Minneapolis eats, 2014 edition.

Today’s Klawchat came a day earlier than normal to accommodate my travel schedule. I’ve already filed my Soria trade reaction post.

I didn’t get to try nearly as many places as I wanted to hit in Minneapolis, since I had the family in tow and was a little limited by actual work. We also all overate so much at Tilia, in Linden Hills, for lunch on Monday that no one wanted an actual dinner that night.

Tilia’s menu changes often and features more small plates than entrees, so, with a group of four adults and four kids, we went mostly for the former. The first start was the braised pork belly, finished with a sweet glaze and I assume roasted at high temperature to brown the exterior; that’s just so not good for you but one of the greatest pleasures of the meet world thanks to the texture of pork belly fat. The roasted Brussels sprouts were the other star, featuring “ham” (not just ordinary country ham though – some sort of dry-cured variety instead) and walnuts as well as a very lightly applied sweet/tangy balsamic glaze. The grilled chicken thighs came with diced chorizo, pickled pineapple, & black bean-Oaxaca cheese fondue; I actually would have been happy with a plate just of the accompaniements, like a bowl of that chorizo served over a little rice, as the chicken was well-prepared but a bit light on the seasoning. The grilled shrimp plate came with fresh English peas, grilled scallions, and a “spicy” (highly flavored, but not hot) sauce, but the general sense around the table was that it was just okay.

The flat bread starter with olive oil and dukkah (an Egyptian spice blend that often includes seeds and nuts, here with slivered almonds) is a must, and the French fries with a mayo/ketchup style fry sauce were a big hit with the kids. I didn’t try the fish taco torta, but the friend who tried it raved, and it looked ridiculous with an enormous piece of fried fish (I think the server said mahi-mahi, although that’s not frequently deep-fried) on a telera-style roll. The only miss was the “chicken liver BLT,” mostly because the bread had an off taste to it, like it was made with too-sour buttermilk or sour cream, but also because there was no bacon involved, despite the name. The server, whom I might have mentioned looked quite a bit like Anna Friel (this is a good thing), ended up taking the charge off the bill even though I didn’t ask her to do so.

A reader of mine invited me last year to visit Saffron, where he worked in the kitchen at the time, so that was my first stop on this trip. Saffron offers eastern Mediterranean food, mostly straight-up, including some of the chef’s family recipes – like the slow-cooked green beans with tomatoes, good enough that we ordered a second dish of them to pair with the hummus and warm pitas (that was our server’s suggestion). I think the fried cauliflower was the best of the mezze (small plates) we ordered, with a thin crispy coating along with a moderately spicy harissa mixture and a thick sheep’s milk fondue for dipping. The grilled octopus a la plancha was my least favorite starter, but then again I’m not sure I’ve ever had an octopus dish I really loved because the meat is always tough, the result of cooking something with a very high protein content but little fat. The grilled kofta meatballs with a spicy tomato sauce were the hottest thing we ordered, so the kids didn’t enjoy them but the adults inhaled them; they’re denser than Italian meatballs (at least good ones), but the salt and spice were perfect with alcohol, such as the house negroni I ordered.

Two of the three larger plates we ordered were huge hits. The gnocchi were spectacular, pan-seared, soft and light inside, served with a panoply of herbs and spring/summer vegetables. The roast chicken was among the best I’ve ever had, perfectly crisped but incredibly moist and juicy on the inside, pulled from the oven at just the right moment. The chicken comes with a giant lavash wrapped around steaming-hot roasted vegetables, which were well-cooked but underseasoned. However, the chicken “bisteeya” was a little too odd for me – an aromatic saffron-stewed chicken & almond pie, wrapped in a phyllo pastry and dusted with cinnamon sugar. I don’t mind savory applications of cinnamon at all, but the overt presence of the sugar turned my palate to dessert mode, after which it’s not so receptive to meat. We didn’t have room for dessert, as with Tilia.

At Target Field, I only had time for a quick stop at the Butcher & Boar stand for the BBQ rib tips, which were delicious, with a sweet/smoky sauce and good tooth to the meat, as well as very, very messy. It wasn’t really a full meal – I love meat, but generally in concert with something not-meat at the same time, perhaps a plant of some sort – but I wouldn’t be able to walk past that stand again without stopping for another serving.

While we did one breakfast at Hell’s Kitchen, because I love their cornmeal waffles and our friends in town (and their kids) like the lemon ricotta pancakes, we had breakfast two other mornings at Blackbird, a very cute corner coffee shop with a lot of local ingredients across the menu. I ended up getting the same thing twice because it was so good – their norske scrambler, with house-smoked salmon and crème fraiche, alongside these almost-perfect hash browns (really crispy exterior, soft interior, just a little bit greasy) and toast made from Patisserie 46 breads. I tried the sweet potato biscuit, which, shockingly, tasted like a sweet potato in biscuit form – a good idea but too dense for me. They brew coffee from local small-batch roasters B&W, with bagged high-end teas from Tea Forte, both good options for your caffeine intake.

Finally, I managed to try an espresso from Dogwood Coffee Company, which appears to be the best artisan roaster in the Twin Cities, with a late-night run to Urban Bean Coffee at Lyndale and west 24th street. It’s small and simple, just expertly prepared coffees, and Dogwood’s Neon espresso beans (a blend of Colombian and Brazilian coffees) produce a shot with great body and sweet-tart berry notes.

Readers offered many, many suggestions of other places to try that I just didn’t have the time or opportunity to reach. Chris Crawford checked out the Bachelor Farmer and raved about it. Travail was closed that week. I didn’t make the Butcher & Boar, Brasa, 112 Eatery, Bar La Grassa, Sparks, or Coup d’Etat. We stopped by George & the Dragon again (hi, Fred!) for beer and a few small plates in lieu of dinner a few hours after the Tilia extravaganza, and one of these trips I’ll have a proper meal there. I do appreciate all the recommendations you offered. Now I just need the Gophers to bust out a junior lefty throwing 95 next year.


  1. Ever tried Chino Latino in Minneapolis? I’ve eaten there twice and loved it, though I can be overwhelmed by high spice/heat dishes.

  2. Keith, next time you’re in MSP, go to Borough and have the octopus there. It’ll change your mind. It literally melts in your mouth-it has a texture closer to scallop.

    Hate to say it but I think you could have done better in your choices. Most of the places you missed are great, though I find travail annoying when they start chucking rolls around the dining room. Add corner table, piccolo and the lounge at LA Belle vie to your list for next time! Bar La Grassa is a particularly great family restaurant in my opinion. Hope you enjoyed yourself!

  3. Keith,
    I’m an Arizonan who spent two years in St Paul and let me tell you, next time you’re in the twin cities make a trek out to The Blue Door Pub in St Paul. Go to the original near University of St Thomas. Fantastic stuffed burgers, great tater tots and delicious local beers on tap. Small place but well worth it. Couldn’t recommend it higher.

    • Heh. I think if this is showing us anything, it’s that there’s a lot of good food to be had in the twin cities. I’m a native and biased New Yorker, and I’ve been incredibly pleasantly surprised by the foodie scene here. Lots of good food, a very diverse set of cuisines, and it seems to be getting better all the time.

  4. Keith, you absolutely have to go to [RANDOM RESTAURANT] next time you are in the Twin Cities! It is the bestestest place EVER, and I am an EXPERT! Don’t listen to anybody else!

    • Oh no! God forbid people have opinions!

    • @Ben: I’ll concur with Ingy here, to a point. Saying I could have done better in my choices is tautological (I could always have done better in someone’s opinion) and perhaps too idealistic, since I was traveling with my wife and daughter and had most of my major meals with friends and their kids. I appreciate the feedback, but I’m guessing Ingy reacted to the same thing I did.

      Minneapolis is a wonderful city, though. I would love to get back there for a longer trip.

    • Ok, my bad. Didn’t mean to come across that way. I think my restaurant opinions are probably as strong as my baseball ones! Anyway, glad you had a good time.

  5. Cameron Borne

    Was a huge thrill for you to check out Saffron, a place I am very proud to have worked at. Hit me up next time I will have a new list of amazing places