5 World-Class, Farm-to-Table Minnesota Restaurants
By Andrew Zimmern
Three-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, food writer, teacher and Minneapolis resident Andrew Zimmern shares a few of his favorite farm-to-table restaurants in Minnesota.
I love all four seasons, but there are few greater things in life than the first days of a Minnesota spring. We love celebrating another winter survived, and if you’re anything like me, food plays a huge role. I can’t wait until restaurants unveil their spring menus, teeming with fresh ingredients we’ve been craving all winter.
There are a few spots across the state that do an especially great job working directly with farmers to source local ingredients. Here’s a look at some places that say farm-to-table—and actually mean it.
Birchwood Cafe, Minneapolis (temporarily closed)
Few Minnesotans have done more for local farmers and purveyors than Tracy Singleton. You can bet everything served at Birchwood Cafe, her iconic Seward neighborhood restaurant, was grown organically, sourced ethically and hails from some cool Midwestern farm. Open all day, the cafe caters to early birds with its savory kale, quinoa and feta waffle served with pineapple pear chutney, lemon rosemary butter and bacon lardon, topped with a sunny-side-up egg.
Lunch and dinner are all about super-fresh salads, soups, sandwiches (try the pork belly steamed bun) and hearty, but healthy, entrees like Khmer spiced pork ribs. With lots of gluten-free and vegetarian options, there’s bound to be something for everyone.
Brasa, Minneapolis & St. Paul
Though Alex Robert’s menu is an ode to the South, the ingredients are all about the Midwest. Nearly 100 percent of Brasa’s meat, dairy, eggs, flour, sweet corn and cornmeal come from small farms throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Protein offerings are short and sweet: simple and sublime slow-roasted pulled pork, rotisserie chicken and smoked beef. You’d be a fool to skip the roasted yams and Andouille, creamed spinach with jalapeno, perfectly acidic coleslaw or cornbread served with butter and honey. Gluten-free folks rejoice—you can enjoy nearly everything on the menu.
For a more upscale version of Roberts’ food, check out Brasa’s big sister, Alma, in Minneapolis’ Marcy Holmes neighborhood.
New Scenic Cafe, Duluth
Over 20 years ago, Scott Graden transformed a greasy spoon into the North Shore’s best destination dining spot. The New Scenic Cafe works with organic, local producers to create elegant takes on comfort classics. The menu changes with the seasons, but some of my favorite dishes have been the pate tartlet—foie gras and chicken liver with lingonberry, petite carrots, roasted pearl onions and greens; sockeye salmon with creamed leek maitake, applewood bacon and walnut oil; and pheasant breast accompanied by roasted carrot puree. They have fantastic beer, wine and desserts, too.
It’s one of only a few places where a beautiful view (right along Lake Superior on scenic Highway 61) comes with equally stunning food. New Scenic Cafe is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, and does not have a definitive timeline for reopening. In the meantime, you can find their fare at the Mise en Place Marketplace and Scenic 61 mobile kitchens.
NOSH Scratch Kitchen, Winona
Recently relocated from scenic Lake Pepin to downtown Winona, NOSH Scratch Kitchen offers elegant dining closely tied to nearby southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin farms. Seasonality informs chef Greg Jaworski’s menu, and nearly all proteins originate within two hours of the restaurant. Past menu items have included Brussels sprout leaf salad, topped with a poached egg, crispy bacon and red onion; lamb rib eye, served with saffron basmati rice, roasted rainbow chard and toasted coriander demi glace; and grilled pork loin with parsnip puree, roasted Brussels sprouts and roasted cherry tomato chutney.
Wise Acre, Minneapolis
It seems just about every restaurant claims to be farm to table. In the case of Wise Acre, it’s part of the business plan. Depending on the time of year, 75 to 95 percent of ingredients originate on sister business Tangletown Gardens’ 100-acre farm in rural Plato, Minnesota. That includes Scottish highland cattle, Berkshire hogs and free-range chickens, ducks and turkeys that spend their days roaming the land—stress-free, without crazy hormones and antibiotics. Produce is grown year-round (greenhouses are key in Minnesota!) and delivered to the restaurant daily.
Go for a hearty and healthy breakfast (try the CSA hash, made with whatever’s freshest and in season), or a not-as-healthy-but-who-cares salted caramel pinwheel. Dinner options include rhubarb pulled pork with roasted corn mashers, warm cabbage and dill weed, and house-made black bean burgers with pepper sour cream, quick pickles and fries.