The stretch of Nicollet Ave. known as Eat Street used to end at 29th Street. But with the openings of Wise Acre Eatery, the Sun Street Bakery and Cafe, and Blackbird Cafe, things south of the Lake Street border are starting to get a lot more interesting.
Wise Acre Eatery
In a way, very little has changed since Dan Engelmann and Dan Endres, owners of Tangletown Gardens across the street, took over the former frozen Liberty Custard at 5401 Nicollet Ave. S. and transformed it into the Wise Acre Eatery. You can still walk up to the window and get soft-serve frozen custard, and the lunch menu still features deli sandwiches, soups and salads.
But in another way, the changes are profound.
The use of locally grown and sustainably produced ingredients have become a hallmark of the best Twin Cities restaurants – Corner Table, Lucia’s, Spoonriver, the Modern Cafe just to name a few. But Engelmann and Endress have taken the local and sustainable concept a step farther – much of the food they serve is grown on their own farm outside of Plato, MN – about 45 minutes from the Twin Cities. That includes Scottish Highland beef, Berkshire hogs and chickens, as well as seasonal vegetables. The soft-serve custard is now made from organic dairy products, and eggs from their own free-range chickens.
When we stopped by for a weekend brunch recently, the farm hash included red cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, snow peas, onions, sausage and potatoes, topped with a pair of poached eggs, and accompanied by a cheddar biscuit – hearty and delicious. Carol ordered light – a simple seasonal salad with spring greens, snow peas, radishes, carrots, pickled onions and a light vinaigrette, with a crusty home-baked baguette on the side. On a lunch-time visit, the egg-salad sandwich ($6) and grilled cheese sandwich with sauteed veggies ($7) were simple but satisfying.
I haven’t had a chance to sample the dinner fare yet, but there are several dishes I am eager to try – including the dill-pickle fried chicken (marinated in pickle juice and then fried in a skillet, $18) and the maple rhubarb braised beef ($19).
Sun Street Bakery and Cafe
I first discovered Sun Street Breads at the Kingfield Market (43rd and Nicollet, every Sunday through the end of October from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.), and was delighted to learn that they were going to open their own bakery and cafe just a few blocks south at 46th and Nicollet. The cafe is now open for breakfast and lunch daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The breakfast fare includes flapjacks, biscuit sandwiches (served all day) and the basic two-eggs-choice-of-meat-and-toast, while lunch features soups and sandwiches. The Sun Street Bakery and Cafe is new, but owner Solveig Tofte is one of the top talents on the local baking scene, having worked for 10 years as the head baker at Turtle Breads.
I’ve enjoyed everything I have tried so far, including a weekend special of a ranchero biscuit, topped with black beans, a poached egg, pulled pork and a ranchero sauce, sour cream on the side ($9); and the Kingfield gobbler ($9), a fat sandwich stuffed with pulled, roasted turkey, tomato, lettuce, red onion and mayo on a cracked wheat roll. Only complaint: the accompanying fries, fried to a golden brown, were a bit greasy for my tastes.
I have only sampled a few of their baked items, including the raspberry cream scone and the kolacky with poppyseed creme fraiche filling, but there is more I want to try, including their baguettes, chestnut fig bread and caramel rolls. Also gotta try the southern fried biscuit, topped with fried chicken, bacon and biscuit gravy ($7). Sun Street Breads can also be found at the Fulton Farmers Market every Saturday from 8:30 to 1 p.m.
The Blackbird Cafe
I have written about the new Blackbird Cafe before, but until recently, I had never been there for dinner. After a couple of recent evening visits, I am more impressed than ever. Like Lucia’s, Corner Table, Spoonriver et al, Blackbird emphasizes local and sustainable ingredients, with a list of purveyors that includes Wild Acres, Hope Creamery, Grass Run Farms, etc. But unlike many of the local/sustainable cafes, Blackbird gets really adventurous with its menu. Nachos, potstickers and egg rolls are pretty standard fare on appetizer lists, but Blackbird’s versions, the nachos are made with lamb, the potstickers stuffed with crawfish and walleye, the rolls stuffed with duck.
Braised cauliflower doesn’t sound very interesting, but Blackbird’s vegetarian entree turned out to be a riot of flavors and textures – the cauliflower served atop a creamy salsify puree, accompanied by sweet apricot chutney, spicy house-made kim-chee, a savory cashew-mint pesto, and crispy flat bread ($13). Carol’s seafood tacos, generously filled with a combination of scallops, rock shrimp and fish, topped with guacamole and an herb salad (two for $10) weren’t quite as lively, but still very tasty.
On a return visit, in a more carnivorous mood, I opted for the Longhorn, a fat sandwich of braised beef brisket topped with caramelized onions, tomatoes, provolone and a horseradish mayonnaise, while Carol had the walleye po boy, very fresh fish fried in a corn meal breading, topped with pickled red cabbage and a Cajun mayo ($13). There is a lot more on the menu I would like to try, including the starter of burnt sugar pork with soft scrambled eggs ($9); their interpretation of the classic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich ($9); and their spicy peanut noodles with fried egg, available plain ($10) or topped with fried tofu ($12), chicken ($14) or flank steak ($16).
The wine and beer list includes a nice selection of interesting varietals from around the world – a Monastrell from Spain, Douro from Portugal, Viognier from California and Torrontes from Argentina – mostly for under $7 a glass or $30 a bottle. In addition to the list of beers by the bottle or can, Blackbird offers a selection of beers on tap that changes weekly, and can include such rare finds as Matacabras Ale from Dave’s Brewfarm, a wind-powered farmhouse brewery in Wilson, WI.