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Restaurant review roundup: One new, one redo, and the ghosts of dinner past

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It's Thursday! Not the weekend, but you can see it from here. That's why Thursday is when publications with dedicated food sections traditionally print their reviews, sort of an appetizer to encourage a plan for date-night or leisurely dining.

This week, City Pages takes a favorable first look at what happens when a wildly popular food truck steps into a Minneapolis brick-and-mortar restaurant. The Pioneer Press reviews a St. Paul standby taken over by a new owner. And the Star Tribune makes you hungry for food you can't order any more in a wistful take on Minnesota restaurants that are gone but certainly not forgotten.

Emily Weiss in City Pages is clearly smitten with the just-opened Chef Shack Ranch, (3025 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis). She writes that Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson, the owner-operator-visionary creators of the Chef Shack food truck, took over a 40 to 50-seat former Ethiopian restaurant in the Seward Neighborhood. Style of food? They're calling it "modern urban truck stop." City Pages recommends the bison burgers (pictured above), a barbecue sample plate and, for Sunday brunch, Hangover Hash, "with broccoli and lovely caramelized cauliflower, ultra-tender braised beef cheeks, and fluffy scrambled eggs, all on a pile of potatoes."

In the Pioneer Press, writer Jess Fleming went looking for "a comforting meal, a few glasses of wine and some good conversation," and found it at the under-new-management 128 Cafe (128 Cleveland Ave., St. Paul) in the Merriam Park neighborhood. She approves of the new carpet and logo chosen by Chef Max Thompson, who bought the cafe in August. More to the point, she likes the updated menu, especially the mussels, steaks, and the "best salad we've eaten all winter," a poached pear with blue cheese over crisp greens, with pickled fennel and candied pecans. Fleming warned readers away from the pork belly entree, calling it overcooked and found desserts to be "somewhat disappointing," but admitted being "...too full by that point in the meal to worry about dessert."

In lieu of a major review, the Star Tribune's Rick Nelson took a nostalgic walk down a memory lane lined with local restaurants that are no more. Nelson looked back on the heyday of beloved or influential spots, including the New French Cafe, Azur, D'Amico Cucina, the Forum and Peter's Grill in Minneapolis and the revolving Carousel rooftop restaurant in St. Paul. The story includes a where-are-they-now update on the many innovative chefs who worked the departed eateries, and suggests which restaurants that are open now are their natural descendants.

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