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Social justice - with a side of supper

Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, photographed in February 2022.
Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, photographed in February 2022.Jay Gabler/MPR

by Mecca Bos

February 04, 2022

The revelation period that began in 2020 had an enormous impact on the food industry and exposed a truth we all might have been already aware of but were not necessarily acting on, nagging quietly like a tiny pebble in a shoe. 

Food is, and always has been, a social justice issue. There’s something to be concerned about every stop of the way until our food hits the plate. Food folks who recognize the business they’re in — feeding not just with flavor but with feeling — are righteously ahead of the pack.

In the poignant words of Oliver Roellinger, a Michelin-starred chef who eventually relinquished the accolade, as paraphrased in the Cooking with Care newsletter: “The only real duty of a chef is to give the eater, in that moment, something that they need, something that will nourish them.”

As you look for local eateries to patronize this season, here are eight places currently nourishing body, mind, and conscience.

This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days of Winter series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.

Dinners and Parties by The Bureau

This “interdisciplinary art and archival research studio” located in The Glasshouse at The Holden Room is a collective of all-Black artists and creatives bound only by their own imaginations. With a refusal to be obliged to any corporatized or preconceived notions about what art needs to be, The Bureau flows freely among fashion design and shows, graphics, photography, poetry, teaching, and beyond. Dinners and parties will evolve naturally out of their work — founder Bobby Rogers’s sister is chef/owner of Angelea’s Soul Food Kitchen, and they plan collaborations with their late mother’s recipe inspirations at the forefront. 

Their upcoming Year of The Tiger event on Feb. 23, “a party experience,” will preview their Year of The Tiger fashion collective. “Activating Space” is just another way to make art, and demand Black space in an overly segregated Minneapolis.

Ties Lounge/Joey Meatballs 

A quad of gen-Z and millennial entrepreneurs/besties with a common bond and a common goal, to “tie” Minneapolis back together again, have taken over the old Randall’s/Ling & Louie/Rojo space on Nicollet Mall and are creating a nightclub experience like none other. Think community center, except with flash and glam. All are welcome — no red ropes, no cover charges, no bouncers — not even any DJs: the crowd choose the vibe from the prominently placed TouchTunes jukebox. The establishment has four levels, each offering a different experience: family-friendly, “premium,” chill lounge, and rooftop. The aim is to offer something for everyone. There’s only one rule: you gotta smile and have fun. Bring your kiddos, bring your grandma, bring your colleagues and study buddies. Bring your good vibes only. A deep local drinks selection, and food by Joshua Hedquist of Joey Meatballs, who partners with The Redemption Project (employing people with criminal records). Come summer, chef Justin Sutherland will take over the rooftop kiosk.

Pimento Jamaican Kitchen

Minneapolis’s Ground Zero for community needs from food to first aid to diapers to safe shelter, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen continued as a restaurant during the uprising of 2020, but also became a much-needed space for human services support of all kinds. They’ve continued that mission (a little-known fact is that social justice has been an integral part of their mission since they started their concept in 2012 with little more than a backyard, a grill and a will) with Pimento Relief Services, designed to “convene a community coalition to reach our goal of Economic Liberation, Social Liberation, and Political Liberation for all Black people.” They urge us all to “become an instrument of liberation.” You can do it one jerk wing and one rum punch at a time at their Nicollet Mall location, which now has an adjacent nightclub with regularly scheduled DJ sets and live music from dancehall to reggae.

Breaking Bread

Newly reopened, Breaking Bread is the anchor project of Appetite for Change, a community-led nonprofit using food as a tool to build health, wealth, and social change. The cafe is also one of the most prominent food spaces in North Minneapolis “celebrating the culinary legacy of Black Americans.” AFC’s efforts include nutrition education, job creation, business development, youth empowerment, and more. The ethos starts with a from-the-community approach: Black people making decisions in a culturally appropriate way for and by the community. The food is down-home, delicious, simple, and nutritious: shrimp & grits, biscuits & gravy, and chicken & waffles at accessible prices. Also check out Station 81 by Appetite for Change inside of St. Paul’s Historic Union Depot, with all-day happy hour specials on weekends. The dry rub wings are some of the best anywhere.

Hope Breakfast Bar

A 501(c)(3) charitable organization with a mission to provide all-day breakfast (a social service in itself) that provides a tithing-style three percent donation of all profits to local nonprofit organizations. A seemingly simple gesture, consider that most restaurants operate on a less-than-ten-percent profit margin to begin with, so the simple gesture is actually a very big one. Other work includes meal donations to families in need. Their pancakes and waffles are known to be legendary, in iterations like banana churro or piña colada French toast. Savory lovers will dig inventive takes like the deviled egg sandwich or a pimento cheese scramble. There are two locations: St. Paul and St. Louis Park.

All Square

Temporarily closed until Feb. 15, All Square is a grilled cheese restaurant premised on the idea that “meaningful reparations for communities who have been disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system are of the utmost importance.” It employs and supports in its fellowship people who have been impacted by the American justice system. 

Chelle’s Kitchen

LaChelle Cunningham is the former chef of Breaking Bread and has started her own culinary enterprise which includes catering as well as K’s Revolutionary Catering, as well as “The Healthy Roots Institute,” which includes holistic healing, and supports the building of more Black entrepreneurs via work with the Neighborhood Development Center.

Owamni/North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS)

Probably the most important food work in the country, Owamni just happens to be absolutely delicious on top of its promotion of Indigenous food ways, education, and the facilitation of Indigenous food access.

Update 2/8: Owamni has launched a winter dinner series that makes their dining experience available to community members who might not otherwise have the financial means. Click here for more information.

Animated graphic with snow falling.
The long dark nights of Minnesota winter open our eyes to the wonders of the starry sky and the thrills of chasing the Aurora Borealis.
Marlena Myles for The Current

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.