It’s here. It’s clear. It’s a force to be reckoned with.
Those are my first thoughts after a couple of visits to just-opened World Street Kitchen, chef Sameh Wadi’s bricks-and-mortar version of his popular food truck of the same name.
I mean, I figured, we all figured it would be interesting in one way or another. Wadi’s downtown haute Middle Eastern restaurant, Saffron, has been making news for years, and Wadi has made a national name for himself as a contestant on Iron Chef America and a semifinalist nominee for a James Beard Rising Star award.
But, was it merely going to be interesting in a local-boy-makes-millions way, or would it be just interesting in a truck-continues-through-winter way, or, perhaps, would it not be interesting at all? Because you never know. The wings of those who fly too close to the sun will melt and fall off and stuff. I read books. I know how it goes. But, I saw no melting wings during early visits. I did find a bunch of surprises. Surprises such as:
Ambition: The spot is culinarily way, way more ambitious than I anticipated. For some reason, I figured the bricks-and-mortar WSK would have the same menu of half a dozen items that the truck has. Not so! The place has a kitchen so big you could roller skate through it (they’ll run the truck out of there too), and a gigantic menu to match.
There were two-dozen options on my last visit, including some rather elevated creations, such as a charred squash and shiitake mushroom taco that I loved to bits. For this taco, centimeter-thick sections of sweet squash were well-roasted, dressed with a tangy, silky pumpkin seed salsa, and combined with deeply caramelized threads of meaty shiitake mushroom and salty bright queso fresco. So good. It was a taco that would have been at home on a plate next to some Spanish wine in a fancy restaurant, such as, say, Saffron. This taco was more than you’d ever expect any quick-serve restaurant to pull off.
Squash-love aside, my top dish so far has been the lemongrass meatball wraps—deeply-seasoned Vietnamese-accented meatballs with scallion oil, a fresh cucumber salad, and a bunch of soft bib lettuce leaves to wrap the meatballs in. It’s just an earthy and potent wonder of a dish, every bite intense, but balanced.
I didn’t love everything in my way too early visits, the beer-battered shrimp, for instance, were oily; the fried Moroccan chicken sandwich was too well-dressed with carrot salad and spicy feta—I could hardly taste the biscuit or chicken. And I missed the farmer’s market tomatoes of summer in the rice bowls.
In WSK’s defense I was there way too early, and it’s not farmer’s market tomato season anymore, and the dishes that impressed me far outpaced the disappointments. The salted caramel soft serve sundae with smoked, chocolate dusted almonds was a high-low flight of great inspiration, with gooey caramel and soft serve pleasing the Dairy Queen side of me, and the smoked cocoa almonds and salt pleasing the restaurant-loving side. The next time you are torn between DQ and La Belle Vie, try it—you may find your bliss.
Hipster-oriented: Another major surprise. I knew the new WSK would have beer, I didn’t know it would have 40s of Miller High Life. And Mickey’s big mouth bottles. And interesting tap beers. There’s a lot of Town Talk Diner energy hereabouts. They’re clearly going for an after-the-rock-show crowd—if you’re used to WSK and its mastery of the business district quick lunch, ducky, this is not just lunch.
Sheela Namakkal: I was shocked to find Sheela Namakkal—the force behind Cake Eater, the brief but brilliant holder of the Twin Cities top cupcake honors—in clogs behind the counter. She said that once WSK is up and operating the way they want to be, she may debut a WSK cupcake, and add some fun baking elements to brunch. Yes, fun baking please!
All in all: Go! Most of the food is less than $10 and while your first-look, knee-jerk reaction to the spot may be, “Middle Eastern Fusion Chipotle,” I think on second look you’ll find something a lot more ambitious, in terms of the food, and Minneapolis, in terms of the scene.
World Street Kitchen, 2743 Lyndale Ave. S., eatwsk.com