The elderly couple has been stewing at Table 20 for almost 10 minutes when Sherwin Resurrección sees something’s gone wrong with their order. He hustles over, and asks, “Is everything alright, my friends?”
“I ordered my halo-halo to go,” comes the woman’s sharp reply. Before her sits a glass sundae dish of coconut-flavored crushed ice, sweetened beans, fruit slices, and purple scoops of ice cream. A halo-halo, but not a halo-halo to go.
Resurrección leans over and mutters something inaudible, then turns and beelines for the kitchen, where whole pig legs and sour-smelling stews fly from a 3-foot by 4-foot window in the wall. He returns to the table with a smile. “Here are the halo-halos. I threw in another for your wait. Also, here is my business card. Please call ya boy Sherwin with any complaints or suggestions. We’re always looking for feedback.”
He kneels, placing his arms around the sitting couple as he utters a few more sentences. The group stands, and casually—wait a minute, are they hugging one another?
“Ya boy” Resurección is one of the three owners of Apoy. The newish Filipino restaurant sits on the corner of Nicollet Avenue and East 43rd in south Minneapolis, a block that already had a southern-style restaurant (Revival) and an American comfort-food joint (The Lowbrow), where it sticks out somewhat among the more familiar cuisine. But with his upbeat demeanor and commitment to ensuring customers leave content, Resurrección hopes he can win over a community that’s historically had little exposure to authentic Filipino fare. His vision is to entice every Minnesotan to try Filipino food in the getaway-like space, and to taste how the countries surrounding the Philippines have made it a unique melting pot of Asian cuisine and culture.
At Apoy, co-owner Curt Rademacher—who worked with Resurrección at Seven Steakhouse Sushi & Rooftop for years—acts as head chef and oversees the menu. Resurrección’s purview is the dining area, which he infuses with his contagious enthusiasm; Shawn, his brother, designed the space with bright colors and warm wooden floors. They all run the place together, with a spirit of cooperation.
When the doors open at 4 p.m. daily, many in the community flock to get a seat at the bar and crack open a can of Red Horse—a dark, high-alcohol beer brewed in the Philippines. One of those regulars is Randy Reyes, who lives just three blocks away. “I feel like I have a seat at the bar that is just my seat, that’s how much I go to Apoy,” he says with a smile.
Born in the Philippines, Reyes moved to the U.S. in his adolescence. He lives in Minneapolis but has no Filipino family in the country, so he rarely got the treat of eating the food he grew up with—that is, before Apoy moved into the neighborhood.
“To me, [Apoy is] filling a void in the culinary cultural world,” Reyes says. “There’s not been a brick-and-mortar Filipino restaurant in the Twin Cities, and I feel like we have such a diverse culinary scene in the Twin Cities that it surprises me that there hasn’t been one.”
Asked if he feels like his culture is represented here, Reyes replies simply, “Nope.”
Minnesota does have a Filipino cultural center—the Philippine Center of Minnesota—a square, brown-brick building in north St. Paul surrounded by abandoned car dealerships and desolation. The building hosts a few events every year, including some organized by other Filipino organizations like the Fil-Minnesotan Association and Cultural Society of Filipino Americans.
Mostly, though, it’s empty. And when the center isn’t holding events—which is the majority of the year—Filipinos don’t have much space to call their own. Reyes explains that there are no Filipino clothing stores or businesses that sell Filipino movies or music. Ultimately, there’s no real hub for Filipinos in Minnesota.
Resurrección, who was born in the Philippines and moved to Minnesota with his mom in 1989, believes it’s time someone fills that cultural void. If no one else will take that responsibility, he and his co-owners might as well shoulder the burden. “Food, to me, is such a pathway to culture and history,” he says.
Traditional Filipino dishes like sisig, kare-kare, and dinuguan have flavors and ingredients that many Minnesotans won’t be used to—dinuguan, for example, is a pork-blood stew with pork shoulder and pig intestine—but Apoy’s owners believe that people want to try new, complex things and are adventurous eaters, more so than even five years ago.
He’s using Apoy to give people a good time, which is what he’s always set out to do: “I want everybody to come in here and feel welcomed and comfortable, and, you know, have a smile.” The three owners spent five months renovating and decorating the restaurant themselves. The vibe is distinctly calming and convivial, like the owners inviting customers to be a part of the family.
Multicolored walls and ceilings are draped with green plants and intertwining vines, with worn cabinets, mirrors, and a food-truck mural. Eighties music often blares through the speakers, which Resurrección jokingly says reminds him of the Philippines.
So far, Resurrección says the restaurant is doing well, and they’re constantly seeking feedback from customers. Many Filipinos have visited and made suggestions of how the dishes should be prepared and what other staples from the region they’d like to see on the menu, something the owners are more than open to. Resurrección notes that Filipino food is a mix of practically all Asian cuisines, and because so many influences exist, practically everyone can experience Apoy’s food and feel at home.
After being open for about four months, Apoy is adding even more traditional dishes to their menu. They try to keep true to the recipes, with the goal of being “unapologetically Filipino.”
“People, just come in and try to have a good time,” Resurrección says. “And if you don’t, we’ll try to make up for it—we’ll make sure that you do.”
Click here to see a photo slideshow of Apoy
4301 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis