Restaurants: Trends for 2012

While most people have been hanging up new calendars and sweeping up the end of the pine needles, I’ve been hounding our favorite chefs and mixologists to find out just what they have on tap for the coming year.  Much of what I’m hearing (and tasting) is still in the works, so while we can’t quite report everything, there are a couple of emerging trends.  I’d like to present you with an amuse before a very big year of restaurant coverage is delivered.  Please keep your hungry eyes trained to this spot in weeks to come. We have much more up our gravy stained sleeves.

Bartenders as brands

Dan Oskey’s adorable mug has been all over the local press lately. First he worked with Joia Soda to assist in creating their delicious all-natural drinks, then he moved on to creating make-your-own-bitters sets that are currently being sold exclusively at the Wine Market in Medonta. Up next are more flavors of Joia. The company is offering their Twitter and Facebook followers a chance to act as a focus group. Meanwhile, Oskey still keeps up his other job, behind the bar of the Strip Club Meat & Fish most days of the week.

There is also Nick Kosevich and Ira Kaplowitz, the brains and brawn behind Bittercube, a line of exquisitely flavored bitters that elevate any drink, booze, bubbles or even a soda into an elegant stratosphere.  Now, they, along with the enigmatic Jesse Held (formerly of the Inn and just leaving Marvel Bar) will run the bar program at the upcoming Eat Street Social. We expect to sip on liquors so superb we never dreamed of their existence along-side creative re-workings of prohibition style classics.  This is a bartending Dream Team.

All are also members of the Northstar Bartender Guild, an affiliation of the top drink slingers in town that were last all seen together in the book compiled by Johnny Michaels (of La Belle Vie).  On January 8th, the guild will be hosting an after New Year’s Eve bash full of other burgeoning bar superstars.  It’s no longer enough that a hip eatery sports a known name heading up a kitchen, they’ll now need to rely on this collection of crazy talent to craft a drink menu as nuanced and exciting as the food.

Continued appreciation of nose to tail cuisine

It might be the generous winter-wear we’re swathed in, but it does seem to be that while many cry out for plant-based diets, those leading the charge are thundering, “More meat for the meat eaters!”  One of the first new restaurants out of the gate will be Jack Riebel’s (formerly of the Dakota) Butcher & the Boar. Meat and bourbon! Toss in a stogie and throw something dead on the floor – we are Westerners that have conquered the world! What makes this such an interesting new spot is that the sausages that they’re making are really delicately flavored and although familiar tasting, unlike anything else currently being made.  While we should eat more plants, we also must be mindful of the animals that we do consume.

Also, anyone asserting that the charcuterie trend is dead is clearly not watching Mike Phillips. Since his days at Craftsman, he’s been curing meats, learning the delicate, ancient art.  In that time, his skills have been finely honed.  The pork rillettes are lusciously soft, packed with jiggly fat and full of flavor. Speaking of fat – oh, ho ho – he’s also doing lard.  Yes, subtly seasoned, carefully adorned with bits of herb lard for spreading on crackers.  It is gasp inducing, decadent and divine.  These are bits of animal to appreciate. While his items are currently only available for private parties at the Liffey, Local, Kieran’s and Cooper, word has it that some items will soon be available for retail sale.

With that whole animal appreciation comes a desire to do such things ourselves.  Nothing impresses a dinner party like a slice of your own duck procuitto.  While books (see Primal Cuts by Melissa Guggiana) can help the curious home curer, there are a couple of retail spots selling the harder to find bits.  Clancey’s can get you a suckling pig or a fat hunk of unprocessed belly, easy.  Heartland Farm Direct Market for those on the East Side has a Duroc pork bacon that cooks up like belly and tubs of lard, duck fat, goat procuitto –  all kinds of crazy goodies.   Watch their cold cases to see what other cured delights.

Cupcakes Schmupcakes

For a time it seemed you couldn’t turn around without doing a face plant into some cutesy, frosted confection. The diminutive cakes’ moment has finally past.  Although it was a little tardy in shaping up, 2011 was all about the Twin Cities donut scene.

With Yo Yo donuts in Minnetonka proving that, yes, that donut can do you one better than a side of bacon – how about a topping of bacon? How a like them long johns?

Then along came Mojo Monkey and they blew the expectation of what a simple cake donut can be right off the map. Mixing such unconventional ingredients into the batter such as parsnips (that means it’s healthy, right?)  Owner Lisa Clark coaxes sweet just to the edge of savory and then back again, constantly making and frying orders fresh.  So, while yes, they may occasionally be out of some flavors, you will never be served a sodden, greasy disk of disappointment.

Then, in December, the long anticipated Donut Cooperative finally hit the ground running.  From the creative flavor combinations to the availability of gluten-free and vegan offerings, they hit their Seward neighborhood’s cravings right in the sweet spot.  Adding more member-owners all the time, they really are a co-op in the best possible sense, a collection of people who love their craft and that is a kind of passion that seeps into every bite.

But we’re not talking about donuts! So last year! Looking ahead, I’m predicting this will be the year of ice cream.  It’s too soon to be able to dare speak their names, but already I know of two burgeoning businesses that are churning out some of the richest, most creatively flavored ice cream I’ve ever encountered.  Imagine a tangy, creamy base with grassy hints of a young goat cheese, spiked with impossibly crispy, salty pita chips, swirled with sun drenched sugar dates. Too odd?  How about a Manhattan? Rich, smooth bourbon based cream with home-made pickled cherries as spritely as Katie Perry on a pack of pixie sticks, smooth as a Don Draper come-on.  Hopefully, we’ll soon be able to purchase such things.  Until then, we watch anxiously as established ice cream darling Izzy’s begins to build a new base of operations in Minneapolis.  They will keep their retail space in the original Saint Paul location, but will expand to be able to make more ice cream, much, much more.

It’s going to be a very full year.

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