James Beard? In the Twin Cities, it’s all about Charlie

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The Charlie Awards, something like Minnesota’s answer to the James Beard Awards, is now in its 7th year.

Named for Charlie’s Café Exceptionale, a Minneapolis restaurant that closed in 1982 after a nearly 50-year run as the gold standard for local fine dining, the awards celebrate “…The camaradarie, the creativity, the commiseration” of Twin Cities’ food and drink: Our chefs and creators, their restaurants and products, and everything that makes them such an important and indelible piece of the community.

Heyday continues to innovate in Minneapolis (photo courtesy of Heyday)

Here are the categories, and the finalists:

  • Outstanding Service: “A restaurant or foodservice business that excels at hospitality by being consistently outstanding and welcoming.”

Finalists: Manny’s Steakhouse, Mucci’s, Good Day Cafe 

  • Outstanding Restaurateur: “The owner of the restaurant with at least five years in the industry, who excels at running a restaurant, keeping it profitable as well as relevant and who is an influencer in the community”

Finalists: Ann Kim (Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola, Hello Pizza), Alex Roberts (Alma, Brasa), Jacob Toledo & Brent Frederick (Jester Concepts: Monello, Constantine, Borough, Parlour)

  • Outstanding Restaurant: “A restaurant that continually hits on all cylinders with creative and exceptional food, atmosphere and service.”

Finalists: Bellecour, Alma, Heyday

  • Outstanding Baker/Pastry Chef: “A working baker or pastry chef with at least five years of experience who is an artist when creating the staff of life or the masterpieces of desserts and morning pastries.”

Finalists: Emily Marks (Bachelor Farmer), Katy Gerdes (Angel Food Bakery), Solveig Tofte (Sunstreet Breads)

  • Outstanding Chef: “A working chef with at least five years in the industry, who shows consistency, relevancy, creativity and isn’t resting on his or her laurels.”

Finalists: Jamie Malone (Grand Cafe), Lisa Carlson (Chef Shack), Hide Tozawa (Kyatchi),

  • Rising Star: “An under 30, up-and-coming foodservice professional whose talent and hard work guarantees he or she will make their mark on the Twin Cities community and go on to even greater contributions.”

Finalists: Yia Vang (Union Kitchen), Adam Eaton (Saint Dinette), Joshua Walbolt (Lemongrass Thai, Bellecour)

  • Beverage Innovator: “A professional who is doing innovative work with wine/beer/spirits, either as a brewer, mixologist, sommelier, craft soda producer or bartender.”

Finalists: Nick Kosevich (Bittercube), Brie Roland (St. Genevieve), Band Brewing

  • Hidden Gem: “An out-of-the-box restaurant, food truck or catering service that often flies under the radar of the mainstream media, but is a favorite with the neighborhood or foodie fans.”

Finalists: Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine, Moroccan Flavors, Quang Restaurant

  • Community Hero: “He or she uses their skills and platform to better the community, either through charitable acts or mentorship.”

Finalists: Rose McGee (Sweet Potato Comfort Pies), Pat Weber (Mis en Place Consulting), Lachelle Cunningham & Michelle Horovitz (Breaking Bread Cafe)

Rising Star finalist Adam Eaton of Saint Dinette chats with Twin Cities Agenda food writer Brandon Randolph

This is the first year that the Charlie Awards are announcing the finalists beforehand, perhaps to wet the palates of eager diners, and generate more excitement surrounding the awards ceremony, which takes place February 25, 2018 at the Pantages Theater.

Get your tickets here: charliesexceptionale.com/ticketing

What it does speak to is the continually evolving and still-innovative Twin Cities restaurant scene: Many of the restaurants featured are less than three years old, and some, like Roberts’ Alma, which recently added an upstairs inn and remodeled their connected cafe, or Kyatchi, which recently expanded into St. Paul’s Lowertown, continue to grow and build to the delight of diners everywhere.

It gives us reason to stay excited about local food and drink; about eating out in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and reminds us why we continue to support our local restaurants and their incredibly intuitive, incredibly talented, incredibly hardworking staff.