I’ve been haunting the new Icehouse on Nicollet Avenue and 26th Street in south Minneapolis, half-convinced that it’s going to be one of the new stars of Minneapolis restaurantdom. When it comes to the brunch, I am fully convinced.
First piece of evidence: The bloody Mary, garnished with a bacon-bedazzled mini-donut, and a slice of candied bacon. Oh yeah. The world has never much seen what star bartender Johnny Michaels, of La Belle Vie, can do with the brunch canon of drinks. Answer, hit it out of the park. Michaels’ “Bloody Homer” might be the best version in the city, with a tangy tomato-juice body that’s just thick, sweet, smoky, and spicy enough to be fascinating, but not so much of any of those things that it’s distracting or too much to drink on a hot morning. And the mini-donut! Cute as a button, fresh and delicious, fantastic. (Vegetarians, there’s a Bloody Lisa (get the Simpson’s joke?) garnished with a skewer of house-made pickled vegetables.) But back to the bacon.
Do you have some impressions of what the most indulgent breakfast dish in the world could be? Is that idea perhaps the King Crab waffle at Tilia? Oh no. The stakes have been raised. Let me introduce you to the Pork Belly Éclair—this would be two, (two, two!) maple frosted éclairs, split the long way, and filled with slabs of pork belly, pork belly topped with piped plumes of cheddar crème, a sort of pastry filling that’s not sweet, and served with a fried egg. It’s insane. Sort of spectacularly delicious, all sweet and salty and rich, perhaps a touch too sweet, but all together so brilliantly over-the-top and well-accomplished that it’s a sort of culinary raspberry directed in the general direction of the State Fair. Oh, y’all think deep fried candy-bars are crazy? This is crazy over the top, fine dining style, in a bar. Check, and check-mate.
Icehouse is largely a bar, it’s a big industrial space with a stage, a little like a cross between First Avenue (dark, industrial) and the Dakota (tables, booths!). And the fine dining is courtesy of chef and co-owner Matt Bickford, who’s best known for the fantastic sandwiches at his other place, Be’Wiched, but came up through Zander and Aquavit before coming under the wing of our region’s greatest fine dining chef, Tim McKee, Bickford worked for McKee through a six-year stint at Solera and sometimes La Belle Vie, which is how Johnny Michaels came into the picture.
For the other meals of the day the restaurant is still finding its legs; at dinner I’ve had the cheesesteak presented such that I thought it should have been brought to the table by footmen blowing horns, so magnificent was the beefy blue cheese concoction, and I’ve had it when it’s been overcooked and gummy, so I have to get to the bottom of that situation before I can fully recommend the place. The lunch hot-dog is off the hook, a house-made giardiniera, which is spicy, crunchy, complex, just stunning on a sturdy little house-made hot-dog—if you’re a hot dog connoisseur, consider these your marching orders. And the cocktails are fantastic in every way (more on that soon, in print, order your Mpls.St.Paul Magazine subscription today!)
But till then, please know that everything I had at brunch was one kind of stunning or another. The duck brioche—duck confit simmered in warm gravy and tucked, toad-in-a-hole-style, into a square of brioche—was unbelievable. Warm and rich and simple and comforting. The beef brisket hash was also fantastic, the potatoes and meat pan-seared together until they became a russet brown frisbee of toasty deliciousness, all of it topped with perfectly fried eggs and a little lake of spicy harissa. That last one will probably be my go-to dish, it’s exactly the right amount of tasty, craveable, and real, and I regret wildly my decision not to order a side of cornbread, which I saw on neighboring tables, the whole pan presented, a little knob of herb-butter melting winsomely. Icehouse also presents a free jazz concert during its Sunday brunch. It was a little loud for my taste, but there is one large room away from the main stage and an outdoor patio for quiet conversation, and I trust they’ll find the right volume for brunch sooner or later, they did just open, after all.
Till then, the Sunday brunch scene in Minneapolis has officially been re-organized. I mean, there’s a bacon mini-donut Johnny Michaels Bloody Mary afoot! With a pork belly éclair chaser.
Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-276-6523, icehousempls.com