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.
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