Meet the Charlies Finalists
If you don’t recognize all the people in this composite picture, you definitely need to be at the 7th Annual Charlie Awards to see them in person. Two free tickets to the first five people who send me all the names in the order they appear to firstname.lastname@example.org Also note, not all the finalist are pictured, to make the challenge even greater.
Narrowing down the Twin Cities food and beverage talent to three finalists in nine categories (the exception is Rising Star, which has four finalists) proved to be much more difficult than finding a convenient parking spot near US Bank Stadium during the Super Bowl or patio dining in January. How do you define most excellent, when you’re surrounded by excellence? The only decision that proved to be a no-brainer was passing over Subway as a finalist for Outstanding Restaurant.
The winners of each category will be announced February 25 from the stage of the Pantages Theater, and you need to be there. This is one night the entire Twin Cities foodservice community gathers together and celebrate itself. The winners may be on stage, but we’re all winners that Sunday night. Plus proceeds from the event and the VIP dinner, March 12, go to Open Arms, the official charity of the Charlies.
So just who are these finalists? Here’s a snapshot of each one that will show why they rose to the top:
After his home run with Spoon and Stable, Gavin Kaysen opened this French-inspired bistro and bakery near the water in Wayzata. Foodies and the local food press consistently gave Bellecour high marks, and it made national news as well, including The New York Times Travel section right before Christmas. It’s sophisticated and charming, but ultimately comfortable and inviting. And the stylish food, whether from the dining room or bakery, never disappoints.
We didn’t think we could love a restaurant more than Alex Roberts’ Alma, until we went next door and ate at its
sister’s fairly new place, Café Alma. The two venues have innovative, seasonal, Instagramable food that fires on all tastebuds. Alma is the perfect
pre-concert/play venue (to get you in that high-brow frame of mind), while the café is perfect for every other occasion—and OK, for pre-cultural events, too.
Like the other chef/owners in this category, Jim Christensen is an award-
winning chef, and his restaurant on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis is having its own heyday (the period of one’s greatest vigor and popularity). From the cool minimal décor to the complex layering of flavors in the food which has added some iconic dishes to the Twin Cites'
culinary lexicon, Heyday is exotic comfort. Even the restrooms are charming.
Good Day Café
Nancy Webb is the smiling face behind the warm, competent service at Good Day Café, the busy Golden Valley restaurant that serves all three dayparts but is most known for its breakfasts—which everyone knows it the most important meal of the day. Coffee cups are kept full, plates are delivered in a timely manner and the large menu is lovingly prepared, fast. And if you don’t believe us, check out their reviews on Yelp.
If you’re a steak lover with a few bucks in your pocket, Manny’s is the place to be overindulged and entertained by savvy servers pulling wagons loaded with giant cuts of plastic-wrapped beef and a live lobster. Parasole's crown jewel, this is the ultimate, old-style steakhouse, where servers ensure that no one is left
unattended for long, unless they choose to be. Employees’ longevity also is a
testament that happy servers make happy guests.
Want to know the definition of a good server? Being able to gently break the news Saturday mornings that you’ve once again run out of doughnuts—and it's nowhere near the noon cut-off point. This St. Paul eatery doesn’t take reservations, so there’s a talent to keeping everyone happy—the diner who doesn’t want to vacate his table until the last of the bucatini has been slurped, dessert eaten and coffee fully sipped and the next-in-liner who wants his or her fair share of that home-cooked pasta and pizza from owner Tim Niver’s mother’s recipes. And there’s a reason Niver’s email address autocorrects his name to “nicer.” Everyone is pretty nice there.
Brent Frederick/Jacob Toledo – Jester Concepts (Borough, Parlour, Monello, Constantine, Mercado by Earl Giles)
The team behind Jester Concepts not only runs popular, notable restaurants, they get into the minutia to be sure the concept fits the neighborhood and that the food routinely makes the best-of lists so popular in the Twin Cities. Finding
talent, keeping talent and replacing
talent in a restaurant town with lots of sexy concepts to aspire to takes a special style of restaurateur, which they are.
Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur – Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza
Spouses Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur have parlayed their starter restaurant, Pizzeria Lola, into a three-restaurant mecca that’s not only a media darling, but a place where top talent wants to work. Kim, who also serves as executive chef, and Leifur believe in collaborative leadership, and an environment where the flow from the front of the house to the back is flawless. Leifur is a graduate of Yale and has an MBA from Carlson School of Management, so he's no stranger to the finance side of running a restaurant. Young Joni, their newest restaurant, combines wood-fired pizza with Korean favorites in an atmosphere that speaks volumes about charismatic leadership's trickle-down effect.
Alex Roberts – Alma & Brasa
Alex Roberts has more than 28 years of experience in restaurants. In addition to Alma/Cafe Alma that is up for Outstanding Restaurant, he is the owner of Brasa, with locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. For all of his restaurants, he embraces sustainable practices in food, hospitality, job quality and service to community. And while he's not the only one on our list with James Beard
credentials, he is a four-time James Beard Best Chef Midwest nominee (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) and won the award in 2010. His restaurants have attracted national attention as well.
OUTSTANDING BAKER/PASTRY CHEF
Katy Gerdes – Angel Food Bakery & Donut Bar
Downstairs it’s the dark reds of Hell’s Kitchen, while upstairs it’s white and light and if this is the food of angels, we’re ready to meet our maker. From her open-kitchen bakery in a busy downtown Minneapolis highrise, Katy Gerdes turns out beautiful cupcakes, cakes and doughnuts that are calorie-worthy. But even better, her art has a sense of humor, as in voodoo doll doughnuts for Valentine’s Day and the United States of Bacon Cake. She’s also runs the first from-scratch bakery in a major airport.
Emily Marks – The Bachelor Farmer
Emily Marks supplies both The Bachelor Farmer’s dinner service with elite breads and desserts befitting its stature, plus the Scandinavian café with the breakfast and lunch fare that makes it a popular noshing place for local North Loopers and interlopers to the hot, trendy neighborhood. Her mandate is to use only seasonal ingredients, and she's been successful not only in making them sing, but we imagine many a farmer swearing off bachelorhood after sampling one of each of the masterpieces in the cafe's bakery case.
Solveig Tofte – Sun Street Breads
Solveig Tofte is more than the owner of Sun Street Breads, a bakery and café in South Minneapolis. She’s a founder of the Intergalactic Bakers Federation, a group that supports bakers through education, grant programs and volunteer work. She was the head baker at Turtle Bread for 10 years before striking out on her own, where she learned to make crusty bread on the outside, tender and moist on the inside. And who wouldn’t want to butter that up.
Lisa Carlson – Chef Shack Ranch
Lisa Carlson and her partner Carrie Summer started with a food truck and parlayed it into two restaurants and a large-scale catering business, all serving organic street food with a twist. Carlson worked for top restaurants in NYC and San Francisco before settling here. Her talent is multi-faceted, shining from the tiny kitchenette of a food truck to a diner to the rustic French restaurant in Bay City, Wisconsin, to feeding wedding party celebrations.
Jamie Malone – Grand Cafe
One would have to be living in another city, five states away, not to be inundated with press on Jamie Malone and her Minneapolis gem, Grand Café. Malone has the pedigree of a great chef, with stops at Sea Change and La Belle Vie, but all one has to do is taste her food to fully understand why her lovely French-inspired cuisine is being lauded here and abroad. Her Foie Gras Royale with Crème Gitanes, served in a ceramic duck-legged egg cup, has appeared in photographs more times than Marilyn Monroe standing on a street vent blowing hot air.
Hide Tozawa - Kyatchi
The shy chef behind the great sushi and hot dogs at Kyatchi created a traditional sushi menu which gives diners used to Americanized sushi a chance to sample the real thing. He's even given a Japanese spin to his hot dogs. He honed his skills at Origami, Nami, Alma and Fuji Ya, but the most fun thing on his impressive resume is that he spent a year as the personal chef for Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who walked away from the Twins with one year left on his three-year $9.25 million contact.
Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine
Owned by Marla Jadoonanan, Marla's Caribbean Cuisine is all about food from her native Trinidad and Tobago. The beauty of our Hidden Gems is that they all inspire a loyalty from their customers that is almost patriotic. The important thing about Marla's is that the namesake is in the kitchen turning out made-to-order food with the flavors that inspire diners to imagine they're back in their homeland or on a short vacation to a warm spot with flavorful food.
Located in Midtown Global Market, Moroccan Flavors is the result of an entrepreneur training class offered at Neighborhood Development Center. Owner Hassan Ziadi had cooked in some of the best kitchens in the Twin Cities and around the world, but owning his own restaurant gave him a chance to really flex his culinary muscle and bring his native Moroccan dishes to the locals. His wife Raja is also a trained chef, and the two of them have created a cult following to their Hidden Gem.
If you want authentic Vietnamese pho, aficionados claim you must dine at the family-owned Minneapolis Quang Restaurant. The Truong family has been creating their authentic dishes for the past 25 years. One of the mainstays of a Hidden Gem is that the restaurant has created a loyal following, and we were amused by one person's comment that he was hesitant to let people know about his favorite restaurant because he would risk not being able to get a table in the future. In this case, Quang has won numerous awards, including City Pages' Best Vietnamese Restaurant four times. So while the food is always fresh, it's been pleasing palates for a long time.
What appealed to our panel about Bang Brewing is the owners' Sandy and Jay Boss Febbo’s commitment to the environment and using organic ingredients to brew their beer. The couple started as home brewers, honing their skills, before buying property in St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone for their eco-friendly brewery and taproom. In addition to producing good-tasting beer, the couple is experimenting with perennial grains and natural ingredients that are environmentally friendly. That's a commitment that attracts both admiration and customers.
Nick Kosevich - Bittercube Bitters
As one of the co-founders of Bittercube, Nick Kosevich has been upgrading the drinks in the Twin Cities since 2010. In addition, he consults with various restaurants on their bar programs. In the last 18 months alone he's worked with Lawless Distilling, Cafe Alma, the Hewing Hotel, Can Can Wonderland, Lynhall and The Hasty Tasty. A bittersweet accomplishment.
Brie Roland - St. Genevieve
At 15 Brie Roland, general manager and wine director at Steven Brown's St. Genevieve, wanted to be a movie star, and what was the silver screen's loss is the Twin Cities' full glass. She approaches wine from the perspective of a storyteller, viewing every bottle as a time capsule with a story to tell about the land, the growers and bottlers. Her goal is to demystify Champagne and make it into an every-day drink, not just one for celebrating special occasions. Because really isn't every day we're alive a special occasion?
Lachelle Cunningham & Michelle Horovitz - Breaking Bread Café (Appetite for Change)
Michelle Horovitz, executive director and one of the co-founders of Appetite For Change (AFC), a nonprofit social enterprise organization dedicated to using food as a tool to build health, wealth and social change, nominated Lachelle Cunningham for the award, so she was surprised to learn that she, too, was included in that honor. Lachelle Cunningham is the executive chef of the cafe and a rising star in the community. Through her work she is involved in a variety of projects she calls "adventures in chefing and environmental justice."
Rose McGee - Sweet Potato Comfort Pies
Rose McGee is a sweet potato pie philanthropist. Her swoon-worthy pies are a catalyst for building and strengthening community, a feat needed in today's crazy world of politics and environmental disasters. Her pies, a sacred dessert of black culture, have been featured on numerous TV shows, served at the 2008 inauguration of President Obama and offering comfort in the aftermath of the racial disturbance in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. The pies also have become a cornerstone of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday services. While she calls Golden Valley home, her ministry is national.
Pat Weber - The Charlies, Cookie Cart
Pat Weber, owner of Mise en Place Consulting, was so busy organizing the Charlies' afterparty and VIP dinner that he failed to send in a bio. That's OK, because we've seen firsthand his commitment to helping the culinary community with his organizing skill and unfailing connections. His company is named after the French term for having all one's ingredients prepped and in a row before starting to cook. That's exactly how Pat approaches community service, with an organized and an unflappable approach so that no matter how small the detail, he's on it.
Adam Eaton – Saint Dinette
Adam Eaton is largely responsible for the beautiful food coming out of the kitchen at Saint Dinette in Lowertown St. Paul. Eaton was one of our picks as a Top Chef in 2015, where we especially liked his term "elevated fat-kid food." He's about to rise a little higher as he prepares to open a Montreal-style bagel shop and deli in Lyn-Lake with Tim Niver and Laurel Elm.
Josh Walbolt – formerly with Bellecour
Josh Walbolt is two times state champion in the high school Pro-Start competition and was named Top Chef at a Disney property after he won a series of mystery basket challenges. In 2016 Josh was chosen as one of the Top 10 young chefs in the U.S. by San Pellegrino to compete in its global talent search. He's keeping his latest project under wraps, but in the meantime, you can see his skills in the kitchen on display in various pop-ups or through the volunteer work.
Benjamin Moenster - Borough/Parlor
Benjamin Moenster was raised in Denmark, where he got his first kitchen job washing dishes. Since that time, he has worked in such luminary Twin Cities kitchens such as the grand dame, La Belle Vie, where he impressed Chef Mike De Camp enough to hire him as a sous chef at Monello after La Belle Vie closed. He's now at Borough and Parlour. Earlier his talents were on display at Sea Change and Lynhall.
Yia Vang – Union Kitchen
Yia Vang is the proprietor of the pop-up restaurant Union Kitchen. He was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and moved to the U.S. in 1988. While working in some of the foremost kitchens of Minneapolis, he began to find his own voice in showcasing Hmong food. He believes that every dish has a narrative and if you follow that narrative close enough and long enough you get to the people behind the dish.
Note: The Lifetime Achievement Award will be announced from the stage.