Sidebar 2.0

Sidebar’s Popular Cheeseburger
Sidebar’s Popular Cheeseburger

I’ve heard of people being put into a medical coma….but—a restaurant? Covid’s the culprit.

Last September the Surdyk clan opened sweet little Sidebar, a bistro adjoining their iconic Nordeast drink-and-deli Fountain of Life for foodies. It flourished until November, when restaurant doors slammed shut all across the city. The good news is: it’s back.

And even better—a new menu from a new chef, who just happens to live right down the block. His resume includes stints at the prestigious Alinea and Next in Chicago; swanky Inn at Little Washington outside DC; and Nashville diners’ darling Pinewood Social. Closer to home, he’s worked at Spoon and Stable and luxe Canoe Bay in Wisconsin, before the pandemic motivated him to hunker down in his Nordeast condo. Time to un-hunker! Lucky Surdyk’s. Lucky us.

Sitting at one of the bistro’s sidewalk tables again, it almost feels like Paris (well, if you squint). Oh, not along the Champs-Élysées—rather, in a cozy corner off the tourist track. As you study the carte du vin, folks stroll by with designer dogs and baby strollers huge as SUVs, stopping to inspect the eclectic storefronts along the way—antiques shops, vintage wear, coffee houses, and a wine shop: Surdyk’s. The wine I’m sipping called to me from the menu’s well-curated list, available in 3 oz. and 6 oz. pours suitable for pairing, course by course, as well as full bottles (and only a $7 corkage fee if you’ve chosen a bottle from inside the store).

Sip and swirl as you inspect the kitchen’s list of snacks, leading off with composed boards to share of cheeses, charcuterie or crudités ($20). Nibble on a french fry (tresParisian) or fried cheese curd (not so much). Or summon, as I did, a platter of green garlic fritters—lightly scented, light in body, and well-served by a dipping pool of melty goat cheese fonduta: not the modest Minnesota Nice version, either, but a well-aged, nicely sharp and forward number.

The menus’ Dinner section gambols from a dish of charred spring onions ($12) to a husky Peterson Farms New York strip ($25) served with grilled broccolini and black garlic steak sauce. Sidebar’s popular cheeseburger ($16) returns on the new menu, occupying prime real estate on many a table during my visits. Instead, I chose my beef raw, as celebrated in a snazzy plate of carpaccio (oddly called “tartare” on this menu): silky, ruddy leaves that could almost convert a vegan with its true, sweet beef flavor, brightened by a punch from pickled ramps and a tasty topknot of Alpine cheese.

Beef Tartare

Next, the snapper crudo—silky, ivory shavings of the uncooked fish, this time accented with white asparagus, served crisply undercooked (I do prefer a few more seconds in the steamer), along with fennel and lovage oil. Good try, but not the jackpot: too white/bland in appearance, plus a composition of elements that sat politely side-by-side sans much natural chemistry.

The bigoli pasta proved both original and comforting—a good trick worked by pairing ropy bigoli with earthy morels, chewy-textured fava beans and truffled, Parm-like pecorino. Nice dish. Or summon the lumache pasta, untasted, flavored with ramp pesto, lemon breadcrumbs and Parmesan.

Three sweets ($12) are listed, starting with a creamy hunk of blue cheese brilliantly paired with whipped maple syrup. Next, yogurt mousse delivered in a huge compote layered with fennel jam and tangy rhubarb, a who-knew combo that proved an adept alliance, under a spritz of Campari and scattering of shortbread cookie crumbs (nice but overkill).

Of course, you must offer guests a chocolate number (there’s a state law, I believe) and Sidebar’s dark chocolate cremeux soothes and satiates exactly as it’s supposed to: a nubile, not-too-sweet bar that fosters a sinful grin on your face as it melts on your tongue. It’s nicely accented with hazelnut-flavored whipped cream. With it, I ordered a sip of the sparkling Spanish Portell cava and envied the chef, who didn’t have far to walk home at the end of the night.

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