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Friends Family and a Visit to Owamni

The call came in from Jeremy. You want to eat at this new best restaurant with us in Minneapolis before vacation? I said “the Souix chef? I’m there. And booked my flight. Easier to fly through Minneapolis to get to Asheville anyway, and why not experience a 2022 James Beard Award Winner, and visit friends and family in the process.

Sign greeting you when you enter Owamni.

When Jeremy called me in August to find out if I was willing to fly into Minneapolis just to go to a restaurant, I was relieved to have a reason to jet set. I was just off a break up and needed to a project and way to get back into my solo traveler, quest for flavor self. I also needed to rearrange my travel plans to not include my ex. Time to get back to my Sagittarian wanderer life before I started trying to make it tango with a merchant mariner’s schedule. It was also a great excuse to see my bestie from law school and chosen sister Tracy and my little brother Frank.

Sunset in downtown Minneapolis with a view of the Grain Belt sign.

With reservations on Saturday evening, I flew in on Friday to spend the evening and morning hanging out and catching up with Tracy and her son Max, then do Saturday brunch with my brother to give him a break from his bachelor corporate IT guy lifestyle of dining in with his two cats. (They are great cats, but he really needs to get out more). It is great now that he is in Minneapolis instead of Chicago, as I can actually visit him on my midwest adventures along with other friends and family.

Tracy and I had a great visit on Friday and ate at a very non-assuming place called, I kid you not “Italian Eatery” in her South Minneapolis neighborhood. I had wild boar meatballs over some type of pasta covered in cheese. It was exactly what it said it would be. Generically Italian, and completely unoffensive. Tracy had meatballs sans pasta because she isn’t doing sugar or carbs anymore, mostly (she did have two servings of bread along with the meatballs). We stayed up late watching the worst cheesy Christmas movie ever (we decided to just by-pass Halloween) and one “Scary” Christmas movie that didn’t include Christmas at all. We’ll never get those hours back (thank you Hulu or Netflix) but we had a good time making fun of the movies together so it was worth it.

Frank outside of St. Genevieve when we finally found the door (there is no sign on the facade, your really gotta know where you are going to find this place).

The next morning Tracy was off to a Barmitzvah and I stayed with Max and the dogs to write and wait for my brother to awaken from his beauty sleep. I got a call around noon “I overslept” to which I said – “No worries, I just made us reservations at 1pm at St. Genevieve, so get it together.” So he did and we made it in time to the cozy French eatery just in time for their last seating.

Nothing like starting out your day with oysters and beignets and a good catch up with the little brother. St. Genevieve definitely forces you to work on your menu French. I laughed with our server as I wanted to know how to pronounce my breakfast called the shakashouka en crocette or something like that. She didn’t know either. Frank got the omelette de jeur which featured Gruyere, shallots and scallops. We talked about dating and working with lawyers (my brother now does IT for a giant law firm that shall not be named) and texted photos of the food to our parents to show them that Frank is still alive and thriving.

My brother dropped me off with Jeremy and Dan at our park-n-fly hotel location (as we had a super early flight into Charlotte, NC the next day) and went on his merry way. Meanwhile, the three of us turned around and hopped the light rail into downtown Minneapolis for a little pre-dinner wander. We took in the sunset, the warehouse district and looked out at the construction and drought like conditions of the river near Owamni. Owamni means “where the water swirls” and in normal times I think you can look out from the restaurant over the river and see such a water feature. But on this night you could just see the low water level.

Dinner at Owamni is a surprisingly casual affair for a James Beard level establishment. But perhaps that is part of the “decolonizing” of the dining experience and ingredients. Every ingredient at Owamni is a traditional indigenous ingredient so wheat, dairy, cane sugar and booze are not on the menu. There are non-alcoholic cocktails and wines from indigenous and BIPOC producers and regions. For example, the wine list features Mexican wine from the Valley of Guadalupe which I have only seen in one other restaurant in the United States in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The non-alcoholic drinks are all beautiful and complex.

Our meal began with elk tartare, seeds & crickets, sweet potatoes and duck sausage. We moved on to squash, bison and hand harvested wild rice with a desert of wild rice ice cream. All in all everything was earthy and delicious. You could taste the care and thoughtfulness that went into the sustainable harvesting practices and its preparation. None of the ingredients were in anyway foreign to me as they are things I grew up eating from a family that has been close to the land both via hunting game and growing our own food my whole life. The unique aspect of it to me was the experience of it being placed before me as elevated cuisine, not as something we eat because we have to. A reclaiming of the cast off ingredients of our ancestors (I’m part Cherokee) and our indigenous cultures is a beautiful thing to witness. Food does not have to be French or Spanish or from the court of this or that white colonizing overlord to be good or “worthy of being created by a chef.” The Souix chef and his concept for Owamni is a very beautiful way to bring these real American ingredients to the forefront and remind, heal and support indigenous communities who were forced to forget and accept European food as their food, or in some experiences, lost their sacred foods because colonizers literally ripped them away from them (see the story of quinoa).

In my case, I am celebrating the fact that I am privileged enough at this point in my life to be able to fly into Minnesota for less than 24 hours so I can eat at a James Beard awarded restaurant serving the food of my childhood. I grew up on venison and game, wild rice and squash because without it we would have had food insecurity. These indigenous ingredients grown and harvested by us were supplemented by government cheese, canned pork, flour, sugar and powdered milk from free agricultural subsidies my mother and grandmother waited in line for. And as it turns out, since we are Cherokee, that we are lactose intolerant, gluten sensitive, and prone to diabetes and alcoholism – so the government’s food was actually poison. Our food, the food of this land (North America), the three sisters of corn, beans and squash, wild rice, game animals of deer, bison, elk, rabbit, duck and geese -this is our food that nourishes and heals. And it was such a pleasure, and is such a pleasure to see it recognized as the amazing and magickal food that it is. Thank you Owamni, the Souix Chef and everyone involved for making this vision into the reality that is drawing people in like a magnet at this place and time. May we continue to acknowledge, elevate and enjoy this food.

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