Beer has changed a great deal here in the Upper Midwest. Once upon a time (but well within living memory), it was uniformly a sweet, corny, fizzy yellow liquid only slightly more expensive and slightly more alcoholic than water, poured down gullets to lubricate hamburgers and bratwurst. Now, it’s the hub of a multifaceted scene defined by craft skewing toward art, a modern rejoinder to the local wines of Western Europe, the sake of Japan, and the spirits of the former Eastern Bloc countries.
Surly Darkness bears about as much resemblance to the old vision of beer as Donald Trump resembles a conventional American presidential candidate. Yes, X is technically in the category of Y, but no, it hews to none of your expectations.
I’m a longtime Darkness skeptic, enjoying the occasional taste while generally keeping a respectful distance from the stuff and the attendant whirlpool of hype. But here and now — in 2016, nearly a decade after the 2007 debut of this Russian imperial stout — I’m getting it.
Darkness is a special-occasion beverage, worthy of a time and place outside the norm. If you bring it to the right domain, the place unlocks the door for you. You could, of course, drink it at home on a Wednesday night while watching Luke Cage. But you’d be right to scoff at the value prospect under those circumstances. Darkness is a beer too huge to contain within a daily routine.
I brought my bottle out to a cabin full of friends in northern Wisconsin. It was presented to the group on the last night of vacation, served alongside a chocolate whiskey Bundt cake following a meal of fire-grilled chicken kebabs.
In this kind of atmosphere — wood smoke, cold air, good cheer — you have a chance for a beer to do something other than quench thirst, or pair with food, or marinate a conversation.
As befits its reputation and price, Darkness is a big beer. We tasted a banquet with each sip: dates and raisins, layers of chocolate and coffee, and a creamy richness that was syrupy without being obnoxious or cloying. One bottle sated ten people: We poured small glasses of the stuff, sipped it, savored it, and let it walk us through the evening.
If you can get your hands on a bottle — and then get your life into a new frame of reference — it’s worthy of the chaos that surrounds it.
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.
Lox and Bagel at Black Dog
Our favorite dish during a recent trip to Black Dog was the Lox and Bagel ($12). The house-cured lox could almost take you from Lowertown to the Lower East Side. Mild tasting, but with a pronounced salmon flavor, oily, but not the least bit slimy, and soft without a hint of stringiness, this lox was expertly done. Normally, when a bagel arrives toasted and buttered, one senses an attempt to disguise staleness or industrial flavor, but in this case, it appeared to be just a stylistic choice. We suspect this bagel would be just as good untoasted. Capers, sliced tomato, onion, cucumber, and a dish of cream cheese completed the outfit.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Ted Held]
Apple Pie a la Mode at La La Homemade Ice Cream in Minneapolis
A few new ice cream shops have opened in Minneapolis, and I think La La is my favorite. Jennifer Lisberg, the owner, is doing things right. Her ice cream is bold and flavor-forward, rich and creamy. Simple comes to mind, but it’s so much more than that. She uses local ingredients when they are available and keeps batches small. For fall, La La is featuring homemade apple pie a la mode. We sampled many apple pies for the Heavy Table’s Great Autumn Pie Bracket a couple of years back, and Lisberg’s pie meets all the best in class qualities: firm, sweet, slightly tart apples; hints of cinnamon and other warm spices; flaky, buttery, tender crust. Jennifer mentioned something about winning awards for her apple pie, but I wasn’t listening too intently since I was focused on getting the perfect combination of ice cream and pie into my mouth.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted Brenda Johnson]
Apple Ale by New Glarus Brewing Co. in Wis.
“Apple Ale sings with the fresh crisp taste of Wisconsin apples.” Sure, it’s bottle text and it’s promotional, but the liquid in the bottles of New Glarus Apple Ale backs up the poetry with flavor. This beer is right on the border with cider, having a clean, crisp, floral apple flavor as its backbone. With little in the way of hops, the beer is straightforward and elegant, with none of the cloying sugar or traffic-jam flavor clashing you might fear from a fruited beer. New Glarus knows how to play to its strengths: fruit and beer tastefully intermingled. This is a brew worth crossing the border for.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
The Fantastic Mr. Fig doughnut from Rebel Donut Bar
This two-bite donut is relatively new to town, but we welcome it — and all of Rebel Donut Bar’s creations — wholeheartedly. The Fantastic Mr. Fig is sold exclusively at Rebel pop-ups at Inbound Brewco’s North Loop taproom, and it offers the perfect cure for a sweet tooth or a beer-fueled appetite. The sweet bite’s icing is crafted with Inbound’s weizenbock beer and brown Turkish figs, and it’s topped with a caramel drizzle. The muffin-shaped mini doughnut’s slightly crisp edges and complex, not-too-sweet icing offer an entirely new and very satisfying doughnut-eating experience. Rebel Donut Bar currently accepts only advance catering orders but will soon open a storefront in Northeast Minneapolis.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ruthie Young]
Two is Better than One at Original Coney Island in Duluth
Mounds of chopped onions, the restaurant’s own meat sauce (looks and tastes like chili), and bright yellow mustard — I don’t think they’ve changed the recipe since Gus Saites opened the restaurant in 1921. The hot dogs might be smaller and the buns bigger, but if you’re hankering for the real deal, this Coney dog is it.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted Brenda Johnson]
Black Dog (308 Prince St, St. Paul) has been a Lowertown institution since 1998, long before it was cool to be a Lowertown institution. It survived years of light rail construction outside its front door, a testament to the fact that Black Dog has always been a reliable, comfortable place to get a cup of coffee and a simple but flavorful bite to eat. Recently, it expanded into the bright, sunny space next door, remodeled the original space, and brough Chef David Perez (formerly of Meritage) to the kitchen, significantly upping the food game. Have no fear, long-time customers: Black Dog’s soul is intact.
The comfortable converted warehouse setting — tall ceilings with exposed wooden beams, giant windows looking out onto the farmers market, ancient wood floors — is well-suited for eggs in the morning and jazz in the evening. If you’re thirsty, they’ve got you covered with everything from excellent dark-roast coffee to a full bar. Perez’s new menu perfectly reflects Black Dog’s casual but elegantly executed style.
The Roast Beef Sandwich (below, $11) was served cold, and though it appeared humble in size, it had a ton of flavor. The crusty, toasted ciabatta cradled nearly as much sweet, aromatic pickled red onion as roast beef. Horseradish cream contributed a little zip and an appreciated assist with the slightly dry meat. Though the menu listed blue cheese, it was absent from our sandwich, but we didn’t miss it at all with the other flavors and textures (the whole peppercorns in the picked onions were a highlight). A side salad of greens dressed in vinaigrette was simple and refreshing.
The Heavy Table’s 75-restaurant tour of the Green Line from Rice Street in St. Paul to the Campus Club at the Coffman Memorial Union in Minneapolis is almost complete!
On Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 5:30 p.m., come join writers James Norton and M.C. Cronin, photographer Becca Dilley, and artist WACSO for a talk and reception marking the end of the tour. Small plates from the Campus Club kitchen and specialty cocktails from the Campus Club bar, based on the flavors of the many great restaurants along University Avenue, will be available for purchase.
The Campus Club is on the 4th floor of the Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota Campus, just two blocks from the East Bank Green Line station. We’ll gather in the West Wing dining room and enjoy spectacular views of the downtown Minneapolis skyline and the new U.S. Bank Stadium.
Register for the event (it’s free) on Eventbrite, And we’ll see you at the Campus Club!
I’ll be honest: I was not excited about Kata Organic opening in Linden Hills. A restaurant attached to a yoga and Pilates studio? Because I want my guilt-free food with a side of guilt? No, thanks.
I imagined an afterthought of a space where people with Pilates bodies served afterthoughts of dishes created around calorie counts and the health trend of the week. I imagined a hard, bright, gymlike room where an interior designer would use the word “clean” as a stand-in for “don’t get too comfortable.” I imagined a lot of chia and acai.
It’s a good thing I stopped imagining and actually visited a handful of times. Kata is, indeed, home to both a workout space and a restaurant, but it is clearly a restaurant in its own right. It shares an entrance with the studio, but there’s no reason at all to feel guilty about coming to enjoy a hearty portion of huevos rancheros without showing signs of having sweated through a morning Pilates class. The square, open room is light and inviting during the day (a new place to bring a laptop and settle in, I hope they don’t mind my saying) and dim and cozy in the evening. Squint a little bit and the rows of woven chairs outside turn a Minneapolis avenue into a Parisian square. Full marks for neighborhood feel, top-notch smiling staff, and a welcoming atmosphere.
The corner of 43rd and Upton has become a mini restaurant hub. The now-venerable Tilia, the now-New-York-Times-famous Upton 43, the unjustly overlooked Harriet Brasserie, the perennially packed brunch spot Zumbro. But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for at least one more. There are plenty of Southwest Minneapolis restaurant patrons to go around, and plenty of people from the rest of the metro willing to venture deep into the urban grid for destination dining. It does, however, mean that the bar on this particular corner is very, very high.
And that may be why it feels like Kata’s reach exceeds its grasp.
The menu is ambitiously long and varied. It also changes seasonally, with an honorable focus on local sourcing. Most dishes are heavy on the grains and vegetables, but you can come in for a burger on days that just scream for one. There are cookies (at 25 cents each, like little three-bite gifts), scones, and a mile-high carrot cake in the bakery case that don’t (all) involve spelt.