Borough: A star is born

RICK NELSON | , | Updated 4/4/2013

Borough can claim title as the Twin Cities’ most exciting restaurant.

Maybe it’s my Lutheran background, or perhaps it’s the three generations of plain-spoken Midwestern reserve swirling through my DNA, because breathless proclamations have never been this critic’s modus operandi. Which is why I’m aiming for modesty when I declare, with utter conviction, that Borough is the Twin Cities’ most exciting new restaurant.

Enthusiasm builds with each successive dish. A smoky, mouth-melting slab of pork belly is beautifully balanced by bitter broccoli raab, a sweet carrot purée and mellow, quietly nutty farro. Another brilliant bout of porkiness comes in the form of a deeply fragrant ham hock broth that’s poured over a pristine slice of grilled sturgeon and buttery gigante beans.

After spending half a day tenderizing in low-and-slow heat, meaty Spanish octopus hits the grill and is garnished with soy, peanuts, lime and other Thai benchmarks. Delicate ribbons of house-made linguine are generously tossed in a trio of compound butters and finished with squash, sage and hazelnuts.

Suffice it to say that in the few months since opening their doors, chefs Nick O’Leary and Tyler Shipton have become forces in the local dining scene. They cook as if they were lifelong pals, yet the collaborators became friends just two years ago while working at that hotbed of culinary creativity known as Travail Kitchen and Amusements in Robbinsdale.

When they teamed up with money guys Jacob Toledo and Brent Frederick and headed to the North Loop, the duo clearly borrowed some key elements from their former employer, yet what they’ve created is hardly a carbon copy. Instead, a superb restaurant has spawned another superb restaurant. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?

Comparisons are inevitable, so here goes. Both kitchens share a penchant for artful presentation and an interest in molecular gastronomy techniques. But if Borough feels less playfully improvisational than Travail, the upside is that O’Leary and Shipton’s cooking leaves the impression that each dish is the final permutation of a well-thought-out idea.

Like Travail, Borough is remarkably affordable, a gift for food lovers everywhere. The only over-$20 price I spied over a succession of menus involved ruby-red, fork-tender New York strip, paired with taffy-sized agnolotti stuffed with slow-braised, vanilla-scented oxtail. It was $25, a bargain.

Even the kitchen’s drop-in-anytime items — served in Parlour, the appealing lower-level bar — aren’t treated like toss-offs.

The opposite, actually, starting with an epoch-making burger. At its center is a fine-grind patty of sirloin and New York strip, boosted with beef fat, thyme, garlic and butter and grilled to a bodacious juiciness. It’s slipped into a toasted bun and dressed with thick-cut bacon, tangy pickles, caramelized onions and an over-the-top dollop of frothed cream enriched with, yes, melted American cheese.

There were missteps, such as sometimes enthusiastic seasoning (someone at the stove clearly loves salt). Pacing was oddly erratic at times. Here’s hoping for a practice-makes-perfect scenario.

Designed by ESG, the Minneapolis architectural firm, the L-shaped space boasts all the elements that ignite loft envy: big windows, exposed brick and raw concrete.

Like nearly everything about Borough, it’s expertly done, and on my last visit, seated at the lively, marble-topped kitchen counter, I was compelled to offer a silent prayer of gratitude. And why not? It’s enterprises like Borough that are making the Twin Cities a major American dining destination. Amen to that.


⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Where: 730 Washington Av. N., Mpls. 612-354-3135;

Recommended: Foie gras, pork belly, pasta, octopus, sturgeon, chicken, burger, fish and chips, cauliflower, New York strip.