It could almost go without saying that one of the first things we can't wait to do in a post-COVID world is be seated — maskless and carefree — at a table, with four solid walls surrounding us.
Who would have imagined a year ago that we'd long for something as basic and integral to restaurants as the ability to eat inside of one?
We don't know when that wish will come true, but 2021 is looking promising. In the meantime, here's what the Taste team is waiting (and hoping) to see in the new year.
Even amid a pandemic, big names are taking even bigger chances on new restaurants. Look for Sean Sherman's Owamni by the Sioux Chef, Karyn Tomlinson's Myriel, Ann Kim's Sooki & Mimi, Yia Vang's Vinai, Houston White and Dogwood's Get Down Coffee Co., the Schram team's AxeBridge winery, the Rand Tower Club, a distillery from the Earl Giles team, the Market at Malcolm Yards food hall and the Fair on 4, the Mall of America's latest eatertainment venue.
Will 2021 be the year that the Dayton's Project — the $200 million remake of what was once the city's largest department store — is finally opened to the public? Here's hoping. A key component of the mammoth undertaking is a basement-level food hall, accessed via a new three-story atrium and featuring up to 55 vendors. This post-pandemic people magnet should help restore 700 Nicollet to its rightful place as the beating heart of downtown Minneapolis. Another promising amenity is a makers' market. The first-floor retail incubator will showcase up-and-coming vendors; hopefully that includes a place for Minnesota-made food products.
Equity for all
The impact was instant. The start of the pandemic brought crushing unemployment to the hospitality industry, and revealed just how close to the edge many workers were already living. Then, the police killing of George Floyd sparked global conversations about equality and racial justice that extended to almost every aspect of daily life. In the food world, from kitchens to magazine editors' suites, those conversations lifted the veil on the disparities and indignities shouldered by many workers in the hospitality industry, especially Black people, Indigenous people and people of color. What could equity look like in 2021? That the people working to bring us food are taken care of: Living wages, health insurance and unfettered access to opportunity are all a good start.
More ghost kitchens
We got pizza, burgers, tacos and a whole lot of fried-chicken sandwiches from new takeout-only restaurants-within-restaurants, known as ghost kitchens. The phrase "virtual food hall" is now a thing. Ghost kitchens emerged from their shroud of mystery and have become part of the dining lexicon. They've proven to be a smart way for restaurants to diversify and find new revenue, while chefs get to flex their culinary muscles with totally new menus. And customers get to try it all. First up in January: Viva Cubano, a new gourmet sandwich setup operating from St. Paul's French Hen Cafe.
When Surly Brewing Co. owner Omar Ansari shuttered his massive beer hall and pizzeria in November, he (thankfully) invoked the word "indefinitely." Fingers crossed that a post-COVID world includes a revitalized Surly.
Grand Cafe chef/owner Jamie Malone exited her contemporary French restaurant in November. Malone, a two-time James Beard nominee, continues to create (appropriately named) Keep it Grand meal kits from her downtown Minneapolis restaurant, Eastside. She's also promising a new iteration of the Grand, and we can only hope that this new brick-and-mortar setup — one that's as seductively charming as its predecessor — materializes in 2021.
Also on the wish list: a sooner-rather-than-later end to the hiatus at Breaking Bread Cafe. And three cheers to the news that Midori's Floating World Cafe (closed since the restaurant was heavily damaged in the riots following the killing of George Floyd) has started a takeout pop-up at the Seward Cafe.
The great outdoors
If there was ever a time to get Minnesotans to embrace winter, it's 2021, when we will be living our best lives in the great outdoors. Thankfully, a few sterling examples of the Bold North aesthetic are popping up as role models. Mill Valley Market in Theodore Wirth Park is going all in on its year-round outdoor commitment to a patio packed with heaters and five wood-burning fire pits. On weekends, the ultra-charming biergarten at Waldmann Brewery & Wurstery is maximizing winter enjoyment, complete with beer and food service (yes, you should order the spaetzle) and lots of heaters. And in the North Loop, the roomy patio at lobster-centric Smack Shack sports a slick overhead infrared heating system. More kudos to the farmers markets — Mill City, Northeast, Fulton, St. Paul and Minneapolis — that are staging outdoor formats. Residents of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and other cold-climate cities celebrate their winter weather and dine outdoors; isn't it time that we finally follow their lead?
Hearing, helping each other
On a different kind of cold-weather note, we should all be doing more than wishing that Twin Cities restaurants successfully navigate the perilous winter months that lie ahead. Next time you order takeout, ask your server/chef/restaurateur how they're doing, what their restaurant needs in order to survive and how you can help.
More people turned to liquor stores as bars were off-limits for most of the year, and local distilleries met the moment by releasing shelf-stable cocktails at a steady clip. And they're great. But the magic of a drink mixed by an expert bartender and served seconds later? That's reserved for a seat at the bar, something we can't wait to get back into in 2021. As a consolation prize, we'd accept full-strength cocktails with takeout.
Curbside pickup. Subscriptions. The aforementioned ghost kitchens. Provision markets. The hospitality industry was constantly reinventing itself in 2020 out of necessity, and customers went along for the ride. The reasons behind such innovations are lamentable; this year was all about survival. At the same time, diners were introduced to exciting new ways to enjoy good food. We can't wait to see what daring, mold-breaking concepts stick around, and what surprises are yet to come.
Getting serious in the suburbs
It was very good news when Revival owners Thomas Boemer and Nick Rancone announced plans to open an outpost of their fried-chicken-focused operation in St. Louis Park. Ditto the announcement that former Bachelor Farmer chef Jonathan Gans is helping launch Churchill Street in Shoreview. The vast majority of Twin Citians are suburbanites. Logic follows that these communities should be crawling with independently owned restaurants, but they're not. Perhaps this year will spark a surge in suburban dining options of the non-chain variety.
Two vital Twin Cities food-and-drink media platforms were extinguished in 2020: City Pages and the Growler. But it's not all bad news. After a two-year hiatus, James Norton, the Growler's food editor, revived Heavy Table (heavytable.com), his insightful and lively online magazine and newsletter. And thoughtful, high-style Meal Magazine (meal-magazine.com), which debuted last spring, is coming out with its second edition in January. Perhaps it's the start of a new wave of coverage, because the more that people are publishing, broadcasting and podcasting about restaurants, food, libations, farming, baking, brewing and distilling, the better.
The return of the State Fair
The drive-through food parade was fun, but we'd prefer ordering our bucket of cookies on foot next year.