Coffee/wine/dessert in NE
Until recently, the corner of East Hennepin and Central avenues was little more than an eyesore with its vacant, bedraggled buildings. Wilde Roast Caf/, 518 Hennepin Ave. E., was among the first small businesses to change that with its March 2 opening.
The caf/ fills a need for what owner Dean Schlaak calls "a casual and accommodating dining spot." In choosing this area, Schlaak followed the lead of national chains such as Panera and Chipotle who recognized the potential of this neighborhood in transition. Adjacent to the caf/ is Query Booksellers, and another vacant unit in the building may soon be occupied. Further signs of a thriving location are buildings being renovated across East Hennepin as the future home of a live performance theater and salon spa.
Less sterile than Panera and more moderately priced than Bobino, Wilde Roast finds itself an in-between resting spot for the surrounding neighborhoods. Pizzas are popular, such as the rosemary chicken with a blanco sauce ($7). Appetizers such as the crab cakes ($11), sold exclusively in the evenings, are also a favorite. Wines are served both by the glass and bottle, $4.50-$9 per glass and $16-$29 per bottle. The menu, brainchild of Schlaak and Managing Chef Todd Konkol, contains sandwiches and salads and will soon feature weekend brunch items in addition to the aforementioned pizzas and appetizers. The restaurant is nonsmoking and off-street parking is available.
The caf/ derives its name from Oscar Wilde; as Schlaak describes it, he wanted a coffeehouse with a gay connection but not one that was "in-your-face" gay. Wilde Roast is intended to be a comfortable spot, accepting of all lifestyles. So far, the caf/ has attracted a healthy lunch crowd due to the presence of area businesses, and a steady Saturday/Sunday crowd. Open late in the evenings (until 11 p.m. on weeknights and 1 a.m. weekends), Schlaak is contemplating some low-key live music in the future. The modern Victorian style interior also showcases the work of local artists, which will be rotated every two months. For further information and to browse the menu, visit www.wilderoastcafe.com.
What's cropped up in Block E
Standing out distinctly amid casual chains like Applebee's, Hard Rock Caf/ and Starbucks, is Bellanotte, a hyper-designed Italian restaurant that recently opened on the northeast corner of Block E at 1st Avenue North and 6th Street. What brought this decked-out-fine-dining establishment, which seats 250 in the dining room alone, to the Downtown mega-entertainment complex? "Knowing Block E as a potentially huge entertainment center, we thought it needed an upscale restaurant, and there is room for another place besides Le Meridien," says Randy Norman, chief operations officer.
Peter Abrahamson, formerly of Capitol Grille, and Justin Grecco, formerly of McCormick & Schmick's, make up Bellanotte's chef team. The Osso Buco Bellanotte ($17.95), made with veal, has been a hit so far, as has the Champagne Salmon ($18.95). Dinner entrees range from $14.95 to $29.95. The majority of lunch items are under $10.
Bellanotte offers evening entertainment, with DJs on Fridays and Saturdays, a hospitality industry night on Sundays and smooth jazz on Wednesdays. With summer close at hand, look forward to patio seating and light outdoor music. Valet parking is available on 6th Street.
Panchero's, an expanding Fresh-Mex chain with Iowan roots, also opened its doors on Block E's second level. The quick-service-style restaurant offers an affordable menu of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, salads and fajitas, mostly in the $5-$10 range. In the space neighboring Panchero's, The Shout House, a dueling piano bar is also slated to open this spring.
More quick service lunch
A Potbelly Sandwich Works is scheduled to open soon in the IDS Center, 80 S. 8th St. The sandwich chain already has stores in Maple Grove and Eden Prairie, and serves made-to-order sandwiches, shakes and malts, and homemade desserts.
Free entertainment, Brit's-style
If you are interested in British television and cinema, take a peek at the Brit's Pub Web site at www.britspub.com. The pub recently aired the British film "The Good Lot," and regularly hosts free events with British films and sitcoms for the BBC-deprived. There is also a monthly pub quiz. Sign up on the e-mailing list to get advance notice about such events and enjoy some jolly good British humor while you down your next pint and shepherd's pie.
Not for the faint at heart
Next time you are out for a drink and find yourself waiting on a friend, seek out a copy of The Modern Drunkard, a free and not-so-subtle recreational drinking monthly that has popped up in the Twin Cities area of late. Aimed at those with an indecorous sense of humor, the controversial magazine got its start in Denver about six years ago and has expanded into other urban markets, grabbing the attention of the national press along the way.