Owamni is currently the hardest reservation in Minneapolis.
The Star Tribune crowned it their 2021 Restaurant of the Year, and we’ve heard of people flying in from all over the country to experience the landmark cuisine.
So even though it took us a few months of trying, we finally scored reservations and got to tasting!
Owamni is the Twin Cities’ first indigenous restaurant. What does that actually mean?
As an indigenous restaurant, this is a place that embraces the ingredients native to our country’s original inhabitants. That means eschewing the “enhancements” brought on by colonial settlers. Namely, you won’t find any wheat flour, sugar, dairy, pork, chicken, or beef on the menu.
Surprised? Hold on to your hats, because you’re in for a tour of Native America, like it was meant to be experienced.
About the Chef
Owamni is the creation of Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson. The duo first burst into the scene in 2014 when they founded The Sioux Chef, a nonprofit aiming to promote indigenous cuisine throughout the world.
Previously, Sherman had a brief stint operating a local food truck, and even ran a kitchen out of Midtown Global Market that provided free meals to Minnesota’s tribal community.
Sherman and Thompson reached even more fame in 2018, when they published an Indigenous cookbook that won a James Beard award for Best American cookbook.
Our Visit – The Astmophere and Vibe
Owamni’s location is absolutely stunning. It sits in the old Fuji Ya building, which is located on the sacred indigenous grounds of Owamniyomni (St. Anthony Falls).
The big bold neon sign reminds and challenges you of this fact, as do the soft chants and tribal music playing inside the restaurant.
In the dining area, you’ll find a wall of windows overlooking the river to one side and the city’s new $20+ million park dedicated to indigenous history on the other. No matter what direction you look (unless it’s to the bustling, open concept kitchen) you’ll take in beautiful panoramic views of the outside world.
In the winter, which is when we visited, you’re treated to a four course tasting menu.
The concept is really fun. You don’t have to put complete blind trust to the chef — instead, you’re given four options for each of the four courses. Dining as a duo, that means we’d get to sample 8 dishes during the night.
The uniqueness begins immediately on the drink menu.
You won’t find any alcoholic cocktails here. Instead, they focus on mocktails using indigenous ingredients and an assortment of teas. (There’s also a small selection of beer and wine.)
We grabbed a white wine and the Manoomin mocktail. The mocktail was truly delicious – it tasted like a cheffed up version of an oatmilk drink. I drank it much faster than I planned, and then eagerly awaited the food tasting.
A recommendation from the server, and he was spot on. This was truly some of the best tartare I’ve ever had.
An epic start to the meal.
Magaksica (Whole Duck Sausage)
Our server warned us this wasn’t as much of a sausage as it was a pate.
Honestly, I found it oddly bland.
There were some interesting ingredients on the plate (candied parsnip, anyone?) but overall, it felt like a disjointed smorgasbord of random ingredients on a plate, none of which blew me away.
Based on the menu description, I didn’t really know what to expect, but to butcher this dish’s description – it was basically a pheasant meatball served over delicious gnocchi, topped with all sorts of unique flavors and seasonings.
This was one of those dishes that absolutely made me understand all the accolades. Just fantastic. (Although it was so good, I found myself wanting a bunch more bites!)
Mniwanca Matuska (Crab + Corn Dumplings)
A miss for me. Maybe my palette just isn’t up for the lack of flour and sugar (and salt?), but I wasn’t getting many flavors out of this dish.
As our server described it, this was basically a build your own taco dish.
And yes, I had to Google what mutton is. Apparently, it’s a lamb meat, which kept the theme of no colonial ingredients, aka pork, chicken, beef, etc…
And that lamb was slow cooked to a juicy tenderness!
That said, it was advertised as a green chile dish, but my New Mexican friends may have been disappointed with how subdued its impact was. The plate also came with three blue corn tortillas, but those tortillas were so small I could only make a few mini tacos before running out and having to eat the remaining 50% of the lamb on its own.
Hogan (Walleye 3 Ways)
Those three ways would be pickled walleye, grilled walleye, and a walleye-cake.
The pickled walleye truly blew me away with its flavor. But I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that two of the three preparations were served cold, and in general, the portion was tiny.
Chanhanpi (Duck and Maple Cake)
I can respect the ambition to build dessert without wheat or sugar, but I’m not sure my Americanized palette was ready for this one.
Chansniyah (ice cream sandwich)
Again, I think I’m just too much of a caveman to get this dish. It was hard as a rock, and while I’ve seen chefs do some wild things with a lack of ingredients, Owamni’s no-dairy & no-surgar ice cream just proved too big of a hurdle for me.
Overall, our trip to Owamni was a hit or miss affair.
Certain dishes totally blew us away, while others left us scratching our heads.
The set up also seemed a little strange. A four course tasting menu lasted nearly 2 and a half hours, which meant upwards of 20-30 minutes between dishes. By the end, we just found ourselves worn out by the wait.
I like to consider the DTC team to be pretty adventurous eaters. I mean, at this point we’ve dined all over the Twin Cities. And while Owamni is certainly an awesome concept with an ambitious goal, in the end it was one of our first dining experiences that seemed a little too… sophisticated?… for our tastes.
I can respect the other critics who go wild for this place, but for us, it just didn’t live up to the hype. Maybe we’ll give it another shot in the summer, when the tasting menu is replaced with seasonal entrees.
420 1st St S, Minneapolis, MN 55401
Definitely. Owamni is one of the toughest reservations in town right now. Although I hear they offer walk ins during the summer, when their patio space and other additional seating is open.
Average Plate Cost
$85 for the four course tasting menu, plus 15% service charge.
Overall, we paid $250 for two people’s tastings and one round of drinks.
Street Parking (charged)