Appetites: A guide to Minn. food for out-of-towners

Adam Gorski at La Belle Vie
Adam Gorski prepares a drink at The Lounge at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis. The restaurant's executive chef and owner is Tim McKee.
Courtesy of Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

For the past several years, restaurants have opened at a frantic rate in the greater Twin Cities metro area. The constant influx often leaves critics scrambling to keep pace. The Heavy Table, an online food magazine, publishes new food and drink reviews Monday through Friday.

Editor and all-around foodie James Norton joined MPR News' Tom Crann to talk about how he and his team discover and classify places to eat.

Duck Duck Dduk by The Rabbit Hole
The Heavy Table reviewer describes The Rabbit Hole as, "Totally wacky Korean-meets-American by way of Wonderland." This dish called the Duck Duck Dduk features rounds of rice dough and a rich sauce.
Courtesy of Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Tom Crann: You recently put together an Out-of-Towners' Guide to dining in Minneapolis and St. Paul that takes a broad approach to recommending restaurants. Can you tell us a little bit about that feature?

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James Norton: Sure. The Out-of-Towners' Guide was a compilation of our contributors answering the question: "Where would you take your out-of-town guests for a meal?" That's a question we get a lot, and it really puts an extra level of pressure on diners to — and I use this phrase with a grain of salt — "get it right."

I think a lot of our pride and anxiety about our culinary culture comes to a boil when we've got to entertain folks from other parts of the country and — whether we acknowledge it — prove something or affirm something about why Minnesota is a great place to live.

We tried to tease out some subtleties by organizing our answers with the goal of the meal — are you celebrating something big? Are you trying to get a taste of local color? Looking for memorable cheap eats? Rarely does one or even two restaurants hit all the different bases.

Crann: Describe readers' reactions to the guide?

Basserie Zentral
The Heavy Table reviewer describes Brasserie Zentral in Minneapolis as an establishment that successfully channels the opulent glory of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Courtesy of Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Norton: I think it's a tribute to the level of interest in the restaurant scene that we got a bit swamped by traffic and comments after publishing the guide. The question of where you take out-of-town guests really puts a fine point on how subjectively we tend to assess restaurants — questions of culture, diet, personal preference, buzz, and priorities mean that you can talk to three people about the same restaurant and get four or five different credible, well-argued opinions. Some of the onus is on the restaurant to under promise and over deliver — to make sure expectations are properly managed.

Crann: Can you mention a few of the places that appeared in the guide?

Norton: Sure. A few of the places we talked about as celebration restaurants included Corner Table, Broders' Pasta Bar, and Restaurant Alma. For restaurants that bring a sense of local color, we talked about A Baker's Wife, Casper and Runyon's Nook, and the Triple Rock Social Club. And for breakfast, we mentioned the newly opened Bogart's Doughnut Company, Grand Cafe, The Kenwood — and obviously, Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown, which is easily as much local color as it is breakfast.

Crann:You've caught some flak over your Out-of-Towners' Guide, as well.

Norton: Yeah, absolutely. We underrepresented St. Paul, and that's a reflection of the shoot-from-the-hip methodology we used to compose the guide. I think it's a great collection of places, but I wish we'd mentioned more of St. Paul's terrific spots. For example: The Strip Club Meat and Fish, the Dari-Ette Drive In, Ngon Bistro and Tanpopo are worth mentioning. It's a symptom of how strong the dining scene is right now that anyone would be hard pressed to summarize all or even most of the great places to eat — you're always going to have a blind spot, I think.

James Norton is editor of the online food magazine The Heavy Table. He has authored several books about the regional food scene, including "Food Lovers' Guide to the Twin Cities" and "The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin." Follow him @chowsupertaster.