This has been our year of catching up on buzzy restaurants that have opened or been re-tooled in the Twin Cities in the last year or three. Such have been our meals at Hai Hai, Grand Cafe, Hyacinth, Popol Vuh, In Bloom, Handsome Hog and now Young Joni. The restaurant has been open since late 2016. We’ve wanted to eat there for a while but they started out without reservations and those who read my local reviews know what our problems are with no reservations restaurants: our long drive and our young children. But like Hai Hai (and Saint Dinette), Young Joni has relaxed its “no reservations” policy. This may have happened a while ago, actually, but it has only recently flashed on my consciousness. And so we decided to go. Right around then, Ann Kim got nominated for “Best Chef: Midwest” at this year’s James Beard awards. Also nominated were Jamie Malone of Grand Cafe and Christina Nguyen of Hai Hai and we liked both those meals very much. The odds therefore seemed very much in our favour; especially when Kim beat out Malone and Nguyen, and the rest of the competition, and took the award home. How did things pan out in reality? Well, it was a fine meal but, on the whole, not as good as our dinners at either of those places or some of the other new openings.
We were there on a weeknight at 8.30 pm. The restaurant—located in Northeast Minneapolis—was full and buzzing when we got there and stayed so for most of the evening. It’s loud but not Hai Hai loud. The room is large and effectively divided into a few sections. There’s a regulation dining room—where we were seated—there are seats at the bar and at a counter overlooking a wood-fire based kitchen, and there’s a large communal table as you enter. Large windows let light into the dining room section till the sun goes down. The tables are large—in our case almost a bit too wide—and decently spaced. We were not as close to our neighbours as at Hai Hai.
What did we eat? There were five of us and we got a bunch of stuff to share. As you probably know, Young Joni is famous for their pizza—the owners started out with Pizzeria Lola in South Minneapolis (it’s still open and we still haven’t been). But they also have a decent selection of small plates, almost all of which draw on one Asian cuisine or the other. This part of the menu most closely resembles what Hai Hai does and in our opinion suffered a fair bit from the comparison. Nothing was bad—well, two things on one plate were not good—but nothing popped. The pizzas were better—the crust is really very good—but, like most of the small plates, the toppings suffered from a bit too much sweetness.
- Bibim Grain, Job’s tears, farro, brussels sprouts etc. This was tasty enough but led off the “sweeter than it needs to be” party. Also much was made by the server who brought the dish out of breaking the egg served over the top open and mixing it in with everything else; but in practice it turned out to be overcooked and not at all oozy. I note that this was a problem remarked by MSP Magazine just a few months after the restaurant opened as well. Clearly consistency continues to be an issue (which is consistency of a kind, I guess).
- Burrata and English Peas, snap peas, mint basil pesto, radish. The snap peas were excellent as was the pesto. Alas, the burrata was not the best and very far from soft and creamy.
- Thai Sausage Skewers, gem lettuce, fresh herbs, radish, cucumber, naam jim kai. This was my favourite dish of this round and I think most of the group agreed.
The pizza selection is large and tempting. We had unanimity on the Korean BBQ but couldn’t achieve it for the second pizza. The La Parisienne sneaked in by being third on most ballots.
- Korean BBQ, beef short ribs, mozzarella, scallion, arugula, sesame, soy chili vinaigrette. That because the toppings on this one also skewed sweet.
But really the pizza here is all about the crust. If I were to come back (more on this below) I’d probably want to try the more traditional toppings.
- Zeppole. I don’t know how many to an order these usually are but they gave us five. These were fine, nicer with the caramel sauce.
- Seasonal Crisp. Rhubarb and apple, I want to say. Very tasty but nothing you’ve not eaten at a friend’s home.
- Soft Serve Ice Cream with olive oil and sea salt. The olive oil and sea salt are an optional addition. The ice cream again was nothing special but went very well with the crisp.
For a look at the space and the food launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on cocktails, service and price.
Of the five of us one is a teetotaler and two don’t drink very much. And so we got six cocktails over the evening: one each of their Seasonal Negroni (one of those trendy clear Negronis with gin, vermouth, gentian, violette), their Fresh Fruit Caipirinha (cachaça, lime, blackberry), their Cobbler (rancio, peach, gin) and their Paloma (tequila, grapefruit, mezcal, chile); and two each of their Old Fashioned (cognac, chamomile, bitters, orange). I had the Paloma and one Old Fashioned. I really liked the latter (as did the other person who got one) and thought the former was just okay (which is I think how people felt about their other cocktails too).
I have to say the cocktail menu was not very inspiring and that the same was true of the dessert selection which seemed half-hearted at best. Service, however, was very good and very friendly (if just a little too much in the “everything you’ve ordered is great/my favourite vein”). Our lead server was on top of things and answered all our questions well—and also guided me away from a cocktail that I would have almost certainly regretted (the Sarsaparilla—“root beer’ish”, she said).
Prices, however, are not over-enthusiastic. Six cocktails and all of the above food (more than enough for five people) came to just over $52/head with tax and tip. Quite a bit less than the tab at Grand Cafe but about $8/head more than at Hai Hai (though we drank less there)—and, as I alluded to above, we thought the meal at Hai Hai was far superior. None of us came close to disliking anything we ate at Young Joni but there wasn’t a single dish any of us was excited to come back and eat again anytime soon. Yes, the pizza crust is very good, but two of our companions said it’s just as good at Pizzeria Lola and that’s quite a bit closer to us. I’m afraid for us Young Joni is likely to merit a second visit only if we’re in the neighbouhood for something else or if we’re going out with people who really, really want to go there. Your mileage may vary, especially if you live much closer to them than we do.
Okay, next up on the food front: another Toronto meal and possibly another North Shore lunch before that. My next Twin Cities meal report will be of a recent dim sum outing to Mandarin Kitchen, a restaurant I’d sworn never to return to. You’ll find out next week how that went (spoiler alert: not well).