730 Washington Ave. N.
Think it’s the ballpark driving the hordes to downtown’s newly-flamin’ Warehouse North? Nah—it’s Borough. Far easier to hit a home run on Target Field than in the food biz, where competition’s lethal and fans as fickle as the Minnesota weather. Yet, almost a year since its debut, Borough hasn’t missed a pitch. And when you’re the daring darling of the foodie world, that’s saying something.
The kitchen’s spot-on creations debuted last winter, seeming almost as complicated as nuclear fission—many hands prissing over cauliflower three ways, for example, or a double-take like foie gras with marshmallow and ice cream. And—for me, at least—they never failed to amaze. Even more unlikely, they always worked. Yet those plates appeared without orchestral fanfare and a side of attitude—not at all, just an aw-shucks delivery signaling, “Hey, enjoy.”
Today those chem-lab experiments have been simplified a bit, and that’s just fine, too. That cauliflower starter, for instance, is now concentrated in a single, life-changing bowl of quick-fried florets hustled along with pickled chilies, caper berries and parsley, yet still provoking a huh? moment with the addition of battered, deep-fried oysters. Far out. Fabulous. The foie, too, has abandoned its teenage angst and now waltzes more sedately (but just as smoothly), palling around with poached pear, onion jam and pistachios (starters $9 to $20, for that foie gras).
The pork belly continues its role as on-trend comfort food in an Autumn-in-Minnesota presentation that leans on butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, puffed kernels of wild rice and a splash of maple syrup. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
On previous visits, I’d made a meal by mix-and-matching appetizers. This time, we ventured into the list of entrees, too ($19-27). Not a bad idea. Again appeasing our inner squirrel and stoking up for winter, we ordered the short rib—so tender that a knife proved purely decorative. Pair it with horseradish-spiked mashed potatoes (love the bite!), root vegetables and a red wine reduction, and let it snow.
But not before I finish my swordfish. The pearly, juicy flesh came partnered with a square of smoked-tomato grits. One taste and you have to wonder why they’re not always made this way. A few tiny clams proved the kitchen’s still not phoning it in, as did a palate-freshening salsa verde and bits (but not those salty ones) of caponata.
Next time, the chicken. I never order chicken at a fancy place because it’s so easy to do well at home, but listen to this: The breast comes paired with a meatball, egg, polenta, truffle foam and Marsala wine sauce. Or consider the soup: celery root, apple, smoky, salty pancetta, Cheddar, walnuts and brown butter: Is this straight from a promo piece on Minnesota? Probably one too many ingredients, but who cares?
Well, Borough cares. About its customers. For further proof, take a look at the wine list, with many by-the-glass at well under $10 (a rarity these days) and interesting beers for even less. The window-fronted room doesn’t take itself seriously, either, with subway tiles on the walls and mirrors in mismatched gilt frames, lit by dangling bulbs within cheese-grater shades. Makes me want to move downtown. But hey, I don’t have to! The same boys are opening another kitchen circus called Coup d’Etat in Uptown.