Ribs from Heavenly Feast Bar-B-Que
I'm sure Santa could smell the sauce on our cheeks. My family hadn't come to Holidazzle for the barbecue, but we'd certainly make a return trip just for the true-to-name Heavenly Feast Bar-B-Que.
Owner Chris Rudd told us he wasn't certain how Holidazzle organizers first found his business, which he has operated at county fairs in the past, but the city is undoubtedly better for it.
Three tender spareribs ($10) are expertly seasoned and dressed in a hot or not sauce. We went zesty and it absolutely warmed us from the inside out. Plan a Sunday trip and also treat yourself to the Frankensteinian glory that is his breakfast sandwich ($12). Seasoned pork, wrapped in bacon, cuddling a soft interior of eggs and hash browns, all served on a butter croissant with just a whisper of sweetness. Holidazzle! It's where to go for great barbecue. Who knew? (Joy Summers)
Held in Minneapolis' Loring Park, Holidazzle runs 5-9 p.m. Fri., noon-9 p.m. Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun. through Dec. 18; holidazzle.com
Pork bành mí from Lotus Restaurant
During the hustle and bustle of the season, many of us tend to gravitate toward whatever brings us comfort and joy: family, friends, music, peppermint lattes, favorite foods. And while there certainly are holiday-specific foods to seek out, the beauty of bành mí is that it brings both comfort and joy year-round.
There's no shortage of places to get the traditional Vietnamese sandwich, but Lotus Restaurant is consistently reliable and always delicious. A Minneapolis fixture since 1983 (there's a Maple Grove location, too), we headed there on a recent chilly day and immediately nabbed a parking spot. Yes, our quest for bành mí was meant to be. We went with traditional barbecue pork, and on the advice of our server tried the grilled pork, too. I couldn't pick a favorite, but both were exactly what we had been craving. A delightfully crusty baguette was stuffed with pork, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapeño, pickled daikon, carrots and mayo — it's a steal at $6. If you're not a pork fan, there's also chicken, beef, tofu and mock duck.
While the bành mí alone is worth a trip, do yourself a favor and tack on an order of the Lotus wings ($8). Crispy fried wings are coated with ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chili flakes for a sweet, spicy and sticky bite that should be part of any "best wings" conversation. (Nicole Hvidsten)
113 W. Grant St., Mpls., 612-870-1218, lotusdtmsp.com
Carrot Soup at Myriel
Somewhere during the hours we spent at the bar at Myriel in Highland Park, St. Paul had been beset by a blizzard. So immersed were we in the warm light, convivial hospitality and course after course of chef/owner Karyn Tomlinson's Midwestern comforts that we hadn't even noticed that a mild December evening had suddenly transported us to the frozen tundras of Hoth. It was a heck of a journey, and one I'd be happy to make it again.
Especially because our first bite tasted like a sip of spring. Vibrant carrot soup ($9) managed to taste like both the bright crispness of the season's first harvest and buttery comfort befitting of the aggressive season raging outside. Tomlinson uses the verdant carrot tops as the garnish on top, which adds a grassy note to every sip. (J.S.)
470 S. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, 651-340-3568, myrielmn.com
The OG pie from OG ZaZa
Bad news first. Grand Ole Creamery quietly closed its counter at Rosedale Center's Potluck food hall.
Now the good news, and it's really, really good: New Haven-style pizza has moved in.
OG ZaZa's shareable pies are thin and crispy (but chewy — this is not a Minnesota cracker crust), with the brightest red sauce and a funky kick from lots of aged Parmesan, fired till a light sprinkling of mozzarella blisters around the edges. Its closest kin in the Twin Cities would be the pizzas from Surly Brewing, and it's only fair we should have another option for this northeast-born and Neapolitan-descended style of pizza — and one that delivers.
OG ZaZa is a newish venture that originally launched last spring in the now-closed Ties Rooftop & Lounge in downtown Minneapolis. It's from Josh Hedquist and Peter Stampone, the co-owners of Joey Meatballs and Salad Slayer. Both of those concepts were already at Potluck (there's also a Joey Meatballs in the Market at Malcolm Yards). So, when Grand Ole Creamery vacated, it made sense for them to take over the spot.
There's not much else on the menu at the moment, just a classic creamy Caesar salad that does the job, a (2-foot-long!) breadstick and spumoni. Wings are coming soon.
The 12-inch, six-slice plain cheese pizza ($15) lets the basics shine. And while the Fredo ($17) was yummy — that one comes with slices of crispy chicken cutlet and a drizzle of Alfredo sauce — I'll be going back again and again for the original. Sorry, the OG. (Sharyn Jackson)
1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, ogzazamn.com
Sushi at Kura Sushi at the Mall of America
"It's just so fun!" I kept exclaiming throughout our lunch at the Mall of America's just-opened Kura Sushi. The interactive experience has already been drawing lines outside its Culinary on North location, and it's easy to understand the appeal. To kick off the meal, drinks are delivered by a music-playing, digital face-winking robot scooting through the dining room. Plate after plate (after plate!) of sushi pours out of the kitchen and makes a little conveyor-belt-pulled twirl around the dining room. Guests can just spot which roll, nigiri or snack they want and pluck it off the belt.
We enjoyed bites of steak with umami sauce, crunchy salmon rolls, popcorn shrimp and more. There's also an expanded menu that is delivered on a separate conveyor belt that offers foods hot from the kitchen like gyoza and little fried bites of chicken ($4.60).
Once the two or three bites disappear, the fun continues. Dropping empty plates into a tableside slot — like coins in a vending machine — keeps track of the bill. After 15 plates (not a difficult feat to accomplish), a little cartoon plays on the monitor and a prize is dropped down onto the table. We got a temporary tattoo.
The joy of dining there was undeniable, even to sushi snobs and mall restaurant skeptics. I can't wait to go back with my kids. (J.S.)
378 North Garden, Mall of America, Bloomington kurasushi.com