Trends of the year

Variations on raw: Ironically, the year’s hottest food trend is raw. It’s crudo (CREW-dough, Italian for “uncooked”) and variations on this appealing way of approaching seafood popped up all over the place, including Parella, Il Foro, Lela and, most artfully, at Monello.

At home in the ’burbs: Suburban dining is definitely on the upswing, with an impressive roster of independently owned and operated restaurants and cocktail lounges popping up during 2015. Victor’s on Water, Cast & Cru, District Fresh Kitchen + Bar, Pub 819 and Birch’s on the Lake gave the western ’burbs a big boost. The east metro lit up with Margaux’s Table, L’Etoile du Nord Cafe, Sovereign Kitchen & Bar, Tamarack Tap Room and the Alchemist. In the north, Rock Elm Tavern and Kendall’s Tavern & Chophouse made their mark, and in the south, it was all about Lela, Hiko Sushi, the revival of King and I Thai and Volstead House.

Mamma mia! Suddenly, it’s seemingly all Italian, all the time, what with the appearance of Il Foro, Italian Eatery, Monello, Parella, Ruscello, Scena Tavern, Victor’s on Water, Z Italiano and Zio Cucina & Bar. There’s more to come, with Mucci’s, Parco 400, Piada Italian Street Food and the Meatball Spot to materialize in 2016.

Next in line: There are many benefits to the flurry of restaurant openings in 2015, not the least of which was the opportunity it created for a new generation of chefs to step up to the stove and make their mark, including Mike DeCamp of Monello, Joe Rolle of Il Foro, Adam Eaton of Saint Dinette and Remy Pettus of Eastside.

Top 10 openings

Along with Spoon and Stable, the year’s most significant openings include Co-op Creamery Cafe, Eastside, Gyst Fermentation Bar, Il Foro, Monello, Nighthawks/Birdie, Parella, Revival and Saint Dinette.

Other notable 2015 openings included Salt Cellar, Betty Danger’s Country Club, Pub 819, Prime Deli, L’Etoile du Nord Cafe, Citizen Supper Club, 4Bells, Breaking Bread Cafe, Lela, Margaux’s Table, La Ceiba, Harriet’s Inn, District Fresh Kitchen + Bar, Dark Horse Bar & Eatery, Ox Cart Ale House and Peppers & Fries. Several chains gained a foothold in the Twin Cities market, including Giordano’s (deep-dish pizza), Blaze Pizza and Pie Five Pizza (quick-service pizza), Eggy’s Diner (breakfast and lunch) and Naf Naf Grill (falafel, shawarma).

Keep on truckin’

The happy trend that finds food trucks landing permanent berths continued throughout 2015, with gluten-free Sassy Spoon (that miso-braised pork!) Cafe Racer Kitchen (first-rate Colombian fare) Vellee Deli (hot-hot-hot tacos in the skyway) Green + the Grain (the skyway’s freshest build-your-own salads) Big River Pizza (Lowertown’s neighborhood pizzeria) and Gogi Bros. House (lively Korean barbecue in Eden Prairie) all matriculating into brick-and-mortar locations. Other great news? Taco Cat, the delivery service, expanded to a walk-up lunch-and-dinner stand inside the Midtown Global Market.

Meanwhile, a never-ending parade of energetic entrepreneurs continued to energize the food truck scene. Notable newcomers include Misfit Coffee Co., a third-wave coffeehouse on wheels; Tatanka Truck, featuring the indigenous fare of chef Sean Sherman, aka “the Sioux Chef”; Brooks High Beer Battered, which, as the name suggests, does fantastic things with locally brewed craft beers and a deep fryer; and smoked-meats-obsessed Bark and the Bite, from Sapor Cafe and Bar alums Toph Heubach and Noah Miller.

Notable exits

Baker Steve Horton left Rustica, and is working to launch a small-scale grain milling operation in the Food Building in northeast Minneapolis. Stewart Woodman said goodbye to Workshop at Union (it’s now Union Bar & Grill), and is executive chef at the Kahler Hospitality Group in Rochester. Adam Vickerman departed Cafe Levain, and Sarah Master left Barbette to open her Mr. Roberts Resort in her Iron Range hometown of Pengilly, Minn. Phillip “Pip” Hanson, the bartender who put Marvel Bar on the map, is now wowing them at the Artesian at the Langham Hotel in London.

On the move

Himalayan Restaurant gave up E. Franklin Avenue for E. Lake Street, Bradstreet Craftshouse left downtown Minneapolis when the Graves 601 Hotel Wyndham Grand was rebranded as the Loews Minneapolis Hotel, transforming itself on Lowry Hill into Bradstreet Neighborhood Craftshouse. Patisserie Margo got a new Edina home.

On the newsstand

In its June/July issue, Saveur hailed Minneapolis as “the next great food city.” “We were floored by how Minneapolis was inspiring excitement about Midwestern food the way Nashville was Southern food,” wrote siblings Matt and Ted Lee, authors of “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.” And Food & Wine shared its love for Minneapolis not once, but twice. The (gorgeous) tostada chilaquiles from Hola Arepa graced the magazine’s May cover, and in July, Jim Christiansen of Heyday was crowned one of the magazine’s annual Best New Chefs.

In it to win it

Two Minnesotans were leading the charge at a pair Olympic-level culinary competitions in February in Lyon, France. John Kraus of Patisserie 46 led the American team to a bronze medal at the 14th edition of the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie. Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable coached the U.S. team to a silver medal — its best performance to date, by a long shot — at the 15th gathering of the Bocuse d’Or.

In June in Aspen, Colo., Corner Table chef/co-owner Thomas Boemer was crowned “King of Porc” at Cochon 555, beating out nine other chefs in a coast-to-coast, pork-centric culinary showdown.

Also in June, Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant and Sean Sherman of Tatanka Truck delivered Midwestern flavors to an international audience, headlining at the James Beard American Restaurant in the USA Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015 in Milan, Italy.

So long, Mickey D’s

The city’s strangest nutritional marriage is getting a divorce. Abbott Northwestern Hospital announced that it is ending its dysfunctional 25-year (!) relationship with McDonald’s when the fast-fooder’s lease ends next May 31.

More, please

It’s great to see the advent of Lowry Hill Meats and St. Paul Meat Shop, modern-day butcher shops that source whole animals from local farms. Don’t cook? Both shops also step up the Twin Cities’ sandwich game, with considerable gusto and finesse.

A tasty centennial

For its 100th birthday, the Minneapolis Institute of Art gave itself a new nickname — Mia — and celebrated with a yearlong series of events. The hottest ticket — for food lovers, anyway — was in October, a conversation with world-famous chefs Ferran Adrià and José Andrés, followed by “Notes on Creativity,” an exhibition illuminating Adria’s fascinating culinary idea-generating process.

Born again

Sure, Minnesota’s most recognized historic structure — the State Capitol — is undergoing a three-year, $309 million renovation. But notable historic rebirth isn’t reserved for civic landmarks. The year saw the reincarnation of two of the Twin Cities’ most beloved — and most dazzling — dining interiors, and both also happen to be art deco wonders: the Commodore Hotel’s bar — now the Commodore Bar & Restaurant — in St. Paul, and the Forum Cafeteria in Minneapolis, remade as Il Foro. Bravo.

Instant landmark

What fun: Channeling P.T. Barnum, restaurateur Leslie Bock added the ultimate visual draw to her over-the-top Betty Danger’s Country Club, an Italian-made, 65-foot-tall “vertically rotating patio” that the rest of us describe as “a Ferris wheel with cocktails.”

A tip to the future

In October, restaurateur Danny Meyer made coast-to-coast headlines when he announced the end of tipping across his well-regarded New York City properties. One Twin Cities restaurant — Co-op Creamery Cafe — was already adjusting the long-established practice, eliminating gratuities and covering wage increases by raising menu prices. Two soon-to-open restaurants — Upton 43 and Heirloom — are following along. By the way, according to the Harris Poll, Midwesterners are the stingiest tippers. Twenty-six percent of us tip 15 percent or less; compare that with 24 percent in the West, 22 percent in the South and 15 percent in the Northeast.

On the shelf

Here are two titles that should be on every cook’s gift-giving list this season: “The New Mediterranean Table” by Saffron Restaurant & Lounge (and World Street Kitchen) chef/co-owner Sameh Wadi, and “The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook” by Tracy Singleton, Marshall Paulsen and Beth Dooley. Both were released in 2015.

“Heartland: Farm-Forward Dishes from the Great Midwest,” from Heartland Restaurant chef/co-owner Lenny Russo, debuts soon.

A half-century of sauerbraten

Happy 50th birthday, Black Forest Inn. On May 15, 1965, Erich Christ, age 24 and fresh out of the Army and with a $500 down payment, opened his German restaurant at 26th and Nicollet, and the rest, as they say, is history. The institution that launched Eat Street remains a Christ family affair, and, yes, Erich is still making spaetzle and sausages.

At the store

Wedge Co-op launched Wedge Table, featuring quick-service fare, grab-and-go items, a bakery counter and more, and Seward Co-op opened Co-op Creamery Cafe, a breakfast-lunch-dinner gem that sparkles for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is chef Lucas Almendinger’s imaginative, highly seasonal cooking.

On the opposite side of the supermarket spectrum, Iowa-based Hy-Vee finally entered the Twin Cities market, introducing shoppers in Oakdale and New Hope to its populist Market Grille restaurant. More Hy-Vee stores (and Market Grille restaurants) are coming, in Brooklyn Park, Lakeville and Savage.

The brew that grew

The craft beer taproom craze has so not tapped out. Witness the appearance in 2015 of LynLake Brewery, Lakes & Legends Brewing Co., Lake Monster Brewing Co., Sidhe Brewing Co., 56 Brewing, Badger Hill Brewing Co., Wabasha Brewing Co., Bad Weather Brewing Co., Able Seedhouse + Brewery, and Sisyphus Brewing. They’ll be followed by Minneapolis projects planned by Finnegan’s (downtown), Utepils Brewing (Bryn Mawr) and Modist Brewing Co. (North Loop), as well as Angry Inch Brewing in Lakeville.

Raise your glass

A second kind of taproom began to blossom in 2015. Say hello to the cocktail room, a reflection of the fast-growing micro-distillery industry. Here’s a plan: Draw a map, determine a designated driver and then visit Norseman Distillery (vodka, gin, rum, whiskey), DuNord Craft Spirits (gin, vodka), Tattersall Distilling (gin, vodka, bourbon, aquavit, whiskey, liqueurs) and Wander North Distillery (vodka).

At the airport

Look for major changes up and down nearly every Terminal 1 concourse at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. In August, the Metropolitan Airports Commission selected 50 restaurants and retail operators — many of them locals — that will be phased in over an 18-month period, including Republic, LoLo American Kitchen, Smack Shack, Angel Food Bakery and Stone Arch, a collaboration between restaurateur Ryan Burnet (Barrio, Bar La Grassa) and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.

Looking ahead to 2016

There’s so much to look forward to in the coming year, as the restaurant industry’s growth spurt looks to continue unabated.

After endless construction delays, it looks like the fabled Lexington will indeed experience the rebirth — in the spring — that St. Paul has been waiting for, courtesy of the team behind Smack Shack and Il Foro.

Meanwhile in Lowertown, the team behind Public Kitchen + Bar is readying the Handsome Hog and Parco 400. The former will land in the space formerly occupied by Bin Wine Bar, and will follow the Southern cooking example set by Revival and 4Bells but focus on all things pork, while the bar will go whole-hog with bourbon. The latter will concentrate on rustic Italian fare, in the former Trattoria da Vinci address. Both are opening in early 2016.

Speaking of Italian, Mucci’s, a red-sauce joint from Strip Club/Saint Dinette co-owner Tim Niver, will materialize in the long-dormant former home of the Mildred Pierce Cafe in St. Paul, while Piada Italian Street Food and the Meatball Spot, two fast-casual chains, are headed to the Mall of America.

Two other Mall of America notes: Shake Shack, the burgers-and-custard-shakes juggernaut from New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer, is opening its first Minnesota outpost in the early summer (Can In-N-Out Burger be far behind?) and Margaritaville will join the mall’s eatertainery roster in the spring.

After countless pop-up teasers, chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson are launching their long-awaited Brut, in the former Sapor Cafe and Bar. Q Fanatic is taking its nose-tickling barbecue to south Minneapolis, and Masu Sushi and Robata will open its fourth Twin Cities location in St. Paul.

Two four-star Minneapolis restaurants — the Bachelor Farmer and Restaurant Alma — are getting into the fast-casual act; the Bachelor Farmer’s breakfast-and-lunch expansion opens in January in the former home of Askov Finlayson (which moved next door), and Cafe Alma, which is replacing a shuttered Dunn Bros. outlet, should get underway once chef/owner Alex Roberts clears his final regulatory hurdles next month.

Block E is coming back to life, restaurant-wise. The complex, now known as Mayo Clinic Square, will soon be home to City Works, a Chicago-based operation that is promising 120 taps, “contemporary American” fare and enough TV screens to rival a Best Buy superstore.

The diner trend will continue with the Hi-Lo Diner, a collaboration between the folks behind the Blue Door Pub and Forage Modern Workshop. The E. Lake Street building is a 1955 stainless steel Fodero dining car that has been transplanted to the site of a former Taco Bell.

Coming this winter in Edina: Lou Nanne’s. The steakhouse will be run by former Manny’s Steakhouse chef Josh Hill and is the work of the McDermott Restaurant Group (Rojo Mexican Grill, Ling & Louie’s). Mr. Nanne, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer and former Minnesota North Stars player, coach and general manager, is lending his name and sports star power (and his wife’s recipe for bucatini Bolognese) to the partnership.

When the Hewing Hotel opens in the historic 1897 Jackson Building in the North Loop, it will feature a restaurant and bar (from Chicago chef Suzy Crofton) and a rooftop social club. Up the street, a remake of the Sex World building is rumored to include multiple restaurants.

Plenty of eyes will be on Downtown East. There’s all kinds of interest in seeing what food service giant Aramark (partnering with Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods”) comes up with, food-and-drink-wise, at U.S. Bank Stadium. And the massive office-apartment-hotel complex that’s going up nearby will certainly be attractive to restaurateurs of all stripes. Stay tuned.