Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Best of: Sandwiches

This Epic Sandwich project has been an awesome way for me explore the city and try out different foods and different restaurants, much more so then I ever would have on my own. For that, I am grateful. You can find a quick synopsis of some of my local faves from 2009 here. Please continue to follow my sandwich discoveries as we head into 2010.

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Best of: Farmers Markets

The local/sustainable/thoughtful/slow food movement is in full swing and Minnesota is enjoying many of the benefits. Farmers markets are popping up all over and local food artisans seem to be gaining more an more notoriety with each passing season. It's tough to read a menu in this town without a local producer listed, and that's great, but nothing beats going straight to the source and cooking something for yourself.

This may be one of the smaller markets in the area, but the produce and provisions are stunning. The folks that run the market bring in some nice entertainment, events and speakers and the variety of goods is awesome. You can pick up some choice produce, awesome sauces, jams and salsas as well as premium meats, cheeses and eggs. They have a little something for everyone, and the small neighborhood vibe is well represented. Plus those killer cooks from the Chef Shack are always there, providing an ideal and inventive bite to eat with less of a wait then I've observed at the also excellent Mill City Farmers Market.

Runner Up: Your Local Farmer

Nothing makes me happier then stopping by the farms on the way home from my cabin in the summer. I get to meet the folks that work so hard to produce such tasty wares and can stock up on a range of goodies including local cheese, produce, herbs and sustainably raised meat. It just sounds/feels so much better than a crowded grocery store, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 Best of: Pasta

For some odd reason Minneapolis seems to have an impeccable pasta scene. I'm not sure what factors contribute to that but there is not shortage of really good, fresh pasta, both traditional and inventive.

The Winner: Broders' Tagliarini di Locanda de Lupo

It's typically pretty easy to hand this distinction off to them, but this year they had some very stiff competition. They've been doing there thing for years and it really shows. Their pasta has always been spot on in my numerous visits over the years. They make killer fresh pasta and adorn it with only the utmost care, and incredible and lavish ingredients. The tagliarini isn't always on the menu, but I'll always want to eat there when it is. An incredibly luxurious combination of prosciutto de parma, truffle pesto and cream is the back bone of this killer presentation and the sauce simply smothers the fresh pasta. It's truly an incredible dish that needs to be tasted, not read about.

Runner Up: Trattoria Tosca's fettuccini

Newcomer Tosca kills it in the pasta department, too. This Linden Hills gift serves a very limited and very seasonal menu, but when what you serve is so good, there really is no reason to complicate. The fettuccinni is rich beyond compare. A combination of rich and nutty grana padano, salty and robust fischer bacon and three, yes three egg yolks make a perfect silken sauce. A sprinkle of fresh herbs and some nice carmel notes from a bit of roasted cauliflower and you've got a really solid dish.

Becker's newest offering is no slouch in the pasta department either, offering an array of inspiring new spins and traditional takes on old pasta favorites. If I'm at a pasta joint and there is rabbit or boar on the menu I am usually sold and Becker's menu was no different the little orecchiette had an amazing texture and held little cupfuls of delicious and delicate braised rabbit, herbs and tomato. This was a truly rustic and comforting dish that is not to be missed, either.

It was a great year for pasta!

Happy Eating,


Epic Sandwich: Crave's New York Pastrami Sandwich

Nothing like a little pastrami to help you chill-out during the holiday shopping madness. Full review here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 Best of: Burgers

I know that writing about the best burger I've had this year is like skipping out onto thin ice. As illustrated by the famous "Best Jucy Lucy" debate, Minnesotans are crazy about burgers and although I won't be as bold as to say that this is the best burger in town (this segment is about the best dishes I've had this year, not the undisputed champs), I will say that it is definitely worth checking out.

Winner: The Kitchen's "Perfect" Burger

I didn't expect to find such a killer burger at such a new and distant restaurant (Stillwater is a bit of a hike from SW Minneapolis), but I loved the surprise. The Kitchen's bacon cheddar burger had all the attributes of a great burger: A nice fat-to-lean ratio for the beef, excellent sharp cheese, thick-cut hearty bacon, and house-made amenities such as pickles, mustard and an awesome fresh baked bun. The folks up in Stillwater know comfort food and this burger was a perfect summer patio pleasure. You can catch more info here.

Runner Up: Cafe Maude's Grilled Burger

Again, another place that doesn't necessarily have a ton of burger cred, but they sure can craft a mean sandwich. It's a bit on the expensive side for the American favorite, but the extravagant topping options make for a more up-scale performance. I like mine with grilled mushrooms and bacon, but if I really wanted to bust my gut I could add on some St. Andre and a fried egg, although the damage to my cholesterol level may far out live the satisfaction of the burger.

Lastly, since this whole blogging thing is about community and sharing, I'd love it if you let me know where/what your favorite burgers were this year!

Happy Eating,


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Coming Soon: Best of 2009

I'll be putting down some thoughts for my "Best Of 2009" list over the course of the next few days. Categories will include, but are not limited to best pasta, best burger (It's MN and we're obsessed with burgers) best breakfast, best Mexican etc. Keep in mind these are only places that I've dined at an by no means represent a holistic view of all the great options we have to choose from. Stay tuned!

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Patrick's Bakery

I love merguez sausage, so when I noticed that Patrick's Bakery had a sandwich that utilized this spicy North-African delicacy I had to give it a try. Full review here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Emily's Lebanese Deli

I've heard from several folks that Emily's Lebanese Deli in NE is worth checking out. It's easy to get tired of the same cold-cut style sandwiches, and a burger isn't always a welcome change of pace, so I was happy I found something unique and different enough to feel special at Emily's. Full review here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Edina Grill's Blue Plate Meatloaf

I desperately needed a break from turkey the day after Thanksgiving and decided to see if the Edina Grill could serve up something fun and comforting. Turns out that they were up to the task. Full review here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Community Service

I had an awesome meal at Bar La Grassa the other night (more thoughts in another post), but something beyond the food caught my attention. I was taking in the room while I enjoyed some antipasti, and I quickly recognized one of the waiters as a favorite from Lucia's. I was initially a bit distraught, because Lucia's is my favorite neighborhood spot, and although La Grassa was fabulous, and had excellent service in my opinion, I simply wouldn't be eating there as frequently as Lucia's. I managed to pass the waiter on the way to the bathroom and stopped to inquire about his new gig. Thankfully he informed me that he was actually working at both establishments, and that a good chunk of the staff worked at multiple restaurants as well.

At first I thought this was a bit odd, but when you think about the service industry, it makes sense. Let's be honest, service in this city has been hotly debated, and good, trained help is hard to find. I for one am much happier knowing that competent servers are sharing the wealth and the good establishments are training solid service and dispersing it to other restaurants. If I'm a restaurant owner, and I know I can get some people on my staff that already know their stuff, I'd be beyond happy to hire them on for a few shifts a week, so they can swing their other gig and help set a great example for my staff as well.

In fact, I think working in multiple environments will expose waitstaff to a larger range of clientele and various service concepts, that in the long run will help improve service across the city. Don't get me wrong, there are many restaurants that really do get service, but I think we all agree that the local industry could step it up in this department.

Now, that being said I also couldn't help but notice that my favorite butcher was working back in the kitchen. All I can say is that the dude is super knowledgeable and beyond helpful when it comes to the butcher case, so I really, really hope I see him behind the counter next time I walk into Clancey's.

Happy Eating,


Epic Sandwich: Los Ocampo

I love going to the Midtown Global Market. There's only one issue - what to eat? There's the killer tacos at Los Ocampo, Pho at Pham's Deli, all sorts of goodies at West Indies Soul and those delicious tamales at La Loma - just to name a few. Well, this was a sandwich excursion and as I soon found out Los Ocampo puts on a torta that is not for those with a weak stomach or light appetite. Full review here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Yum Kitchen and Bakery

Swung by Yum to grab a sandwich after a long hiatus. Looks like I should probably just stick to their awesome cake... Full review here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Trattoria Tosca's Ultimate Comfort Pasta

I might have just consumed the most decadent pasta of my life at Trattoria Tosca.

I'd been awaiting the development of something in the under-utilized Turtle Bread space in Linden Hills for quite some time, and thankfully, that wish came true a few months ago. Trattoria Tosca specializes in seasonal fare, and this gloomy spell had me craving something warm and comforting, which lands squarely in the pasta category.

I didn't hold much hope for the actual space, since Turtle Bread seems to be a jumbled bi-polar mess that almost resembles a retail area. They crank out some nice breads and baked goods, but it's not exactly an area I'd like to spend a lot of time in. Tosca is quite different. Dark wood meets sponge painted earth tone walls with little to no adoration. The space is incredibly simple, but at least it has focus. The restaurant was at about 60% capacity, but the sound level was near uncomfortable.

Tosca's menu is relatively limited, but I found several options that made the ultimate decision very difficult. I narrowed it down to the pheasant, the bucatini with rosemary, tomato, breadcrumbs and chili flakes, and what sounded like the ultimate fettuccini. The menu description included roasted cauliflower, Fischer bacon, herbs, grana padano and egg yolk. It sounded like the definition of comfort, and the perfect meal to consume in preparation for hibernation. It was a done deal.

Tosca offers their primi courses in two sizes and I ordered the large as an entree, because I knew I wouldn't be satisfied with just a few bites. When the fettuccini arrived, I was blown away by the execution. The delicately cooked pasta enjoyed little bits of roasted cauliflower and big meaty chunks of bacon intermixed throughout the base of the dish, while the crown of the fettuccini was lightly adorned with fine herbs, rustic grana padano, and three perfectly separated decadent egg yolks. A quick mix with my fork produced a silken and incredibly lush sauce.

This dish is not for the light eater, or health obsessed - it's full on gluttony. The roasted cauliflower had a nice caramelized exterior that provided a bit of crunch and a gentle sweetness to the dish. The thick lardon-like bacon supported an intense amount of salt and smoke that proved a perfect companion for the robust and nutty grana padano. Lastly, those three perfect yolks provided a superb richness to the dish that just could not be surpassed with cream and/or butter alone. Taking on this dish is no small order, and like any good pain killer, I wouldn't encourage operating heavy machinery soon after. My only wish was that maybe they dialed it back to just two yolks, because the dish is so rich that it becomes a little daunting and starts to lose some of its balance.

This was the sort of meal that will keep me warm as we climb deep into the winter months, and if the dish stays on the menu (which any one dish outside of the bucatini rarely does) it may almost make the deep chill of February tolerable.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Modern Cafe

Last week's nasty rain and snow mix had me craving something comforting. I had heard that the Modern Cafe in NE Minneapolis has this whole comfort thing down, so I decided to give their roast pork with kimchi sandwich a whirl, and was surprised with the result . Full review here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Restaurant Marketing Highs and Lows

Various reports claim that we have escaped the recession, and are on our way to recovery. I'm not 100% sure I buy into that yet, but I know things are looking up. It appears that many of my favorite restaurants (a industry hit very hard by the recession) managed to weather the storm, while a few good spots had to close down. I couldn't help but notice the increase in restaurant marketing over the last few months and feel that the swing was likely out of necessity for survival, but also due to the explosion of social media. Some of my favorite spots have a set up entertaining/informative blogs or Twitter accounts while many folks have taken on an entire social marketing strategy to keep customers informed/intrigued.

Punch Pizza may be doing the best job of this. They have a clear strategy, and have come up with an awesome promotional mix including deals for off-the-menu items, students, and just-for-the-hell-of-it promotions. They also hit you at several touch points engaging frequently via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and email. I've taken advantage of a few of the promos they launched through multiple channels and have observed the success they've endured by waiting in line for quite some time to gather my prize. The design aesthetic and message stays consistent and on-brand and I have no doubt they are reaping the benefits.

Another example of great marketing/promotion is the Shefzilla blog from our friends at Heidi's. Not only do these guys create killer cuisine but they are also Twin Cities restaurant marketing pioneers. I find there blog extremely entertaining with topics ranging from the absurd, to the extremely relevant (especially for regulars like me hungry who want to hear menu updates) all while establishing dialogue around food and the Twin Cities dining scene. They also have a nice series on YouTube in which Stuart displays some of his awesome technique in a manner that foodies can both appreciate and apply. I also find the always entertaining Frank Thorpe an interesting addition on the bass.

Although, for every restaurant that does a nice job, there are others that bewilder - Parasole comes to mind. Don't get me wrong, they've built and impressive and lucrative roster of restaurants that I've dined in and enjoyed to various degrees. They've recently opened their dining club to free enrollment and their Sunday Supper series offers a good reason to take the family out on a typically slow restaurant night.

Then there's the Twitter account. I don't get it. A recent visit revealed the voice of their brand comparing sleeping with their first cousin to how low their wine prices will be when they open Il Gato in early November - sounds like a great message for families. Now, the absurdity doesn't stop there. I always page through the Southwest Journal when it hits my stairs, and I noticed a Burger Jones ad for the first time a few issues back. I can't remember the verbatim headline, but it was something to the tune of offering a good BJ (Burger Jones), but they obviously intended a play on words. Seems pretty immature for a local restaurant power, especially since the early Salut campaign was so creative.

Now, I realize, the ad and Twitter strategy has me talking here, and so in a way I'm playing into their hand, but it doesn't make me want to celebrate, or go to their restaurant any more then I would have had I not seen those promotions. To be honest, it's a bit of a turn off and could be detrimental to their brand. They've done great things in the past, but this is feeling a bit too much like that gross Paris Hilton and Carl's Jr. commercial, which clearly uses frat house appeal to try and sell something. I'm hoping they don't go too far with the Il Gato branding, because I'm thinking Uptown is in serious need of another good joint to help breathe a bit of life into that restaurant scene, and I know they can make it happen.

What are some of your favorite restaurants doing? Many premier chef's are building awareness and promoting a worthy cause through Tour de Farm... What else is out there? Seen/heard anything creative? I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you feel is making a difference.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Lyndale Tap House

I previewed the Lyndale Tap House a few days ago, but managed to get there last week for a bite to eat. I ordered the pit beef sandwich, and it was pretty darn good. There are a lot of other interesting options on the menu as well, and I'll be back to check them out for sure. Full review here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Epic Sandwich: The Kitchen

I've been hearing about The Kitchen for quite some time and couldn't wait to try it out on a recent trip to Stillwater. What I didn't expect was to find a burger that quickly climbed into my favorites list. Full review here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lyndale Tap House Preview

I heard the murmur from across the room and couldn’t help but get excited. I was over at a friend’s place the other night, and inevitably the “where are we going?” conversation came up. This is typically a pretty solid debate. Some people will want to go to the place with the drink specials, while others stake their claim for a good place to dance, or the best place for people watching. Needless to say, I didn’t think anyone would mention the Lyndale Tap House. I couldn’t have been happier that this is where we landed.

The Lyndale Tap House is a new bar/Restraunt/Gastropub/Beersnob haven/whatever-you-want-to-call-it located in the former JP’s American Bistro space near the Lyn-Lake intersection. The atmosphere is intriguing with exposed wood, a pressed tin roof, enormous bar and a completely confusing path to the bathroom for the untrained.

I’ve heard two knocks on the recently opened Tap House: one is that the pin-up style pictures are offensive and the other is that the tap list is out-dated. I can’t say I agree on either account. All of the girls in our group are intelligent, forward thinking women who seem to be very comfortable with both themselves and expressing their opinions. I didn’t hear one word about the art either bad or good, and to be honest I hardly even noticed it. I'll let everyone form their opinion on the art, as the beauty of art is that it is open to your own interpretation. Also, I wouldn’t venture to say that the tap list is amazing, but I didn’t think it was lame. There were some mainstreamers on the list such as Guinness and Blue Moon, but there were also some nice additions, such as Lagunitas, which is one of my favorites. There wasn’t an overwhelming selection of local taps, but there seemed to be some others to fill the void.

The accessible kitchen quickly fills the space with the strong smell of the open pit (they specialize in Baltimore Pit Beef), which wasn’t ideal for a Saturday night social gathering, but it wasn’t a hindrance either. There seemed to be a ton of burgers and sandwiches pouring out of the kitchen and one of the folks in our group seemed to be singing the praises of the sloppy joe (this one will be on Epic Sandwich for sure!) as well as the fries. They have what I think is a pretty deft late night happy hour (10-12) including three dollar domestic taps as well as food specials including Tap House Burgers ($5), Turkey Sloppy Joes ($4), and Mugs of chili ($2). Is there ANY doubt in your mind that it is officially chili season?

I can’t speak for the food yet as I only drank and socialized, but I’ll definitely be back to try it out soon and suggest you give it a try yourself. I’ll miss JP’s but I feel that their model may work a bit better for the area and wish them success.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Smalley's Jerk Chicken

I think Smalley's in Stillwater has pretty darn good BBQ for a Minnesota joint, but I'm really a fan of good Jerk barbeque and always have to try some when I head up there for my annual fall trip. This visit didn't disappoint. Full review here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Braised Short Rib Tacos

Even though I'm Italian, I've developed a serious taste for Latin and Mexican food. My family hails from Calabria, and the proximity to Sicily must play some sort of role in my affinity for spice. Regardless, a recent hankering for something spicy and unique compelled me to try something new and an opportunity from Marx Foods all but sealed the deal.

Marx Foods is an online fine foods supplier and I found out through this whole blog scene that they would send me free product to try out. Needless to say, I signed myself up. A few weeks ago I received a nice selection of dried, mild chilies. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I do know that I really like to braise, and I really like to make serious tacos. After a few moments of thought I decided I was going to reconstitute the chilies and incorporate them into a braising liquid. All I needed to do was pour some boiling water over the chilies, fully submerge and wait 20 minutes for them to rehydrate.

I took the reconstituted chillies, sliced them up, and put them in a blender with three peeled heirloom tomatoes, a bit of the chili water and some fresh lime juice. Blend until relatively smooth and you've got some serious pizazz for your braising liquid.

I dusted the ribs with cumin, ancho chili powder, Mexican oregano and browned them in oil. I removed them after a few minutes on each side over medium heat, and added in a chopped onion and some minced garlic to the pot. Once the onion was soft I added in 2 cups of chicken stock to deglaze the pan and added the tomato-chili concoction as I scraped up the browned bits. Within seconds my kitchen smelled like it meant business. The aroma of the chilies along with the "Mexican herb dust" I coated the short ribs in was amazing. Once everything was boiling I put the ribs back in the pot, covered it and put it in a 350 degree oven for an hour and a half. Another 25 minutes uncovered on the stove top over medium heat was all I needed to yield some tender shredded beef and a thick and robust sauce.

The Guajillo and Aji Panca chiles that I added to the liquid created a depth of flavor that had really nice earth tones and a smooth heat that peaked right before the brink of being overtly spicy. I picked up a little bit of chocolate, plum and all spice in the sauce and I can easily say that these were the best tacos I've ever made. The beauty of it all was that despite the serious flavor, I still managed to pick up the flavorful beef as well. In addition to some good shredded beef, it's tough to beat authentic corn tortillas, fresh Pico de Gallo, cilantro and some sliced avocado to round everything out.

If you're looking for a solid gourmet retailer that can find some rare ingredients I recommend you check out Marx Foods as I'll definitely continue to explore their assortment of rare and exceptional goodies.

Happy Eating,


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cool Beans at Cafe Twenty Eight.

Dig Latin inspired food? Obsessed with breakfast? If that’s the case, you should grab a buddy, pal or amigo and check out Café Twenty Eight’s Sunday brunch. We’re blessed to have a lion’s share of killer brunch spots here in SW Minneapolis (Café Maude, Blackbird Café, Café Twenty Eight and Zumbro Café (AKA the SW Quad Cafés), but when I’m looking for something with a little heat, I have to head over to Café Twenty Eight.

I’ve had their chilaquiles with salsa verde last year and I have to admit that it was one of my favorite breakfasts of the year. This time around I decided to roll with the huevos rancheros since I’ve struggled to find a really good order elsewhere, and since the dish wasn’t that far a departure from my original breakfast-based love affair. If you are a huevos fan, then you should really stop in and give it a whirl.

An order of huevos at Café Twenty Eight includes two eggs the way you like ‘em, ranchero sauce, black beans, guacamole, queso fresco, fresh tortillas and your choice of bacon, sausage or chicken sausage. I decided to go with poached eggs (my new favorite – they instantly turn a side dish into a meal) and bacon. As mentioned, I felt a bit bad that I didn’t order the chilaquiles again, but any thoughts of buyers remorse were quickly squashed when my breakfast arrived.

I’m not sure what their process is but I think their black beans are really good, offering the perfect texture with a deep earthy flavor stemming from the thick sauce they simmer in. The ranchero sauce offers a mild heat while flashing freshness and spark. The poached eggs were as delicate as a freshman’s self-esteem and the yolk ran right into the beans and ranchero sauce formulating the perfect spread for those awesome tortillas. For me, the formula is simple: Scoop up as much eggs, beans, sauce, cooling queso and luscious quac as I can into one of the tortillas, crumble on some salty bacon to compliment the freshness of the cheese, shove into mouth and repeat. The only disappointment with this dish was when it was all over.

That’s the beauty of all the great breakfast haunts in SW. There’s variety all over the place and each location has its own calling, but for me, if I want some heat and something with a bit of Latin flare, I look no further than Café Twenty Eight. Unfortunately, their patio season will be coming to an end (OK, based on today it’s straight up over), but it’s really tough to beat a spicy breakfast, some sunshine and a great companion to start off your Sunday.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Epic Sandwich: French Meadow Cafe

Decisions, decisions. It's always tough for me to make up my mind when I'm dealing with a menu the size of what they produce at French Meadow. Will I be thrilled with my purchase, or will I have some buyers remorse? Eventually, I was able to navigate the French Meadow menu and landed on the turkey bacon croissant. Full review here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Holy Land Deli's Kufta Kebob

I swung by Holy Land Deli the other day and managed to pick up a tasty sandwich amongst the masses during their lunch rush. The sandwich was super tasty with awesome little lamb meatballs and a good smear of their famous hummus. Full review here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lost Lake Lodge

Even though I love SW Minneapolis, I do feel the need to go exploring beyond the city both in search of an escape and just as importantly, in search of new and unique dining experiences. I just so happened to stumble on a real charmer up north at my girlfriend's cabin in Nisswa. We had overheard her neighbors talking about how spectacular the breakfasts were at a little place called Lost Lake Lodge. Needles to say, I was intrigued. It took us several visits to Jessi's cabin to finally make it over there, but I soon found that this quaint little lodge was well worth the wait. Lost Lake Lodge is a full service resort, and most meals are included in their packages, but the restaurant is also open to the public.

A few weeks ago Jess, her parents and I finally worked up the motivation to hop on the bikes for the 45 minute pedal over to this cute-as-heck little resort to take in their much lauded breakfast. It's a pretty good ride, so by the time we showed we were ready to eat! The breakfast service at the lodge is actually quite nice. Take your classic northwoods setting - think knotty pine, conifers galore, a sweet little lake and throw in one hell of a breakfast deal - you get the picture. The service starts with coffee and orange juice, and soon after your server shows up with a delicious selection of pastries that are crafted in-house with flour ground at Lost Lake Lodge's private grist mill (who still has their own grist mill?). I was disappointed they didn't have any scones on this particular morning as they are famous around the area, but I was over that as soon as I sunk my teeth into their soft, buttery and incredibly decadent caramel roll. Honestly, this perfect little roll was worth the ride on its own.

I soon found that the caramel roll was just the beginning. I was actually really impressed with the depth of the offerings on this little lodge's menu. Of course they had the traditional pancakes, waffles, eggs and just about everything else you'd expect from a lodge in Northern MN, but they also had a few things that caught me off guard. The Bordeaux omelet featuring brie and spinach was a bit surprising and I wrestled with that before I eventually gave into the huevos rancheros. Two perfectly over easy eggs were nestled on top of earthy and robust beans and a really nice gritty house-made corn tortilla. Of course the dish was covered in a zipply little salsa verde that had heat, sweetness and a little spice to make the flavors sing. Mix in a bit of the egg yolk and queso fresco with the spice and you had a nice fulfilling dish. You can always tell when the kitchen cares if the hash browns turn out and the crispy little piles of pure potato that they serve with every breakfast showed that the preparation is taken seriously here.

I loved my little dish, but I did manage to steal a bite of the smoked salmon eggs benedict with citrus hollandaise that Jessi's mom ordered and I was instantly hit with a serious dose of jealousy. I hope to pedal my way back over for one last trip this weekend as the lodge closes down in early October. If you ever find yourself in the area I highly suggest you make it over. All of the breakfasts include pastries, coffee, juice and your entree for only $12. It may seem like a good sum for breakfast, but the quality of this meal is first rate, and I left struggling to balance my bike for the first mile due to my newly found top heaviness.

Happy Eating,


Epic Sandwich: Kings Wine Bar

I've been awaiting in anticipation of Kings Wine Bar in Kingfield ever since I first heard of the concept. The little menu has some great ideas on it, and when I saw they had a Fried Green Tomato BLT, I couldn't resist to jump at the chance to get my hands on some good FGT. Full review here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Epic Sandwich: The Armatage Room

I've been trying to get to the Armatage Room for quite some time, and it appears that the anticipation was well worth it. Their Turkish Sandwich is a huge, mess of a creation, but it is soooo darn good! Full review here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Sea Change

I've been looking for a good fish sandwich outside of your typical fried Lenten creation, so I was pumped when I saw that Sea Change had what sounded like a nice trout sandwich on the menu. I love me some trout! Full review here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Pairings Food and Wine Shop

I was unfairly skeptical of the quality of food at Parings Food and Wine Shop in Minnetonka, but my first visit managed to prove me wrong... fast. I had a great sandwich there and they conveniently have their own wine and beer shop that allows you to go over and pick out something to wash you meal down with at liquor store prices. A great sandwich and a great beer makes for a mean pair. Full review here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Totally Excited for Vinaigrette

I got caught at the light at the intersection of 50th and Xerxes on my way into Linden Hills the other day (as usual). While waiting for the signal I looked over to my left and realized a new business was moving in next to Dunn Brothers on Xerxes. This particular space has claimed business plan after business plan over the past few years, but I'm really optimistic that this new one will stick. The name of the shop is "Vinaigrette" and the sign reads "Oils and Vinegars to tap, taste and treasure." This is beyond exciting for someone who has been making their own salad dressings and marinades for quite some time. Vinegar was a completely underutilized weapon in my culinary arsenal up until a few months ago, so I am excited to see what I can turn up.

A quick glance into the windows (Maybe I got on my tip-toes and pressed my face against the glass to see what was inside) revealed some wine rack like tables with awesome little silver barrels to hold what I can only imagine will be a variety of oils. From what I could see (which was very little) the set up closely resembled the shops I used to frequent when stopping to fill up a jug of wine on my way home from class in Padua. These shops usually had a selection of oils to taste along with several vinegars. All you had to do was bring in your own bottle and select whatever you want just like buying in bulk at the Co-op. I have a feeling this shop won't be too far a departure form that awesome model. Hopefully the store will have some tasty tartinas laid out like their Italian brethren as well! I've made a lot of assumptions here, but I hope I'm close because I think this could be a really cool business model.

I have access to really nice oil due to my Mom's culinary ventures in Italy, but the idea of being able to buy a few more unique varieties and tap into a nice selection of vinegars is of particular interest to me. The shop looks like it has a way to go before opening, but I know I'll be doing my best to make sure this place stays in business far longer then the shops to occupy the space before it. Stay tuned for more info.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Epic Sandwich: The Muddy Pig's Cubano

If you haven't been to the Muddy Pig in St. Paul yet, then you need to check it out. They've got great bar food, a stellar beer list, and the best Cubano in town - in my opinion. It's an awesomely huge sandwich with tons of unique flavors. Full review here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rethinking Food Distribution

It seems as if all the serious food folks are celebrating local food these days. Not only are we on the brink of the prime produce season in MN, but anyone who cares about the food we put in our bodies can't help but notice that our food distribution is starting to really support local and sustainable growers with incredibly tasty results.

Growing up, I literally thought that food came from Byerly's, not a farm. I've taken up what I would call an obscene interest in both food production and preparation and it has really opened my eyes to the impact it has on our lives - if you are unfamiliar with how far the food system reaches, then you should check out Michael Pollan's books. To me, there is nothing more important than assuring that we are putting the most wholesome food possible into our bodies. No amount of exercise or healthy living can make up for a lifetime of eating modified crap, and that is why I choose to shop organic whenever possible. In addition, I choose to shop local because the food simply tastes better, is fresh and supports local farmers that produce amazing products.

If your shopping habits follow the same guidelines, then you have to be as giddy as I am right now. I can think of several points of food distribution that are right in front of me that I had no idea existed a year ago. I pass by a number of farmers markets and producers that sell directly to consumers every weekend on the way to the cabin. There is literally at least one major farmers market open everyday of the week in the metro area, and on the busier days there are several. If you haven't been to one lately, check it out. You'll be amazed at the variety of produce, meats, baked goods and other artisan foodstuffs. Not only can you purchase goods ready to eat, but now you can purchase wholesome organics to grow on your own. In combination with a strong CSA system, you can have local foods delivered to your door, or grown in your backyard. Even the Arboretum (they sell U of M cheeses, meats and their own vegetables at the summer house) and Tangletown Gardens will sell you something local and delicious.

For anyone who believes it is difficult or expensive to eat and shop local, then all you have to do is open your eyes. Local food is quite literally all around us and if you hit the markets and Co-ops (I love Linden Hills) in the peak season it is beyond affordable as well. We are really lucky to have such a great local food distribution network in place. Now is the time to take advantage. And don't forget to stretch the season - can fresh tomatoes or make and freeze your own sauces. A frozen homemade tomato sauce made from delicious in-season heirlooms will taste worlds better and be less expensive than anything you get from a jar, or worse - has been flown in from Chile in January. The time to embrace our awesome food system is now!

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Nick and Eddie

The Chicken BLT was too much to pass up at my most recent trip to Nick and Eddie. There's just something so captivating about a nice grilled chicken breast adorned with salty, crispy bacon. Full review here.

Happy Eating,


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Lucia's To Go

Lucia's is one of my favorite places to eat in all of the Twin Cities. The main restaurant is exquisite, their wine bar (my favorite) has the kind of food that inspires me to go home and cook, and Lucia's To Go is there to bail me out when I need something good, but have to do it on the fly. Full review here.

Oh, don't miss out on their mini Budapest cakes!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Punch Neapolitan Pizza's Off The Menu Panini

Punch Neapolitan Pizza instantly rises to the top when I think about restaurants that are doing an excellent jobs of marketing themselves. They've got good distribution on an excellent products that I feel are priced just right. They're all over Twitter as well as Facebook and they're always emailing me with awesome promotions like discounts, premium upgrades, BOGO, free brews and most recently an awesome "Off the Menu" panini promotion for only $2. "Off the menu panini" - possibly the best phrase since "can't touch this."

Needless to say I had to head down to the NE location (only store pushing it) to try this out. The line was long and the panini was only offered from 11-2 (limited toone per customer), but I soon found out that this would be more than worth the wait. On paper, the sandwich sounded humble: A split pizza crust stuffed with ham and fontina cheese. However, when you saw it all come together you realized that it was actually quite artful - an inflated crust as round as a balloon was rotated and pulled from the oven only to be carefully split at a separate work station. Next, the split crust quickly moved over to an assembly counter to get piled high with gorgeous, milky fontina and thin ham before enjoying another quick session in that amazing oven.

I am in love with the crust at Punch, and the panini version was as rustic, charred, meaty and delightful as their pizza standard. It's hard to believe that such simple ingredients can yield such robust flavors when appreciated and treated properly - 800 degrees properly. The circular panini was oozing with creamy cheese that was perfectly rich and decadent. The cheese warmly caressed the thin slices of salty/sweet ham that had charred on the edges intensifying the flavors creating a bacon like finish. Watching them create it so masterfully, and then enjoying every bite made me want to drop everything and head straight to Naples to learn the craft myself.

Sandwich Rating: Killer. Simply put - it was easily the best $2 sandwich money can buy. The only disappointment was that unfortunately, this event could not last forever. I never thought such intense flavors could come from such humble beginnings. I'll always keep an ear out for the Punch promos, but I'll be heading back there organically soon, which as I suspect is exactly what they are trying to do by giving away such delectable treats at amazing prices in the first place.

Happy Eating,


Friday, July 17, 2009

Mancini's Char House

Every month a couple of friends and I gather to grab a meal, catch up and essentially make fun of each other. It's always nice to know that I have a solid group of guys to turn to incase my self-esteem starts to reach an acceptable level. All kidding aside, it presents a great opportunity for some of my best friends to get together and share a good meal - and maybe even a few too many drinks if I'm not driving.

This last "mandate" took place at Mancini's Char House in St. Paul. This place is about as old-school as it gets and even though we were the youngest folks in there by a long shot, we still had a great time. Mancini's still actually has live entertainment in an actual lounge - one of the few places you could likely still find this type of set up outside of a gentleman's club.

On to the food. Mancini's can pretty much make you anything you want... as long as it's chicken, lobster and most importantly, steak. The menu may be a little limited for most folks, but this place is old-school (vinyl seating?) and knows to stay within their sweet spot. I gave the menu about a 3o second glance and settled on the petite, as in 8 oz. petite, sirloin. I don't eat a ton of corn-fed beef (not exactly a hot spot of locavores...), but sometimes if I'm going to break from my ideals, I might as well do it at a place where I know I'm going to get one prepared with serious knowledge and a lot of care.

After we ordered, our waitress brought us out a relish plate (again, old school) and a huge basket of bread. The relish plate was overflowing with cherry-bomb-like hot peppers, marinated tomatoes and pickles. Nothing was worth acclaim, but the huge piles of oily, greasy, garlicky bread created the perfect vehicle for soaking up all the vinegar and spices t these little snacks had been resting in. The bread, although completely detrimental to any sort of healthy eating, was quite good benefiting from a grilling session that emitted a char-based flavor evoked from the ghosts of thousands of perfectly cooked steaks.

A few moments later I found the waitress placing the classic steakhouse salad in front of me. I could see the bus boy in the back with a bag of iceberg twice his size and a pair of plastic gloves as he dished out plate after plate of salads to be dressed. The salad and the ambiance served as nice distractions as I patiently awaited my steak, which turned out to be well worth the drive from SW.

When the beauty arrived I had to take a second to appreciate it before tearing in with my Ramboesque knife. The grill marks were artful and a nice pool of juice started to gather as the everything distributed. Waiting seemed inconceivable and I cut off a nice hunk of the perfectly juicy, medium-rare meat. The steak was pure velvet, beef and butter - simple, unadorned and fabulous. It was a steak in its most virgin form, no demi, no gorgonzola air, no beet and Maytag crumbles - just pure satisfying beef.

It wasn't a meal for the ages, but the steak was quite good and took me back to all those meals I enjoyed in the local steakhouses when I was growing up with my parents. It's funny to think about how simplistically I viewed food back then (scarf and then get me home to watch cartoons!) and how much I appreciate it now. Mancini's may not be the picture-perfect ideal of my current food philosophy, but some nights you have to sit back, relax, enjoy good drink, good company, a good steak and forget about all those convictions if only for a small window of time.

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Epic Sandwich: The Butcher Block's Short Rib Sandwich

I've been patiently waiting to try out The Butcher Block and this week seemed like the perfect opportunity - they've got a few weeks under their belt and their passion should be at an all time high. I devoured their short rib sandwich and can't wait to get back there again for dinner service. Full review here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Chef Shack's Killer Dogs

The summer eating season is in full swing, and one of my favorite weekend treats is a big old hot dog from my friends at the Chef Shack. They craft tons of scratch topping for you to crown their Thousand Hills dogs with. It's a summer event that is not to be missed. Don't forget the kimchee spears! Full review here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dinning Deals in SW

So maybe the economy isn’t shifting as quickly as we would have liked under the new administration, but at least we still have a ton of great dining deals around town to help keep us satiated. A few of some of my favorite neighborhood spots are still offering some killer deals and although this list is by no means exhaustive, I feel that it gives you a great opportunity to enjoy the flavors of SW Minneapolis without breaking the bank. I’d also encourage you to visit the restaurant’s website or call ahead to make sure the dinning deal is accurate.

Prima, located over in Tangletown near the intersection of Diamond Lake Road and Lyndale Ave. is a casual Italian eatery that has some really nice antipasti, pasta, salads and a range on entrees including chops, chicken and seafood. I also am a huge fan of their Panini al Bistecca – think really thin rare roast beef with brie and caramelized onions. It’s a great place to stop after a busy day to enjoy some nice food in a casual setting – especially when you don’t have hours to spend over a long meal (I know, what a shame!).

Their killer dining deal is a prix fixe menu for two and includes half a carafe of their wine of the week, salad, pasta and dessert all for the low price of $28. Their offer is good after 8 p.m. Sun-TR and after 8:30 Fri and Sat. Kids also eat free on Monday nights (one free kids meal per adult entree).

Café Maude – Located near 54th and Penn in the heart of SW is one of my favorite neighborhood spots. They serve creative Mediterranean creations including a lamb and saffron skewer (one of my favorite small plates), a nicoise olive and chicken flatbread and a really nice roasted half chicken with Moroccan spices and apricot to name a few. There’s a little something for everyone with their menu including small plates, sides, salads,cheese, a la carte offerings and big plates – the grilled pork tenderloin sounds awesome!

Their deal is available Sunday and Monday nights and features a three course prix fixe dinner that includes a glass of wine. A nice neighborhood setting, good food and vino is more then I could ever want for a mere $25. Café Maude is usually pretty jammed, so I’d call ahead for sure.

Broders’ – OK, I’m in love with the place. The setting is awesome, especially with their new outdoor antipasto bar and the food is top shelf all the way down the menu. The pastas are all hand made and the sauces are crafted with care and an amazing attention to detail. The variety on the menu is pretty stunning for a pasta bar.

Their deal includes a choice of 2 pastas (you have to choose from a limited menu, but there are quite a few choices including a bolognese, puttanesca and carbonara to name a few). You will also receive and olive assortment and a seasonal salad for two on top of a half bottle of a selected Italian red or white – all for just $28. This special runs Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Last, but not least, I have to include the half price bottle of wine nights at Cave Vin. It’s just right around the corner from my place and there are few places in the city where I have experienced such consistently awesome food and service.

They run the half price bottle special on Monday and Tuesday nights and their wine list has a nice selection to pair with their delicious rack of lamb and always-outstanding pork tenderloin. If nothing else you have to make your way in just to try the Mussels!

Happy Frugal Eating,


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cafe Cuba - Closed before it opened?

Drove by what is/was supposed to be the Cafe Cuba space which was slated to take over the former Betsy's Back Porch coffee house today and noticed a "for sale" sign in two of the windows. I couldn't help but notice that they took down the "Coming Soon" sign quite some time ago as well. Looks like they had been putting a lot of time and effort into the place, but maybe it folded as a result. I'm not sure though. I need to do some digging. It will be a huge disappointment if it isn't going to open, though. I was looking forward to having some good (hopefully) Cuban food near by. I guess it's still Victor's for me for the time being...

Anyone out there know anything about the situation?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Epic Sandwich: St. Paul Cheese Shop

I've been waiting in eager anticipation to get over to the St. Paul Cheese Shop to try a sandwich constructed with one of their elegant cheeses. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised at the level of variety they had on their sandwich menu and the friendliness of their staff. Oh, and I also enjoyed a pretty darn good sandwich, too! Full review here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Broders' Impeccable Pasta

There are good meals and then there are great ones... My most recent visit to Broders' Pasta Bar was one of the greats. Broders' always floats to the top of my mind when I think about solid restaurants where I know I can get a consistently good meal, and that consistent standard is no small order given the variety on their menu. Their whole roster of sauces ranges from classic to truly unique and their perfect homemade pasta serves as the ideal platform for which they deliver their bold, unique and impeccable flavors.

Since Jess and I were celebrating a special night we decided to forgo just simply ordering one of their behemoth bowls of pasta (easily enough for a meal), but rather enjoy our meal over a number of courses complete with a nice bottle of Chianti gifted to us by my incredibly generous parents. After our awesome waitress waltzed us through the menu with an astonishing level of detail and knowledge we decided to start with and arugula pesto and roasted garlic crostini.

It's amazing how such a simple sounding dish can be so amazing. The rustic bread was toasted to a perfect crispness offering a light crunch with a slight give as your teeth ventured together. The intensely green arugula pesto had a tremendous bite at the beginning, but mellowed as the flavors dispensed across the palate yielding to the more traditional cheese and garlic tones that linger at the end of a well-crafted pesto. Calling the roasted and caramelized whole cloves of garlic "sweet" would be like calling James Beard a "fan of food." It offered a perfectly malty and smooth component to excite your buds even though it was following the peppery presence of a pungent arugula. It's amazing how two such different sensations can yield such a satisfying result. They also provided a nice little olive oil sidecar that was perfectly earthy, while adding a nice layer of richness to the dish. I could have eaten a few more slices as a meal and been completely satisfied.

The next course was an insalata primavera -it was too hard to pass up the Sicilian inspired blood orange and olive oil dressing. A good portion of mixed tender greens showed up, and we split them across two plates. As we spooned the greens up we noticed the slightest bit of dressing rolling off the leaves so we got to moving quickly to salvage every last drop of the precious stuff. Broders' doesn't mess around with their olive oil, so I knew the dressing would be solid and the blood orange juice delivered the same citrus component that I grew to appreciate and quickly love when I spent my all-too-short (except for the Sicilian parking authorities) time in Sicily. Whenever food transports you back to a point in time, you know you are enjoying something special.

Now, the degree to which we enjoyed the first two courses is pretty amazing considering I normally just want to get straight to the pasta. I ordered the fettuccine with chicken, olives, grilled artichokes and fresh herbs. The sauce was incredibly light, yet flavorful and the pasta was perfectly tender with just the right amount of chew that to me, is the signal of a wonderfully al dente pasta. The grilled artichokes were light, and took on a nice twist from a slight char on the grill, while the dark portions of chicken incorporated into the sauce yielded a robust result. As much as I liked my pasta, it was a clear second place in comparison to the new front runner for my dish of the year - the tagliarini di Locanda de Lupo. This naughty pasta features prosciutto de Parma, truffle pesto and cream. It's bewildering to think that such few ingredients can create something so amazing. A single bite practically stopped my heart (not sure if it was because I was falling in love, or because I was struggling to process all cream). The pasta sauce was pure velvet, with an indescribable richness from the truffles. The cream and cheese mingled perfectly over the silken pasta, and the little slices of tender prosciutto produced just a slight edge of gaminess that could only be tamed by the decadence of the other ingredients. It was simply amazing.

We had yet another great meal at Broders' and the only thing that could possibly rival the food was the quality of my company. Their dedication to perfect pasta is what makes their classics, classic and their non-traditional dishes inspiring. The only problem is that just about everyone who appreciates good pasta already knows that this is the place in the Twin Cities to get the best, so you may have to be patient to get a table. Thankfully enough, Broders' is expanding their outdoor antipasti bar service so you can enjoy an even wider variety of their awesome antipasto outside. If there is a wait, I would take solace in the fact that it buys you a little more time to enjoy a glass of wine and some of their awesome starters on a cozy outdoor patio. Believe me, the wait is worth it.

A note about the pictures: The food was so good that I forgot to take them until we were half way done or almost finished! It's that good.

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Kramarczuk's Krakowska Sandwich

Kramaczuk's is a great place to pick up gourmet sausages for your grill, but I decided to try something new on my latest trip. The result was a tasty sandwich and a new cold cut discovery. Full review here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Epic Sandwich: Bun Mi

I was craving something different so I made my way to Bun Mi in Stadium Village to grab one of their Vietnamese inspired sandwiches. You can get the full story here.
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