenon. Yes, the lamb belly variation is phenomenal, and, yes, chef Sameh Wadi underscores his considerable vegetarian chops with a tofu version. But the one that places Korean-style short ribs ($12.75) in the starring role, then adds pungent kimchi, is clearly the umami-laden bowl to beat.
2743 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-434-8855, eatwsk.com