Good morning! Let's talk holiday dining. The Live Chat begins at noon, but you can post your questions now and get at the top of the list. See you in a bit.
Welcome to the holiday edition of our Live Chat! Let's get started.
I just received a press release from Denny’s, saying that Christmas is the chain’s busiest day of the year; they serve 1.3 million people. Not that I’m advocating a Moons over My Hammy (seriously, that’s the name of a Denny’s dish; who knew?). Plenty of hotel restaurants are open on the holiday, including Manny’s Steakhouse at the W, Marin Restaurant & Bar in the Chambers Le Meridien, FireLake at the Radisson, Cosmos in the Graves 601 and Bank in the Westin, all in downtown Minneapolis. Also the Beacon Public House at the Commons Hotel near the U of M. At Lyn-Lake, moti-i and the Herkimer will be open in the evening. Two Minneapolis classics: Market Bar-B-Que and the Monte Carlo are open on the holiday. I’d also make a plan to visit Rye Deli at Franklin/Hennepin in Minneapolis and Common Roots Cafe at 26th/Lyndale, both in south Minneapolis. The latter is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on both Christmas Day and New Year's Day. "It'll be fun," said owner Danny Schwartzman.
Nothing will ever top St. Paul’s quirky Continental Pantry and House of Fine Cakes, at least in my book. “We have more Christmas decorations than Dayton’s” is what co-owner Joe O’Brien once told me (with great pride), and he wasn’t kidding. The W. Seventh St. restaurant and bakery disappeared almost 15 years ago, and the holidays have never been the same. Today, most restaurants are content to add a few poinsettias and call it a day. Still, it’s hard to do better than booking a window seat at the St. Paul Grill and taking in the spectacular Rice Park light show.
Or slipping into Vincent, Masa or the News Room during a Holidazzle parade. Or having lunch on the terrace at Basil’s while a school choir or orchestra is holding a noon concert down below in the IDS Crystal Court. Speaking of music, last week I ducked into the Malt Shop (themaltshoprestaurant.com) for a quick burger, and was delighted to encounter Rebecca Kranges at the restaurant’s battered upright piano, tinkling away at a seemingly bottomless list of Christmas carols. By the time I’d killed the frosty tin of my hot fudge-banana malt, I was happier than a kid who’d just unwrapped the PS4 of his dreams. I was charmed, more than I can say. Kranges plays (for free) on Sunday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m., and if I have any spare time over the next two weekends, that’s where I’ll be.
Who doesn’t? Here’s one that really grates: Rude diners. Maybe it’s my innate Midwestern-ness, but nothing makes me drop someone from my dining-out circle faster than a person who poorly treats a server, a host, a bartender or anyone working their you-know-what off in the restaurant industry. If you can’t be polite to a fellow citizen who finds himself/herself working in the demanding service industry, then you need to look within and fix whatever is broken inside of you. That’s not to say that you can’t be demanding; you’re paying for a service, and there are expectations that are an intrinsic part of that equation. But there’s a cavernous difference between being demanding and being a jerk.
I'm bowled over by the number (and quality) of tap rooms that have materialized in the past year. It all goes back to the state Legislature, which had the foresight to change Minnesota's arcane laws regarding beer production and sales (the so-called "Surly law," named for the mega-brewery now under construction near the U of M campus by Surly), and seeing how the market has responded. We may not ever produce a gigantic wine-making culture in this state, thanks to our weather (well, who knows what the future will bring in that regard), but beer? We can do beer, and as the dozens of microbreweries have already demonstrated, we can do beer very, very well.
That's easy: "The New Midwestern Table" by Amy Thielen. She's amazing, and don't take my word for it, watch her show on the Food Network, "Heartland Table." She lives in Two Inlets, Minn., so far up north that you can practically see the Canadian Mounted Police from her driveway, and she is going places. The book has 200 easy to follow recipes, and paging through it you can't help but think, "I want to make this. And this. And this."
We'll have a roundup of the year's locally produced cookbooks in next Thursday's Taste, so be on the lookout. Oh, and how could I forget? There's "The Cookie Book," our beautiful ebook celebrating the 11 years of the Taste Holiday Cookie Contest. A steal at $2.99, find it at startribune.com/ebooks.
Are we talking about a weekday or a weekend? If it's a weekend, I'd be tempted to send you to Rye Deli, just up Hennepin Av. from the museum; the restaurant does a great casual weekend brunch, including one of the great French toasts in the Twin Cities. The lox Benedicts and smoked beef Benedicts also rank pretty high on the off-the-charts scale. If it's during the week, you should check out the brunch/lunch menu at the Kenwood, about a mile west of the museum. I love that place.
Always. I had dinner last night at the Lynn on Bryant -- if you haven't been, I have just one question for you, and it's what are you waiting for? It's one of the best new restaurants in the Twin Cities, and right now chef Peter Ireland is outdoing himself. Case in point: a ridiculously juicy and teasingly smoky pork chop dressed with tart cranberries and paired with the like-minded flavors of apples, bacon and Brussels sprouts. It's insanely good, particularly on the kind of cold night that we had last night.
I'm with you there. A fantastic addition to the city.
I have a sentimental spot for Shuang Cheng in Dinkytown. It's still one of the best places in Minneapolis for fresh, relatively inexpensive seafood.
I'm going to go with chef Jason Almendinger's extraordinary clam chowder at Union Fish Market. If it wasn't a dinner-only restaurant, I would go there after this chat for lunch, it's that good. I'm also always bowled over by the simplicity and purity of the chicken soup with matzo balls at Meritage. And Steven Brown at Tilia always has a pair of inspiring soups on his menu. Oh, and if you're a pho fan, you need to acquaint yourself with the work of chef Hai Truong at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro in St. Paul. Yikes, can I add one more? Whenever I get a cold, I immediately take myself to a Big Bowl and open up my sinuses with the restaurant's divine hot and sour pork soup.
I have my ideas, but I'm not sharing until Dec. 26, when we announce our pick for the Restaurant of the Year.
Well, it's fun to look back on the year and see so many great restaurants that have enriched the Twin Cities. I'm thinking of Borough, Burch Steak and Pizza Bar, the Lynn on Bryant, Smack Shack, Pig Ate My Pizza, Rabbit Hole and others. It's an exciting time to be a diner in the Twin Cities.
I only know what I saw at Eater.com (http://minneapolis.eater.com/archives/2013/12/11/catbird-seats-erik-anderson-returning-to-minneapolis.php), but all I can say is that Nashville's loss is totally Minneapolis' gain. What a great Christmas present for Twin Cities diners.
Frustrating? Hmmm. I'd have to say Heidi's. I don't know that I would use the word 'frustrating" to describe my feelings, other than it's frustrating to know that we'll never be able to enjoy Stewart Woodman's one-of-a-kind cooking (and Heidi Woodman's remarkable sense of what dessert can be) in that marvelous circus of a dining room.
Because I've always been a huge admirer of the Chef Shack team of Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson, I'm looking forward to their Chef Shack Ranch, opening soon on E. Franklin Av. near the West River Road in Minneapolis. And looking into the spring, because I'm already over this winter weather, I'm excited to see what Russell and Desta Klein plan to do with their mega-project in the Soo Line Building in downtown Minneapolis.
That's all folks. We'll be back next week. Until then, find all your restaurant news online at startribune.com/taste. Find us on Facebook at Star Tribune Taste, and on Twitter: @ricknelsonstrib and @stribtaste