Flyover no more

Chef Landon Schoenfeld in the kitchen at Nighthawks. Credit: File photo

3753 Nicollet Avenue
612-248-8111 (no reservations)

Note to Edward Hopper: Landon Schoenfeld’s Nighthawks diner looks about a thousand times more enticing than your painting, and that’s before we even talk about the food. (Bet they didn’t serve rhubarb pie with black olive dust back then.)

From Haute Dish to haute diner, the boundary-breaking chef does his bit to improve the city by putting a personal spin on classic Midwestern mealtime icons — as if Picasso got hold of a paint-by-number kit.

Take pancakes (which, indeed, you can take, from 4 p.m. to midnight): buttermilk, sure. But also lime/coconut/pineapple; chorizo/cheddar/corn; and bacon/kimchi/scallion. Or hot dogs, where the “Minnesoter” version includes pickled herring and potato salad. Portions, let me add, are sized to make me wish I’d worn a muu-muu. Sitting at the diner counter watching them come together makes you doubt your eyes (“Did he just add that?”), and worth the price of admission. Or choose a sidewalk umbrella, booth or two-top.

We started with the chopped liver ($8.50), the only presentation I wasn’t crazy about, so let’s get that out of the way first. A slice of (homemade) rye gets toasted, schmeared with liver paste (we were hoping for the texture of a Jewish deli version), then studded with way too many raw and crunchy toppings, including radish and carrot coins. Plus a (perfectly timed) hardboiled egg.

On to the fried cauliflower ($9), giant florets mightily improved by dancing in a habanero hot sauce, and served with its alter ego, a tart and cooling lime pickle yogurt, straight from the streets of Mumbai (if not South Minneapolis). A-mazing!

Next the chicken, fried sublimely, County Fair style: moist and tasty within its coat of batter (two pieces $7). We chose the bacon-maple syrup-Eggo version, built upon a waffle. Or, on Mondays, go for the blue plate special chicken dinner, clearly intended to feed an entire Scout troop. Return Thursdays (I will) for the meatloaf, or Friday’s fish and chips. Etc.

Four options compose the sandwich list, which includes what Landon says is his best-selling burger. I felt duty-bound, however, to order the hot turkey combo, certainly the license for any diner to open its doors. This one’s built upon, again, a hewn hunk of bread. It’s loaded with tender, juicy meat wallowing in a true giblet gravy (you can also choose the fried gizzards separately, and I will), then topped with fine-spun mashed potatoes, which, I’m guessing, require a snowplow to deliver. Finally, a sprinkle of peas and carrots, natch, but not those that fell off the Kraft truck, no siree: Somebody lost his eyesight dicing these babies.

Finally — of course! — pie. The thick cornmeal crust, one Grandma would approve of, is biscuit-like and contains (our choice) rhubarb with only enough strawberries to take the edge off that esteemed tartness. Then that sprinkling of black olive dust. Or choose the blueberry with basil, banana cream with parsley, and more. More!

We also dipped into the tap of local craft beers. Good, and affordable, wine selection, too. Oh, and what about the foie gras and cheese omelette?