MINNEAPOLIS - It's a fact. The Twin Cities are a long way from the foodie cities most people talk about when they talk great food.
We're 1,200 miles from New York City and little over 1,900 from Los Angeles, but truth be told, there is a third foodie capitol in these United States. And, it's right here in the Twin Cities.
"We are holding our own with places like New York and Los Angeles and that is crazy," award-winning food critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl said of our food scene.
That's right culinary lovers; home is where it's at.
Food critics nationwide are citing a restaurant in Robbinsdale as one of the reasons why.
"We are going to look back on this and Travail will have changed Minneapolis forever," Moskowitz Grumdahl said of the fine dining sensation less than one year old, and located in the western suburbs.
Travail is anti-fine dining, but, it is fine dining. The restaurant takes all the pomp and stuffiness out the equation so the focus is only on the food, nothing else.
The restaurant's three chef-owners wanted precisely that so the fine dining experience could be available, and affordable to everyone.
"That's what we want to bring, we want to bring this type of experience to anybody that wants to try it out," chef owner Mike Brown said.
Travail is rock-and-roll, in your face, with brilliant 20-something chefs creating food that competes with the best anywhere. It is also at a price point you will be challenged to find in fine dining in other cities. Its ten-course tasting for two people is eighty dollars. Compare that with fine dining 15-course tastings in Chicago, which can run several hundred dollars for two people, and you can see the difference.
Granted, Travail isn't stuffy. No white table clothes or valet; it has no hostess, no reservations and its wait staff is its kitchen staff. All of that makes the food affordable and accessible. And its good food. People don't stand outside waiting to get a seat in February for nothing.
Tilia, in Linden Hills, is also a darling among diners.
"Tilia was my restaurant of the year. Tilia was it without question," Moskowitz Grumdahl said.
It has been open less than a year and there were few kinks to work out in its infancy. Tilia is and was outstanding from day one, presenting simple food in incredible ways at prices that are the same at a neighborhood Applebee's.
"We just try to make good food for good people, it's very simple," Chef/Owner Steven Brown said.
So what gives?
Well, what food is made of, ingredients. Namely meat and dairy. New York and L.A. have nothing on the Twin Cities in that category. The meats our chefs have access to are fresher than anywhere else.
"Special single-herd, grass-fed for the dairy. They don't do that in New York, they don't know anything about it," Moskowitz Grumdahl said.
Simple ingredients like those, done well, is also the trade of a fantastic new neighborhood restaurant in the Kingfield neighborhood of Minneapolis, Sun Street Breads.
"It's all handmade, made from scratch ingredients," owner Martin Ouimet said of what is on the menu.
Sun Street Breads on 46th and Nicollet is what makes mornings magnificent.
Internationally-renowned baker Solveig Tofte opened the neighborhood café last year and her breads and breakfast sandwiches are heavenly and affordable. For less than five dollars, prepare to be lured into gastro-ecstasy.
And on the other side of south Minneapolis, you'll find Pizzeria Lola.
"Pizzeria Lola is my other restaurant of the year," Moskowitz Grumdahl said.
It's new, it's hip and it's artisan, wood-fired pies are ridiculously good. It also has a simple dessert that sounds too simple to be a big deal, but trust me when I tell you it's incredible.
Lola has done what no one else is doing; homemade, soft-serve ice cream, topped with sea salt and olive oil. And, it is absolutely divine. Lola is perfect and perfectly family-friendly.
Good food is all around us.
Meritage in St. Paul continues to be a favorite for any food lover. Its oysters and French cuisine are affordable and delectable, and its service is impeccable.
Want the best fish and chips this side of Maine? Head over to The Anchor Fish & Chips in Northeast Minneapolis.
If you are at the intersection of 50th and France anytime soon know that you can't lose there. Mozza Mia, Barrio Cucina and Pig & Fiddle are all wonderful options for a meal, and they all are relative newcomers to the restaurant scene.
And finally, a restaurant you may not be able to find if you were looking for it. It's the The Bachelor Farmer, a newcomer in Minneapolis' Warehouse District.
It's the networking restaurant of the year and a semi-finalist for new restaurant of the year in the prestigious James Beard Foundation awards.
Perhaps that is where we are, fellow Twin Citians, at the epicenter of the best darn secret in the entire culinary world.
Or perhaps it's that dining out isn't all that big of a deal to a whole lot of people. Namely empty nesters and Gen Y'ers.
"They are out five nights a week, Gen Y does not cook. They go to great inexpensive Vietnamese places during the week and expensive places on the weekends. It is their travel, their immersion, they aren't buying orchestra seats or yachts, and they are going to dinner," Moskowitz Grumdahl said.
James Norton, editor of The Heavy Table, said there are many factors that are contributung to the success of the metro dining scene.
"In a nutshell, what's happening is this: local restauranteurs and diners are beginning to really take advantage of what farms and, ranches, and dairies of the Upper Midwest are producing right around the corner from them," Norton explained.
"Appreciation for things like Wisconsin and Minnesota cheese, local craft beer, and simple dishes made from fresh and artisanal ingredients are helping this scene mature."
Norton added that, for the Twin Cities, it is no longer a question of trying to be like New York or San Francisco.
"It's a question of defining what makes the upper Midwest unique and exciting as a destination unto itself," said Norton.
Restaurant Week: February 26 - March 2, 2012
This week is Mpls. St. Paul Magazine's 'Restaurant Week." All week long you can get specially-priced meals (lunch or dinner) at some of the best restaurants in town. To learn more about the restaurants and what they're offering, visit mspmag.com/restaurantweek.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)