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.

 



Dave the Pie Guy in Kingfield

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Sunday morning at the neighborhood pie place: There are hash browns on the flat top, a couple of teenage boys waiting for enormous plates of eggs, a woman at the counter with a question about the Chicken Sammy (“Can you make it a half?” “Not usually. But, sure. I can make you a half.”), coffees that could use a warm-up, and a platoon of French silk pies waiting for a crown of whipped cream.

And there’s just one guy, Dave Hulett, the eponymous Pie Guy, making it all happen. He’s not just the name on the door, he’s the chief pie-maker and short-order cook.

While the home-style breakfast and lunch are filling the hole in the neighborhood’s heart left when Butter decamped for Nicollet, we were there for pies. Because, really, “neighborhood pie place” isn’t actually a thing. And it should be.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

When we first heard about Dave the Pie Guy, a guy with a crazy dream to build a business on pies, we wondered how the economics of that would work. Pies can’t hide behind mediocre ingredients or shortcuts. You have to taste butter, fruit, cream, eggs — and lots of them. And those things aren’t cheap. Top-quality ingredients for a homemade apple pie top $10 (in round numbers, I’m thinking $2 worth of butter, $8 worth of apples) at retail prices.

So here’s how Dave makes the economics work: He actually charges what his pies are worth.



Restaurant Websites: The Heavy Table World Wide Web Wish List

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We’ve reached the point of web saturation where it’s a surprise to find an eatery with no internet presence. Even small cafes with limited budgets often put together free Facebook pages with bare-bones information, although — astonishingly — some people are still not on Facebook. But even if they’re not on Facebook, today’s diners are web- and mobile-savvy, and they increasingly expect restaurants to provide all the information prospective customers want in order to decide where they’re going to spend their dining-out dollars.

Heavy Table staffers — with input from our readers — have found some things that happen too often, and some not often enough, on the web. These aren’t just mild annoyances, but things that can truly irritate visitors to sites — so much so that they may leave the site, and quite possibly avoid the restaurant. Seriously, people are passionate about these things. Listen up, restaurants! We have some suggestions (in some cases, desperate pleas) for you about your internet presence that will make future customers happier and more eager to visit your business.

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  1. The biggest pet peeve in our survey? Restaurants that don’t put their address and hours of operation on their home pages. Please, eateries, we beg you — don’t bury this crucial information in some hard-to-find place. Most people we talked with said this is hands-down the main reason they look up a restaurant website in the first place. The homepage is also a great place to put your external links (Facebook, Twitter, sister restaurants, etc.). Extra page views aren’t valuable if the potential diner is frustrated by not finding your hours. And note: One respondent said she’s stopped bothering with restaurant websites and just looks to Google or Yelp to provide this info.
  2. Provide contact info that actually works. If you have a phone number that someone will answer and then help customers, great. But if your phone line always goes straight to voicemail, or if you provide an email address or a web form and no one ever checks it, that only hurts you.

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  3. On a related note, if you’re going to have a website — and you should have a website — carve out some time on a regular basis to keep it updated. It’s great if you have your hours on the home page, but if the page says you’re open on Mondays and that has changed, it’s going to annoy the person who looked up your hours and showed up on Monday night. Same thing for menus — no one wants to see what your summer specials were in November. Extras like blogs are nice, if you have time to update them regularly. If you don’t? Delete. A blog that hasn’t been updated in 14 months implies that the rest of the site is out of date as well.

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  4. Another hot topic: menus. Please, please, please stop the madness of putting menus in PDFs that have to be downloaded. Stop it. Just don’t. Nobody likes it. Really. Nobody. Except maybe the web development person who billed you for the time it took them to do it. But that’s it. No one else.
  5. That said, please have menus online. If you have more than one menu, have all of them, including happy hour and wine lists, and be sure to include the hours that each menu is available. If your menu changes frequently, and this would be an unreasonable task, then put up a sample — clearly marked as such — to give potential diners some idea of what you have to offer. If your menu changes daily, consider taking a quick photo of it and posting it on your social media, making sure to link to it on your website. This is especially crucial for people with dietary concerns; they want to use your website to see if it’s safe for them to eat there. Don’t make them call and ask.
  6. Also greatly frowned upon: music or videos that automatically start up when the page loads. If you absolutely must have music or video on your site — and neither is necessary for a restaurant — make participation opt-in. Because when forced, many people will turn sound and video off as fast as they can, or leave your site for a quieter one.

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  7. Save eloquence and cleverness for the food. Don’t waste it on the website. You can pour hours into developing lengthy chef bios and long mission statements, but most people will either not read them or will skim them while desperately trying to find the hours. As one respondent said, “I really don’t care about those things, although they seem to feel I should.” As for cleverness, don’t be coy. Be straightforward and use terms people are familiar with. There’s a restaurant out there (Revival, see above) using the phrase “gluten friendly.” What does that even mean? The restaurant is only friendly to people who eat gluten? Why not just say, “We’re not gluten-free” — or “we are” — and be done with it?

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  8. Photos matter. We realize this is a hard one, especially for small eateries on tight budgets. But when you post amateur photos, or stock photos, it cheapens your site and leaves a bad impression. Even if you can afford to have a only a few professional food shots done, it’s worth sacrificing something else to get those photos. A few representative photos of your interior space are helpful, too, so diners can get an idea of how to dress or what to expect in terms of size and ambiance.
  9. If you have live entertainment some or most nights, keep an updated calendar on your site. Diners looking for a quiet evening out will not be delighted to be seated next to the amp for a show they didn’t know about.
  10. Do you sell gift cards / certificates? Of course you do. Does your website help potential customers buy them? It should, or someone searching for a gift may just surf right on to the next restaurant on their list.
  11. The use of Flash. As in, don’t.
  12. Negative space is actually a positive. You don’t have to fill every square inch of web space with text and photos. One striking photo with a brief description can do more to motivate a potential diner than a page bulging with photos and text.
  13. Mobile sites. You can have the best website in the world, but if it’s reduced to unreadable, unsearchable squiggles on a smartphone, it’s not working.
  14. We can’t recommend this enough: Have people who are not your friends and relatives review your site. Good web design companies will recommend usability testing, and there’s a reason for that. Someone who doesn’t know you and has no vested interest in being kind to you will be more likely to say, “Hey, I can’t find your hours, and that Flash you use when the page loads takes forever, which is really annoying.”

Bottom line: Don’t design your site based on what you want people to pay attention to. Instead, pay attention to what people want from your site: simple, clean, basic information, easily found; regularly updated content; with a minimum of (or preferably, no) flashy bells and whistles.