The Food Network recently hosted its first food-themed awards show, and Minneapolis lost out to Portland, Oregon as the "Delicious Destination of the Year," a distinction given to "a rising city with a fast-growing food scene." While I'm emotionally inclined to root, root, root for the home team, I can't really say I believe Minneapolis deserved to win. A recent piece in the New York Times highlights some of the city's well-received new additions, and I do think Minneapolis was one of the most exciting food destinations in the country from 2001 to December 2005, but that was before it all came crashing down.
Look at this litany of disaster:
Five, the avant-garde restaurant headed by Stewart Woodman, the opening sous chef for New York's Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, fired Woodman, citing management chef differences, and then promptly closed for good in December.
Restaurant Levain, showcase of one of Minneapolis' greatest homegrown chefs, Steven Brown, never got their front of the house issues in line (it was five star cuisine served with little more grace than cafeteria food) and closed on New Year's Eve.
Auriga, most Minneapolis natives' favorite restaurant, where chef Doug Flicker worked magic with local ingredients and headed a team of inspired young cooks who had experience at places like the French Laundry and Fat Duck, closed in January.
Lenny Russo, the native food champion picked to head Cue, the showpiece restaurant at Jean Nouvel's new Guthrie theater, left that restaurant in February.
Marianne Miller, one of Minneapolis' most talented chefs, had been out of work since the restaurant she had worked at, Bobino, went under last spring.
In short, this city is a shadow of what it was last November, and nowhere near as thrilling as it was in its heyday, which was probably 2004. Every restaurant-thinker in town has his or her own theory of what went wrong: Some say we simply grew too fast, and had too many seats for the number of diners. Some say Minnesotans just don't like fine dining—we tried it, but ultimately prefer more inexpensive, informal comfort foods. Some say that the new crop of restaurants headed by coastal superstars—like 20.21, the Wolfgang Puck restaurant at the Walker Art Center, and the Jean Georges restaurant at the Minneapolis Chambers Hotel—are competing unfairly, since their build-out costs, snow-shoveling costs and whatnot are covered under the umbrella of a different business model. Who knows?
People keep asking me if there's anything rising from the ashes, but the sad answer is: Not yet. Of course Minneapolis isn't dead in the water: The Corner Table, Eatery 112, the Modern Cafe, Fugaise, Sapor, the Town Talk Diner, Heartland, Lucia's, Spoonriver, Vincent, and JP's American Bistro are all home-grown gems where local food-lovers find excitement, energy, and wonderful food. Still, when Portland took our coveted title, I'm sure I wasn't the only Minnesotan sighing that it used to be a little more delicious here, once.