Updated: Sparks closed in January 2018.
What drew me to Sparks wasn’t its cozy interior or diverse menu. The thing that piqued my interest was the wood oven. Most of the restaurant's offerings, from roasted chicken to strawberry-rhubarb crisp, are baked in a wood-fired oven that takes up substantial real estate in the small, completely open kitchen. It must be some sort of primal urge, but the idea of eating something cooked over a wood fire seemed intensely appealing.
Although the menu features a variety of vegetarian-friendly small plates, a couple vegan/gluten-free entrees, and a vegetable pita sandwich, I couldn’t go to a restaurant with a wood-fired oven without trying a pizza. The individual-sized pizzas are far from standard: truffle-egg-kale and asparagus-tomato-olive-arugula pizzas for vegetarians, and chicken-pea-mushroom and meat lover’s pizzas for omnivores.
The truffle-kale-egg pizza is a study in bold flavors, with rich, golden liquid oozing from a poached egg, paper-crisp kale, and a dash of truffle oil, sprawled across a thin crust with the slightest taste of a smoky campfire.
The meat lover’s pizza is a harmonious blend of animal protein, with chunks of spicy house-made lamb sausage against mellow roasted chicken and salty pancetta.
Our server told us that the dessert selection changes frequently, although based on pictures posted on the website it seems that vanilla and pistachio gelato often play a supporting role. As they should: the pistachio gelato, which can also be ordered individually, is studded with ground nuts and devoid of the standard garish green coloring, with a smoothness that leaves you scraping the bowl for every last bit. The other desserts on offer were a strawberry-rhubarb crumble, baked in cast iron and towering with vanilla gelato and whipped cream, and a chocolate cheesecake with coconut brittle and a St. Germain orange gastrique. The crumble is served warm from the oven, the gelato melting into the thick layer of buttery sweet topping and refreshing fruit. The cheesecake is a creamy milk chocolate concoction, best enjoyed with a carefully portioned nibble of coconut brittle and a swipe of the bright gastrique.
Although it may seem suspiciously like a foodie gimmick, food really does taste better when cooked over wood. But Sparks also well-worth a visit for the menu featuring dishes from a variety of cuisines (I'm going to have to try some of the inventive small plates on a future visit), creative pizzas, and fabulous desserts.
230 S. Cedar Lake Road
Minneapolis, MN 55405