According to Chinese astrology, it’s the year of the goat. But according to Minneapolis restaurateurs, it’s the year of the chicken. Southern-style deep-fried chicken, to be exact—the leading character on many of the menus of this year’s top new restaurants. They represent a cozy collage of unpretentious, anti-starchy hangouts where, often, the best seat in the house is the stool facing the open kitchen.
This year’s top pick, 4 Bells, is the poster child for all of the above. This Loring Park newbie at 1610 Harmon Place occupies a rehab of a former hot spot, driven by a dedication to treating diners like treasured guests. (And, basically, isn’t that the prime satisfaction of going out to dinner? As you readers tell me, it’s the total experience, not just the quality of the food, that drives a repeat visit.) Sitting at the counter, we were treated as if the Pope had just walked in with Oprah. The batter-fried chicken with its jazzy retinue of sauces is the dish to order, but don’t overlook the velvet-smooth terrine of chicken livers or the classic Southern pies even anorexic Scarlett could not resist.
Revival, 4257 Nicollet, is shorthand for Southern Revival; it’s the Gospel preached under chef/patron Thomas Boehmer’s missionary tent occupying his former, closet-sized Corner Table spot. Again, it’s all about chicken, prepared the way his granny hallowed the bird with buttermilk brining before baptism in the fryer. From our diner-counter perch, we also cheered the other stars of Carolina cooking to come our way, like pork shoulder paired with collards and Cheddar grits. Andouille sausage aside hoppin’ john. Fried chicken livers. Oh, and those heavenly biscuits!
Moving up the street to Nighthawks at 3753 Nicollet, let’s get right to the chicken, served by Haute Dish chef/patron Landon Schoenfeld in his new, over-easy location. It’s sublimely fried, country-style, in its overcoat of batter, then paired with your choice of ultra-Southern combos like bacon, maple syrup and waffles. Mondays’ blue-plate special is a complete chicken dinner—diner food deluxe. Speaking of diners, don’t miss the classic hot turkey sandwich served with giblet gravy gushing from a mountain of mashed potatoes. And what’s a diner without pie? Schoenfeld accommodated, last summer, with a cornmeal-crusted rhubarb-strawberry slice …. but what’ that on top? A sprinkling of black-olive dust. And what about the banana cream-with-parsley number? Clearly not your daddy’s diner. And that’s just fine.
Minneapolis’ activists are known for marching, bannering, protesting and occupying—and that’s the kind of impassioned activity so adroitly averted over the closing of Bradstreet Crafthouse in downtown’s Graves Hotel by its rebirth on Lowry Hill at 1930 Hennepin. The longtime neighborhood restaurant site is the cool and understated new home for its fabled stable of craft cocktails and imaginative small plates (well, ‘small’ by fullback standards). We loved the Asian-style long beans. The pork neck toasts. The lobster mac and cheese, lighter than the usual and studded with plenty of chunks of rosy flesh. The tuna tartare livened with sriracha mayo and a side of ginger ice cream. Well, you get the idea—not the same-old, same-old for the Hill’s seen-it-all crowd.
And now for the wild card in the dining deck—a swank, new make-over in the cosmo downtown Hotel Ivy (1115 2nd Ave. S.) called Monello—the best of the many (many, many: time to move on) Italian kitchens launched in 2015. It’s a date-night kind of place while sparing your wallet of sticker shock if you concentrate on the stellar pasta portion of the menu, devised by an alum of dearly-departed La Belle Vie. Best bet: the multi-course pasta-tasting offering four plates of your choice plus a bite of cheese and dessert course for $65—ample enough to share, if you can bear to. From husky gemelli twists tossed with blue crab, avocado and botarga cheese in lemony beurre blanc to plump packets of agnolotti bursting with sweet and hearty sausage nestled among beets and goat cheese, not a loser on the list.
That’s our top five, with honorable mentions for Eastside and Scena and high hopes for the yet-untasted late-December entries to the culinary sweepstakes. Keep tuned!