Ooey, gooey, delicious: Six of the best hot cheese dishes on Twin Cities restaurant menus

21 March 2024

Typically, when it’s chilly and dreary outside, there’s nothing like hot, melty cheese to warm up your body and spirit.

The weather this winter, of course, was anything but typical — though that hasn’t exactly slowed down my cheese consumption. Maybe this year, I’m turning toward comforting, cheesy foods less to power through the cold months and more to cope with the deterioration of our climate. But hey, either way, melty cheese is still very much on the menu in my life.

And as a former cheesemonger, I’m always delighted by dishes that make cheese the star in engaging, delicious ways. Sometimes this means sticking with tradition, as the Lowell Inn in Stillwater does with its multi-course fondue dinners, and sometimes it calls for a little experimentation.

Here are six of the melty-cheese dishes I’ve enjoyed at restaurants around St. Paul and the Twin Cities this winter.

Aligot at Maison Margaux

“It’s mashed potatoes!” … “It’s cheese fondue!” … No, it’s aligot! (Cue the “Superman” intro music.)

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say aligot deserves superhero status. The dish comes from south-central France and involves slowly adding plenty of cheese into mashed or riced potatoes, over low heat, until it’s all melted together into a silky dip that’s stretchy enough to go viral on Instagram.

It’s worth the trek to the North Loop to find aligot at Maison Margaux, the French restaurant chef David Fhima opened last year. The dish arrives at your table in a fairly anonymous way, ungarnished in a metal crock, alongside bread for dipping. As you dig in, you’ll find it’s indulgent, but hearty. On second thought, maybe it would be more accurate to say aligot is my kryptonite.

Maison Margaux: 224 1st St. N, Minneapolis; 612-900-1800; maisonmargauxmpls.com

Formaggio di Capra at DeGidio’s

The formaggio di capra appetizer at DeGidio’s, on West Seventh, consists simply of red sauce and goat cheese, as shown here Feb. 16, 2024. The dish, delightfully rich and tangy, is served with toast. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

This appetizer is simple DeGidio’s glory at its best: a bowl of the restaurant’s unmatched red sauce with chunks of creamy, tangy goat cheese plopped in. It’s served with grilled toast. Done and done.

Against the rich and herbaceous marinara, the sweet acidity of the goat cheese really helps lighten and brighten the dish — probably more so than other, more mild cheeses like ricotta would. I am a goat cheese fan and I respect that some people are not, but I personally find the chèvre here to be more fresh and lemony than “goat-y,” per se.

This dish is basically red sauce, cheese, carb. Is your entree also going to be red sauce, cheese, carb? Probably. Embrace it. It’s delicious. You’ll grow big and strong, I promise.

DeGidio’s: 425 7th Street W.; 651-571-4928; degidios.com

Queso Fundido at Pajarito

Unlike the queso dips more commonly found at Mexican restaurants, the queso fundido at Pajarito on West Seventh, as shown Feb. 13, 2024, is simply a crock of melted cheese topped with chorizo. And rather than chips, it’s served with soft tortillas for dipping. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

We have no shortage of excellent Mexican restaurants here in St. Paul that serve excellent queso dip with tortilla chips. Pajarito, on West Seventh, is playing a different game.

At Pajarito, the queso is a cast-iron crock of melted Monterey Jack cheese, topped with chorizo, tossed under the broiler, and trotted out to your table with soft tortillas. Not so much what a different local taco spot cheekily calls “gringo dip;” more DIY quesadilla.

“Queso fundido” literally translates to melted cheese — molten, like lava. (The Spanish verb “fundir” comes from the same Latin word that gives us the term foundry.) The dish looks volcanic. The smoky and savory and velvety-soft cheese slips from your tortilla like a pyroclastic flow. It’s amazing.

(Speaking of amazing: On the entree menu at Pajarito, the woodfired chicken is brilliant. Perfectly cooked chicken thighs with Middle Eastern-spiced — and unbelievably crispy — skin and a chipotle sauce, plus cucumber and labneh. Just out of this world.)

Pajarito: 605 W 7th St.; 651-340-9545; pajaritorestaurant.com

Khachapuri at Moscow on the Hill

The interior of khachapuri is shown Feb. 4, 2024, at the Cathedral Hill restaurant Moscow on the Hill. Khachapuri, a type of cheese-stuffed or filled bread, is a common food in the country of Georgia, between Europe and Asia. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

Khachapuri is sometimes called the national dish of Georgia, a small country tucked between Europe and Asia, just south of Russia. Its most popular form resembles a sort of open-top bread boat, with melty cheese and sometimes an egg inside.

The khachapuri at Moscow on the Hill, the Russian restaurant in Cathedral Hill, is a bit different, though — here, it’s more of a stuffed cheesy bread, folded in on itself and topped with some parsley.

Less visually dramatic, perhaps, but still tasty. The bread was soft and puffy; the cheese had the savoriness of your everyday cheddar-jack situation, but there was plenty of it. That’s enough to keep me happy.

Moscow on the Hill: 371 Selby Ave.; 651-291-1236; moscowonthehill.com

Baked Brie at Churchill Street

At Churchill Street, a restaurant in Shoreview, the baked brie is no ordinary dough-wrapped appetizer: As shown March 2, 2024, it’s a plate of broiled soft cheese topped with charred cheese rind, pickled raisins, rosemary and honey. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

I have admittedly complex feelings about dinner-party baked brie, a wheel of cheese entombed with jam inside crescent rolls or puff pastry. I wasn’t sure what to expect at Churchill Street, a classy and unstuffy spot in suburban Shoreview — and I was genuinely pleasantly surprised by how they reimagined the dish.

Churchill Street’s baked brie is, well, a plate of cheese, toasted under the broiler till it’s bubbly and oily, with charred strips of cheese rind laid across the top like rib bones.

The whole shebang is topped with pickled golden raisins, toasted pistachios, rosemary and honey. The light sourness of the pickled raisins is refreshing in such a rich dish, and rosemary and honey are always classic flavor pairings with soft French-style cheeses. And including the rind (which is perfectly edible!) reintroduces the natural earthiness that high-quality bries and camemberts should have.

The crostini served for dipping were a little too crusty for my personal liking, but that’s neither here nor there. This, I think, is what baked brie should be.

Churchill Street: 4606 Churchill St, Shoreview; 612-466-2596; churchillst.com

Potatoes at Dario

Crispy shredded-then-fried potatoes are topped with a cheese foam on March 3, 2024, at Dario, a buzzy new restaurant in Minneapolis. The restaurant, which focuses on fresh pasta and creative fine dining, was launched by two longtime Minneapolis food service vets. (Jared Kaufman / Pioneer Press)

The buzzy new North Loop restaurant is the talk of the town among my industry friends for its fresh pasta and cocktails, courtesy of local restaurant and bar vets Joe Rolle and Stephen Rowe. But hey, I’m a simple guy: I was most intrigued by their potato and cheese appetizer.

The menu description — “potatoes: crispy and creamy with Comté, caramelized onion, Tabasco” — humbly understates just how clever the dish actually is.

The potatoes, for starters, are shredded and formed into four perfectly thick logs, then fried, becoming what one server described to me as “the sexiest hash brown of your life.”

And it’s no ordinary melted cheese on top. They already had me hooked by using comté, France’s slightly more savory and fruity answer to gruyère — and a cheese that’s massively underrated. But then, they combined the cheese with some dried hot sauce and other goodness in a gas canister to turn it into an airy, sticky, dense foam that’s pillowed on top of the potatoes.

It’s not cheap. The appetizer itself runs $16, as does every cocktail on the menu. A potato snack and the Bad Apple cocktail — an excellent negroni-ish drink made with apple brandy — ended up becoming a $50 excursion, all told.

But when it comes to melty cheese? I’ll splurge.

Dario: 323 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612-614-2560; dariorestaurant.com

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