I take my girlfriend to her work a couple days a week. It’s not just because I’m a great guy. I get to enjoy a pretty drive along Cedar Lake. I get to cycle the radio between NPR and KTLK, and imagine the cataclysm that would ensue if Terry Gross and Glenn Beck were to enter the same room as each other. But best of all, I get to walk past Borough in the North Loop and smell whatever’s wafting out of it.
I spoke with Chef Mike DeCamp to better learn about those wafts’ origin. “You hear the phrase ‘chef-driven’ whenever you turn your head these days,” said Mike, “but I think we’re one of the first, if not the first, restaurants in Minneapolis to embrace the ideology. That gives me license to do what I want.”
“Our dishes are ingredient-focused,” Mike continued. “That means we use fewer ingredients in our dishes, but pay greater attention to their quality. If you’ve only got three or four things on the plate, you can’t hide anything. That’s been the driving philosophy behind our success.
“Take our white fish served in vichyssoise. Fresh fish from Lake Superior, served hot, in creamy soup, served cold. It adds an unexpected element of surprise to vichyssoise that diners are always surprised by. (Journalist J. Stuart Keate once wrote ‘Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations — it’s cold, half-French, and difficult to stir.’) Our raw endive salad is simply endive, apple, and goat cheese. You get this nice acidic bite from the apple and cheese, with a bitterness from the endives. Our oysters with fresh cucumber and black vinegar is simple, but with some subtle tweaks that keep you guessing.
“Once a week we’ll bring in a whole animal, break it down, and come up with a submenu of five dishes featuring only those cuts. In the pig’s case, we might serve the chops with creamed leaks and pickled peppers, the leg as a ham and cheese sandwich, and the ground pork as sausage with almonds and cauliflower. We always like to have some kind of pork belly on the menu, cured and smoked and crisped up until it becomes almost bacony. And the ribs, those we save up until we’ve got enough to make everybody who comes in happy.
“We keep things even fresher by giving one of our cooks run of his own trolley on Fridays and Saturdays after six. This lets him run his own smaller restaurant in a way, showcasing his creativity while engaging with our guests tableside.”
Across from the subway tile kitchen where Mike’s team invents sits a steel bartop beneath Edison bulbs, an altar before rows of beautiful brown bottles. The whole dining room is a beauty — the subject of a complete remodel only last fall. And if you go downstairs, you’re in Parlour, Borough’s subterranean lounge with a more casual ambiance. On the end of its bar hangs a mounted boar’s head, wearing sunglasses, because it must have been a very cool boar in life. There I asked a Hawaiian-shirted barback busy juicing lemons like a butler at the Gatsby mansion what is good to drink. “I’m 20, so I couldn’t tell you,” said the youth, wisely, “but we serve 35 thousand Old Fashioneds here a year, and I hear the Third Eye Punch is really good.”
Borough is the North Loop’s cozy neighborhood joint, as worth walking to if you’re able as it is making a special trip for. You can better see what they do at boroughmpls.com.
By David Scheller