I had been so excited about Owamni opening ever since I first heard about what would be the first restaurant of its kind in this country - serving indigenous food without using any "colonial" ingredients like beef, dairy, wheat, or cane sugar - conceived of by The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, and his partner, Dana Thompson (Founder of NATIFS - North American Traditional American Food Systems). I stalked their website for months, and have no idea how I missed the actual opening, but I did. By the time I realized they WERE open, reservations were backed up for weeks, and the only one I could get was for a month out, and for lunch. Still very excited.
The day finally came and my gluten-free friend (Owamni is automatically gluten-free as they simply don't use wheat at all!) Tonja and I headed out for our lunch on one of the most gorgeous days outside that ever was. The restaurant's location is perfect, situated right on the Mississippi River near the Mill Ruins and Stone Arch Bridge, with a gorgeous view out every window. The Dakota and Anishinaabe people call this space "OwamniYomni" - the sacred site of peace and well-being - and you feel that vibe from the moment you walk up the rustic wood staircase to the light, airy space above.
The patio was full so we sat inside, which didn't feel as Covid-sketchy as it was lunch time and we were pretty well spaced out from other diners. Native American music was playing softly over the sound system, lending a real sense of place, purpose, and again, excitement for what was to come.
I had done my research on the menu (Sherman won the 2018 James Beard Award for Best Cookbook for his The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, and I knew we were in for something special and educational even). The friendly and informative server quickly let us know, however, that the menu is not the same at lunch, and every single thing I was going to order was not available at that time. BUMMER. Right then and there I made a dinner reservation, so see you in October, Fish entrée and corn bread!
Owamni has a completely BIPOC wine and beer list, which gets the highest praise, and an alcohol-free cocktail list that was far more interesting to me.
I ordered one that I could not pronounce - the Z one - and it was extra delicious. I would personally have definitely added vodka, but I'm pretty sure that was brought here by the colonizers, so not here. It came with a little tiny clothespin holding a sprig of pine tree on the rim of the glass, in a touch that was both charming and an olfactory bonus.
I adjusted my brain and absorbed my slight disappointment that nothing I had wanted was on the lunch menu (Alert! No interesting desserts at lunch either!) to order up what was essentially Thanksgiving, Native American style. I went with the roasted sweet potato as an appetizer, and it was hands down the best one I've ever had. Instantly fine with the lunch menu, as I would not have ordered this with the other dinner stuff I was intending to order. Live and learn!
Tonja had the lake trout salad, and it was a beautiful dish, scattered with edible flowers. It was like eating a sunny day at the lake.
I had one of the corn sandwiches, and went with the turkey and cranberry one to keep my gratitude feelings going. It was so good, and the corn empanada type deals that stand in for bread were flecked with wild rice in each crispy, fluffy bite. I'm getting re-hungry thinking about it now.
There was a feeling of excitement from everyone there, as I think the overall vibe - from the music to the art to the purpose - lets you know that this is truly someplace special and one of a kind. So far. I was going to be attending the Mendota Dakota Pow Wow the next day, so this meal was an excellent way to kick off a weekend of honoring the people that were here long before all of the rest of us. Native people have been treated so very poorly in this country, and it's the very least we can do to educate ourselves about them, and honor their great sacrifices and traditions. We would all be so much better off if we had always lived by (or up to!) their ways, both in out bodies and in our climate and nature. I almost can't believe that these people would even want to cook for and serve we descendants of those who stole their land, but their grace and dignity always seems to prevail. I remain humbled and grateful - always.
The beautiful day outside was beckoning, so as there was no dessert menu to ogle at lunch, we wrapped up our lovely experience at Owamni, with a vow to be back soon to join them for that dinner. And dessert.
I'm thrilled that this wonderful place is right here in my hometown, and excited for everyone in the entire country to make their way here so that they too can take some time to appreciate all that came before we did.
Pidamaye (thank you!) to all that made this come together for all of us to learn from and enjoy.
420 1st Street South
Minneapolis, MN 55401
*Make your reservations now!