Shrimp Nuggets at Saint Dinette

The fun of Saint Dinette is that it's a fine-dining-caliber restaurant that has never taken itself too seriously. That is why on a recent date night, while wearing my fancy shoes, I ordered a basket of nuggets.

Opened in 2015 by local hospitality legend (and now podcaster) Tim Niver, the restaurant has always boasted incredible talent behind the burners, at the bar and around the dining room, while also keeping the short and ever-changing menu appealing to any diner. Picky meat eaters swoon over the iconic bologna sandwich, and veggie fans find plenty to love with seasonally sourced goods.

On our visit, we were tucked into the open dining room next to a giant window affording views of Lowertown. Acoustics were mellow, but I couldn't help but overhear a gentleman at a nearby table stand up and proclaim, "I've never been here before, but that was one of the best meals of my life."

We dug into our menus with giddy anticipation, but I had to start with a six-pack of the shrimp nuggets ($12).

"They've been on since last November-ish," said chef Walker Larson. "One of Kenzie and my favorite foods is shrimp shumai dumplings." Chef Kenzie Edinger is the other half of the power couple running Saint Dinette's kitchen. "We didn't want to just make dumplings — and nuggets are more our style."

Minced shrimp is formed into a nugget, battered in panko and fried crispy. They arrive in a cardboard box with a side of Szechuan dipping sauce that's the right amount of syrupy with just a little bit of spice. The viscous sauce clings to the crisp, craggy edges, and inside that moist, buoyant shrimp delivers a burst of big flavor with every bite. The only downside was that we didn't order more (there's a 10-pack for $19). (Joy Summers)

261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-800-1415,

S'mores Bun from bakehouse

I've been thinking about a Rice Krispies treat since spring. I know it's a silly thing to crave. But Anne Andrus' bakehouse, a more experimental spinoff of her Honey & Rye bakery, plays with the classics by adding just the right amount of whimsy. That Krispies treat was studded with powdered, dehydrated strawberries and Fruity Pebbles, and I loved it.

So, I was only sad for a minute when I realized it's summer, and bakehouse's spring menu will remain a memory. This season, Andrus and her team leaned even harder into crowd-pleasers with an Americana-influenced menu. A chocolate chip cookie with potato chips crumbled into it. A slice of corn cake. A chocolate malt babka. Pickle and ranch focaccia. And stellar S'mores buns.

These small-but-mighty brioche buns ($5) are coated in a crackly graham streusel, and topped with chocolate glaze and smoked salt, plus a few toasty mini marshmallows. But you'll want to tear it open promptly for the "burnt" marshmallow cream within. It tastes like a low-and-slow roasting over a campfire. The flavor combo "is such a fave and screams summer," Andrus said.

Bakehouse is only open Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., so make sure to plan brunch around an assortment of fun pastries. (And note, the original Honey & Rye is just down the street, for the ever-popular morning buns and breakfast sandwiches.) (Sharyn Jackson)

4615 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park, 612-545-5531,

Salmon and artichoke spreads at Half Fancy

How can you not love a restaurant with a name like Half Fancy? Curiosity got the best of us — which part is fancy? — so we made our first (but definitely not last) visit to the small but bustling restaurant formerly known as the Mill Northeast.

The steamy weather made the sprawling cocktail menu, crafted by Ryley Gahagan, a welcome sight. My favorite was the N/A Vanishing Lines, with hibiscus honey syrup, almond orgeat, pineapple and lime ($8). It was a startling, Barbie-esque pink that was just sweet — and fancy — enough.

Chef Andrew McGuire's menu has an array of shareables, mains and sandwiches. We were in heat-beating mode, so went with a plate of cool spreads. The house-smoked salmon spread was flecked with fresh herbs, and the artichoke spread was just as tasty (but more refreshing) than the perennial favorite spinach artichoke dip — it was a creamy, flavorful one-two punch. Served with an array of dippables, from garlic crostini and lahvosh crackers to fruits and vegetables, it was more than half fancy, and could have served as a light meal ($14.50) on this hot day.

But we couldn't resist the flavor that epitomizes summer: caprese. The caprese burger ($16, with fries) is a hearty 6-ounce seasoned patty topped with fresh mozzarella, basil and a stunning housemade tomato jam that should be sold by the jar. Very fancy. (Nicole Hvidsten)

1851 Central Av. NE., Mpls., 612-315-2340,

Dill Pickle Pizza at OG ZaZa

Of the 34 official new State Fair foods for 2023 announced last month, an inordinate amount of them contained pickles in various formats. Mango punch pickles, pickle lemonade, pickle paletas, pickle fudge (?!). The sour cucumber frenzy might be attributed, in some part, to an ooey gooey slice of pizza that debuted last year, topped with ample dill pickle slices. It was a runaway hit — even if the Taste team gave it a thumbs down.

To ready my palate for the onslaught of dill and vinegar coming in three weeks, I stopped into Potluck food hall at Rosedale for the annual Minnesota FARE event, in which the hall's local vendors come up with a State Fair-worthy menu item. There are deep-fried mac and cheese balls, a French toast burger and cheesecake waffle bowls.

But with OG ZaZa's thin, New Haven-style pizzas a personal favorite, I had to try the special of the month. An Alfredo sauce base is topped with mozzarella, dill pickle slices and parsley ($16).

Yes, it's pickle-y. The cream almost tames the tartness, but not quite. Could I eat a whole pie of it? I stopped after one slice. But it's good, greasy fun, and a worthy precursor to the great Minnesota eat-together. (S.J.)

Rosedale Center, 1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, 651-330-3064,

Ropa Vieja breakfast special at Victor's 1959 Cafe

Like catching the familiar curve of a face you've missed for too long, reacquainting with a favorite dish from a different life chapter hits all the joy receptors at once.

Mention Victor's 1959 Cafe to any longtime or onetime Minneapolis resident and you're bound to get a tapestry of memories. Some claim initials graffitied on the booths, others reminisce about the vibrant Fiestaware plates on the oilcloth-decorated tabletops. And everyone mentions what their No. 1 order would be.

On a sun-soaked morning, I grabbed the last seat on the street side patio and didn't even bother cracking a menu. After running too many errands and kid dropoffs, my stomach demanded sustenance and I needed to revisit this old friend.

"Ropa vieja breakfast special with rice instead of toast, please." It's a dish I feasted on through bleary eyes from late nights in my 20s, and bleary eyes of zero sleep with my babies. And then inside a foam container delivered through a window during the pandemic: juicy roast meat, with pops of bright tomato, soft-centered eggs and plush, roasted plantains that are almost so sweet they act as breakfast dessert ($18.95). It's an ample dish that gives me at least two meals. Plus, a sweet cafe con leche ($5.60) powers up even the most sluggish mornings.

Niki Stavrou's cafe has been serving south Minneapolis for 24 years, and I'm always giddy to revisit those memories. (J.S.)

3756 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-8948,