Searching for Tony Bourdain

Foie gras taste on a Big Mac budget

the carnivore twins

When M and I decided to celebrate our 9-month anniversary (about two years ago, mind you), we decided to do it somewhere other than Chicago or Fargo. We met halfway, in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I love the Cities (vernacular I picked up from almost 3 years of living in Fargo), and we always enjoy our time there, even when it’s just for a few hours. Our favorite diner in America, Mickey’s Dining Car, is literally in the middle of downtown St. Paul (hash browns cooked in lard, anyone?), and there’s great food in every neighborhood of both cities.

Initially, we had considered fine dining, but decided that because this wasn’t a huge milestone, we wouldn’t do that to ourselves. Instead, we decided to visit a place that she had seen on Travel Channel, thanks to television’s king of competitive eating. Adam Richman.

Brasa Premium Rotisserie is the brainchild of James Beard Award winner Alex Roberts, who owns Alma (one of the Twin Cities’s most well-known restaurants). He started it because he wanted to do something more primal than serious artistry in the kitchen, but in creating Brasa, he moved from fine dining to feeding the soul.

Brasa has two locations: One in Minneapolis, and one in St. Paul. On our visit for the anniversary dinner, we went to the St. Paul location, which is slightly larger than its over-the-Mississippi counterpart. Our server offered suggestions of how to order, because the menu is primarily by-the-pound roasted meats and creole/soul food sides.

We ordered a quarter-pound each of the chicken, pork, and beef, and three or four sides. I don’t remember all of what we ordered (this was fall of 2010, so it’s been a while), but I remember being completely obsessed with the plantains and the slaw. I expected the pork to be the highlight of the meal, but it was the chicken that stole the show.

Dessert was equally amazing (I had a berry crisp, and she had something involving chocolate, if memory serves), and we were, again, blown away. After dinner, we had their house cafe con leche, which they refilled and then gave it to us in to-go cups as we left.

Here’s the best part: For three different meats, four or five sides and cornbread, dessert, artisan bottled pop, and the coffee, we paid less than $50. We vowed to return.

This past weekend, I was in Minneapolis to drop off a rental car and catch the Megabus back to Chicago after attending the wedding of two very good friends outside of Fargo. I had three hours between dropping off the car and catching the bus, so I needed something to do. After figuring out that the Minneapolis Brasa was only a 30-minute walk from downtown, I took my suitcase with me and crossed the Mississippi, to find the smaller, but just-as-welcoming, Minneapolis twin.

It was 2:30 on a Sunday, and it was hot, so there weren’t many people there. The garage doors were up (both locations are in old gas stations) to let air circulate, and the patio had several full tables. I elected to sit near one of the open doors. As I ordered, I looked around and remembered our first experience. Expectations were high.

I ordered the smoked beef sandwich with fried onions, cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce, with a side of the collard greens. These, unlike normal greens, were made with the pulled chicken, instead of bacon. And a Mexican Coke.

My server, who suggested the greens, brought the food, and along with the sandwich was a pile of fresh tortilla chips. And by fresh, I mean these things were still hot. They came with a small cup of a red dipping sauce that would destroy any salsa I’ve ever had. When I asked what it was, she told me it was a house-made roasted red pepper sauce. I wanted to bathe in it.

The sandwich came on a soft ciabatta-style roll, and the beef was perfect–seasoned well, roasted just enough to show the smoke ring around the edge of the cut, and falling apart as I tore each piece away. And the greens were transcendental. Just as good as The Southern’s, but with a more mild flavor and a lightness that I’d never had before with slow-cooked greens.

I explained my first experience to my server and told her why I’d come looking for them, and she, along with Chef Roberts (who was nearby), were elated. The twins have received numerous accolades, but I’ve neglected to write a proper review until now. To date, I consider Brasa one of my favorite restaurants in America, and a place I will visit every time I visit the Twin Cities.

Rating: Religious Experience

Brasa Premium Rotisserie has two locations: 777 Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, and 600 E. Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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