Young Joni (Minneapolis)


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. Continue reading

Handsome Hog (St. Paul, MN)


Let me at the very outset reassure the people of the Lowertown, St. Paul Facebook group* that I did not have any trouble finding parking before our dinner at Handsome Hog this past Saturday. No trouble at all. Lowertown, St. Paul is the best! No one can have any complaints about any aspect of Lowertown, St. Paul! Alas, you will still have complaints about me though as there are many words in this review as well.

With that out of the way, let me tell you about said dinner. But first a bit about the restaurant which opened just about three years ago. They bill themselves as a contemporary Southern restaurant and are helmed by Justin Sutherland, a Top Chef alum who is also an alumnus of local kitchens, Meritage and the late, lamented Brasserie Zentral. Sutherland has since embarked on creating a local Southern mini-empire of his own and has a new place opening soon in Minneapolis. Handsome Hog remains, for now, at least, the center of his operations. It has received strong reviews locally and we were excited to finally go. Continue reading

Saint Dinette (St. Paul, MN)


St. Dinette opened in St. Paul’s Lowertown almost exactly four years ago. They immediately got a lot of good local press. Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune gave them 3.5/4 stars and that was more or less representative of the local acclaim. The restaurant’s pedigree was established—-opened by the proprietor of St. Paul’s The Strip Club (now closed) and featuring a chef and general manager from local legend, La Belle Vie. Even though our own opinion of La Belle Vie diverged dramatically from those of many people in the area (our last meal there was eaten before I started the blog), we were intrigued by Saint Dinette. In the early going, however, they did not take reservations and this was a big problem for us as our children were (and still are) young and it’s hard to do the babysitter thing not knowing how long you’re going to be away (keep in mind that any Twin Cities meal includes a two hour round trip for us). At some point, however, Saint Dinette started taking reservations and so we put them back on our list. And last weekend we finally made it there with four friends who’ve joined us at a number of other meals. What did we find? Read on. Continue reading

Revival (St. Paul, MN)


Revival opened some years ago in Minneapolis. In a metro area devoid of much by the way of Southern cooking or barbecue it received strong reviews from the get-go. We wanted to go but between our then very young children and their no-reservations policy it never quite worked out—and then they dropped off our radar. But then friends suggested it for a pre-theater matinee lunch in St. Paul last weekend and I remembered that a year or three ago they’d opened a branch in St. Paul. (Since late last year there’s also the counter service Revival Smoked Meats at the Keg & Case complex.) Revival by the way is owned and run by Thomas Boemer and crew, who also operate Corner Table and In Bloom (the high-end anchor of Keg and Case). It’s quite the meaty mini-empire they have in the Cities. Continue reading

In Bloom (St. Paul, MN)


The opening of Keg and Case, a high-end food hall and market in the old Schmidt Brewery premises in St. Paul was one of the big events in the Twin Cities food scene last year. And the excitement ramped up when the space’s anchor restaurant, In Bloom finally opened towards the end of the year. A new venture by the team behind Corner Table and Revival, In Bloom features local produce and game, almost all of the menu being cooked over giant wood fires. Indeed, I believe the kitchen has no other source of cooking heat. We’d heard good reports of it from colleagues and had been looking forward to eating there. And this past weekend we finally got around to it. We descended upon them late on Saturday in a large group and ate rather a lot of the menu. Here is how it went. Continue reading

Midtown Global Market (Minneapolis)


The Midtown Global Market was the first place I ever ate at in Minnesota. This was a little less than a year before we moved to Minnesota, and just a few months after it opened in May, 2006. I was visiting St. Paul on work and my friend Mike and I drove over to check it out. I got some wonderful octopus tacos from La Sirena Gorda and Mike got tacos from Los Ocampo’s counter, if I remember correctly. It was a vibrant, fun space and it made an impression on me that was quite different from the image of Minnesota I’d put together from my years in the western US. (This impression was bolstered later that weekend at a meal at Saigon in St. Paul.) A few months later we had to decide whether to remain in Colorado or make a jump to Minnesota, and this impression of a culturally diverse Minnesota helped make up our minds—it also probably didn’t hurt that it was very warm in the Twin Cities during my visit in early November, 2006.

Well, November isn’t always warm here, and La Sirena Gorda, alas, is long gone—as are some of our other early favourites there—but the Midtown Market is still going strong, with new food outlets and merchants who are excellent in their own right; indeed, it seems very entrenched now in the local scene. Here is a quick look at it for the benefit of those who have somehow never been, or have not been in a while. Continue reading

Lyn 65 (Minneapolis)


I’ve been meaning to eat at Lyn 65 for some time now. Things in its favour: being located in Richfield, it’s a bit closer to us than restaurants in Minneapolis or St. Paul proper; the prices are quite a bit lower than at the big names in the aforementioned cities; and it’s not hard to get reservations. Thing that kept us from going: the menu never particularly grabbed our fancy. However, a few weeks ago I ended up there for dinner with a few friends after an event. It was an enjoyable enough meal. And though I wasn’t planning to write it up, I had my cellphone camera on hand and decided to go for it. Herewith some details.  Continue reading

Sandcastle (Minneapolis)

Sandcastle (Minneapolis)
A quick post about an ultra-casual eatery: Sandcastle by the beach in Lake Nokomis park in South Minneapolis. Owned and operated by Doug Flicker and Amy Greeley (and their partner Chele Payer) since it opened in 2013, Sandcastle is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Piccolo (their celebrated fine dining restaurant that you may have read about one or seven times on this blog). There’s no five course tasting menu here, no modernist food, no foie gras-laced desserts. Which is not to say that the food is cookie cutter. You can order cheese curds and hotdogs, yes, but you can also order the Dog Flicker (a hotdog with kimchi) and shrimp and octopus ceviche. All of it is served casually and best enjoyed on the wonderful terrace/patio overlooking the lake. Sandcastle is open from early May through early October and, sure, the height of summer might be the best time to go, but it’s also a great place to be in denial about the coming of the permafrost. Grab a hotdog or a burger, get a beer (either on tap or from their visiting brewers) and then walk it off around the lake (and take your dogs too—they welcome dogs on the patio).  Continue reading

Grand Cafe (Minneapolis)

Grand Cafe: Sirloin
A week and a half ago I ended up having an unexpected dinner at Grand Cafe in South Minneapolis. Some friends and colleagues of mine are in a band called the Counterfactuals and they were playing an album release show at Icehouse on Nicollet. I was driving up from the hamlets of Northern Rice County with some of the band spouses (which I think made me an honorary band spouse for the night) and we met the overeducated rockers for dinner at Grand Cafe. I’m not sure why we didn’t eat dinner at Icehouse itself, but was not disappointed by the decision as I’ve eaten there a number of times previous for work-related events and it’s never quite rocked my boat. I was especially not disappointed after dinner at Grand Cafe, a place I’d somehow barely heard of, and consequently had no expectations of, but which turned out to be more than minimally decent and well-priced. (I don’t mean to damn with faint praise: Minimally Decent People was the name of the Counterfactuals’ first album and the second half of the previous sentence was only a tortured attempt to cite it; and you’ll have found this particularly hilarious now that I’ve explained the reference.) On to the meal!
Continue reading

Big Daddy’s Barbecue (Saint Paul)

beef-ribs
My original plan had been to post the last of our Hong Kong trip meals this week (a wonderful lunch at Lung King Heen) or failing that to write up a recent dinner at Piccolo in Minneapolis. But the Lung King Heen writeup needs more time than I can give to it now (we’re about to move house) and the Piccolo writeup needs a couple of details filled in and I’ve not had much luck hearing back from the restaurant so far. So, I have instead a quick report on a far humbler meal picked up this last weekend from Big Daddy’s Barbecue in Saint Paul and eaten at the home of friends’ before a theater outing.   Continue reading