Q: Anything new out there?

A: Always. Sweet Chow (115 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-767-4605, chowtakeaway.com) just opened in — where else? — Minneapolis’ restaurant-packed North Loop neighborhood. First-time restaurateurs Julie Hartley, Greg Cummins and Ami Francis — along with chef John Krattenmaker, a name and a face familiar to fans of Fika and Cafe Alma — are channeling their love of travel into this Asian counter-service spot.

“We don’t like saying ‘quick- service,’ ” said Hartley with a laugh. “We like ‘casual.’ ”

The team went through three locations before they landed the ground floor of an 1884 brick beauty (most recently home to Hennepin Steam Room and, before that, the Tangiers). Minneapolis architectural firm ESG has made the most of the brick-and-beam interior, scattering nearly 80 seats at counters (one fronts the open kitchen, others are at the big sidewalk windows), communal tables and a long bar.

Krattenmaker’s menu zeros in on flavors and traditions that the group encountered on their journeys through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea.

“None of us are Asian,” said Hartley. “But we’ve all spent a lot of time there, and love it.”

Most items are priced in the midteens and are designed for speed and portability. Dishes include a double-fried Korean-style chicken sandwich, a bánh mì-inspired sandwich using a cauliflower purée instead of pork, a shrimp-green papaya salad, a baguette stuffed with crisped-up pork belly and chicken liver pâté, vermicelli noodles and duck confit in a poultry bone broth and a jasmine rice bowl with smoked brisket, pickles and a soft-cooked egg.

All 10 wine options are sold by the glass ($9), carafe ($23) and bottle ($36), supplemented by a half-dozen locally brewed beers and a full bar.

The goal is to add bicycle delivery service to the neighborhood. Oh, and in the spring, look for the debut of an ice cream scoop counter. “Maybe six to eight flavors,” said Krattenmaker. “A few classics — because there’s nothing better than cookie dough — and a few interesting choices, maybe Vietnamese coffee.”

On the 651 side of town, be on the lookout for the opening of the St. Paul version of Parlour (267 W. 7th St., St. Paul, parlourbar.com). Fans of the Minneapolis cocktail haunt will find a lot of similarities on the libations side of the equation, with a bar and an adjacent lounge that bartender Jesse Held will open at 4 p.m. daily. Chef Mike DeCamp is overseeing the food program. “I don’t want to call it a diner, but that’s what it is,” he said.

“We really like Au Cheval [the influential Chicago restaurant], and it’s going to be our homage to that.”

The restaurant will open at 10 a.m. daily, serving egg-centric dishes, plus chicken and dumplings, a brisket sandwich, a chili dog and Parlour’s standard-setting burger. Dessert? “Pies and sundaes,” said DeCamp. Look for the doors to open sometime around St. Patrick’s Day.

Finally, here’s happy news for north Minneapolis: custom cake maker Thirsty Whale Bakery (4149 Fremont Av. N., Mpls., thirstywhalebakery.com) is opening the first phase of its retail shop March 6, serving doughnuts, cookies, cupcakes and other sweets. Bakers Megan Bignell and Kyle Baker plan to expand into an adjacent storefront, which will mean seating, java from St. Paul’s Bootstrap Coffee Roasters and an expanded baked goods selection.


Q: Not that it can ever be replaced, but I need a new hangout in this post-Lucia’s Wine Bar era. Any suggestions?

A: I’ll stick with south Minneapolis and start with Gyst Fermentation Bar (25 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-758-0113, gystmpls.com), where, as the name suggests, sisters Ky Guse and Mel Guse focus on all things fermented, whether it’s beautifully composed boards (cheese, cured meats, chocolates), well composed sandwiches (the kimchi-peanut butter combo is a total winner) and other uncomplicated, scrupulously prepared fare. The discerning wine list includes three sparkling options and an ever-changing rosé, at reasonable prices, plus three ciders, two kombuchas on tap, house-made kvass and sodas and a mostly local beer selection from sources that don’t get a lot of attention, but certainly merit it. Service is first-rate, and the small-scale space has style.

Here’s a great reason to visit: On Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m., Ari Weinzweig — co-founder of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., and author of “The Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading” series — is the Guses’ guest. Tickets $40 to $55, register at eventbrite.com.

Here’s another suggestion: while the Broder family doesn’t bill their excellent Terzo (2221 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-925-0330, terzompls.com) as a wine bar, the exceptional all-Italian wine list — with several dozen by-the-glass choices — might suggest otherwise.


Q: I’m in desperate need of chicken soup. Where should I go?

A: Count me a fan of “Scott’s Famous Matzo Ball Soup” at Crossroads Delicatessen (2795 Hedberg Dr., Minnetonka, 952-546-6595, crossroadsdelicatessen.com) and the hearty chicken noodle soup — with optional matzo balls — at Yum! Kitchen and Bakery (4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-922-4000 and 6001 Shady Oak Road, Minnetonka, 952-933-6001, yumkitchen.com).

But my favorite? The golden elixir at Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stp.com), where chef Russell Klein makes chicken soup an event. A bowl — with snips of dill, tiny carrot dices and two perfect matzo balls — is placed on the table. Then a pitcher, filled with an intensely flavorful chicken broth, is emptied into the bowl, its steam perfuming the air, and soothing your sinuses. And your psyche. It’s $9.50, and worth every penny.


Q: Can you recommend a couple of restaurants in the Mall of America/airport area? We’re hosting a guest for dinner and we don’t have much experience with restaurants in that area.

A: If your goal is to stay outside the megamall, you might want to consider Hazelwood Food & Drink (8150 26th Av. S., Bloomington, 952-222-4000, hazelwoodfoodanddrink.com), which is located across 24th Avenue S. from the Mall of America. It’s relatively new, and has a lot going for it: a great-looking space, a something-for-everyone menu that’s executed with skill (and doesn’t break the bank), and warm, engaging service.

A reason why it’s easy to like the likable Cedar + Stone, Urban Table (2141 Lindau Lane, Bloomington, 612-615-0124, marriott.com) is that this well managed restaurant, on the first floor of the J.W. Marriott Hotel, has easy-to-access parking, in a ramp below the hotel. There’s a business-dinner-friendly restaurant at the mall’s other hotel: It’s FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar (2100 Killebrew Dr., Bloomington, 952-851-4040, firelake­restaurant.com).


Q: What happened to the Signature Cafe?

A: In most cases, a food truck morphs into a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but not here. After five years, owners Derek and Joy Grams decided to close their cozy Prospect Park restaurant — it was located in the middle of a sleepy residential block — to concentrate on their Signature on Wheels (signatureonwheels.com). The transition has worked out well, with the truck doing a brisk business at a half-dozen breweries, including Burning Brothers Brewing and Flat Earth Brewing Co. in St. Paul, Bald Man Brewing in Eagan and Lupine Brewing Co. in Delano. “The restaurant’s biggest draw and biggest drawback was the location,” said Derek Grams.

“The people that knew about it, they loved it, and when the restaurant was full, it was great. But there was no drive-by traffic at all, so when people wouldn’t see us on a regular basis, they would forget about us.”


Q: Has anything impressed you lately?

A: Plenty. But I’ll take an uncharacteristic-for-me approach and keep it brief. If you don’t know about Fat Chance Sandwich Shop (8419 W. Broadway, Brooklyn Park, 763-283-5100, fatchancefood.com), you should. Owners and spouses Renay and Ben Dossman go the extra mile — and then some — crafting a dozen enormous, value-laden sandwiches, often composed with expertly house-smoked meats and chicken. The top seller is the “Tractor,” an $8.50 (!) monster that piles on the pulled pork, andouille sausage, pickles and coleslaw. Yes, there are ribs (and rib tips), and, yes, there’s a catfish sandwich. The nicest people, too. “We live in Brooklyn Park, and we always wanted to open a place in Brooklyn Park,” said Renay Dossman. “We wanted to create a place where we would go to eat.”


Rick Nelson is here to answer any and all dining-related questions. Send your queries to rick.nelson@startribune.com.