What makes dining at Heidi’s such an adventure is chef Stewart Woodman’s one-two punch: a relentless imagination and a Ph.D.-level skill set. Many chefs amplify familiar ingredients; he routinely transforms them, deftly layering in unexpected, budget-stretching embellishments to enhance the sensory experience. The menu is divided into four parts: two-bite hors d’oeuvres, starters, entrees and desserts, with roughly a half-dozen choices in each category. The shocker is the price: With the exception of a daily special, nothing tops $20. Yet the food tastes and looks far more expensive. Woodman’s excursions into molecular gastronomy are all about razzle-dazzle playfulness (and deliciousness), minus the genre’s all-too-frequent self-conscious wonkiness. Unlocking and exploiting the possibilities in texture is a Woodman subspecialty, concentrated flavors are another obsession, and the kitchen has a nose for rooting out and showcasing oddball ingredients. Desserts, by Heidi Woodman, Stewart’s spouse and business partner, are perfectly matched in spirit and imagination to their savory counterparts, and the tiny bar is a sweet spot for flavor-saturated cocktails. Although it has only been open since January, Heidi’s (and its four-star food at two-star prices mantra) has quickly become one of the Midwest’s peak dining experiences.
The Blue Plate Restaurant Co. — the dream team behind the Highland Grill, Edina Grill, Longfellow Grill and 3 Squares — turns its considerable talents toward making a neighborhood breakfast-through-late-night restaurant for an area that has been curiously low on the genre. Co-owners Stephanie Shimp, Luke Shimp and David Burley have turned up the design moxie, giving their Uptown clientele an up-to-the-minute look while offering a full bar, a small oyster selection and other grown-up attractions. Snacks include poutine, bacon deviled eggs, house-pickled vegetables and cool wasabi- and ginger-kissed tuna poke. Entrees are heavy on burgers and sandwiches before veering into updated blue-plate specials along the lines of beef stroganoff and eggplant Parmesan. At breakfast, look for banana waffles, blueberry French toast, biscuits covered in sausage gravy and shirred eggs with a truffled cream. Other draws: prices rarely venture higher than the low teens, and the doors at this urban diner stay open to 2 a.m. daily.
Forget about everything you know about Muddy Waters, because the longtime coffee shop has been transformed from a grungy 24th-and-Lyndale caffeine pit stop into a much more elaborate enterprise. Now called Muddy Waters Bar & Eatery, the place sprawls in a new address five blocks to the south in Lyn-Lake and boasts a list of tap craft beers (plus Scotch and whiskey) that could sleeve out a pair of tattoo enthusiast’s arms, a walk-up pastry counter and a kitchen that cooks from early morning to late night. Chef Scott Hurlbut, formerly of the Uptown Bar, is cooking with an eye toward variety and affordability: pot roast sliders, pizzas, burgers topped with chicken-fried bacon and fried onions, yucca fries with chimichurri. Breakfast, weekend brunch, late-night, it’s all here. And coffee drinkers, don’t despair; despite all the newfangled bells and whistles, this second edition of Muddy Waters is still a place to nurture a cup of Joe.
Subverting clichés is the order of the day at Urban Eatery. Its slick corporate feel springs from its roots: The gastropub/restaurant is owned by the powers that be at Crave, and the menu aims to be a contemporary reinterpretation of the Applebee’s/T.G.I. Friday’s/Bennigan’s trifecta, minus the jalapeño poppers and potato skins. The kitchen’s sense of fun permeates the under-$11 starters menu, and can be summed up in a single dish called “Pork n’ Beans,” three thick-cut squares of deliriously fatty, maple-glazed pork belly cleverly paired with crunchy, bright-green edamame. It’s easy to make a habit of the Reuben, which subs in that naughty pork belly for the standard corned beef. Even the kitchen’s spin on the slider manages to be a contender, borrowing steamed buns, bao-style, and filling them with brightly seasoned ground pork, crunchy carrots and spicy, sriracha-laced mayonnaise. The bored-with-burgers crowd will get a charge out of a patty composed of ground bratwurst, topped with zesty sauerkraut and a generous swipe of grainy mustard, all stuffed into a pretzel-inspired bun. The sprawling menu isn’t just about bar grub. A section devoted to comfort-food fare -has — surprise! — been done up beyond the same-old, same-old. Following in the footsteps of View, Dixie’s and a whole host of other tenants, the Urban Eatery may just be the Calhoun Beach Club’s ideal first-floor tenant. Finally.