Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Best of Hungry in Southwest

As the year comes to a close and I spend more time dining with friends and family instead of in restaurants, I thought I would put out a "Best of" list. Now keep in mind this is just the opinion of a few folks who do not have heavy duty food credentials, but just love to eat, and love to dine out often. Please feel free to comment and offer your opinions. Dialogue is always welcome!

Best Neighborhood Cafe: Blackbird Cafe
I love the atmosphere, the servers are friendly and the menu is dynamic and inventive. You can usually call ahead and get in quickl, and it's conveniently located for anyone living in SW but not to far from Lyndale and the surrounding highways.

Best Small Plates: Cafe Maude
I love sharing plates of different foods with friends and dining companions, and Cafe Maude is set up to make that happen. Their cumin and honey kissed chicken wings are simply delicious.

Best Burger: The Lion's Tap
It's pure, unadulterated burger bliss. Nothing fancy, just a good old-fashioned burger dive. The 112 eatery gets a hefty Honorable Mention nod. Their burger couldn't be any different then what you can get at Lion's Tap, but it's really, really good.

Best Italian: La Grolla
This one is hard, but I'm going with La Grolla. You would be hard pressed to find an Italian joint that offers more of a diverse menu and corresponding specials on a nightly basis. The kicker is that they do everything well from top-to-bottom whether its soup, pasta, seafood or any one of their traditional Italian offerings.

Best French: Cave Vin
This place holds a special place in my heart. Their servers/owner are both warm and charismatic, and their food is top drawer. Their entire kitchen staff has been on since the opening, and that doesn't happen often. It's a true testament to what they do. Their pork tenderloin is inspiring and their mussels are heralded by many as the best in town.

Best Mexican: Indio
There is plenty of really good, authentic Mexican food in Minneapolis, and I think the food at Indio is right up there. The service has been shaky in a previous trip, but it was much better the second time and the food is explosively flavorful and perfectly spicy.

UPDATE! Hate to say it, but Indio has closed. Tear! Went by on my way to Tum Rup Thai, and it was empty. I was worried, and it looks like my fears were warranted. I fear the price point would hurt them considering there are good Mexican joints near by at much lower prices. Too bad, but i know there are some other choice places in the cities to hit for some good Mexican

Best Latin American Food: Cafe 28
OK, maybe this is a bit of a stretch given the above category, but their braised pork in adobo and chilaquiles are outstanding and worth the mention. I'll be searching for a rival chilaquile offering when I head to Mexico in a few weeks.

Best Mediterranean: Shish
It may not have a colossal menu, but they do everything well from Gyros, to Shawarma and some really good Mediterranean style burger. Their kebabs are also quite nice.

Best Pasta: Broders'
They do everything well. Their homemade pasta is always perfectly al dente and anyone that serves Chingale (boar) gets some serious cred from my taste buds.

Best Sandwich: 112 Eatery
Everything they make is comforting and delicious. The Bacon, Egg and Harrisa sandwich is no different. The cilantro offers a snap of freshness and the smoky harrisa really packs a wollop. Plus it has fried egg and bacon on it, and what could be better then that?

Best Outdoor Dining: W.A. Frost
No contest. They got great booze credentials and the setting is totally enchanting. As soon as it hits 65, I'm there even if Jess and I are the only ones. Their bar menu is pretty good to. Nice and comforting on days when it might still be a bit to chilly to dine outside!

Best Bar Menu: Nick and Eddie
The offerings are tasty, made from scratch and diverse. Oh, and by the way, J.P. Samuelson is there now. I don't need to say anything more.

Best Breakfast: Zumbro Cafe
If I call a place and there's a 45 minute wait I usually abandon ship, but not here. The frittatas at Zumbro are too good to pass up. Plus I can give them my name and cell phone and run up to Great Harvest and the Linden Hills Co-op while I wait!

Best Cheap Eats: Broders' Cucina Italiana
Everything is good and fast. They make awesome risotto cakes, killer sandwiches and the pizza is no slouch either. It's right around the corner from me and really tough to pass up, especially when I need an Italian fix and the Pasta Bar is packed (when isn't it?!).

Best Grab and Go Lunch: Rustica
This is a no-brainer. Combine some dangerously good sandwich fixings from Corner Table and throw in perfect savory breads from Rustica and you can't go wrong. You can just grab them right out of the refrigerator case (I wouldn't plan on a late lunch here, they go fast!).

Best Value: Tum Rup Thai
The spice can power through any MN head cold and the dishes are rich in flavor. Plus, they're super cheap and I can't even power all the way through their colossal portions. I always leave with lunch for tomorrow and a surprising amount of cash in my wallet.

Best Deli: Be'wiched
These guys work hard at preparing/smoking their own meats and take serious pride (and they should) in doing so. The sandwiches are a lunch savior and are robust enough to blast your biceps as you shovel one down.

Best Take Out: Punch
Their pizzas are really quite good and the perfect size to split over an accompanying salad with a good companion. The toppings are fresh and flavorful and the pies always come out with a perfect crust. Plus, if you time it right you can get in and out real quick!

Best in a Bun: Kramarczuk's
These guys make unreal sausages in just about every style you can imagine. They're great at lunch, or swing by any day and grab some to bring home to grill. They're awesome on a good roll with some substantial mustard, or all dressed up however you like!

Best St. Paul Institution: Cossetta's
I love this place. They have a great Italian deli and serve up heart warming pastas, sandwiches, pizzas and other Italian favorites. It's cafeteria style so you can get your food quick and chow down with some good friends. It's been around for years and is the place to head to before a game or a night out in St. Paul.

Best Minneapolis Institution: The Convention Grill
This joint is your classic Malt Shop. Their burgers are nice old-fashioned offerings, and their chicken soup is old-school good. The chocolate-banana malt is unreal and the old surly waitresses are one of a kind.

Best Place for Food Lovers: Midtown Global Market
Whether you are looking for some quick, tasty food or running into grab some quick produce or ethnic wonders, you can make it all happen right here. I like to go down and hit one of the stands (Los Ocampo is a favorite) then pick up a few things I can't find at other area groceries. It's nice stop on a cold winter day, or the perfect place to grab ripe avocados for a spur of the moment summer fiesta.

Best Comeback: Levian
I used to love to watch Steven Brown labor in his kitchen at Levain, and when it shut down I felt heart broken. Then it reopened and I was a bit bashful to return without Steven at the helm, but I decided to head back and was overjoyed with the results. The watercress soup was delightful and the tenderness of the short ribs was intoxicating. I am dedicated to getting back there in the depths of winter for their truly comforting aromas and winter-ready menu.

Best Dessert: Gigi's
Their Key Lime Tart is the gospel of all tarts. It's so lush and bright and silky smooth. The lime zest offers a nice robust touch to the creamy, tart filling and their is simply nothing better to cool off with in the summer. Their case is always full of great dinner options and their date friendly dinners are cheap and super tasty.

Best Atmosphere: Bar Lurcat
This is the perfect place to throw on something fancy, sip on a powerful cocktail and work your hardest to not stain your new outfit with the wonderful juices rolling off the perfectly sinful Cafe Lurcat mini burgers. Just be sure to wipe up any sugar crystals left over from the mini donut binge before you finally work up the courage to approach that vixen in the corner.

Best Salad: Wildfire
OK, OK, I know. I don't dig eating at malls, but their chopped salad is huge and filled with the good stuff! Bacon, chicken, and avocado? It could drive a sane man crazy, plus it's big enough to actually fill you up! It's quite good, and the take out counter lets you get in and out quick!

Best Fries: Meritage
I didn't expect it either, but these were seriously helped out by the bold and salty hanger steak they accompanied. They were perfectly salty and crisp and just down right delicious!

Also, Duplex gets Honorable Mention for their tasty little Sweet Potato fries. I've become disenchanted with the place over the past year, but I have to give credit where credit is due, because those suckers are tasty!

Best New Restaurant: Heidi's
The first meal I had their was a spiritual event I thought could not be recreated, until I arrived the second time. The meal was just as good, and the service much more polished. I've enjoyed everything I've devoured there, and I feel good knowing that Stewart is painstakingly crafting my meal back there in his own little food sanctuary. I'll have to get back again to see if they can pull it off for a third time and my gut (my best advisor) leads me to believe I'll be just as satisfied time and time again.

Have a wonderful Christmas and let me know YOUR "Best of" list. I need some new places to eat!

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Recession Saviors - The Bar Menu

I tend to cruise Twin Cities based food blogs and magazines quite frequently, and can't help but notice that just about every single one of them seem to layer in stories about restaurant closings, followed by stories about ways to enjoy meals in the Twin Cities on the cheap. It's hard to justify spending money on dining out these days, but whether you go the prix fixe route, hit a happy hour, or eat early bird/night owl, there are ways to enjoy good food, and enjoy it with friends and family without taking to big of a shot in the wallet. Although all the above are great strategies, my favorite way to enjoy good food and have a good time out on the town is still the Bar Menu. Yep, W.A. Frost has a mean one, ditto for Lurcat, and know, I can add Nick & Eddie to the list.

My brother was able to score tickets to a screening of the British Advertising Awards last night at the Walker, and I jumped at the venue's proximity as a chance for me to make good on a promise to head back to Nick and Eddie to enjoy their bar menu. The deal was even sweeter, with the recent news that J.P. Samuelson had taken a position there. Needless to say, I was excited.

I plopped down on a bar stool with my brother and our girlfriends and immediately looked over the menu, which was simply a formality as I had studied the menu online well before showing up. With a pint of Guinness on the way Jess and I went over our options and we settled on a menu well suited for the frigid bite in the air. What better way to beat the cold then to enjoy a meal of smoked chicken tacos, Swedish meatballs, and a good old fashioned hot dog with giardiniera and some nice salty fries?
Now many people think of bar food as simple, and cheap for a reason, but the thing about it, is that there are many places that do it very well, and you can place Nick and Eddie in that court. The tacos were very good and made with fresh ingredients. When people think cheap, they often believe the quality must fail, but that was not the case here. Flavorful corn tortillas (no flour, folks) proved the perfect vehicle for a marriage of smokey chicken, a luscious, spicy sauce, bright cilantro and fresh lime wedges to garnish. They were simple, fresh and flavorful. Not something you may expect from a bar.

The meatballs came out assembled in a circle surrounded by a rich and creamy sauce. No lumps, no chunks, just smooth rich flavors. The meatballs were obviously hand rolled, based on their texture and imperfect shape. The surface provided the perfect canvas for the sauce to adhere to, and each bite provided a wonderful wave of succulent pork and beef.

Lastly, came what I considered the crown jewel of the meal. The hot dog was perfect. A salty little treat with a good snap from the casing. Both good signs of authenticity. The house-baked bun was fantastic. It was sprinkled with Poppy seed and was far more substantial then the typical dog. The outside was a bit crisp and flaky - likely from a bit of egg wash or a smattering of butter for baking, yet remained pillowy and chewy beneath the surface. The dog tasted rich, and far from the over processed frankfurters of my youth. The explosive giardiniera added some serious heat, and flavor far beyond the aid a sport sport pepper provides to a classic Chicago style dog (no knock on the Chicago style - they are one of my favorite snacks). The stack of salty fries that accompanied the dog provided a perfect escape from the cold, and at the end of the day (night) what could be better the a good dog, some salty fries and a cold beer?

The fact that the dog and pile of fries only costs $4 is near comical, and I felt as if I was almost cheating the restaurant out of something. Nick and Eddie place a great emphasis on their scratch kitchen and commitment to superior ingredients and it plays out well at both the bar, and the table. I'll find a reason to be back there soon, because lord knows, I will find myself in need of good old dog far before the thaw here in SW Minneapolis, and I know a place where I can get a perfect summery treat.

If anyone out there has any suggestions on another good bar menu to try, please pass it along. As I noted above, I still think dining at the bar is a great way for a quick dinner, at a convenient price without sacrificing the pursuit of great food.
Happy Eating,


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Musings of Maude

I love going out to a good dinner, and it had been a while since I'd ponied up and was itching to go out and enjoy a nice night. There's nothing better then walking into a room with a great atmosphere, intense aromas and some good friends to peek your appetite. Sitting down to vibrant food, and cocktail-laced conversation is pretty much my ideal. Unfortunately, between the holidays and the economy, I haven't been able to do it as much, but I'm not going to let it slow me down much anymore.

You can't read a restaurant blog without cringing over closings and small attendance, so I wanted to make an effort to hit a good spot somewhere close to home in order to keep the money in the community much like some of the pillars of the local food movement. I figured I'd head to Cafe Maude just down the street just in case the Armatage Room was open to give a new enterprise a shot. Their wine bar menu, featured Tuesday-Sunday when they don't have a private booking looked incredibly appealing and had some really imaginative offerings. It turns out it wasn't open (instant heartache) on this particular night, but we did score a seating in the main restaurant.

The vibe was strong as normal. Good house music, a strong neighborhood pulse and the clinking of wine glasses provided the rhythm to a good night of eating. Jess and I decided to go light given the recent holiday, but we found that we didn't have to suffer at all for it. Jess ordered there roasted corn chowder - I was eyeing it myself and knew I was in for a bite (mututal understanding) so I gravitated to the nicoise olive chicken flat bread.

The soup came out first and it was a nice substantial bowl. The texture was surprising - not your cream of corn standard, and played really well - robust enough to be a meal. The corn was roasted and sweet, and the fine dice on the potatoes soaked up the flavors well while offering substance. A nice red pepper component rounded out the broth flavors, which really paled in comparison the the crispy bacon and avocado topping. bacon and avocado is pretty much where it's at for me. I think they should run for the presidency in 2012. I'd be the first to sign on. The bacon was perfectly crispy and the avocado was smooth and luscious. Needless to say this was not your status quo soup, and follows Maude's blueprint for taking simple fare and really jazzing it up.

My deconstructed flat bread came out and looked really nice and fresh. I love arugula and it's peppery bite was a welcome feeling. The flat bread itself was a bit tough, and the pickled herb spread was a bit bland, but it really allowed the other flavors to stand out and do their thing. The feta was strong and pungent - a good mix with arugula and the chicken was cooked well and played with it's fellow party-goers well. The roasted red pepper offered some sweetness, and the raw, diced zucchini was an excellent, and unconventional addition. I've never really had raw zucchini in a dish now that I think of it, and it stood up really well. The olives actually played out as a puree which was really satisfying in the fact that it could now hit every bite and wasn't limited to just rolling around on my plate. Again, deconstruction at it's finest. It wasn't the best dish I've had at Maude, but it's a creative little insight into their world, and I left satisfied and happy, which is just what I was looking for. I'll say it again, there is nothing quite like spending a nice evening with good company, great food, and an enticing ambiance.

Next time, I'm going to hit the Armatage Room for sure!

Happy Eating,


Monday, November 24, 2008

Beware of Laptops - Common Roots Cafe

I've been intrigued by all that I've been reading about the Common Roots Cafe. Word on the street is that they have a mean bagel, and are celebrated for their devotion to local, sustainable and organic foods. I highly commend them for that and was looking very forward to heading there for a nice meal last Friday night.

First off, I have to sound off on the status of Lyndale Ave. It's a shame how long that's been torn up. It's a royal pain, in terms of getting around and has to be a huge hindrance to all the businesses in the area. After some driving around we finally made it to the Cafe and did the Minnesota cold walk (hunched sholders, hands buried in pockets, quick-choppy steps) from our parking spot.

I entered the room and was amazed at how many people were there on a Friday evening at about 8:45. The place was littered with people, but my attention was quickly diverted by two different but very important distractions. Upon taking a few steps in I noticed that the place just wasn't that clean. There were dishes all over tables and quite a bit of debris on the floors. I was a bit shocked by it, but hey, it was late, I was hungry and I figured everything would eventually get turned into compost or something. I was a bit discouraged by the counter service and server - again cleanliness of the space, and knowledge of the server, but we settled on the burger (I had heard good things) and the Chicken involtini/meatloaf that the server highly recommended.
We sat down and started to sip our drinks and I noticed the second distraction. This one held my attention longer then the cleanliness, and was a very bad sign in my mind: Everyone was on a laptop. Shit! I had just ordered dinner at a place that everyone else deemed a laptop joint. I was officially nervous. No one would ruin a good meal by surfing Craig's list, finishing a paper, or seeking a companion on No, they were likely here for other reason, and were not seeking stellar food.
Nervously I sat there and sucked down my Finnegan's as I waited in fearful anticipation. After a decent wait or food came out and I gave it a serious once-over. As usual, Jess and I had settled on 2 items with the intention to share. I started with the meatloaf and was totally underwhelmed. It was essentially flavorless, and the texture was quite odd - a granular tofu maybe? I think the "involtini" distinction was because they wrapped the loaf in the chicken skin. It was kinda gross. The slab of polenta that was served with it was greasy, limp and unappealing. It was all served on a bed of arugula which was the only portion of the plate with any flavor. Unfortunatley it had already drown in the grease from the meatloaf and polenta. Neeldless to say Jess didn't enjoy the dish (The one bite she managed) either and my suspision that I wasn't being very open was eliminated.

The burger was much better. I love a good grass-fed burger, and normally I'm all for goat cheese and caramelized onions, but the burger ended up being pretty sweet and a little top-heavy. The burger was definitely beyond my medium request, but still managed to retain a juicy consistency - which made me wonder what they added to it to maintain the juices despite the lean cut. The bun was very good, and grilled nicely. It was the best part of the meal, which was disappointing, however, I can now see that they do have some baking credentials

I learned my lesson: Never order dinner from a place where everyone else is on a laptop regardless of what you've heard others say. We didn't even finish our meal, and that is no small offense given my intense love for food. I'd maybe go back to Common Roots Cafe for baked goods or a sandwich. It seemed capable of pulling that off, and maybe if I got there earlier in the day the place would be cleaner. I'd like to see a place so dedicated to quality food succeed, but you won't catch me there for dinner again.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heidi's Part 2

So, I went to Heidi's for my girlfriend's birthday the other night and I'm happy to report that the food was incredible, and the service that I was so confused by the first time I visited was seamless and friendly. Really, the service was my only knock on the place and it was worlds better on this night. My apologies for the lack of pictures, but I didn't want to push my own agenda since it was a special occasion with good friends and family.

We went on a blustery Wednesday and the place was pretty darn full, as was the neighboring Blackbird Cafe where we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink. I called about a week in advance and could only get a 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. seating for a group of 6. Regardless, I'm glad the place is busy. With food that good, it should be.

So fortunately, I have friends that love to share so I got to enjoy several dishes over the course of the night. I had the hibernation-ready braised lamb shank. The meat was slide-off the bone tender and had a very deep lamb flavor. The braising liquid was robust and it sat on a nice wild rice salad. It was not a light dish, and braised lamb usually isn't. It was perfect for a nice cold Minnesota evening and was totally comforting.

My lady friend had the best dish of the night. It was essentially a pan seared chicken breast wrapped in a thin layer of delicate, crispy bacon. It was delicious and served on a flavorful cous cous with cauliflower. The true champion of this dish was the Kimchee beurre blanc. It was friggin amazing. I would have ordered a glass of it if possible. It tied everything together with a clean, spicy kick. The dish was seriously satisfying.

Last, I had a quick sample of the Australian Sea Bass. The bass had a perfect sear and the caramelized tones against the pure white fish was stunning. The moist, delicate fillet sat on a parsnip and parsley puree which offered a great texture and color contrast. Lastly, the creamy mussel foam added a tremendously rich flavor that balanced out the jolt of the parsley with the lightness of the fish.

I was very pleased with the experience yet again. It's hard having two great spots right next to each other, because I really enjoy Blackbird as well. Regardless, I'm in a good situation because they are both close to home, right here in SW.

Happy Eating,


Monday, November 3, 2008

More Maude in Armatage

Looks like all the Cafe Maude lovers are going to have even more to celebrate within the next week or so. Quite some time ago the owners of the beloved Armatage neighborhood eatery announced that they would open up a private dining space coined the Armatage Room, and it turns out that the space will act as a wine bar when it's not rented out for the night. This seems like a smart move given that I find it hard to believe that the private room would be booked solid every night, which is pretty ambitious for a neighborhood joint. Regardless, they're smart business owners and they wouldn't be opening the space unless they could smell success. I for one am glad that the much lauded Maude will be expanding. I reached out to Ruth who is in charge of the Armatage Room logistics and found her most helpful.

Based on our conversation, the space should be open any day now. I've heard rumblings of Nov. 15 and I believe the space seats up to 32 comfortably. The Armatage Room sounds impressive utilizing a European setting  and touting Canadian pine tables, soft leathers, custom chandeliers and local art. Needless to say the ambiance will be quite nice for both glass of vino and a private dining space.

My favorite feature will be the room's own open kitchen which will support the majority of the food preparation. There's something about having a view of the craftsman who labor over our meals that gives you a connection to the craft and the food.  The menu sounds fantastic and features a six course feast with several options for each course as well as a tasting menu made up of Hors D'oeuvres, soups, salads, entrees and desserts. In addition, they also offer family style dinners that pull from the traditions of several European countries - think paella, cassoulet and lasagna.  The wine bar menu is eclectic in the Cafe Maude style featuring salads (Cobb and Greek), cheeses, cured meats, a pasta dish, braised lamb, meatballs and scallops as well as a few sweets! The one bummer: No hard booze! That's especially depressing since they mix some mean spirits across the street, but I'm sure the wine and beer list will be up to the challenge. More details here.  

Since it's private dining they defer to some common catering practices such as menu selection within a certain time of deposit and a final count within a week of the event. The room minimum (at least initially) runs $750 Sunday through Thursday and jumps to $1500 on the weekends not including tax and gratuities. 

Regardless, more Maude is a good thing for all, in my opinion. I've had some great meals there and have even enjoyed swinging by for a a quick drink and a tasty small plate (they've got killer upscale chicken wings!) when not indulging in a full blown dinner. Hopefully the Armatage Room will help thin the crowd at the typically packed house, but somehow I have the feeling they'll still be packing in.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque

I took a mental health day (lovely) on Monday and figured the only way to truly rest my mind was to feed it some quality food. Given the nice sunny day I decided to hop over to Stillwater with my girlfriend to take in the antiques, cool shops and most importantly, Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque. I parked the car and the headed straight to the restaurant only to find out that it didn't open until 4 p.m. (at least on Mondays). So much for rum and pork on my lunch ticket! We skipped around the quaint shops and antique stores for a few hours and purchased a few items (I got a a nice antique mezza luna!) before we grabbed a glass of wine to prime our bellies for a seriously comforting meal on a cool autumn night.

We finished our vino and headed back to Smalley's and were amazed to see how vacant it was given the buzz around this place. However, it was a Monday night in a weak economy, so I wasn't too concerned. Our server came out and gave us the run down about how they're only one of three restaurants in the U.S. to use authentic pimento wood for their Caribbean (Jamaican/jerk) Barbeque. I figured that was impressive enough, so we dug right into the menu. The waiter came back to take our order and was very knowledgeable and friendly, which is always appreciated.

We started off with the fried green tomatoes. I love fried green tomatoes and have been longing for the version I used to feast on at Big E's before the Minneapolis soul scene was abruptly shaken up. Regardless, these bad boys were little discs of bliss. Perfectly fried in a corn meal batter and accompanied with a nice light aioli. The crisp breading offered a nice textural contrast to the firm tomatoes, and they were perfect for dipping in the delectable sauce. Needless to say we were off to a good start.
Now, it's important to remember that this is Caribbean Barbeque, so if you are used to Memphis or Texas Barbeque this will be different. My family has been smoking (not herb, but high quality meats) for quite some time and I have grown an appreciation for the complexity smoking can bring to a meal. Smalley's did not disappoint on that end at all. I ordered the brisket and chicken combo. The meat was really moist and super flavorful. The smoke was present in every bite. You could see the nice smoke coloration on both the brisket and chicken, yet the flavor of the meat was still present. It's not the same hickory or mesquite that I'm used to, but I thought it was unique and brilliant at the same time. Jess had the pulled chicken sandwich with bacon and it was killer too. The accompanying sauces (on the side) left a bit to be desired in my mind, but I would have no idea why someone would want to dilute the pure smoky, salty goodness I was experiencing with a thick glob of sauce anyways.

The sides were killer too. Jess got a side of sweet potatoes (or was it yams?) with sausage that rivals their counterpart over at Brasa. I had the mac and cheese with chilies and bacon and was ready to surrender next to the warm fire and take a nap after digging into the comforting tranquility - that is after the wonderful bite supplied by the chilies mellowed a bit. I also had a decent bowl of red beans and rice, but any dish short of greatness would have played second banjo next to the rich mac and the perfect sweet potatoes anyways.

We gorged until we could eat no more and packaged the rest up for lunch the following day. Needless to say leftovers have never been so eagerly anticipated. You'll have to run up there for yourself though and let me know what you think about this BBQ joint. It's well worth the drive, and I'll have to find an excuse to get up there again soon.

Happy Eating,


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ngon Bistro

I originally heard about Ngon Bistro from one of my favorite blogs. The review seemed favorable and I love Vietnamese food and trying new things. I jumped in my car with my favorite dining partner in shotgun and headed over to St. Paul. I had pretty high hopes based on the menu and what I'd heard from people I view as credible sources. The dining room was full for a Tuesday, but we managed to get a table with no reservation. I perused the drink list and instantly saw they had Kayak Kolsch. My eyebrows raised and my liver giggled. I ordered the beer and put in an order for their pork lettuce wraps (we were aggressively hungry) and started perusing the rest of their menu.

The service was friendly, but odd. At times we had up to 3 people all over us and at other times it felt like we were completely ignored. Regardless our appetizer was out before we even ordered our entrees, so the kitchen is a speedy one. The menu is intriguing and inventive. It's laced with local and sustainable ingredients (Thousand Hills beef and Kadejan chicken) and features both traditional Vietnamese favorites as well as some new and complex dishes. I'm a huge fan of Pho so I ordered a bowl of the chicken Pho and Jess settled on a broken rice with three kinds of pork dish as it came highly recommended from one of our various servers.

When the lettuce wraps came out we had the plate for the wraps, our appetizer plates, 2 drinks, 2 waters a condiment rack and all 3 of our menus on the table. It was hard to fit everything on and it became difficult to eat anything. It would have been nice for them to take our order so we could get rid of everything, but we were almost too hungry to care. We tore into the delicious looking wraps, and noticed instantly that something was completely wrong. The skewered strips of pork were essentially all fat. The crisp veggies and rich peanut sauce were totally lost because of the mushy, chewy strips of fat. We basically had a mouthful of salt and nasty. I am the founder and President of the Clean Plate Club, and we were so grossed out by the pork that we just sort of picked at everything else and left half the items on the plate. It was seriously disappointing.

Our Pho and broken rice dishes came out soon after they cleared the appetizers, and we dove right in hoping to find satisfaction in our entrees. I will say that my Pho was huge, packed with chicken and very good. It was very flavorful and hearty and the crunchy jalapenos and bean sprouts offered an explosion of freshness to contrast the comforting soulfulness of the soup. It was just what I was looking for.

Jess' dish was just OK. The pork loin, egg and rice all worked well together. I though the cucumber and tomato offered a nice twist of freshness similar to my Pho, but Jess didn't care for it - I think it's sort of an acquired thing. The other pork items were BBQ'd pork and pork skin, and I have to say the mixture was pretty garlicky and actually kind of cold which I thought was really odd. It was just sort of an odd dish that came highly recommended from our server and it was a bit disappointing.
I wouldn't go back to Ngon Bistro. The people were nice, but the food was hit or miss. Lettuce wraps were the biggest layup in terms of complexity on the menu and they were awful. If the ingredients don't look good, they shouldn't go out, and I highly doubt sending us 4 strips of gristle was an oversight.

Between the fresh Vietnamese flavors and all the sustainable ingredients, I had set high expectations and they just came short. The Pho was great, but there are plenty of great places on Eat Street where I can go to get a good bowl of this pleasant dish that are closer to home and will scratch my itch for something a little different.

Happy Eating,


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Teddy's Take On Harry's

I've been to Harry's twice now, and both trips were after Steven Brown had left, unfortunately. I I took some clients there last night, so unfortunately there are no pictures (that would have been a bit uncomfortable, right?), but I did get to try several items, so I'll have more of an exhaustive representation from which to report.

They had Schell's Oktobefest, so they're in good shape over all on the beer and cocktail front. The starters were all good. The wings were nice and flavorful, with a  rich and tangy sauce to accompany them. The flavors of sriracha, honey and vinegar were all well incorporated so there was no lack of excitement there, nor should there be in an order of hot wings. I also had several samples of the Plownman's platter (cheese and sausage plate) and everything was good, but not outstanding. The brie was standard and the goat cheese had a nice fruit reduction on it, which was tasty on a lovely piece of grilled bread. They also have tasty home-made pickles to go along with your drinks and snacks!

I had the burger the first time around and it was good. pretty standard, but it didn't disappoint. The beef stayed moist and flavorful which means they buy a good product with the right fat content and no how to cook to order.  They also have several burgers/sandwiches that take twisted looks on old favorites that I can appreciate and look/sound quite appetizing - Turducken burger? Sounds good! The fries are good and greasy. much smaller then the fries many of us are accustomed too, but grease, salt and ketchup is always heavenly. 

I had the meatloaf last night and was pretty underwhelmed. The standard mix of veal, pork and beef ended up being pretty dry, and wasn't served all that hot either. If I have something with veal in it, I would anticipate a level of richness and moisture that was totally absent. I learned quickly that the mushroom gravy was likely there to gussy up the dry pieces that were probably made well in advance of serving (I'm sure many places do this as a part of their service prep - no one can make meatloaf to order, but it got totally dried out). The mashed potatoes that were served along side were pretty lackluster and I would have much rather had some of their heralded creamed corn instead. Some roasted veggies accompanied the plate as well. The broccoli was long and stringy, but the carrots had good flavor and I am a sucker for the earthy caramelization on a well roasted-brussel sprout.

The service was just OK. The waiter was very nice, but the kitchen lost our ticket (a ticket for 10 people?). I know that's not the waiter's fault, but the house wasn't exactly packed, so you'd think the management or kitchen would be all over an order for a group of 10.

I probably will go back to Harry's - it's close to work and we can get clients in and out fast for a quick lunch. If I do go back, I'll have to stick to the burgers or sandwiches which seem to have less of a likelihood for error and an increasing level of excitement. And if I head for happy hour I know I can find some nice starters, too.  However, if I have a hankering for meatloaf, I'll head over to my lovely mother's home for her delicious Italian take on the American favorite. I know she won't lose the ticket, and all my dinner will cost me is 10 minutes worth of dish duty. It will be well worth it!

Happy Eating,


Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Second Helping of HungryinSW

That's right. It's time for another heaping helping of food, and this serving, like HungryinSW, is calorie free. Epic Sandwich will be my casual, quick service sister to my usual musings on local fine dining.

This blog will be dedicated to surveying and evangelizing the best sandwiches in the Metro area. I can't deny my obsession between the goodness that can be created between to tasty slices of bread, and I'll extend that to other delights such as burgers, burritos and any other creation that resembles a good old sandwich. Stop on by and leave me a comment for any place you want to see reviewed or to let me in on a hot tip!

Stop on by whenever!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cafe Levain's New Menu

I originally fell in love with the Levain of Steven Brown fame when I dined there to celebrate my Mother' birthday. This comforting little cafe is connected to Turtle Bread in south Minneapolis and is a perfect little culinary escape. Steven has since left, and the restaurant has re-opened with a slightly more affordable and dressed down concept, but I feel that the food is still stellar and priced in a place where I can indulge more often. The exposed kitchen is still captivating and gives you a nice little glimpse into the mastery that is cuisine.

They've recently unveiled their new fall menu, and I think it looks great! Three words: Local Foraged Mushrooms. The only other word combination that could get my belly more motivated would be: Huge Free Steak. Since that isn't going to happen I'll have to sneak over to Cafe Levain and let my taste buds ravage some of the little goodies. The Fall Vegetable Salad sounds like an epic construction of fall flavors including butternut squash, bacon, apple puree, pistachios and a poached egg. SOLD. I might as well order it when I make my reservation. 

The thoughtful menu also takes the time to call out the feeding scheme for the beef they are serving which is appreciated, and if a big hunk of bovine doesn't sound good to you then I'd be willing to bet the 1/4 fried chicken with truffle oil and chicken just may sway your appetite. The vegetarian barley risotto accented with sage sounds perfect for a nice windy autumn dinner too. Levain embraces the cafe concept of offering enticing sides including brussel sprouts, cannellinis and some more of those addicting mushrooms all gussied up for the fall.

Pick a nice brisk night and head on over to soak up some of that  warm ambiance and tear into the flavors of the fall.

Happy Eating,


Monday, September 29, 2008


So I didn't get back from being out-of-town until later last night and didn't have time to make it to the store to stock up on goodies for my lunches for the week. I almost always make my own lunch, and try and come up with something creative and tasty so I can avoid the allure of doing take-out. So given the circumstances, I figured it wouldn't hurt to go get a nice little something in Northeast since I had to do some banking over there during my lunch break. My Dad had mentioned Kramarczuk's a good spot and despite the draw to neighboring Pizza Nea and Punch Pizza I dashed in to take a shot at something unique. The board in the cafe was filled with Eastern European dishes that I knew very little about, so I stuck to their famous sausages. I ended up on a Hungarian sausage sandwich (really just a link split down the middle, so not really a "sandwich", but whatever) despite the allure of the brat and Italian link. The sausage itself was nice ans smoky and had a good garlicky kick to it. It was much stronger then a polish and had a nice layer of melted cheese (tasted like a smooth swiss) on top of a tasty bun to round everything out. You could tell they know what they're doing there because the casing on the sausage has a nice snap to it, and the consistency is even and not at all granular. I really enjoyed the sandwich, but wish it would have come with a nice stiff mustard - I'm sure I could have asked for it, and just didn't.

The sandwich was accompanied by a bag of Rachel's chips, which I have a secret weakness for, and a nice big pickle spear. I love pickles with my sandwiches, but they kept this pickle in the same package as the hot sandwich and it steamed itself so that it was limp and warm, which was disappointing. I also ordered a cup of soup to round everything out and although it was tasty, they gave me way too much - I was dumbfounded that was their cup size and I left thinking, "how am I going to eat all this"?

I would go back to Kramarczuk's but if I did, I would buy a variety of the nice uncooked sausages they make from the neighboring deli and prepare them myself. The lunch total seemed like a lot (and I ended up with too much) and I think I could take some of their great products and serve it up just the way I like it. It turns out that my nice little lunch out just broadened my portfolio for a unique, home-made lunch. If you haven't checked this place out, I would recommend doing so before grilling season is totally gone!

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

112 Feastery

After waiting patiently for several months I finally went to the 112 Eatery. There may not be a place in all of the Metro as hyped as this cool culinary haven, and on my trip, it lived up to all of it. The ambiance of the place was very cool. Simplistic decor, cool tunes (they played Interpol, which is alright by me!) and nice soft lighting.

The meal was nothing short of a feast. I think we were making up for lost time by ordering as much as we did, but one of the cool things about their menus is that you can get half orders of a lot of the items, and many of the plates are portioned (and priced) so that you can enjoy several items - Amen.

We started our meal off with a glass of wine and quickly attacked the salty, spicy and sweet roasted almonds and the delicious olives that were placed on our table when we arrived. Soon after some nice fresh bread arrived and although I did grab a piece, I knew I had ordered more then I could eat, so I tried to only nibble.
After nibbling a bit and sipping some wine our lamb chop starter came out. This was no typical dish. We received 3 perfectly seared lamb chops, accented with a nice little frosting of lemon zest and gently resting in a pool of lush goat's milk yogurt. The yogurt was mixed with a fresh and aromatic pesto and the bold yogurt was much more intense and flavorful then a traditional yogurt sauce. I appreciated the extra excitement it provided, but could see how it may be a bit strong for others. Regardless the lamb was cooked perfectly and the salty, rich meat got a good jolt from the nice accompanying sauce. We picked the bones clean and started to focus on our main course and sides.
Before the lamb arrived we analyzed the menu ravenously as we knew there were so many good things to order! The lamb sugo looked great, I had heard wonderful things about the pork, and who wouldn't be intrigued by something as rich as a pasta dish with foie gras meatballs. Everyone told me the burger was great and I was craving something bold with a bit of heat, so I figured the Bacon, Egg and harissa sandwich would fit the bill too, so we settled on both. We decided to order some fries on the side, and also ordered the gnocchi to round out a nice comforting meal for a rainy and cool evening (112 Eatery seems to excel in comfort foods, so we decided not to fight it).

The food came out and the kitchen staff was nice enough to split the sandwiches since we told the waitress we were sharing. The service was really first rate, and I appreciate the attention from the kitchen. If you are looking for a mean burger, then look no further then the 112 Eatery. It was simply delicious. The burger itself was a mixture of ground beef with egg, onions and a good dose of sweet, lemony thyme. It was masterfly cooked and had a lush layer of melted brie on top of it. The burger rested well on a perfectly grilled english muffin. It was cute, and I devoured it like it was the last morsel of food left on earth. It was completely satisfying and the bursts of thyme really gave it a surprisingly welcome kick.

The bacon egg and harissa sandwich was totally on point. I love eggs on sandwiches and the cilantro accompaniment on top of the egg was really interesting and totally worked. The thick smoky bacon was the perfect companion to the rich, and equally smoky harissa. The 112 Eatery essentially took 2 very basic dishes and crafted a few variations that not only made them outstanding, but imaginative and flavorful.

While I was enjoying my sandwiches I also managed to take down a few of the perfectly crispy and salty fries. They were pretty darn good, (They're just 'taters after all) but the hero of that plate was the rich and decadent tarragon aioli that gave them a leg up on your typical bistro fry. The gnocchi, was artfully cooked with a little bit of crunch from the pan frying, yet was still as soft as my favorite pillow on the inside. The perfectly cooked buds were simply adorned with parmesan reggiano, and in combination with the buttery sauce, was a bit too salty for my tastes. It really didn't matter though, because I simply sat there and admired my other dishes as if it was the first time I had ever tasted a burger or a dressed up BLT. Simply put, the 112 Eatery takes simple dishes and crafts them carefully in an effort to master meals, that are anything but mundane.

I'll be back at 112. It's the perfect date spot, or place to swing into on a cold, blustery night for a bit of comfort food (go late or have a reservation though). Many people claim it's a great place to grab a snack after a night of drinking in the near by bars, but you'll never catch my practicing such sacrilege. The 112 Eatery deserves your tummy's full undivided attention, and it will get nothing less then that from this perpetually hungry individual.

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bad News for Big E

A few weeks ago I posted about Eric Austin's new spot, the Bourbon Street Steakhouse. Turns out it has rapidly declined form the honeymoon stage. Big E has had some precarious business partnerships in the past, and this seems par for the course, unfortunately. I've met Eric and actually interviewed him at a former gig, and he is incredibly nice and super talented. I really hope his House of Soul gets off the ground soon, and that he can finally operate the place he's been trying to create for so long. Stay tuned.

Happy Eating,


Monday, September 15, 2008

Gloomy Weather = Food Weekend

So the weather was horrible this weekend, save My Friday night jaunt to the Muddy Pig's Belgian Beer Festival. Since the weather was a drag I accordingly devoted my weekend to food. I wanted to try a few new places/things and also get some cooking out of the way, so what better then a nice rainy weekend to do both. Here's a few mini-reviews for quick meal options that I discovered this weekend as I sought something to fill my seemingly bottomless stomach.

Friday night I went to Patrick's Bakery in Southdale square. I have had one of their sandwiches before and was pretty impressed so I figured I'd give it another whirl. I immediately gravitated to the Patou Burgers. Take your basic burger, but cut it in half and stuff the beef into a long fresh French baguette. The soft buttery, bread actually ads a lot to the sandwich although it makes it a bit interesting to eat. I opted for the California version - think classy Big Mac. It was really good and the fries were awesome, although they put the fries in a baguette bag along with the burger so I had to dig a lot of them out before I ate, which was less then ideal, but still delicious. They also have quiches, sandwiches and nightly specials that all looked very good. I dare you to get out of their with out a pastry or something sweet.

On Saturday I was going to spend my afternoon building a nice robust  liquid for some pork shoulder that I was eventually going to braise and serve over cilantro lime rice (yep, stole it from Chipotle) and some hearty black beans. The dish ended up being really nice, but if I was going to be cooking all afternoon I needed some energy. I heard Scott at Corner Table was supplying Rustica Bakery on 46th with fresh sandwiches, and since I'm always in search of an inventive sandwich, I had to head on over and check it out. The sandwiches were very creative and as I found out when I tore into my chicken and egg salad sandwich (2 salads - one sandwich!), they are also very good. The nice fresh bread definitely adds a lot to the creations and they had a nice lemony aioli mixed into the salads and some crisp breakfast radishes to supply a bit of zip! I'll  be back again for sure, but should note that Rustica was very busy, but everything they made looked wonderful!

Finally, on Saturday night I was driving though Uptown on my way back from an engagement party and my tummy started to ask whether or not I had forgotten about him. As I was pondering where to eat I realized I was near Caffrey's deli and decided I would hit it quick because some former colleagues used to rave about it. I perused the menu and thought something hot would be nice given the dismal weather and went with the cheesesteak although there were many "winners" on the menu, at least in concept. The lady ordered the sliced meatball sub and we tore into our sandwiches a few moments later. The cheesesteak was a little lighter on the cheese then I'd like and too heavy on the salt. I stole a bite of the meatball sub, and it was very good. The food was fast and pretty good, so I'd go back, but go with a different option next time. 

Sunday Supper left me devouring the fruits of Saturday's labor and the warm, hearty mixture of succulent pork, garlicky beans and jazzed up rice made it a nice little belly-warming end to the weekend.

Ok, I'll end with a promise. I need to get better at taking pictures. Sometimes I just get excited and forget to take 'em or bring the camera! There will be more to come. Promise.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two Very Different Sides of France

So in case you didn't know, I live in SW Minneapolis and am conveniently located right next to several French restaurants (of varying degrees). Two of my most recent dining experiences featured Cave Vin on Xerxes and Salut in the 50th and France neighborhood (although I need to make it clear that Pierre's just down the street is a favorite too!). Both celebrate strong French roots, but both offer a very different take on French food.

I'll start with Cave Vin. My experience there was hands down one of the best  I've had this year. I'm a calamari freak, and although the calamari there was very good, (salty, perfectly fried with a pleasant twist of acid) it almost paled in comparison to the luscious mussels. These were perfectly steamed in a garlicky butter/wine broth that resonated well with the brininess of the plump mussels.

For my entree, I ordered a roasted pork loin with fingerling potatoes and smoky bacon. It was cooked perfect, well accented with a nice little pistachio crust that offered a nice textural contrast to the sweet, soft flesh. The crispy bacon included in the bed of fingerlings offered a quick jolt of salt and smoke to round everything out. It was one of the best pork dishes I'd ever had, and the bacon might have been the best I've ever enjoyed, and I have enjoyed a lot of bacon. I'm convinced it was either Fischer's or Nueske's, but regardless, it was amazing. I sampled my girlfriends' rack of lamb with English green lentils and it was just darn good. The lentils were perfectly earthy and spicy, and the rich, buttery lamb was  cooked to a medium rare perfection. It was simply one of the best meals I've had all year, and the service was impeccable - the perfect personalities to back a neighborhood cafe.

Last night I hit Salut (after I saw the wait to sit outside at Cafe 28) in the 50th and France area for my usual Tuesday night dining experience. I'm not huge on Salut. They have an amazing Croque Madame, and if you are in the mood for one of those (and your heart is ready to take it on) you need to look no further. Don't get me wrong, they have an awesome concept and are doing very well, but I just think the food is OK. They offer a nice mix of traditional French fare such as Coq Au Vin and Cotes du Boeuf, but I get the feeling most people go there for the smaller plates and sandwiches/salads. Knowing that I've been a bit disappointed with the items I've had there before I stayed with the Cheeseburger Royale and the typical order of calamari - which features a really nice spicy dipping sauce that I do really enjoy. The burger was good, but no different or more inventive then anything I could have had elsewhere. I could have stretched and ordered something a bit more unique, but there is something about ordering French classics from a place that cranks out a ton of food every night that just kind of persuaded me not too. My girlfriend had the Knife and Fork Chicken Club and it was uninspiring to stay the least. It's hard to believe that a place that offers a local heirloom and imported burrata salad can't swing a decent piece of grilled chicken, but that was just the reality of it.

I will say that Salut is a great place to hit f you have a large group, would like to dine outside, or just want to enjoy some simple sandwiches and small plates. It has a fun setting and a fun cocktail/wine list. 

For me comparing Cave Vin to Salut is like comparing frites to french fries. If you are looking for some serious sizzle and some great interpretations on French classics, I would head to Cave vin, especially if their patio is available, or on Monday and Tuesday night when they run their half price wine special. If you are looking for a place where you can kick back and have a wide selection of food and cocktails and take your food snob hat off, then Salut will fit that bill just fine. 

I'm very lucky to live in an area that features many great places to eat just beyond my doorstep and a chain of lakes and a creek to offer a perfect setting for running all those meals off.

Happy Eating,


Friday, August 15, 2008

New Orleans: Best Meal Year-to-Date

For the past two years my brothers, my father and I have headed down to New Orleans to go Fishing for the athletic Redfish that inhabit the salt marshes of the deep south, though I will mention the anticipation for the most recent  trip was equally strong for our return to Cochon. Cochon is quite simply, a culinary celebration of the pig (although they do many other Cajun specialties, mind blowingly well). They do masterful things with swine down there, and pretty much cook everything but the stink - Mmm Hmmm even the nasty bits make their way in, and itwouldn't be right if they didn't. 

One of my favorite menu offerings on the menu is the Boucherie plate. It's a handsome little plate full of all the great charcuterie that these southern  hog wizards conjur up on the premises. In the shot above you can see that we start with perfect little toast points and a substantial (delightful, actually) stone-ground mustard. From there you pick your various toppings including pork rilletes (which were awesome), perfectly smoked ham (dissolved on the tongue), a nice salty salami, what they called "homemade Slim Jims" which were great little jerky sticks, and some good old head cheese (I won't get in to too many details, but it's the nasty bits, and it's good!). Sometimes it's just better to eat and not think about it. Everything is made in house and was completely fantastic. You can also see the salad I ordered to start the night off - a perfectly fresh cucumber salad with fresh herbs and vinegar.

Our waitress actually brought out the above - wood roasted oysters because we had to wait a few minutes to be seated. The oysters were amazing, I was told (I'm allergic to shellfish), and the aroma alone made me glad we stuck it out a few extra minutes.

Next we'll get into my entree, which was a braised Ham Hock with a Cajun gremolata, lima beans and rice. It was utterly and completely to die for. Simply breathing in the vicinity of this perfect portion of pork would have shed the meat right off the bone. It was perfectly salty, smokey and all together rich. The beans and rice soaked up all the hearty braising jus, and it was totally outrageous - the perfect meal for a fisherman fresh off the saltwater; tired from pulling in the red beasts swimming in the shallows just beyond the Louisiana coastline.

I've also attached my brother, Pat's entree, which was the Louisiana Cochon - it was quite good, perfectly meaty, with a well seasoned yet sensual taste of pork. The cracklins that were served with were amazing.

If you find yourself in New Orleans anytime soon, I highly recommend you check it out. It's not in a touristy location and there is no Bourbon Street commotion to detract you from the great Cajun cuisine that they serve up. All you have to do is pour a nice cold Abita Bitter Beer and enjoy the warm aromas until you food arrives.

Happy Eating,



BUMMER ALERT! Scroll to 9/16 update.

That is exactly what I'm going to do. I'm going to run, not drive or walk, just run to Eric Austin's Bourbon Street Steakhouse. I was heart broken when he closed down on Eat Street. He has the best sandwiches in the city, not to mention the best Mac 'and Cheese (several Wolves players had standing orders of the stuff back in the day) and fried green tomatoes anywhere outside of New Orleans - the dude was trained at the Commander's Palace, so he knows what's going on. 

The menu seems more upscale with a variety of steaks (tomahawks!) and seafood options that he didn't have at his old joint, but my favorites, including his catfish po'boys and all his delicious sides are still there. I'm going to try and get there soon (I've got to let the kitchen and service get their legs) to do a quick write up and post some pics. The only disappointing part is that it's all the way in South Saint Paul. I can tell you without even stepping in the place that it will be worth the trip, though, because nobody does soul food like Eric around here. Seriously though, it may be a good idea to run there because creole food is not light, but worth every step on the treadmill thereafter.

I'm hoping to get another soul/creole food post up here yet today - it'll be a recap of a fabulous meal I had in New Orleans earlier this year.

Happy eating,


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rock Solid

So last night, I got a case of the lazys (blaming it on the rain), and rather then go out to the usually extravagant Tuesday night dinner, or cook something at home, I decided to head to one of my neighborhood favorites: Gigi's Cafe. In fact, it was so informal, that I forgot my camera - sorry, I need to get better about that, but when I'm thinking about food, it's hard to concentrate on anything else. Anyways, I'll definitely be back and will post pictures next time. See, the thing about Gigi's is that it is consistently good, fast, welcoming and best of all - Cheap! They offer a wide variety of dishes from pastas or salads with curry to Mexican, Italian, Thai and everything in between - even some delicious hybrids. They always have good pasta salads and comforting specials.

I'll check my usual food snob musings at the door here (no mention of flavor combinations starches, proteins or seasonings today). No, the food there is simple, tasty and rock solid. I go to Gigi's quite frequently and will continue to do so. 

Seriously though, if you haven't been to Gigi's you need to do so. Its quick counter service is the perfect stop before/after a shopping spree in Uptown or a nice walk around Lake Calhoun. Their menu changes daily, so they are always serving up something fresh, inventive and most importantly, delicious. Also, they have good, cheap beer. I think a Premium is $2 during Happy hour and a Summit EPA is $3. They have many more beers and actually crank out a pretty diverse list.

By the way, if Key Lime Pie/Tart is your thing (or dessert in general), then you need to floor it to Gigi's asap. I'm noticeably not huge on sweets, but my girlfriend and I attacked this hunk of sweet/tart preciousness with an aggression that would make any thing that ran on Shark Week look soft and un-motivating. 

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Few Notes

Went to Indio last Friday for the second time and it was just as good as the first. Our server was a bit odd, but we made it through. I went with a group of seven, so we were able to order a pretty wide sample of the menu. The Guacamole was good, but lots of places have decent Guac. I though the tosdatitas were really good personally - just the right amount of heat and and each portion (3 total) was just over a good sized Amuse Boush which I think is just right for an appetizer. I'd recommend this place for sure. If you aren't sure of their credentials, it's the same group that runs El Meson and Cafe Ena. Anyone that can have three successful ventures going in a city that is known for good Latin/Mexican food must be doing something right.

Heard from AZ that Alex Roberts is opening another Brasa location, possibly is St. Paul. I say bring it on. He serves up some mean pork, chicken and beef with legit sides. More Alex Roberts is a good sign by my standards. I find it hard to make my way over to Restaurant Alma, although I had a fabulous meal there, so if we can fold him in on Grand Ave. in St. Paul, I'll take it, although selfishly, I wouldn't mind another Brasa even closer to me in SW Minneapolis, or even say, in my own backyard.

Heading to Al Vento on Friday. I'll try and get a few shots and thoughts up on that.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nick and Eddie

First of all, if you have Anchor Steam on your drink list, then you are alright by my standards, so Nick and Eddie was off to a good start. I had heard a lot of hype about N&E on various local food blogs and other credible food sources and hadn't found the time to make my way over there to check it out yet. A gorgeous July night presented a fine opportunity to head over, so I jumped and brought my empty stomach and girlfriend along for the ride.
I called the day before to get a reservation, but found that it wasn't too jammed on a nice summer night when I arrived. I was glad that there was outdoor seating available, mostly because it was one of those rare Minnesota nights where the temp was comfortable and the mosquitoes were merciful, but also because although the restaurant is very nice and well designed on the inside, it's also very loud. Anyways, we cruised out side to soak up some sun and the seasonal offerings on the N&E menu.
The first thing I noticed was that almost every entree was grilled, which I guess is fine for a seasonal menu - it is grilling season, but a bit more variety would have been nice as well. Anyways they had a few steak options, a fish special, a pasta and some other misc entrees (chicken of course) that sounded nice too. I was leaning towards the ribs, but that's not a good move on date night, and the lady was already set on the Duck, so I resisted the urge to pig out on my own bar menu (the bar menu looked great by the way) tasting feast and opted for the grilled Mahi-Mahi special - simply grilled with a simple herb rub.
We tore into the bread basket and the dense, pillowy slice reminded me of the pull-apart bread I used to fiend for when I would visit my grandparent's old lake home in Alexandria. A few minutes later, the waitress brought out a perfectly cooked plate of fish, accompanied with a intensely green pesto and some salty, citrusy, perfectly fried fries. Although the plate lacked any color balance, the dish worked well. I think eating fries with grilled fish is a lot like eating salad with polenta, but the odd combo was still good. The fish was huge, and although I enjoy my Mahi-Mahi drenched in butter, wine and lemon, I dug this preparation too. The herb rub was subtle enough to taste the individual essences (I loved the oregano), and the pesto was a nice twist too. I will say that I am used to a more traditional italian pesto with plenty of cheese and olive oil, but this was a bit more balanced for a lighter finish. Needless to say, it was gone quick.

As mentioned before, my girlfriend ordered the duck which was served up with an intensely colorful summer succotash. The succotash was really quite good. I love lima beans and the accompaniment was light and fresh - in my mind a nice match for some succulent duck in a summer preparation.
The duck itself was pretty fatty (as duck normally is) and was a bit chewier then I'd like (it was pretty ashen and not the deep brownish pink you normally see), but it was still fair. To me, duck is better reserved for heavier preparations more suitable for the cold months. There was almost an equal amount of fat to flesh ratio and if it would have been a bit more balanced, it would have helped the dish. It's tough to have nice crispy skin when you are fighting a thick layer of fat. Anyways, I dug my fish, so it would have been hard for the duck to stand up to it - I couldn't think of two proteins that have less in common.

So, when it comes down to it, I would go Back to Nick and Eddie, but I would wait until I could check out a different seasonal menu. When I go back it will likely be for their brunch, which I've heard a lot of good things about, or to try their bar menu with friends and plenty of cocktails - that is if I can resist the urge to stroll right down the street to pillage the mecca of all bar menus at Cafe Lurcat.

Happy Eating,


Monday, July 28, 2008

Can I Have Some Sandwich With My Turkey?

Like any abnormally obsessed-with-food individual, I have a "list" of places I need to eat at. One of those places just so happens to be a sandwich shop. That's right, a gourmet sandwhich shop. Be'wiched opened a bit over year ago and have positioned themselves as a "chef-driven" sandwich joint. There menu is filled with impressively concepted combinations and a few spins on old classes. They cure their own meats in-house and also offer an array of salads and soups to accompany the massive delicatessen creations. They have beer and wine too!

I have a mild obsession with good sandwiches and create my own unique pairings before work so I can have a nice home-made lunch. I don't do the ham and cheese on bland bread thing, so I was especially attracted to Be'Wiched and the allure of new sandwich combinations to inspire my own creations.

So I drove down Washington, walked in, scrolled the impressive, but small menu and settled on a three-way tie as most ambitious diners tend to do. I asked the gal behind the counter if I should get the pulled pork, ( I make a naughty pulled pork by the way) the poached chicken or the smoked turkey. After some thought she said what I was kind of (just kind of, seriously) hoping, "go with the smoked turkey." So like any good seeker of food intelligence ,I did.

The sandwich was friggin' huge. I mean there was probably two inches of richly, woodsy-smoked turkey on this beast of a sandwich. The pile of turkey was served on a nice dusty ciabatta with bacon, medjool dates and goat cheese, along with the contents of what felt like two entire turkeys. It's no push over sandwich and I knew immediately that I would take the whole thing down. I stretched my mouth and prepared myself, physically, to take on the first bite. Texturally, the sandwich was perfect. The fresh baked ciabatta was soft and the thick dense meat was padded nicely by a thin layer of dates, soft goat cheese and a few strips of thin, limp bacon. The bacon was just OK, but if you are going to take a serious twist on a turkey club, you better deliver on the bacon. The date combined with the salty swine did remind me of the classic bacon-wrapped date appetizer commonly served around the holidays, which truly highlights to beauty of a good salty and sweet combination. I only caught a hint of the goat cheese unless I was eating around the edges, which was a bit disappointing (I like the kind of creamy goat cheese that will curl a grown man's toes, personally) but there was still enough there to round out a unique sandwich. Lastly, I know I made fun of the obscene amount of turkey on this guy, but it was perfectly smoked (just like the turkey my Dad smokes every year for Thanksgiving ).I love it when food evokes memories, if you haven't noticed - I know my turkey, and this was the real deal.

The sandwich was served with a nice side of Israeli cous-cous and what tasted like a curried eggplant salad with olives - simply delicious.

The good lord has blessed me with a metabolism as active and constant as the sex lives of the rabbits that seem to at least double everyday in my backyard. I typically eat up to six times a day to try and satisfy the constant cry from food echoing from my lonely stomach, but there was no need for that this day. I took the whole sandwich down if nothing else then to not take the shot to my machismo, and the afternoon snack, and food as a whole was not deeded until I made dinner at about 7 p.m.

Overall, the sandwich was good, but I would definitely get something else if I go back. I had been eyeing that sandwich on their online menu for quite some time, and in fairness ,I had big expectations for it despite my three-way tie when I stepped up to the register. Be'wiched delivered, but is probably one of those places where you need to try a few things, and maybe never land on a favorite - a pretty good business model. I'll definitely go back, but since I rarely go out to lunch during the week, I likely will reserve it for a special treat on slow work days.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If You Look Close, You Can See It!

That's right. If you look close, you can see the very beginning of my first pepper. You will recall from an earlier post that I am making more of an effort to produce my own food to append to my current drive to eat more local and sustainable foods. Any normal person may just see what appears to be the very infancy of a pepper's life, but I already have big plans to stuff this little bugger with a rich mixture of beef, garlic, home-made bread crumbs, fresh herbs from my garden and some artisan cheese from the co-op near my cabin - My Nana would be very proud, indeed. OK, I'm definitely getting ahead of myself, but just you wait! I hope to have a follow up post to show you the meal I'll make out of this little guy - when he is finally done germinating.

I've really latched onto this slowfood movement, and I'm excited to start reaping the results. I just wish this pepper would hurry up and mature! Seriously though, check out the link and read up on how you can support slowfood even when dining out.

Happy Eating,


Friday, July 11, 2008

Done with Duplex

So we tried Duplex again last night. Now, before I get into this, I have to give you the proper gastronomical history I have experienced at this establishment. My girlfriend and I had two phenomenal - top drawer, experiences there last year. Then, we went back in the late summer and they fired off a total dud. It wasn't pretty, and I won't get into the details, but I didn't consume more then a few bites of my food , which totally goes against the vacuum ethic I normally bring to the table when it's time to eat.

So, Jess and I made a pact. We said we would wait a few months and head back on a nice night when we could enjoy their patio and see if they could reverse the course we had been lead down our last time we dined there. I didn't happen.

We got there and the Duck "Sloppy Joe" (A  cute name for a braised duck sandwich) jumped off the menu at us. Jess and I both decided to order it only to find out the worst possible menu news that could have been whispered into our eager ears - "There's only one left." I hate that phrase, but chivalry is not dead, and I let Jess get the duck. I had been eyeing the ravioli and also caught the gnocchi at the last minute so I inquired with our server and she proclaimed that I should go with the gnocchi, for sure - so I did.

Mistake. Our server touted the gnocchi's perfect pan seared, yet soft consistency, and it was there, but pasta typically has some sort of sauce, which implies moisture and or liquid, and this arrangement totally missed that, feeling more akin to a large gnocchi hash then a true pasta. The accompanying ingredients were oven roasted tomatoes (which were quite good, roasted portabellos, rosemary and brown butter. Needless to say the brown butter was totally dried out and the pasta had more crunch to it then you would ever want from a nice pillowy gnocchi. A simple olive oil drizzle, more brown butter or even the oven roasted tomato jus could have pulsed a slight sense of salvation, but this was  a miss, and I just didn't enjoy it.

I will say that the duck dish that Jess ordered was pretty good. The duck and sauce were rich and spicy as a duck ragout/braise should be.  The only knock on it that I have was that it was served on what appeared to be a brioche or brioche like bun that quickly absorbed all the rich braising liquid making picking up the sandwich near impossible- but at the end of the day, it is a sloppy joe, and I need to get over myself.

I also can't get to the end of the post without saying that the sandwich was served with the hands-down best sweet potato fries that I have ever had. Perfectly sweet/salty and a great pair with the accompanying lemon aioli. 

So to recap - I have had 2 good experiences at Duplex, and now 2 very forgettable ones. I don't believe  return trip is in order either, when I have too many other places that I would rather try in the area. Fifty percent just isn't a good enough conversion rate for a city that is booming with other tantalizing culinary experiences. I did want to see if we could revive the memories of the past pleasant meals we've had there but it just didn't work out. 

If you do go I would peruse the menu here before hand and try and dine a bit later or go earlier for the happy hour (cheap beer/wine is a no-brainer). I will say that dining later tends to lead to a more limited menu. Also, check out the deserts. At $5 they are cheap and good, but the last 2 times we went we passed due to the results of the main course. If any one else out there has a Duplex experience, please share, as this is just one man's opinion

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Victors 1959 Cafe

So I have been going out to eat on my regular schedule (all the time), yet have not found the time to jot down my thoughts. However, I had a pretty good experience  at a new place that just hit my radar - Victor's 1959 Cafe - a Cuban Joint in Minneapolis. Cuban food, and everything about Cuba intrigues me - it seems such a melting pot of the unknown. I checked out there menu online and was immediately interested so I rolled down there last Friday. 

It was tough to not abort mission and head to the neighboring Grand Cafe, which has been on my list for months, but I stuck with it because I needed something spicy, bold and different. The place is small, overflowing with character and extremely inviting. Our waitress had 2 ice cold Pacificos in our hands before our asses hit the seats. 

The menu is full of traditional Cuban fare and I isolated my entree within seconds. I was set on the Picadillo a la Cubano which appeared to be a mash-up of strong flavors featuring  ground-beef, peppers, capers, olives and raisins. The preparation sounded closer to something I would have thought I'd seen in Sicily before Cuba. I also ordered the Cubano platter for the table which was a combo of Empanadas, croquettes and tostones. The platter was a heavy triumverant - all fried, but some items were clearly better then others. The tostones were huge and pretty bland, other then the refreshing citrus and garlic toping. The croquettes were rich and had a distinct powerful ham flavor similar to serrano. Lastly, the Empanadas were huge and full of a robust and flavorful chicken mixture, but it got lost in the amount of dough incorporated into the folded crunchy pocket. If the execution was a bit smaller, it would have been better, in my mind.

Next I received my entree which looked and smelled like  flavor explosion the size of the Cuban Missile Crisis - although I don't believe anything actually blew up in either instance. I tore into the dish hungry to continue to feed my craving for some spice and bold flavors, and it just never really happened. The powerful ingredient list was all there, but it never really integrated they way I was hoping it would. Everything just kind of ran together and all the integrity of the individual ingredients was sort of lost on me. I never got the brininess of the capers and olives or the sweetness of the raisins, they just sort of cancelled each-other out. It was still a decent dish, but I was looking for some fire and flavor. I will say that the accompanying plantains we're freakin' awesome. They were cooked perfectly - soft, with a nice little caramelization on it. They were really the highlight of the meal. 

Conclusion: I'd go back, but I think I would reserve it for a Saturday lunch or breakfast. They have a list of sandwiches that looked really good and I'm always down for a good Cubano (although it will be tough to beat my Muddy Pig favorite). Serve it up with one of their cheap mexican beers and you've got a killer lunch. The breakfast options looked good as well. I think the dish I picked out was a bit too complicated to stand on it's own pillars, but I think they could whip up a bang up lunch or a mean, authentic Cuban breakfast.

Happy Eating,


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