Saturday, April 25, 2009

Blackbird Cafe's Scratch Brunch

I love the fact that the neighborhood restaurant pulse has been so strong in SW Minni. I enjoy fine dining with the best of them, but there's just a clearly different and more leisurely vibe in some of the neighborhood establishments. I really appreciate a restaurant's ability to match the pace of service and a price point to correspond with the makeup of a specific neighborhood, and Blackbird Cafe has done that perfectly in my opinion. If nothing else, I know there won't be any vultures circling over my table and that no one is going to give me the hard sell on the scallops.

Blackbird is nestled right between Heidi's and the Malt Shop, offering a nice little glimpse of the diversity we enjoy over here. The cafe serves creative twists on classics and a few surprises that change frequently, yet aren't overly refined. Everything is made from scratch, and if for whatever reason you don't like it, you have to at least appreciate the effort. I've enjoyed many meals there, but the chance to catch up with my mother offered a unique opportunity for me to check out their brunch capabilities. I've walked by before during brunch service and the place has been jammed, so I figured all those breakfast-seeking souls must be on to something.

A few menu items immediately jumped out, but I was slow to forget the two interesting options gracing their specials board. After a quick consultation with my mom, we decided to order and split (a request that the cafe was happy to accommodate) both the specials: A breakfast sandwich utilizing french toast slices with ham, scrambled eggs and Gruyere (similar to their Monte Cristo) and a frittata with sausage, olives, fontina and sage.

The service was spirited and our coffee arrived as quickly as the order rolled off our tongues. We set in for some catching up (my mom's business, cheese and bread making, canning, plans for the summer) and before we knew it our breakfast had arrived. The Breakfast sandwich was a monster triple decker. The bread was nicely gridded and the fluffy eggs were overflowing the edges. Griddled ham and the creamy melted cheese rounded out the classic, though the cheese was a bit sparse. The part I enjoyed the most was their orange marmalade. The sandwich was served with the typical maple syrup sidecar, but I thought the marmalade was a nice foil for the saltiness of the ham. Oh, and their house-made pickles are pretty mean too. I never would have ordered this sandwich on my own, but having my mom there, and the staff''s cooperation allowed us to share and enjoy the dish together.

The frittata came out just moments later and looked quite good. I rarely order frittatas outside of the friendly confides of Zumbro Cafe, but the thought of olives, sage and eggs intrigued me. The eggs were perfectly cooked, and managed to dodge the dry-out that can easily occur when crafting a frittata. The flavor combination was quite unique with a big savory hint from the sage and sausage - a killer combo on its own. The olives were unfortunately muted in comparison to the flavors expelled from the aromatics, but the creaminess of the fontina managed to keep everything in check and provided a solidifying element of texture. The only missing element was a small fruit or roasted potato garnish as the plat looked pretty plain.

I really enjoyed my breakfast at Blackbird and will be back both for the food, but also for the feeling I get from the place. The spirit is strong, the staff is friendly, and I'm typically fortunate enough to keep the kind of company that makes this place a perfect place to relax and enjoy a good-old made from scratch meal.

Happy Eating,


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Warm Weather and Good Food

There simply isn't a better combination then a nice warm night and good old outdoor dinning.

Let's face it, it's been far too long since we've been able to enjoy either. Given that void, I got real excited when I read that the Chef Shack would be making its first appearance of the year at Urban Bean. Then I noticed that there was suddenly a lot of banter about the lack of street food in MN. Over the course of this week, the temperature started to rise and so did the amount of news about this event. It was the perfect storm for an awesome kick-off to summer. The combination of blog buzz, good food, warm weather, and free PRB was compelling enough to get me off my arse and out of work at the stroke of 5 to take it in.

I showed up at Urban Bean around 5:25 and the patio was already rocking. The fact that the weather was perfect seemed a good enough draw, and I was excited to enjoy my first dose of summer. There was a good line around the shack as people lined up for their Thousand Hills burgers. The sweet perfume of the coals and caramelizing beef was completely captivating, causing me to pause for a brief moment to take it in. Despite the allure, I was in the mood for something else. "Got any tongue tacos?" I asked with nervous uncertainty. The answer was a very unfortunate "no," but the disappointment was forgotten once I saw pulled pork on the board. They had a sandwich ready to roll and I gladly forked over my 7 bones - a small price to pay for some seasonal satisfaction

I make pulled pork quite a bit and I love the stuff. The chef shack's version is no slouch. The flavors are subtle enough to still appreciate the purity of the tender pork, but it also has a craveable brine-y BBQ quality that makes it totally addictive. They pile on a gingery-pickled cabbage - a serious twist on slaw - that is so deeply purple it could easily make Prince appear muted. The slaw is spiked with raisins offering a layer of sweetness that make this sandwich truly unique. Finally, a nice grilled bun offerd a final much-anticipated summer accent.

One of the best parts about eating at the shack are their kick-ass condiments. Homemade ketchup, kraut, hot pepper sauce and a number of other specially prepared options really rasie the bar. I simply threw on some sport peppers and razor thin pickles before I started in on my little summer retreat. It all went too fast, but it's hard to control yourself as you try and make up for the time lost cooped up inside all year. Thankfully the shack will make the rounds at the Mill City and Kingfield markets during the growing season. My grill will be in full effect to fill in the voids, but I still need to get my hands on some of those tacos - and those darn doughnuts!
Side note - really impressed with the crowd tonight. It's good to see all the spirited Minnesotans out to support such a fun food experience. It's awesome that everyone rallies around the people and things they enjoy given the harshness of the economic climate right now. If nothing else a nice night out with friends offers a nice temporary reprieve.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Would You Do?

After a long week I had been looking forward to heading back to one of my favorite spots to enjoy a nice Easter meal with my girlfriend. We've never had a bad meal at this particular spot and since we couldn't be with our families on the evening of Easter Sunday, we figured we might as well spend the night in a place we really enjoy.

That was until the couple we were seated next to decided to put a serious damper on our evening. The restaurant is not a huge space so tables are pretty close together. I was a bit startled by the volume of their conversation and hoped that they couldn't keep pace for the entire meal. At this point the dining room was only about three-quarters full so I thought about asking if we could be moved - I didn't think it was being over dramatic as they were essentially shouting at each other and her cackle was getting to me. I thought they'd settle down once their food came and its arrival did provide us a brief reprieve from their conversation. However, a few minutes later the couple grew increasingly loud and obnoxious (gentle terms) to the point where I couldn't even hold a conversation with my companion. It suddenly became apparent that the only way we could enjoy each other's company was to move. I looked up to survey the room and realized that the place was full to the gills. We were stuck and our starters had just arrived so even if we could have moved it would have caused a fairly obvious scene.

The couple was probably in their mid-thirties and I was absolutely embarrassed for their behavior. The man had no problem licking his fingers and rubbing a certain area of his chest several times during the course of their meal - classy. He also was a fan of the term "butt-naked" and had no problem loudly admitting that he liked playing with "Double Ds" even to our waitress- he seemed truly cultured. Needless to say the family sitting next to us was not impressed either. What might have been worse then his complete lack of maturity was the fact that his companion seemed so overtly entertained by his behavior. The food was great as usual and the service was spot-on, but the fact that our conversation was interrupted with an episode of vulgarity every few moments is unfortunately what sticks out in my mind.

As we left the restaurant my girlfriend and I were able to laugh about how sad it was that two people of their age could behave that way in public, but I was still a bit hacked off. What could I have done though? I had my window to move and I let that slip away. Should I have asked to be moved anyways? Should I have said something to the staff? What about the couple? Would it have been possible for me to have been blunt enough to ask them to tone it down? Awkward - especially that early in the meal.

I guess I'm posting this as an open forum for suggestion. What would you do? I unfortunately chose to do nothing - a mistake I'll never make again, but I certainly wasn't helpless in the situation. I didn't think it would be fair to put the problem on the staff, either, but I think at the end of the day they'd want to know. Any thoughts? Suggestions? Opinions? Or other tales to tell? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Happy (peaceful) Eating,


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Trattoria Tosca

I couldn't help but notice a bit of buzz around the Turtle Bread building in Linden Hills last night. Thinking with my stomach, as always, I decided to slow down to take in the commotion. At first I just thought it was for the emergence of outdoor seating, but then I realized that most of the traffic was near the Trattoria Tosca side of the building. I think I had stumbled upon a soft launch. There were several folks near the door and I could see others sitting at set tables complete with wine glasses and everything. There is even a sign up, so I figured they must be getting close. I decided to lob a call in to Turtle Bread to see if the menu was posted and to just be a little nosey and the worker I spoke with mentioned that their first official night would be tomorrow night! A second call to the Chicago Ave. location confirmed the opening tomorrow. I've been excited to check this place out ever since the word first started floating around a few months ago and will get there asap - though due to all the launch delays, I remain cautiously optimistic. My guess is the neighborhood will flock to it, much like some of the other recently opened establishments in the area. Stay tuned for more information to come!

Happy Eating,


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lunch at the Armatage Room

Looks like the folks over at Cafe Maude are adding yet another dimension to the Armatage Room. Lunch service (on top of small plates, private dining and prix fixe) starts on May 4th and I believe runs Monday-Friday. The menu looks to be pretty simplistic featuring mostly sandwiches (I'll take the Reuben), a few salads and my personal favorite - fries and harissa. Full initial menu here.

I'll follow up with a little something more soon.

Happy Eating,


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Summit Brewery Tour

If you are a beer lover, and you haven't done it yet, I highly suggest you attend the Summit Brewery tour (est. 1986). They give tours on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at various times, and I suggest you call ahead as our tour was full, and had been for several weeks.

The brewery is located just off West 7th in St. Paul and is pretty accessible from just about anywhere in the Twin Cities. The tour itself only took about 25-30 minutes, so it isn't super heavy on information, but the staff and tour guides are fun and entertaining. They essentially take you through the whole process including the fermentation room as the bottling facility and give you a quick view into what happens at each step in the brewing process. I found this interesting as I have jumped on the pairing beer with food bandwagon. Seems like special wine dinners have been in on area menus and event calendars for quite some time, but I've also noticed that beer dinners are starting to pick up in popularity - seems fitting given the diversity and bold flavors the beverages offer.

The best part about the tour is the fact that they let you sample a generous amount of product. Each participant gets 3 coins good for a glass of beer and they had anywhere from 10-12 brews on tap including some seasonal items for you to sample. I went with a group of 15 friends (highly recommend this for groups if you can call far enough in advance) and we had a great time.

I sampled the Heffe Weizen, Winter Ale, Oatmeal Stout and the Maibock. I arranged the outing so the ladies who didn't want to drink too much (1 p.m. is a bit early for some people to knock back 3 beers) and the drivers were giving their extra beer coins out freely, so I was able to enjoy quite a few. I'm a fan of dark beers, but also appreciate the lighter offerings as well so I was happy with the diversity they were pouring. I enjoyed Summit's Hefe Weizen (not a huge fan of wheat beers) and was trying it for the first time so I felt like I picked up something new. I left with a good piece of knowledge of brewing, and a pretty nice buzz (thanks to my roommate for driving) so all in all I say it was a great time and a nice way to catch up with friends over some good beer.

Happy (safe) Drinking,

Related Posts with Thumbnails