An Illustrated Tour of the Original Coney Island Cafe and Bar

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Some time in the mid 1990s, the Original Coney Island Cafe and Bar in St. Paul abruptly went dark. A sign posted in the window said that the restaurant was closed due to family illness. The sign stayed there for years, but the space remained untouched and looking like they could reopen at any minute. Since they closed, I’ve pressed my face against the window 1,000 times wishing/hoping it would reopen. Well, they finally did…for one day earlier this month during the St. Paul Winter Carnival. We got there early and stood in a line with the diehards that stretched down the block an hour before they opened…everyone waiting for a taste of that famous Coney dog and a peek at space that’s been frozen in time. Sometimes dreams really do come true.

(Top: The line stretched out the door and down the block. And see the original-sized illustrations on WACSO’s website, in gallery #31.)

There are 2 distinct sides to the Original Coney Island…the “cafe” side, and the “bar” side. Walk through a fenced doorway with a sign reminding you that children are NOT allowed in the bar area and the space goes from a very diner-like space with stools at a counter, to a very bar-like space with stools at a bar.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

The bar side.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

The cafe side.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

The old bar gets a workout.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Enjoying the original.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

People couldn’t believe what they were seeing: an “open” sign.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Left: Preparing the Coneys. Right: Mustard is key to a good Coney dog / the dogs / satisfied customers.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

I’m assuming she’s the daughter of the original owners…she kept saying how happy her mother would have been to see so many people lined up down the street for the dogs.



North Coast Nosh at the Food Building – A Recap

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

To toot our own horn just a little bit, the Heavy Table / Wedge Community Co-op / Food Building North Coast Nosh local sip-and-sample is always an invigorating and thought-provoking event. With last Thursday’s Nosh at the Food Building behind us, the blur of smiling (and chewing) faces, the whirlwind of information from purveyors and conversations with friends, and most of all, the mind-numbing variety of tastes (an exemplary gathering of beers and spirits, meats and cheese, breads and broths, coffees and chocolates) crystallizes into a few themes. The most over-arching of which is that there is an immense variety of locally crafted comestibles and beverages, and a mind-boggling quantity of quality thought going into all of it.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

There were bagels, two kinds. We’ve been raving about Rise Bagel Co. since the Lloyd sisters first started showing up at farmers markets. Their classic bagels have a chewy exterior and a soft interior as good as any bagel out east. Baker’s Field Flour and Bread, a Food Building tenant held the home field advantage. Their bagels were breadier, and tasted slightly sour, like a starter was involved and shared a lot of the rustic, wholesome character of their excellent breads. We talked to people who preferred one or the other – two excellent local choices and something for everybody.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

We tasted two coffee stouts: Tin Whiskers’ Tiny Circuit tasted profoundly of (Tiny Footprint, pictured above) coffee, to the point that you could forget that you’re drinking stout. Fulton Beer’s War and Peace was more balanced with (Peace) coffee and malt hitting the tongue in turn. Sour beer seems to be finally reaching critical mass. Fair State, known for their sour program, poured Roselle, light, aromatic, and eminently drinkable; Bricoleur #4, a funkier sour complicated by a hoppy aroma; and Lichtenhainer: with smoke and sour in equal balance, it’s almost a think piece (we’ve had Lichtenhainer at the tap room and after tasting it again, we’re still not sure if we like it). Indeed Brewing poured their Wooden Soul #9, a wood barrel aged sour poured over fresh raspberries for a final fermentation stage. It was rare, aromatic, fruity, and drinkable all day long. Hopheads take note: of the four brewers at the Nosh, not one of them poured an IPA.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Members of the Chef Camp team were also at the Nosh, talking about their Sep. 1-3 wilderness culinary retreat at YMCA Camp Miller. The event features feasting, camp activities, and chef-led instruction, and is all inclusive (lodging, food, beverages, classes, activities) for attendees. (See our feature about last year’s camp here.)

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Like a giant charcuterie plate, the Common Room table offered Red Table Meat Company meats, Lone Grazer Creamery cheeses, and Baker’s Field breads. But if you didn’t stop to talk to Red’s Mike Phillips, you might have missed one of the best tastes of the night: salami made with ten percent liver that was soft, fatty, and delicious. Lone Grazer offered cheeses that ran the gamut from the kid-friendly fresh curds to the more adult-friendly aged cheeses.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

To the side of the table, Redhead Creamery had left the kid-friendly cheese at home. We swooned for their crumbly (admittedly a little young for show time) Little Lucy brie and a rich, funky North Fork Whiskey Washed Munster that was ironically more brie-like in character. Both of their cheddars – garlic and plain – were outstanding.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Dumpling and Strand was in the house with a new, wild rice-based soba noodle appropriately named Minnesoba. As it turns out, the earthy, nutty flavor of wild rice and the earthy, nutty flavor of traditional buckwheat soba noodles have a lot in common, and the adaptation feels like a loving, locally made homage.

Bitter was big. As you entered the Nosh, you were immediately faced with dessert. Mademoiselle Miel offered a honey bon-bon made with a 100% cacao shell. The extreme sweetness of pure honey and extreme bitterness of pure chocolate made a beautifully balanced taste. Anelace Coffee and Spyhouse Coffee Roasters both poured lovely and similar African coffees that were pleasantly bitter, with green apple tartness, and Tiny Footprint Coffee was on hand to tell their carbon-negative sourcing and roasting story.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Bitters are big too. Bittercube Bitters showcased their diversity with the fruit flavored Abyss Sling, and the medicinal El Nordico. Far North Spirits showcased their Roknar rye whiskey, grown and distilled on the family farm way up north in Hallock, in the form of a punchy sazerac, with the aroma of bitters and citrus.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

As for the rest of it, we loved Grlk’s gravity-defying airy sauces; Dumpling and Strand’s perfectly salted, chewy fettuccine; the obviously super-fresh vegetables and chicken in Draft Horse’s piping hot pot pies; the restorative complexity of Taking Stock’s chicken broth; Superior Switchel’s gingery introduction to old farmers’ favorite made new again (and the next kombucha?); and the proprietor of North Mallow’s willingness to bring his marshmallow-toasting four-burner spread to a Boundary Waters lake of our choice, if we cover the travel cost, so that we can enjoy the toasted sugary cubes on trail, and in luxury.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table



Heavy Table Hot Five: Feb. 17-23

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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 editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

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Varsha Koneru / Heavy Table

Varsha Koneru / Heavy Table

1-new - oneButternut Squash Daiquiri at Cafe Alma
A butternut squash cocktail doesn’t sound like something you would want to order, especially in favor of the other great cocktail choices on Cafe Alma’s menu, but this one is worth trying. The squash notes are subtle, but add a wonderful earthiness to the drink. There is a burst of lemon for freshness and acidity, which balances the mild sweetness of the squash.  If that isn’t enough, the drink is served in an adorable hollowed gourd, and topped with a velvety sage leaf, making it one of the best looking cocktails around.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Varsha Koneru]

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

2-new - twoMoon Tea from Sacred Blossom Farm
Tony DiMaggio grows, dries, and blends the herbs that go into Sacred Blossom tea at the Gilmanton, Wisconsin farm of the same name. We tried the lavender- and chamomile-forward Moon blend and found it to be profoundly soothing – it’s a bright floral touch of summer, and lacks any of the dusty or weedy notes that sometimes mar herbal teas. You can order this local brew via the farm’s Kickstarter campaign, which wraps up in about week. Dogwood Coffee and The Produce Exchange at Midtown Global Market will also begin carrying retails packs of Sacred Blossom tea next week.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Bruce Manning / Heavy Table

Bruce Manning / Heavy Table

3-new - threeBeef Tagine at Moroccan Flavors
A speedy, elegant lunch from a warming tray? Yes. In the heart of the Midtown Global Market, you can get an authentic, slow-cooked tagine. The beef is rich, sweet and mildly spicy, served with apricots, prunes and almonds over rice. Or choose chicken and squash, served over couscous.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Bruce Manning]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

4-new fourCry Baby Burger from Jimmy’s Billiards
The Cry Baby Burger from Jimmy’s Billiards is as feisty as its name sounds. Jalapeño peppers, pepper Jack cheese, and a small but mighty dose of hot sauce will clear those sinuses in no time. Spring for the sour cream for the fries as a heat-reducing dairy product.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by Amy Rea]

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

5-new -five Apple, Grilled Cabbage and Prosciutto Salad at Burch
This salad was a nice balance of sweet, tart, and slightly salty … an excellent complement to most of the rich menu items at Burch. “Grilled cabbage” suggests a salty and/or smokey flavor profile, but there was no hint of the grilling in either taste or temperature. Below the mound of green apple bites and shredded cabbage was a generous layer of thinly sliced prosciutto. A touch of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few chives on top enhanced each of the individual flavors.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]



Meatloaf from Everett’s Foods and Meats

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

For the time being, at least, there is no escaping sexy food. Go to Instagram, and you’ll see an endless parade of the same essential dish, over and over again – manicured, impeccable, adorable, gleaming in natural light, made with exotic ingredients, bespangled with foams and brunoised bits, beckoning to you for a mere $9-12 (appetizer) or $16-23 (entree). Food in the age of high-quality camera phones is to be photographed and disseminated as much as it is to be eaten, and we’re all paying a price for that.

Let’s get unsexy for a moment. Let’s get horribly, brutally, unfashionably sexy. The housemade meatloaf at Everett’s is $4.29 a pound, and it comes in a brutal-looking little tinfoil loaf pan. The one that we brought home ($6.50’s worth) could have easily fed a family of four – it was nothing more than a brick of nourishing, full-flavored, herbally seasoned meaty classic goodness, sexy as a tree stump, and fashionable as Cheez Whiz. There may not even be other food words as homely and uninteresting as “meatloaf” – it’s no coincidence that an abomination known as nutraloaf is regarded as one of the least humane punishments in the American prison system, which has no shortage of humiliations and pain to inflict upon its charges.

But here’s the thing: This is cheap food made with care. This is cheap food that you can tuck into with relish, with ketchup, or pickles, or Worcestershire sauce, or with spaghetti sauce on pasta, or as part of a sandwich or wrap. Think of a good meatloaf as a well-made meatball, scaled up and baked into a pan, and treat it as such. It’s not the end of your dining choices, it’s a point of departure. If you make it yourself, the varieties and customization are nearly infinite. If you buy it at Everett’s you’ll be dining on pure comfort, and you’ll do it for less than an order of fries at more than a few local restaurants.

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

Everett’s is a local treasure, with a meat section that’s a throwback to a time when not only did butchers know their trade, but they got you your dinner for a reasonable price. When we’re not at Everett’s picking up meatloaf, we’re buying high quality frozen turkeys in order to celebrate Thanksgiving in February or obtaining some of the best (and best-priced) ribeyes in town to throw on a grill.

Everett’s Foods and Meats, 1833 E. 38th St., Minneapolis, 612.729.6626

 



Cocktails at Can Can Wonderland in St. Paul

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

The voyage through the hidden entrance of Can Can Wonderland is Wonka-like and full of anticipation. Glossy red arrows are painted on the walls, and with a bit of trial and error, it’s hard not to smile while hoping to arrive at the correct door. Stepping into the carnival makes the illusion instantly real — it’s not just your imagination, you’re having fun. This place is a grown-up carnival where everything and nothing seems out of place.

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Can Can Wonderland, which opened last month off of University Avenue in St. Paul, is a singular concept, despite the recent trend of games-plus-drinks seen at the outrageously popular Up-Down in LynLake and West End’s Punch Bowl Social. There is a decidedly homegrown personality to Can Can’s mini-golf Xanadu. Its energy bounces from the bar, to the row of vintage pinball machines, and throughout the putting green. It feels the way a carnival should feel: quirky with an emphasis on whimsy.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The drinks are no exception. Nick Kosevich (above) and the team at Bittercube have been consulted to bring quality cocktails to two different bars inside the place, and the team took inspiration from their surroundings, rather than riffing on the worn-out classic-cocktail-with-a-twist concept.

On the more restrained end of things is the Subtle Beast ($9), made with blanco tequila, mezcal, grapefruit-lime elixir, cappelletti aperitivo, Jamaica #2 bitters, and rimmed with Sal de Gusana. The sheer number of ingredients is in clear contrast to most other menus curated by Kosevich, but surprisingly, each component stands up in the mix. The mezcal brings subtle smoke, while the citrus adds both sweet and tart. The pleasant tequila backdrop is not boozy, but aromatics from the cappelletti aperitivo (an aromatized wine) create a bold punch. Sal de Gusana, a salt-like powder made from dried agave worms, is mixed with kosher salt for a spicy rim.

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

For an even more spirit-forward option, go with the sparkling Neon Love ($10). House tonic is mixed with a healthy dose of Bombay Sapphire East gin and lime. Crushed ice creates a bed for butterfly pea flower, a flavorless blue powder that slowly bleeds into the liquid, leaving a purple tie-dye look streaking towards the bottom of the glass. Gin is the star, but the tonic is close behind, with beautiful anise and clove notes. A silver flocked lime slice creates an image that’s pure intergalactic chic.

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Even more adventurous are the semi-frozen drinks served out of a slushie machine. The texture of the three choices is more Slurpee than ICEE, and they range from sweet to sloshed.

For those who like their alcohol hidden, opt for the fruit-heavy Boone & Crockett ($8), a mix of the lowbrow wine, rum, lime and Bolivar bitters. A mild, floral finish adds depth to what otherwise might as well be rum and Kool-Aid. The middle of the road option is the pleasant Humu Humu Nuku Nuku Apua’a ($11). This one is tiki up front, but it leaves the palate with a pop of alcoholic heat. A mix of rum, pineapple, cherry and vanilla bean is perhaps most notable for what it lacks — there is no coconut to push it into island territory.

Finally, the refreshing High Plains Grifter ($9) was voted the most refined slush cocktail by our team. Whiskey anchors the combination, while a beautiful lemon-tangerine aroma and flavor hits the palate without much sweetness. This is due to the addition of lemon oleo, a gravity-filtered form of citrus juice and essential oil, plus orange bitters. A splash of Fulton Lonely Blonde creates ideal balance.

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

In the over-the-top department comes the final adventure, a dessert drink called Monkey Business ($14) which is at once a milkshake and wallop of bourbon. It’s a lollapalooza-sized shake made with bananas, peanut butter, ice cream, bourbon, and chocolate. A thoughtful topping of dried bananas adds texture. Thankfully, it is not as thick as the typical milkshake, but it is large and rich enough to serve more than two people.

Can Can Wonderland may feel at once vintage and trendy, but the drinks are unlike any other program in recent exploration. It feels like the alchemists at Eat Street Social got inspired by the Minnesota State Fair. The entertainment provides appropriate pacing between drinks and they have created a foolproof system for moving about the attractions as food and drink tabs can be opened and closed anywhere without hassle.

This attention to detail makes the visit even more effortless, as do the knowledgeable bartenders who are genuine in their interest in explaining the many obscurities on the menu.

Can Can Wonderland, 755 Prior Ave N, Suite #004, Saint Paul, MN 55104, 651.925.2261. Mon–Wed closed, Thu 10 a.m.–11p.m., Fri-Sat 10a.m.–12a.m., Sun 10a.m.–10p.m.