The Late Show: A Week of Midnight Meals in Minneapolis

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Nighthawks’ double cheeseburger and the exterior of the new Minneapolis restaurant // Photos by Daniel Murphy

Photos by Daniel Murphy

Thursday – 10:30pm

Nighthawks • kitchen until midnight, Mon–Sat

A cook sits at the bar and eats a cheeseburger. His name is Russ. He first came to 38th Street, in South Minneapolis, looking for a job. When he walked into Nighthawks, Landon Schoenefeld said, “Show me what you got.” Russ made potatoes, manned the pantry, nailed the grunt work. Now, he cooks three days a week at Nighthawks and another three at Haute Dish. But at the moment, he’s off the clock and he’s eating a cheeseburger.

A group of diners cluster around the back bar, where Landon anchors the corner of the exposed kitchen. Outside, Nicollet Avenue is quiet. Inside, a double cheeseburger—the sinful, thin-pattied flattop version, simple in its decadence—is dripping our way. The accompanying potato salad is creamy and somehow light as a cloud. We crunch turkey gizzards by the handful. Our hot dogs erupt with toppings.

The last couple years have seen a renewed interest in the Twin Cities for late-night dining. New neighborhood cafes are not only keeping the kitchen open until midnight and beyond, but advertising it, making it part of their identity. But why? Are people suddenly prone to eating later? Have Twin Citizens gone starving at midnight until now? Who are these nighthawks eating full entrées when they should be in bed?

Many of the patrons at Nighthawks are in the service industry. It could be argued, in fact, that the rise in late-night dining suggests the rise of a more noteworthy food culture: The more exciting eateries that open, the more the need for places like Nighthawks, where haggard cooks and spent waitresses can put their feet up and drown a hectic day under a cheap PBR and a loaded footlong hot dog.

A midnight-blue light glows from behind a wall of glassware. A stack of lemon pancakes comes steaming from the kitchen. The bar is full, but no one is really saying much. We’re digging in to baskets of fries smothered in blue cheese and gaining new life force with each pull of Pabst—a rejuvenating well we can only draw from after dark.

Friday – 11:00pm

Nightingale • kitchen until 1am, daily

Restaurants are a business. It wouldn’t make sense to keep a kitchen open if you’re only expecting a few tired chefs. So where are the civilian night owls snacking the twilight away? Lyndale Avenue, in LynLake. The block is humming with the beautiful and the alternative, spilling from CC Club to The Bulldog and, in between, Nightingale.

The bar looks crowded but feels cozy, intimate. A DJ spins down-tempo vinyls. A poet scribbles verse. Off-duty waiters with David Beckham man-buns hold court at the high tops. Groups nestle into oversized booths in the dining room. The people are all pretty, lively, and smiling. I feel like being seen here.

Nightingale cooks their full menu until kitchen close, and the late-night specials are both affordable and princely. $2 oysters? We suck down half a dozen West Coasters in short order. Then some chicken wings, and spicy artichoke hearts with a cooling tzatziki sauce. Meat plate, cheese plate, pickle plate: there’s nothing labor-intensive to eat here—nothing to detract from your company. This is elegant grazing.

Saturday – 12:00AM

Tilia • kitchen until 1am daily

It’s storming in South Minneapolis—a menacing humidity broken with a sudden splatter. Steven Brown sits on the bench outside Tilia with a glass of wine and six friends. Inside, a few straggling diners are finishing up. A few more perch at the bar.

Our first experience with Tilia, back in 2011, was in the wee hours. The little Linden Hills restaurant was the hottest ticket in town, attracting foodies near and far. With no reception area—and no reservations—waiting for a table there meant dodging waiters carrying potted meat and Szechuan shrimp and braised leeks right under your nose. So, instead of battling the crowds, we opted to wait them out, visiting late at night to nibble on the “in-between” menu of snacks, salads, and sandwiches.

This rainy night, though, calls for another cheeseburger. (Why do they taste so good so late?) Gorgonzola cheese, mayo made with beef-pan drippings, house pickles, Worchester onions—a juicy burger that tastes like a steak. A half-order of fries, Deschutes Obsidian on nitro, and Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” playing on repeat sets the scene.

The dimly lit café feels comfortable late at night. All the activity during the dinner rush makes us anxious. But now we can relax. And by 12:30, it’s stopped raining. We roll the windows down as we idle around Lake Harriet, watching the thunderclouds retreat.

Next Page: The Lowry, Masu, & Other Late-Night Favorites

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John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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