No place like home

What’s in a Minnesotan’s DNA? There they were in balmy San Francisco, leading the storybook California life, when Jennifer King voiced to her husband, Eliot, that ultimate masochistic fantasy: There’s no place like home.

So they turned their backs on La-la Land, including good jobs with the California Café — he in chef’s whites and she managing the front of the house — to return to Jennifer’s home state (Eliot takes no share of the blame; he’s from New York) and snap up a house in South Minneapolis.

Well, one ridiculous impulse purchase deserves another, so they bought a nearby restaurant, too. Say "hi" to Prima.

That was 10 years ago, and it’s still going strong, which may be close to a record in the volatile hospitality biz. They served 400 diners that first night in a room not much bigger than a shoebox with a kitchen the size of a sofa, and those customers are still returning. Says Eliot, doing a double-take after spotting a recent diner: "My God! She was just a little girl sitting at the counter drawing pictures, and now she’s in college!" These aren’t just customers, they’re family. And that’s why they come back, and back.

That, and Eliot’s cooking. Bestsellers ("which I can’t remove from the menu or I’d be dodging bullets") may start with his signature pastas, but they end, no doubt about it, with the pork.

Not just any old pig meat — Eliot knows better — but locally raised Fischer Farms pork tenderloin, given a spice rub and then pulled off the grill while still blush-pink and juicy. The kitchen guru carries the hearty, get-you-through-the-winter theme even further, serving those rich slices atop a toss of wild and long-grain rice sweetly flavored with cider jus. The pilaf comes spiked with tender cubes of sweet green apple, rustic ribbons of deep, dark kale, and, continuing his riff on Grandmas’ farmhouse fare, cranberry relish: A bling of whole, huge, ruby berries that burst like fireworks on your palate, raining sweet-tart sparklers onto the homey meat. Can’t find that tasty plate in San Francisco.

Assuring our solicitous server that everything was more than "all right," I divided the plate with my companion, earning me high marks in the "plays well with others" category but leaving me lusting for more. So, bring on the rotini, another dish that elicits hate mail on the comment cards if ever it’s missing from the menu. Combine those curly noodles with bits of roasted chicken, the tang of sundried tomatoes, the earthy note of mushrooms, along with generous gratings of Parmesan, the aristocrat of cheeses, and plenty (and I do mean plenty) of cream, and bring on that hockey tournament blizzard!

A final sip of shiraz as we waved goodbye to the staff. (Everybody does; as I said, they’re family.) Which proves that Jennifer, channeling Dorothy, was right: There’s no place like home.

5325 Lyndale Ave. S.