Jen Markey and Madi Wickham’s long, ongoing mission began at Momo Sushi in late 2020, months into the long, ongoing global pandemic.
The mother-daughter duo set out with a simple-yet-ambitious goal: get takeout every week from the vast stretch of family-owned restaurants along Central Avenue. Their reviews would then be broadcast as Eat Up Central, a YouTube series that catalogs their northward food march through northeast Minneapolis and Columbia Heights.
“At first we got a lot of hate!” Markey says with a laugh. “We’re not professionals and we do our best, but I guess that’s not enough for some people. But we’ve slowly gained over 350 subscribers on YouTube and now, for the most part, our comments are positive.”
Eat Up Central’s limited production value is part of the charm. Each video begins with Markey and Wickham standing outside that week’s restaurant, before they retreat to the dining room table to munch, gab, and offer 0-10 ratings. Proof of their modest, hyper-local influence? The native Nordeasters have been recognized at the co-op and the bank drive-thru.
So far, Markey and Wickham have knocked off around 35 restaurants, about halfway to their self-imposed finish line of I-694. The show will eventually visit around 65 establishments, they estimate. Markey’s jaw surgery delayed season 2, which recently premiered with an uninspired meal from El Taco Loco.
So far, La Colonia ranks at Markey’s top-rated restaurant. “Their Encocado Pescado is one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life,” the professional preschool teacher/amateur critic reports. And the pho broth at Chow Thai? “Magical,” she raves. Wickham, who works in insurance, includes Jasmine Thai, Chimborazo, and Aki’s Bread Haus among her faves. Subway, an outlier episode since Eat Up Central almost exclusively highlights mom ‘n’ pop shops, drew surprisingly emotional and positive reviews.
Supporting small, independent restaurants during COVID-19 is the central pillar of Eat Up Central, but the ladies–in their own low-key Minnesotan way–aren’t afraid to dunk on under-performing establishments. Adelita’s Mexican Restaurant and The Mill disappointed, Markey says, while Durango Bakery proved “underwhelming at best and their coffee is the worst.”
When this reporter hit Markey with a stock puff-piece question (“Has this experience brought you two closer together?”), she shot it down. Mom and daughter were already tight-knit, she explains. Their foray into restaurant criticism simply showcases that strong bond alongside the noodles, baba ganoush, and football pizzas.
“We always have fun, but being able to do this with her has been really amazing,” Wickham says. “We have made a lot of memories.”
The focus, both ladies reiterate, is on celebrating the vibrant, eclectic, and often delicious food options that dot Central Avenue.
“Some of these restaurants are barely scraping by,” Markey says. “If we can get even a few more customers in those places and keep them alive, we’re happy.”