Alisada sandwich at the Briar
There have been a lot of changes at the Briar, the cozy northeast Minneapolis cafe, since it opened a year ago. What began as a daytime spot with unique coffee drinks and nonalcoholic beverages has recently become a full-fledged bar with a cocktail, beer and wine program. There are now evening hours, a happy hour and brunchy cocktails on weekends.
It's also opened its kitchen to a residency from Houndstooth Modern Tavern, which has been collaborating on dinners since Nov. 15. It's exactly as the place was intended to be — a day-to-night spot with serious coffee and libations from a Bachelor Farmer/Marvel Bar alum; fresh salads, sandwiches and snacks from a former Victory 44 and Travail chef; and p.m. revelry over Sunday suppers.
I can't wait to try all of it. But I was there for a working lunch with a colleague, and the place felt as congenial as I'd found it last winter when it was just a coffee shop. We ordered a couple of sandwiches off a menu that accomplishes a lot in a very small space, and the Alisada ($8) wowed us. Laune Bread's sourdough is smeared with sobrasada, a spreadable Spanish sausage bright with paprika, its kick mellowed by crumbles of farmer cheese and preserved lemon. Another winner was the Pork Cutie, a breakfast sandwich topped with house made porchetta and white cheddar, with a zing from cornichon aioli ($7.50). Day or night, there's something here for everyone. (Sharyn Jackson)
1231 NE. Washington St., Mpls., briarbar.com
Cassoulet at Myriel
With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and the first real nips of blustery winds seeping in, it's time to embrace the grand entrance of Minnesota winter, lean into the crisp fresh air and tuck into cozy season. It's time for cassoulet ($34).
The classic French comfort food is a mix of meats and creamy beans buried under a buttery, crisp crust. I've found my favorite dish at Myriel, Karyn Tomlinson's Highland Park restaurant.
The dish is built around a base of skillful charcuterie, courtesy of Isaac Kirkpatrick, that mingles with beans, giving it just the slightest resistance — it's the food equivalent of, "Oh, OK then, I guess I'll go to the party." It's the humblest of food yet utterly occasion-worthy during this season of going out with friends. Under the soft glow of the restaurant's lamps, the crispy skin of the confit duck leg beckons, belying the tender fat-cooked meat below. Tomlinson has long been a master of rendering duck into a humble star protein, and she's done it again. The bowl arrives piping hot from the oven, and eats like the world's fanciest stuffing. The interior is creamy and rich, but teeters away from being hefty or requiring a post-meal nap.
It's a dish I can't wait to have again. (Joy Summers)
470 S. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, myrielmn.com
Roasted beet salad at EaTo
I never considered myself a beet person. Memories of the pickled variety being served up at school lunches were a deterrent, as was an unsuccessful attempt years later to roast them, and the result literally tasted like dirt.
Stubbornness and curiosity led me to keep trying dishes that featured them, and this week I went all in on a roasted beet salad ($15). The beets were a draw, but the addition of spinach, Gorgonzola, pepitas, giardiniera — all tossed with a horseradish vinaigrette — had so many of my favorite flavors, I couldn't resist. This salad is no wallflower. While the beets are slightly sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender and the spinach nice and crisp, the bold Gorgonzola cheese and biting vinaigrette are what get your attention, but in the best way.
The salad was plenty for a weekday lunch, but it seemed wrong to go to EaTo and not order pizza puffs (three for $6). Turns out one can be a beet person and a pizza puff person. (Nicole Hvidsten)
305 Washington Av. S., Mpls., eatompls.com
Lingonberry scone at Bread & Chocolate
Even in the early hours of the day, when the rest of Grand Avenue is still waking up, Bread & Chocolate is bustling. The longstanding coffee shop and bakery from the Quinn family, the same owners as nearby Cafe Latte, first opened back in 1982 — before lattes were even a thing. Even on a weekday, it remains a reliable hub of activity for local residents. Like its catty-corner counterpart, the bakery has guests line up and order a daily selection of soups, salads, baked goodies and the like.
The lingonberry scone ($3.75) is a delicious, crumbly-sweet start to an early winter morning. Loose dough is folded over the tart berries and drizzled liberally with frosting — a lovely Scandinavian foil for a dark cup of coffee. It's a nice little nibble to fuel a day of local holiday retailing. (J.S.)
867 Grand Av., St. Paul, breadandchocolatebakery.com
The Northwoods and the Harvest Moon Latte at Northern Coffeeworks
A post-holiday stop at the airport to drop off a family member was a good excuse to stop in, finally, to Northern Coffeeworks. The south Minneapolis cafe and roaster — part of a complex with sister business Angry Catfish — closed back in May to remodel significantly, unveiling in August a gorgeous and airy space with even more elements of the North: plants, reclaimed wood, live-edge counters, and lots of things to browse and buy for your next camping trip. It's no wonder the retail space near the coffee counter sells a shirt that says "Cabin Vibes" — this place has major cabin energy. There are so many spaces here to lounge, shop, work, play cribbage or daydream about the Boundary Waters.
I grabbed a cozier-than-a-fluffy-sweater latte off the autumn menu, the Harvest Moon, which is made with brown sugar syrup, cinnamon and warming spices ($6). It couldn't have been more right for one of our last sunny fall days. And for my friend, the Northwoods, one of the cafe's signature items. It's a maple oat cold brew with just the right amount of sweetness from Minnesota maple ($5).
I also grabbed a box of little packets of instant coffee made from their Boundary Waters beans ($16 for six packets). They are the perfect thing to keep around for the discerning, camping coffee-drinker. Or use, as I did, as a handy replacement for office sludge. (S.J.)
4208 28th Av. S., Mpls., northerncoffeeworks.com