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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why I have a gym membership: Cabin Edition

The weather at the cabin last weekend was brutal. The wind had a bad attitude and it was darn right cold. A few hours on the river was all I could offer in terms of outdoor motivation, so my family and I decided to get comfortable in our little log cabin and get to cooking. To be honest, when we're in the kitchen, we don't even notice the weather. The time spent together is something we unfortunately don't get to experience that often during the week and there is nothing better then enjoying an extended meal with good wine, stellar company and heart-warming food. Below represents just a glimmer of what we prepared last weekend. If you need me, I'll be at the YMCA.

A cool-weather lunch:

When the wind is blowing hard off the lake, you've got to come up with something fulfilling to fight off the chill. We like to make up a quick stromboli to help raise the temperature indoors. The filling varies, with this particular version featuring pesto, fontina, cappicola, roast beef and Parmesan. It hit the spot and scared off the chill for quite some time. After downing a few pieces I was well satisfied and ready for a nice long nap.

Happy Hour Wisconsin-Style:
Happy hour is seriously joyful at the Hobbins family cabin. The usual suspects include craft brews (New Glarus this time), fine wines, an assortment of crostini with variable toppings, and there is always, always a healthy (in one sense of the word) array of locally-sourced Wisconsin cheese. I think I ate about 45 minutes on the treadmill worth of horseradish and chive Havarti courtesy of the master cheesmakers at the Burnett Dairy Co-op.

The Main Event:

Of course you have to start with fresh baked bread sculpted from the Zoe Francois method. This boule is incredibly simple to make, and we can shape it and serve it however we want. The crumb is nice and soft and the crust is always perfectly crisp, emitting a flavor you would never expect from such a simple recipe. You simply can't beat the feeling you get from still-warm fresh bread.

Jarred or commercially produced pesto is not an option in this house (or cabin) - period. Every year we make a whole stockpile of the stuff and it's always rich, fresh and nutty with a perfect Parmesan finish. This simple pasta is incredibly addictive and will likely cost me a couple thousand kilos on the rowing machine.

You've got to eat your vegetables, and it's tough to beat a nicely roasted blend of peppers, onions and zucchini. Roast them with a few aromatics and some high quality oil and everything gets nice and caramelized filling the entire cabin in an amazing aroma.

Thank the Lord for Bill Baskin and his kick-ass Umbrian sausage filled with pork, golden raisins and pine nuts among a few other delicious items. These sausages are simply amazing and are the early favorite for my top new discovery this year. Head over to Seward Co-op to pick up these beauties. I'm well on my way to a bypass by now.
Well, blogger is being a wench and I can't get the strawberry-rhubarb pie shot to upload. It was amazing, of course, but as soon as I finished I couldn't help like I was unjustly on the Michael Phelps diet - minus the weed munchies. Over the course of the weekend (this is only a snap shot, my friends) there were many flavors to be savored, but also many memories and conversations to be savored over a carefully prepared meal with some of the best company around.

Happy Eating - I'm going to hibernate.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cafe Ena's chicken mole yields subtle flavors

My heart sunk when Indio closed. I had enjoyed two nice meals at the Lake Street locale of Restaurateur Hector Ruiz, and although the service started a bit rough (pretty standard) it improved quickly, and the food was always imaginative and flavorful. I saw it coming (2 weeks before it closed it was near empty as I scurried in to Tum Rup Thai to pick up take-out), but it still hurt to see another good place crumble. Thankfully Ruiz and his team are still at the helm of their original outpost, El Meson, and the still-young Cafe Ena.

My first impression of Cafe Ena was that the space had a pulse and was well-managed. The service was brisk and friendly, with customers receiving just the right amount of attention (IMO). The decor wasn't as loud as you would expect from a Latin Fusion shop, offering an environment that was comfortable to sit in over the course of a long, leisurely meal, yet festive enough to stimulate your senses.

Now, there were a couple of elements that seemed to have carried over from Indio. I'm not sure if Ruiz is enamored with stuff or not, but just like at Indio there was a huge rosé push in their wine arsenal. Maybe they just had a load of leftover inventory from Indio, but if I were a betting man, I would not bet on the Twin Cities as a huge market for rosé. The other carry over would be the almost standard pickled onions - more on that below.

An unassuming bread basket was dropped off shortly after our beverages arrived and we dug in as we reviewed the inviting and vibrant dinner menu. Soon, we had lost interest in the menu and we fighting with our knives to get into the small ramekin of honey-chipotle butter that accompanied the bread. It was a nice twist to what is typically the most boring part of the meal. Jess and I decided to order the same thing (never happens) opting for a cup of black bean soup for a starter followed by a chicken mole with beans and parsley rice.

The soup was pretty typical yet satisfying for a cool June night out on the patio. It was both light and smooth for a bean soup but not exactly outstanding. The thick soup was topped with a little pico de gallo and crema to add a little heat, texture and a smooth finish. It was the kind of dish that you eat, analyze and then torment yourself with how you could do improve upon it at home (I've got a few ideas!).

Then the mole arrived. The reason we loved Indio and the reason we were looking so forward to dining at Cafe Ena was because of the big, bold Mexican and Latin inspired flavors. Mole is a generic name for a traditional Latin sauce that I typically associated with loud and intense ingredients. However, this version was surprisingly subtle. The sauce was smooth with just a bit of grit that actually contributed a nice bit of texture against the big, juicy and nicely grilled chicken breast. I was expecting the dish to be a bit more compelling in all honesty, but it was still far from bland. The mole had a number of elements pulling in different directions, but nothing really rose to the top to make it exceptional. I will note that the pickled onions (which I didn't have in the first few bites) did manage to tie the flavors together a bit better. The tang supplied by the thin pink strips seemed to bring something special out of the sauce much like some cheesy scenario in a brutal Ben Affleck flick where the characters realize (I've heard) they work better together then apart. Regardless, I thought the mole would have brought a bit more to the table. The parsley rice was pretty dull, and the beans were disappointing - the colors and textures were exciting, but much like the mole without the pickled onions, it felt a little flat.

I'll go back to Cafe Ena as it's a nice little neighborhood retreat with some menu highlights and a lot of potential. Although I wouldn't order the mole again I would definitely try out some of the other dishes and will be back to try their jerk chicken sandwich sometime in the near future (I'm a complete sucker for Jerk Chicken - if anyone has any area recommendations, please pass along). I encourage you to check Cafe Ena out for yourself, I think you'll find something you'll like and if nothing else a cool glass of sangria is the perfect way to cool down as we start to heat up for the summer.

Happy Eating,


Epic Sandwich: Spoonriver

I hit Spoonriver last week for a light and flavorful lunch. The sandwich was big, satisfying and utilized some really nice ingredients. All in all, a pretty good deal. Full review here. 
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