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Pastrami and egg on focaccia from Animales Barbeque Co.

When thinking about barbecue, one of the last things that comes to mind is "brunch." But chef Jon Wipfli and his crew at Animales Barbeque Co. rarely stay inside the smoke box in terms of what they're up to. The brightly colored trailer outside Bauhaus Brew Labs has added a new midday Sunday menu that is perfect for rolling out of bed at the crack of noon to devour. (Plus, I love a low-pressure brunch that doesn't start until noon.)

Everything about this breakfast sandwich ($12) is made from scratch. The toasty focaccia with a cheese crust lid is made by hand. The pastrami is smoked low and slow with a black pepper crust until it's a spicy, juicy hunk of meaty goodness. Eggs are softly scrambled with caramelized onions that lace every bite with a whisper of savory sweetness. Plus, there's more cheese. The whole thing seemed almost too rich to consume in one sitting and yet, with aid of a cold beverage from Bauhaus, we managed. (Joy Summers)

1315 NE. Tyler St., Mpls.,

The schnitzel at Berlin, a new music club in the North Loop.
The schnitzel at Berlin, a new music club in the North Loop.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Schnitzel at Berlin

It was hard to choose which direction to go at the glam Art Nouveau jazz club Berlin. The snacky route: martini, warm olives, tinned fish? Or the dinner route: bubbles, gem salad, chicken thigh schnitzel? Or, with local superstar chef Jamie Malone, formerly of the Grand Cafe, as the culinary director, why not just get all of it?

Schnitzel ($26) was the way to go. An enormous portion of two pounded chicken thighs, breaded and fried to a crisp, come with flavor-packed accoutrements, including a dollop of the sweetest corn butter. We're talking late August, State Fair-level sweet corn, somehow pulverized with dairy into something new, something that needs to be spread on warm bread at all times this summer. Yes, I asked for more corn butter when the first little melty blob ran out, and slathered it on baguette slices. On the side, a dainty quenelle of sauerkraut relish (and a lemon wedge) with just the right amount of an acid punch to bring it all together.

There's more to the schnitzel story at Berlin, which is housed in what used to be the Askov Finlayson store. Each week, from 4 to 6 p.m., you can get a "Schnitz Riff," a limited quantity, rotating special. This week, the schnitzel comes on a focaccia sandwich, with bagna cauda, caper berries and mortadella. Ja, bitte. (Sharyn Jackson)

204 N. 1st St., Mpls.,

The daily lunch special at Ama Sushi in Edina is three rolls for $12.75.
The daily lunch special at Ama Sushi in Edina is three rolls for $12.75.

Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune

Lunch special rolls at Ama Sushi

As kids become adults and schedules get tricky, sometimes family birthday dinners become birthday lunches. And sometimes it works out for the best. We landed at Ama Sushi at 50th and France, a sister restaurant to Momo Sushi in Minneapolis. And we discovered its daily special of three lunch rolls for $12.75 (plus a bowl of miso soup).

Ama's menu is exhaustive, and the indecisive will be relieved to have the choices for the lunchtime special narrowed; it's only for select vegetable, raw or cooked rolls. I chose a shrimp tempura roll (lightly breaded and thankfully not oversauced), New York roll (tuna, avocado, cucumber) and a salmon avocado roll. It's all sushi fans could ask for: fresh, clean, creamy, crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth tender. We opted to have our sushi plated individually, but if you're the sharing type, the big platter that arrives at the table is mighty impressive.

No worries if someone in your crew is sushi-averse, as the restaurant serves an array of Tibetan and Japanese fare, too (tempura, poke bowls, fried rice, noodles and more). For our party of six, three appetizers, four lunch specials, fried rice, a poke bowl and three sodas was about $120 sans tip. That alone is worth celebrating, birthday or not. (Nicole Hvidsten)

5033 France Av. S., Mpls., 952-920-1547,

A taste of the island at El Jibarito: crispy skin and tender roast pork alongside the garlicky comforts of mofongo.
A taste of the island at El Jibarito: crispy skin and tender roast pork alongside the garlicky comforts of mofongo.

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Mofongo con Lechon at El Jibarito

The woman with the kind eyes looked up from her family meal and smiled knowingly. "Puerto Rican food is good, right?" She won the award for understatement of the day. That short exchange, and this plate of comfort, extended the distinctive warmth of the island to me, a woman of questionable sanity angling a plate next to a window for better light to capture the magnificence of the mofongo ($14.50).

A dish of green plantains is crisped and pounded into submission in a pilon with sprightly garlic and oil and then served with slow-roasted pork garnished with its own burnished, crispy skin. I think of mofongo when I talk about some of my favorite foods in Puerto Rico, and I didn't expect to find it in a restaurant in South St. Paul. But there I was, digging in surrounded by the lilting sounds of Sunday family conversations, mostly in Spanish. It was a taste of home from somewhere I've only been once, but will never forget. (J.S.)

901 Southview Blvd., South St. Paul, 651-348-6379,

Morels on toast at Gia
Morels on toast at Gia

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Morels on toast at Gia

There's a cocktail on the menu at Gia, the Italian restaurant from chef Jo Seddon and Lisa Wengler, called "Waiting for Lola." Gia is, after all, next door to Pizzeria Lola, a restaurant that used to be infamous for its long waits for tables (back before it started taking reservations). The spillover would often keep neighboring Cave Vin full, and when Gia took over that address, the inside joke continued.

But the night I visited the lovely and full (even after 8 p.m.) Gia, my server laughed about the irony. "It's more like 'Waiting for Gia' now," she said.

Seddon is an alum of London's famed Italian stalwart, the River Cafe; locally, she was on the opening team at Gavin Kaysen's now-closed Bellecour. (And before that, a doctor.) She first launched Gia in an outdoor kitchen with a summer 2022 residency at Sovereign Winery in Waconia. Now, at her own brick and mortar, she's keeping that connected-to-the-seasons spirit alive. Her Italian-inspired menu changes weekly based on what's available. Right now? That'd be morels.

In the land of truffles and porcini, morels aren't a traditional Italian ingredient. But they are in Seddon's hands. She sautés them lightly in olive oil with salt and black pepper, then gives them a luxurious bath in a dreamy sauce made from cream, mushroom stock, vermouth and dry Marsala. Served with a spritz of lemon on griddled toast, these morels ($18) were just one of the highlights of a meal that kept wowing with seasonal wonder. A deep-green spring onion sformata, which is like a savory flan that tastes deeply of spring. A ball of mozzarella almost as runny as burrata, on crisp leafy lettuce. Pillows of gnocchi in a creamy lemon sauce with peas and asparagus. And chocolate nemesis, a rich dessert that looks like a cake but acts like a mousse. It was all worth waiting for. (S.J.)

5555 Xerxes Av. S., Mpls., 612-274-7163,