To wrap up my Christmas shopping, I have a long list of items I’d like to buy for people in the Rochester area restaurant world. Alas, journalistic ethics won’t allow it, nor will my expense account, but here’s what Santa Four Stars would deliver if he could:
Another parking lot for Forager: One of the best things to happen this year to make Rochester a destination anything is Forager Brewery, which among other attractions has a new IPA called Hip Hops, with a whopping 70 IBU. The brewpub’s runaway success has created an almost impossible demand for parking along otherwise sleepy Sixth Street Northwest. They recently lined up a few more spots just east of Kwik Trip, but another lot or two would help.
To save money on this gift, I thought about just getting Forager some orange traffic cones to mark where people shouldn’t park. Be kind to their neighbors and don’t park where you’re not supposed to — and be careful crossing 11th Avenue on foot from the Barlow parking lot.
A snow blower for Five West: With a little extra snow removal capability, maybe they’d keep the patio bar open year-round. I think my wife and I may have been the very last customers of the season out there, huddled under the gas heaters like Packers fans in the concourse at Lambeau Field in January, and we’ll be the first ones out there next spring.
In the meantime, there’s always the inside, if you can get a seat. When Five West opened in mid-September, I wrote that it could be a game changer in the local dining world, and so far, they’re on track. Other restaurant owners in town have taken notice.
A well-fitted suit of armor for Stewart Woodman: The new top chef at Kahler Hospitality Group is already making his mark at the Lord Essex (where the tomahawk steak has been trimmed down to a juicy cowboy cut) and Salute Wine Bar. Woodman has a big job, as his predecessors can attest; he might want to try on that armor outside the Lord Essex.
A buyer for the Aroma Pie Shop: The legendary pie shop on the Root River Trail closed forever, apparently, when the fall color season was over, and the building is for sale. That’s a big loss for people like me who’ll drive any distance for a memorable piece of rhubarb pie.
A free round at local tap rooms for Rochester City Council members: This isn’t ethical, either, but for the record, the city council has taken action this year and previously to encourage the growth of brewpubs and tap rooms, and we’re a better city because of it. Grand Rounds Brewpub, LTS Brewing Co. and Kinney Creek Brewery, in addition to Forager, are hopefully just the tip of the foam for locally made beer — and who’s going to open the first local distillery?
A brick from the former Bilotti’s building for Karla Sperry: Karla owned Bilotti’s for 20 years and made it Rochester’s favorite pizza. She was devoted to First Avenue Southwest long before First Avenue was cool. But after a few tough years, during which the restaurant moved to the former Beer Bellyz location on Civic Center Drive, she recently turned over the keys to new owners.
For true-blue fans, she’ll always be the one who made Bilotti’s famous. I’m guessing John Kruesel, the antiques wizard and her old landlord, can find a brick for her.
Cellphone charger cords for Terza: One of my favorite trends in new restaurants, including Terza and its companion lounge upstairs, La Vetta, are power outlets on or under the bar or table. Now they just need to provide the cords for people like me who never bring them and whose phones have ridiculously short battery life.
FYI, the New Year’s Eve party at La Vetta ought to be one of the toughest tickets in town, with a spectacular view of whatever fireworks are out there at midnight.
Thank you cards for every restaurant server: Waiting tables is hard work, and providing attentive service with just the right touches of insight and personality is truly an art form. (I’m talking about you, Sara.) They deserve the best tip you can afford, as well as a genuine thank you.
Cards for the kitchen teams, too: It’s the people at the grills and ovens, the people who bake the baklava and knead the gnocchi, who make or break restaurants. Their talents keep you coming back for more. On the menu at Zzest Cafe and Bar, they invite you to buy a round of beer for the kitchen staff, which is a good way to show your appreciation.
As Zzest’s LeeAnn Zubay would also say, it’s up to us to support good local restaurants if we want to enjoy them again in 2016.