For the Upper Midwest, the process of finding its culinary voice is largely one of connecting the land (mostly rural) with the people (mostly urban). Restaurants are a key way of bridging the gap, but independent entrepreneurs selling artisanal products are doing their part, too.
One such example is SpringTooth Harvest, the brainchild of Vlad Messing, a Minnesota Department of Commerce contractor. Messing sources heirloom tomatoes from Lyons Creek Gardens in Lake Crystal, Minn. and Mohrbacher Farm and Homestead in Hastings. For the past two seasons, Messing has been turning tomatoes into tomato soup, marinara, and Bloody Mary mix sold by the 16-ounce jar at the Fulton Farmers Market and the Winter Market.
“I’m very patient,” Messing said of SpringTooth’s process, which involves a lot of hand slicing, cooking, and processing. “I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, taking my time.” Messing’s appreciation for his fruit of choice fills his discussion. He’s in love with the smell of the vines, the earthiness of heirloom varieties, and the seasonality of what he does.
Of the three products that Messing currently makes under the SpringTooth Harvest label, the tomato soup ($10 for 16 ounces) is the least ready for prime time, although it still has quite a bit of heirloom tomato appeal. It’s a pleasant soup — light, clean, simple, and balanced, with a supporting garlic flavor — but it could use a more robust point of view or additional flavor elements (robust Parmesan and/or cream, for example) to move it from light amuse bouche to stand-alone entree, as its price might suggest.
SpringTooth’s marinara ($10 for 16 ounces) is lovely. It lacks the heavier sugary and/or burnt notes of many mass-marketed sauces and presents an elegant mix of tomato/black pepper/olive oil flavors. It’s robust and uncomplicated.
Best of all is the Bloody Mary mix ($11 for 16 ounces), which is smooth, naturally sweet with a peppery heat, and gently earthy. You can taste a great deal of soulful heirloom tomato flavor, and it’s balanced enough to take readily to your own condiments. We dressed ours up with some Isabel Street Heat and loved the way that the lime/cilantro sauce added to the mix without stepping on its flavor. It works as is for drinkers who like a simple, clean, classic Bloody, but it’s also easily customizable.
It hails from a section of the menu called “Handhelds” — come on, they’re sandwiches! — and it costs $13. Even with that context, the Animal Burger at St. Paul’s Gray Duck Tavern still deserves acknowledgement for being one of the latest and greatest ACL* burgers to hit the metro scene.
Like any good ACL, this isn’t a story about meat. Don’t get me wrong — the twin quarter-pound beef patties are rich and delicious, and they’re important players in this burger’s ensemble. But the Animal Burger (whose name evokes the grilled-onion Animal Style burger of In-N-Out fame) really revolves around the caramelized onions, whose earthy-but-bright flavor explodes in every bite.
The American cheese, the onions, the mustard, the Thousand Island dressing (aka “special sauce”), and the meat are all players. This isn’t an egotistical hunk of beef shouting down its teammates; it’s a civil boardroom meeting of flavor.
And the Animal Burger is big, big enough that two average adults could chop it in half and lunch like kings at a far more reasonable $6.50 a head. There seems to be an unwritten law that new, ambitious, business-friendly eateries like Gray Duck Tavern need to have a burger like the Animal on their menus and we, frankly, wouldn’t mind seeing that law written out and made permanent.
Oh, and order the fries ($5). They’re extra, but they’re crispy and perfect, and they come with a house-made mayo that can be combined with ketchup to create world-class fry sauce. If you’re into that sort of thing, which we most assuredly are.
*“Au Cheval-like” burgers; there are lots of them now
The Gray Duck Tavern, 345 Wabasha St N, St. Paul; 651.340.9022
This week in the Tap: Fulton launches a dedicated food truck for its taproom, and a look ahead at upcoming restaurants in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.
Fulton Beer Starts Up (and Then Parks) Its Own Food Truck
Food trucks are nomads. They come and go freely, changing their location with rapid (and sometimes maddening) frequency. Their fast-moving nature is part of their appeal, but if you’re a brewery taproom depending upon their help to supply the food part of the food-plus-beer combination that customers love so much, you might just want to bank on something more predictable.
Enter the dedicated taproom food truck. Fulton Beer has rehabbed a gorgeous vintage Airstream trailer into a mobile (but taproom-based) Taproom Kitchen, and put veteran chef Scott Pampuch (above) at the helm. Pampuch has rotated through a few high-profile gigs over the past few years, but he’s probably best known as the founding chef of Corner Table, a restaurant that opened strong and never wavered, even after its change in ownership.
Although the Fulton Taproom Kitchen offers a menu that’s casual and accessible (think sausages, pretzels, a charcuterie plate), its sourcing is impeccable. The Kitchen works with partners including Red Table Meats, Tangletown Gardens, Baker’s Field, Johnny Pops, and Lowry Hill Meats, and Pampuch adds house-made touches to everything he serves. We tried a handful of his offerings at Monday’s media preview, held in preparation for this afternoon’s official public debut, and found most of them to be on the money.
The Lonely Brat ($7), for example, had a lovely coarse grind and perfect seasoning, and the pickles (above) in the charcuterie-laden Nosh Plate ($9 for the small) had terrific crunch and a pleasant hint of sweetness. The Downtown Hot Dog from Sentyrz Market ($7) was all beef with a nice snap to the casing. Not too salty, not too greasy. A couple of dishes (the $6 War and Peace Tipsy Pie, the $9 Cheese Wurst) could use improvement, but the menu was on point as a whole.
The menu’s highlight is the Porchetta ($7), slow roasted pork loin and crisp pork belly (the latter a Pampuch signature) with fresh arugula, locally grown tomatoes, and juniper aioli on a ciabatta roll. It’s sloppy, it’s juicy, and it’s finger-licking good.
To our knowledge, Fulton is the first area taproom to jump on the natural synergy of taproom and house-owned food truck (although, see Surly, with its in-house beer hall restaurant), but it likely won’t be the last. — James Norton with tasting notes and photos from Brenda Johnson
The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at email@example.com.
- Seventh Street Truck Park, 214 W 7th St, St. Paul | A food hall with a rotating collection of trucks and three separate bars. Our review here.
- Bardo, 222 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | A new “modern American bistro” in the old Rachel’s spot in Northeast, with chef/owner Remy Pettus.
- Tillie’s Farmhouse, 232 Cleveland Ave N, St. Paul | Seasonal cuisine, some of it with a Scandinavian influence, with ingredients from local farms. In the former Trotter’s Cafe.
- Wonders Ice Cream, 298 University Ave W, St. Paul | A shop selling the latest craze (?), rolled ice cream. See also: Sota Hot and Cold at 394 University Ave W.
- Delicata, 1341 Pascal St, St. Paul | A pizzeria and gelateria by Matty O’Reilly, J.D. Fratzke, and Noah Barton.
This post was sponsored by Bite Squad.
Even though restaurant delivery is valuable year round, it’s even more convenient to order in when the weather goes from chilly to downright freezing. Keep things simple, and let Bite Squad bring the food to you, especially during the colder months, when you dread icy roads, sketchy parking, and multiple layers of outerwear.
Whether your meal comes from a fast-food joint or your favorite local steakhouse, it’s important that it arrives fresh, hot, and well-kept. Hopefully, both the restaurant that packs the food and the delivery driver who transports it will help take care of that for you. Bite Squad trains its drivers to follow the most efficient route, use real-time technology that notifies them when your food is ready for pick-up, and always put food in cold or hot bags (depending on the order), so it will arrive as fast and fresh as possible.
If you want your food to show up at home the same as it would were you to dine at the restaurant, try one of these menu items. Although, really, any local restaurant cuisine that you’re in the mood for will be delicious and save you time, effort and hassle.
In Minnesota, chicken is the most popular delivery food. And it makes sense when you consider that it’s offered by most restaurants in one form or another. You can’t get much more crowd-friendly than chicken wings and tenders — the perfect game day food, and totally kid approved.
Think of a poke bowl as “deconstructed sushi” with rice, sushi-grade fish, salty sauces (soy or ponzu for example) and toppings like avocado, seaweed, cucumber, and shallots. While you should consume a poke bowl in a timely fashion (because of the raw fish), it’ll arrive at its freshest, packed securely in a container with a lid and delivered in a cold bag to preserve its chill.
Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Jerk Lamb with Coconut Milk Beans and Rice and Banana-Guava Ketchup at Chef Camp
Chef Camp was a veritable avalanche of delicious food, from duck-egg-bedecked brunch pizzas to beef femur marrow on fire-grilled toast, but one of the bites that really stuck with us was a Jamaican-inspired twist on lamb from Shepherd Song. Bay leaves and allspice infused serious earthy flavor into fire-grilled lamb that was then served with coconut-milk beans and rice with sweet, hot banana-guava ketchup for additional flavor.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
The Old Fashioned Shrub at Wesley Andrews
The Old Fashioned Shrub on Wesley Andrews’ seasonal menu is a complex, surprising drink. Iced coffee is combined with a balsamic shrub then given a sturdy piece of orange peel, some bitters, and a bit of demerara sugar to offset all the strong tangs. On the first sip, the balsamic flavor is powerful, but give the drink some time to settle — eventually the orange peel begins to assert itself too. By the time you’re done, you might just be swirling the watery dregs, looking for the last bit of any of the flavors in your cup.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]
The Kingfield Gobbler at Sun Street Breads
If you enjoy leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, you’ll likely dig the Kingfield Gobbler. There’s really not much too it — just a mound of super juicy pulled turkey, mayo, and veg on a wheat bun. It’s simple comfort food at its best. Pro-tip: Order a side of barbecue sauce to add a little zip.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted by Joshua Page]
Jalapeño Cheese Sausages from Clancey’s
Though the spice level of these upscale brats rises barely above a tingle, the chunks of diced green jalapeño add a fresh taste while the cheese brings an indulgent richness to an already rich affair. The casings have a good, crisp snap without any toughness.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Ted Held]
Ming’s Wings at Dumpling
The friendly ghost of the venerable Chinese-American hole-in-the-wall Ming’s haunts the location’s new incarnation: the hip and modern Dumpling. You can order Ming’s-style wings wet or dry. We went dry and founded these spice-rubbed little darlings to be crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and mild but full flavored. These wings are soft-spoken, but they’re addictive.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]