1. There was a bakery boom.
Breads and sweets fans had plenty of reasons to celebrate in 2019, given what has to be a record number of bakery openings. Marc Heu Patisserie started delivering exquisite examples of Parisian decadence and craft to St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood. After years of wholesale baking, Sarah Botcher finally opened a retail outlet of her Black Walnut Bakery, branching beyond her laminated dough expertise and wowing her considerable fan base with cakes and savory items, including a breakfast sandwich for the ages.
Dulceria Bakery owner Dulce Monterrubio parlayed her farmers market success into a colorful brick-and-mortar home for her inventive contemporary Mexican baked goods, and Asa’s Bakery did the same, creating a year-round showcase for baker Asa Diebolt’s first-rate bagels and bialys. Kieran’s Kitchen Northeast includes the retail counter that disciples of the adjacent Baker’s Field Flour & Bread wholesale bakery have been waiting for, for seemingly forever.
Honey and Rye Bakehouse sprouted a much-welcomed North Loop outpost at the new Graze food hall, and Rose Street Patisserie launched a beauty of a space next door to St. Paul’s Keg and Case Market. The biscuit rage was fed by discerning work at Hot Hands Pie & Biscuit in St. Paul and Betty & Earl’s Biscuit Kitchen at Rosedale, and Baking Betty’s brought fresh, inventive cookies to the Mall of America. The good news continues: Rustica will soon be expanding to Southdale.
2. Restaurants let us do good and eat well.
For some Twin Cities restaurants, 2019 wasn’t just about making good food, but doing good, too. Whether donating profits to charity, giving food-service jobs and second chances to people returning from prison, or opening one of Minneapolis’ first pay-what-you-can restaurants, there were plenty of opportunities to dine out with a purpose.
The movement gained momentum last year with the openings of nonprofit brewery Finnegans House and criminal justice re-entry program and grilled cheese shop All Square.
The goal to do good continued this year, with the opening of Provision Community Restaurant, where diners can sit and share a meal together, regardless of their ability to pay. Donated food is the base of changing dishes by the chefs, served family-style. Those with the means can pay what they want. Those without the means have the opportunity to dine in a restaurant setting, which can be a radical departure from a shelter or soup kitchen.
“We don’t even think of dining out as a luxury anymore,” said founder Anna Wienke. “To not be able to participate in that part of our culture is an unfortunate thing.”
Food was also a tool that brought awareness to an issue while bringing people together. Eat for Equity hosted Bridging Dinner in the spring, in partnership with MnDOT, to draw attention to the neighborhoods impacted by highway construction. The free meal was partly served on the Portland Avenue bridge over I-35W. In the summer, the city of Northfield played host to 1,200 diners at one long table for Northfield Shares, a communal dinner with the goal of celebrating and inspiring community among neighbors.
And nonprofit Appetite for Change is bringing its community-building mission to Union Depot. It is operating the new restaurant, Station 81, which will offer healthful, locally grown food, and give jobs to underserved populations.
3. Food halls became plentiful.
It might be premature to call 2019 the year of the food hall. After all, there are at least two more coming to the Twin Cities in 2020. Still, it’s safe to say that fancy food courts were all the rage this year. Rosedale Center saw not one, but two iterations of the concept, in what used to be a Borders bookstore. Revolution Hall opened in 2018 and didn’t last long, due to the centralized kitchen churning out internet-inspired bites, or perhaps it was that the place did not take cash. Either way, its replacement, Potluck, upped the ante. Stine Aasland finally has a year-round home there for her State Fair hit, Nordic Waffles. Justin Sutherland has a hummus bar and a noodle spot. Grand Ole Creamery, Smack Shack and Burger Dive have new outposts. All of them are local up-and-coming or tried-and-true restaurateurs bringing their best to one spot. It’s a mall-goer’s dream.
But that’s not all. The North Loop got not one, but two new food halls. Graze Provisions + Libations gives brick-and-mortar homes to Soul Bowl, MidNord Empanadas, Carbon, and Flagsmash, plus new spots for the expanding Lu’s Restaurant, Honey and Rye Bakehouse, FishBowl Poke and Ramen Kazama.
North Loop Galley is an incubator giving one-year residencies to new concepts: The first are Ono Hawaiian Plates, Wrecktangle (Detroit-style pizza), Thigh Times Birdhouse (a chicken-rib mashup from the Funky Grits folks), and Soul Fu (Southeast Asia meets the American South).
More established food halls saw some changes this year. Keg & Case Market added stir fry, bánh mì, pasta and more to its hall in the former Schmidt Brewery. And Midtown Global Market welcomed La Michoacana Purépecha, the great purveyor of Mexican fruit-studded Popsicles known as paletas.
As for 2020, Minneapolis will see two more food hall openings. The Dayton’s Project is coming to the former Macy’s/Dayton’s in downtown Minneapolis. Its only announced vendor so far is Avocadish, an ode to that mushy green fruit. And Malcolm Yards is coming to an old machinery building in southeast Minneapolis.
4. MSP Airport became a dining destination in its own right.
With loads of local options, go early before your flight and give yourself time for a meal. Notable among the new spots that opened in 2019: Full-service restaurant Cook & the Ox has a menu by Jack Riebel of the Lexington; retro eatery and celebrity magnet Hi-Lo Diner opened on Concourse F; and northeast Minneapolis’ PinKU, a Japanese street food spot, is anchoring a dazzling new airport food court.
5. Sports and entertainment venues got better food.
Valleyfair unveiled a new menu this year, adding roasted corn elote, romaine salad with shaved cheese and pepperoni, and al pastor tacos to the usual cotton candy and funnel cake offerings. Canterbury Park debuted a full-service restaurant, Little Chicago Chophouse, just off the casino floor. D’Amico & Partners gave Brooklyn Park’s Edinburgh USA golf course restaurant a refresh, called the Brooklyn. And the Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo opened a new spot called Arnie’s.
6. Restaurants got dog-friendlier.
At Stanley’s Northeast, Howe Daily Kitchen & Bar and Pub 819, dogs have a menu all their own. (The restaurants have served a combined 20,000 meals of their “Turkey Muttloaf.”) In the fall, Craft and Crew Hospitality Group added to their repertoire with another dog-friendly pub in St. Louis Park, called the Block Food + Drink. Furry friends can hang out on the “pawtio,” a year-round outdoor patio with heated floors. We also got the announcement this year about a 10,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor dog park with a twist coming to the edge of downtown Minneapolis. When Unleashed Hounds and Hops opens soon, it will have a leash-only bar, an off-leash area, and an outdoor play space with a water feature. For human companions, it’s also a beer bar.
7. New restaurants were all about breakfast.
Hope Breakfast Bar, in a former firehouse in St. Paul, serves a pork flight, carrot cake pancakes and “Bruncho’s” (sunny side up egg-topped nachos) till 1 a.m. Treats Cereal Bar & Boba, on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue, introduced a unique way of eating your cereal: Crush up any of their 15 flavors into ice cream.
8. Or was it dessert?
For folks who can’t decide whether to start or end their day with sweets, there are enough places to do both. Thirty-Six Cafe is hand crafting wobbly, 2-inch-thick soufflé pancakes, with a pink latté to wash it down. And forget the avocado toast; try the thick slice of griddled bread slathered with butter, topped with ice cream, and drizzled with honey. The Warming House by Original Hockey Mom Brownies also opened on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue. It’s a cafe devoted to the gooey treat.
9. Regional Minnesota got a boost.
Several top-flight Twin Cities chefs took their talents outside the Twin Cities, including J.D. Fratzke at Falls Landing in Cannon Falls, Erick Harcey at Willards in Cambridge and Paul Berglund, who is staging pasta-centric pop-ups at Benedict’s in Rochester.