Spoon and Stable is the rare restaurant that not only covers all the dining-out bases, but nails them. Starting at the beginning, when each table is welcomed with a wildly memorable salutation from the kitchen, one that symbolizes the rustic/refined cooking to follow. It’s an epi baguette, cut to resemble a wheat stalk, built with a slightly tangy five-year-old sourdough starter and browned with whole-grain rye flour. Pull it apart, and the exterior crackles, giving way to a chewy interior that begs to be slathered with a schmear of sweet whipped butter (from Hope Creamery in Hope, Minn.) that’s twinkling with fleur de sel.
211 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-224-9850, spoonandstable.com
The 1 percent
Props to chef Todd Macdonald for ignoring the habits of 99 percent of his peers and actually lavishing attention on a menu throwaway, the lowly dinner salad. After cooking in top-rated kitchens in Boston and New York City, the Minneapolis native returned to his hometown and launched Parella. On the menu, his misticanza ($8) barely registers notice, but when it arrives at the table it’s as attention-getting as a peak-career Sophia Loren, a veritable high-summer tour through a Tuscan kitchen garden (yes, those are 20, count them, twenty herbs), a feat that’s all the more remarkable during Minnesota’s seemingly endless winter.
3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-353-5444, parellampls.com
Thank you, Landon Schoenefeld, for making pancakes a respectable — OK, necessary — dinner option. Take a kitchen counter seat at the neo-diner he has christened Nighthawks, and watch Schoenefeld and his engaging crew as they flip tangy buttermilks with a finesse usually reserved for foie gras. Tender and golden, I love them straight-up with top-quality butter and maple syrup, but Schoenefeld’s active imagination (orange-cranberry, lime-pineapple-coconut, bacon-kimchi-green onion) never disappoints. A short stack ($6) can feed two, and the tall stack ($12) falls in family-of-four territory.
3753 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-248-8111, nighthawksmpls.com
What Surly Brewing Co. chef Jorge Guzman accomplishes so brilliantly is to create fare that pairs so effortlessly across the wide spectrum of brewmaster Todd Haug’s beers. My favorite? Toasted farro — nutty and toothy and humming with vibrant citrus accents — as the foundation for velvety cold-smoked salmon and a colorfully runny five-minute egg ($13). It somehow manages to walk the tightrope between light and substantial, and it’s hard to imagine landing a coveted seat inside Surly’s people magnet of a Beer Hall and not ordering it. Pair it with Overrated, the brewery’s hoppy West Coast-style IPA.
520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., surlybrewing.com
There’s an argument to be made that 2015 will go down in history as the Year of the Double Cheeseburger, with at least a half-dozen highly memorable iterations popping up around town. While Il Foro chef Joe Rolle is stretching credulity by featuring a cheeseburger ($15) on his all-Italian menu, I’m grateful that he does, because it’s the one to beat. The over-the-top patties are a butter-infused blend of brisket, chuck and short ribs, and they’re liberally slathered in prodigious quantities of an American cheese with remarkable melting abilities. The buns — soft, lavishly buttered and toasted — are the final touch. That’s it, except for a few pickles — and their much-needed vinegary bite — and could there be a more delicious argument for simplicity? Too bad it’s available only at lunch.
36 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-238-2300, il-foro.com
Revival chef Thomas Boemer wickedly presents his guests with that happiest of conundrums. You know: What to order? Fried chicken, of course. Hush puppies, absolutely. Collard greens, without question. Mac and cheese, duh. This pantheon of must-haves also includes a spectacular banana cream pie. It’s a supreme indulgence that isn’t priced like one (a shockingly affordable $4.50), and proof positive that Boemer and pastry chef Tess Bouska have earned their stripes as ambassadors in the Southern hospitality arts. Don’t miss it.
4257 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-345-4516, revivalmpls.com
There’s so much to adore at Monello, starting with chef Mike DeCamp’s artful way with crudo. But the dish that’s permanently embedded in my brain is DeCamp’s standard-setting bucatini all’Amatriciana. It’s a beautifully arranged bowl of thick, deeply fluted pasta ropes, each one coated with a lively, nose-tickling (and appetite-taunting) tomato sauce that’s packed with onions and chiles, with cured pork cheek adding much-needed heft. Toppers are wispy tendrils of fried parsley and wide slivers of firm, salty pecorino Romano. Google “comfort food” and this is what pops up. And while Monello doesn’t shy away from the expense-account set, get this: The smaller of the two portions is just $9, a huge bargain.
1115 2nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-353-6207, monellompls.com
Eastside isn’t a steakhouse, but a star attraction is one of the city’s great steak experiences, a flatiron ($34) from an Idaho ranch that treats its cattle like cosseted guests at an exclusive spa, a strategy that yields spectacularly flavorful, beautifully marbled, cuts-like-butter beef. Chef Remy Pettus and his crew skillfully handle it with all the respect it deserves (the black grape garnish is a brilliant touch), then toss in the bonus-to-end-all-bonuses, a slab of gussied-up scalloped potatoes, thinly sliced Yukon Golds surrounded by a trio of cheeses and plenty of garlicky butter. Truly, meat and potatoes don’t get much better than this.
305 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-208-1638, eastsidempls.com
Similarly, Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar isn’t a pizzeria. But that doesn’t prevent chef/owner Ben Rients from delivering pizza crusts of uncommon quality (a style he fell for while on his honeymoon in Rome) and then topping them with a culinary prowess that he surely absorbed during his long tenure in the kitchen at Restaurant Alma. The combinations ($13 and $14) change frequently, but consider it your lucky day if Rients is in his kale pesto/butternut squash/red pepper coulis mood.
6439 Lyndale Av. S., Richfield, 612-353-5501, lyn65.com
Saint Dinette chef Adam Eaton immerses his bologna sandwich ($11) in more nostalgia than your average high school reunion, although Oscar Mayer never tasted this good, not by a long shot. Eaton, a rising star if there ever was one, starts with first-rate pork shoulder, warming it with ginger, allspice and cinnamon, slicing it thick, frying it to a mouthwatering sizzle, stacking it high on toasted, lavishly buttered buns and blanketing it with a harmonious Gruyère/sharp Cheddar combo. It’s the sandwich that’s surely torpedoed a thousand diets, including mine.
261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-800-1415, saintdinette.com
Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib