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Doritos-coated cheese curds at Arts + Rec

This week we've been talking a lot about restaurants lost. Walking through the near-empty mall on the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis, it's easy to conjure the ghosts of Figlio, Famous Dave's, the Independent, Fig + Farro and more. But from the ashes rises a creative new endeavor that's fueled by artist murals, fine cocktails and a Minnesota-born fever dream of mini-golf. The long-awaited Arts + Rec complex, inside the former Libertine space, is finally, fully open.

While there's probably a story about an artistic rebirth in a neighborhood that was once a creative hub before being taken over by corporations — now trying to find new ways to build on old business — that's not what brought us here. For the purposes of this story, we must talk about the Doritos cheese curds ($14).

The whole Arts + Rec menu is snacky, and there's plenty of fun to be had that includes fresh veggies. But this is the kind of dish invented by someone up way past bedtime; the kind of genius born from letting go of reality (cheese curds don't belong with corn chips!) and embracing a new consciousness that defies polite society and dives head first into crunchy, oozy, sweet and spicy decadence. Ellsworth curds are creamy on the inside and stretch when you pull them apart — like the lava lamp of the food world. The Doritos crisps remind us of those crumbly bits at the bottom of the bag where hope lives, and the hot honey brings a sweet/tangy spicy from the habañero sauce that really ties the flavors together. (Joy Summers)

3001 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2958, artsandrecuptown.com

Kasha bread from Asa’s Bakery.
Kasha bread from Asa’s Bakery.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Kasha bread from Asa's Bakery

As a born-and-bred East Coaster, my bagel and bialy hopes are continually dashed whenever I try them outside the New York tri-state area. But I finally made it to Asa's Bakery's newish cafe to sample Asa Diebolt's buzzed-about breads. These are the bagels that other former New Yorkers have assured me live up to our malty, yeasty memories. And they're right. The bagels — and onion-smothered bialys! — hit all the marks. My only regret? I didn't stop to take a photo before devouring a bialy with housemade roasted shallot-and-kohlrabi cream cheese and nova lox.

Fortunately, I also grabbed kasha bread — available only on Thursdays — to take home. The tangy sourdough has little nibs of toasted buckwheat hiding in the nooks and crannies. A whiff of it reminded me of the holidays, with my mom's kasha varnishkes on the table.

Diebolt has similar memories from his childhood in upstate New York. "I grew up eating kasha. My mom would make it. It was in the rotation," he said. He developed the recipe — a sourdough with whole wheat and twice-cooked buckwheat groats — back in 2018 when he was starting out at Twin Cities farmers markets, but he said "it didn't fly off the shelf right away. There's a little less familiarity." He hit pause on the kasha bread, but when he came back to it, "it eventually found its customer base." Now, people trek to the Nokomis-area bakery, which opened in March, every week specifically for that bread.

The flavor of kasha is hard to describe, Diebolt said. "I think of it as earthy and sweet. It's fragrant, and the dough has a beautiful purplish tint, this cool tone from the kasha." Slathering slices with salty Irish butter, this hearty loaf ($7) didn't last long in my house. I'll be back next Thursday. (Sharyn Jackson)

5011 34th Av. S., Mpls., 612-615-9132, asasbakery,com

Upgrade your bowl or salad with a fountain drink or homemade iced teas and a little slice of baklava.
Upgrade your bowl or salad with a fountain drink or homemade iced teas and a little slice of baklava.

Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune

Chicken koobideh bowl meal from Taza

Let's pause for a moment to thank fast-casual pioneers like Subway and Chipotle for introducing the concept that a quick meal doesn't always mean fast food. Without them, there might not be Fresh Taza Mediterranean, a local counter-service restaurant brought to you by the folks behind the Tavern Grill.

By now we all know the drill — pick your vessel (wrap, bowl or salad), rice, protein, fixings, sides and sauces ($11.75). But at Taza you'll find building blocks like saffron rice, lamb or chicken koobideh (a Persian-influenced kebab of ground meat with onion and "secret" spices), sauces that range from cucumber dill to chimichurri and salad toppings that alone are worth the trip.

As first-timers, we didn't know what to order. "Get the chicken koobideh," the worker said. "It's so good." So we did, and it was. The ground chicken was super tender and flavorful, with a spice that's just a notch above Minnesota nice. Served on a bed of rice with a pile of vegetables and sauce — and with stellar fries or a salad — it was more than we needed for lunch. There are non-meat protein options like falafel and tofu skewers, and add-ons like hummus and pita chips and dolma ($5-$5.50) add depth to the menu. If you're one who likes to end meals on a sweet note, the little taste of baklava ($1.50) is perfect. We can't wait to go back. (Nicole Hvidsten)

7905 Great Plains Blvd., Chanhassen, 952-381-9938, tazafreshmed.com

The Jell-O cake is a nostalgic ending to dinner at the Apostle Supper Club
The Jell-O cake is a nostalgic ending to dinner at the Apostle Supper Club

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Fresh Berry Jell-O Cake at Apostle Supper Club

Restaurateurs Brian and Sarah Ingram are going all in on nostalgia at the shiny new Apostle Supper Club in St. Paul. The place is decked out in retro wallpaper, cushy lounge chairs and Palm Springs-style breeze block, and some of the menu items are firmly planted in midcentury Midwestern homeyness. Take the Jell-O cake, a sky-high poke cake soaked in sweetened condensed milk, swirled with red Jell-O. Ultra-moist, like a tres leches, yet sturdy, with copious white-as-snow frosting and fresh fruit, it's as if a Twinkie met Elmo. The $10 serving could easily feed four, and my companions and I loved it. For more on Apostle Supper Club, watch for our First Look, coming next week. (S.J.)

253 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, 651-340-8987, apostlesupperclub.com

The Rainwater Negroni uses a gin that borrows some of the beauty of Mexico City’s La Condesa.
The Rainwater Negroni uses a gin that borrows some of the beauty of Mexico City’s La Condesa.

Joy Summers

Rainwater Negroni at All Saints

I'd been on a run of disappointing cocktails when I scooted up to the bar at All Saints. The gorgeous room was glimmering with wine glasses, full plates and a room filled with smiling guests — all of which belied the dreary weather outside. This neighborhood eatery in the historic restaurant space on E. Hennepin Avenue, just over the bridge from downtown Minneapolis, has steadily grown into itself in the year and a half since it opened, and word is out that things have never been better.

Bar manager Scott Weller greeted me as soon as I sat down and slid a drink menu our way. The first drink listed was the Rainwater Negroni ($14). Weller explained that the gin he used was Condesa, distilled in my favorite Mexico City neighborhood. Imbued with herbal notes of sage and jasmine, the aromas brought me right back to walking past boutique hotels and lush parks. Mixed with botanical vermouth, the negroni was fresh and soothing with a juicy finish, not unlike the soft rains falling outside. It was absolutely restorative. (J.S.)

222 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-259-7507, allsaintsmpls.com