As usual, grandma was right: Good things do come to those who wait. Southwest’s foodies no longer have to make the trek through the urban jungle to Brasa’s longtime outpost in Northeast, thanks to the launch of a second Minneapolis location on West 46th Street, larger than the original’s rehab of a gas station. Both sites offer takeout only these days.
This is fine, because the cafe’s forte is viands whose journey from kitchen to table doesn’t have to occur at speeds normally reserved for the Indy 500. They’re cooked long and slow and happy to rest, awaiting your order — an everyman’s everyday contrast to the more refined dining experience James Beard award-winning chef Alex Roberts offers at his other venue, the prix-fixe palace Restaurant Alma.
His cooking at Brasa carries a strong Southern accent — the Creole flavors wafting from our Southern states, and even farther south, the kettles of the Caribbean. The menu is simple: Brasa’s trademark roast pork and rotisserie chicken, joined by a more recent addition, fried catfish. Choose your side dishes from a lineup you’d find in many a Southern meat-and-three, plus a couple of salads for the likes of those who do not consider mac and cheese a vegetable. Everything may be ordered a la carte or as a plate ($12 range), sandwich ($11 range) or bowl ($12 range).
We ordered several bowls to share, simply out of greediness. They supplied several of the tastes of the side dishes we’d otherwise have summoned separately (mostly $4). The chicken bowl featured tender bits of juicy meat consorting with a heap of yellow rice and beans. They’re united with a sofrito of the usual Southern suspects — onion, sweet peppers and tomato — this time with the added scent of ham (though hard to detect on my simple palate). Green olives add pop. Together they complement a mild andouille-tomato gravy. If you’re thinking “arroz con pollo,” you’re close.
We also summoned a piece of chicken solo ($3.75) — swooningly moist under a faint hint of its Creole rub (and miles more tender and tasty than the six-buck cluck from you-know-where). It comes with a side of the house green sauce. That sauce is an addictive blend of cilantro (which, wisely, does not overpower the mix), lime and a subtle touch of ginger, all stirred into mayo. You can order it by the pint ($4.75) if you secretly yearn to chug it, as I do.
Next, the fried catfish bowl. The slender fillet arrived robed with a crunchy crust of cornmeal-cum-rice flour — OK but not habit-forming. It rested on a mound of nicely cheesy grits along with tangy collard greens dotted with bits of smoked chicken and wheels of pickled jalapenos.
The pulled pork, which we ordered a la carte, proved satisfyingly tender, thanks to slow-cooking with a garlic-lime mojo. Side orders of Brasa’s sauces helped it along — that lovely green invention; a robust red sauce born from tomatillos, roasted tomatoes and chilies, carrying a bit of heat; and a nicely atypical, un-cloying barbecue number.
Order those collard greens separately if you wish (nice to see them marbled with smoked chicken instead of the usual ham) — also the yellow rice and beans, the dreamy grits or yams. From a separate list of “special” sides, we summoned the creamed spinach, livened with jalapenos. I’m a sucker for creamed spinach, and this version made my day.
Desserts ($3.50-$4) include lemon buttermilk pound cake served with berries and a chocolate bar that boasts crispy sweet potato and sea salt in its pedigree. Instead — big mistake — we ordered the two oh-so-Southern-sounding puddings. The butterscotch version came jazzed with toffee and whipped cream, the coconut-tapioca rendition with additions of fresh pineapple and sesame. Both were underwhelming.
Order in person or online at this family-friendly operation. To find it, just open your windows and follow your nose. Maybe they could bottle that addictive fragrance, too?