Spoonriver (Minneapolis, MN)

By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
The Mix
November/December 2006

We don't know Brenda Langton personally, but we see her around town at the groceries and markets. She's involved with the local organic food scene, and was the driving force behind the Mill City Farmer's Market.

We're also sure that Cafe Brenda is where we, like many of our friends, were first introduced to croquettes, which were exotic then but now seem an unpretentious and practical way to use up leftovers. It was certainly where we were all introduced to vegetarian fine dining.

But we're all grown up now, and Brenda's new restaurant Spoonriver reflects that. It's healthy, but welcoming to omnivores. And it's the best vegetarian first-date restaurant in the Twin Cities.

The food is beautiful and can be excellent.

Appetizers first. The wild mushroom and pistachio terrine, served with fruit chutney, a spicy mustard sauce, cornichons, and toast was classic Brenda fare, and wonderful.

We liked the apricot stuffed with wasabi goat cheese, but thought it was poorly described on the menu. What we got was a large salad with a small apricot, while the menu implied exactly the opposite.

Tomato-watermelon salad, on the other hand, disappointed. Fresh tomatoes are late summer's joy, and we expected that juicy perfection. A tomato that's gone the least bit mealy doesn't belong on a restaurant plate. We did like the combination of fruit and vegetable, though. Late summer tomatoes did a star turn in the nicely spiced gazpacho.

The Spoonriver menu offers red meat, all organic and locally raised. The lamb stew entree was excellent, served on a bed of tagliatelli with a vegetable ragout.

We also liked the broiled trout, served with quinoa, vegetables, and a passion fruit crab sauce. The sweet-pea ravioli and spiced potato was a tasty vegetarian option, with summer squash, peas, tomato, red onion, and basil.

If you're looking for lighter fare, there are several dinner salads to choose from. We liked the masala spiced chicken salad with yogurt dressing.

The wine list is small, but well put-together. We are generally suspicious of organic wines, but Spoonriver has managed to assemble a list of good wines within that restriction. And even better, it's all reasonably priced and most wines are available by the glass. We wish the servers knew more about the wines, and were able to suggest good pairings with the entrees, but that's a complaint we have about most good restaurants in the Twin Cities. If we have one suggestion, it's for someone to add wine pairing suggestions to the menu.

We have nothing but scorn for the fey and disaffected restaurant staff we find at some places -- the young and dressed in black who seem only vaguely interested in waiting on the customers. And so it was a real joy to interact with the Spoonriver staff, who were, yes, young and dressed in black, but also were friendly and courteous in every way.

The dining room is comfortable and pleasant, and hosted, on our visits, the most multicultural crowd we've seen in quite a while. Spoonriver is in every way a treat.

Spoonriver

720 S. Second St.
Minneapolis, MN 55401
(612) 436-2236
http://www.spoonriverrestaurant.com/

Cuisine type: Gourmet organic

Reservations: Recommended

Diet choices: Vegetarians and vegans welcome

earlier review: Pablo's Mexican Restaurant (Shakopee, MN)
later review: Nalapak (Columbia Heights, MN)
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