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.
Smoked Salmon with Dill from Northern Waters Smokehaus
There are a lot of things going on at Northern Waters Smokehaus that are worth raving about, but the smoked salmon with dill is a favorite among favorites. Completely covered with dill, the fish is mildly smoky, fatty, and herbal tasting. At $19 a pound, it’s not cheap, but a little goes a long way. Try it on toast with cream cheese, or better yet, with their own green-onion cream cheese. No plan to make it to Duluth? Keep an eye out next summer for their periodic visits to the Fulton and Kingfield farmers markets.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ted Held]
Bloody Mary with Bacon-Infused Vodka from Smack Shack
A huge shrimp, summer-style sausage, pickled banana pepper, a cheese curd, and an olive — lightly dusted with Old Bay — garnish this “breakfast-in-a-glass” adult beverage. Not too spicy, with a ton of flavor, it’s the perfect way to start your afternoon football / golf / soccer viewing. It comes with a chaser to boot.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]
Chestnut Crab Apples
I discovered these last year, and with the first bite I thought, “Where have you been all my life?” And now I’m seeing chestnut crabs in the co-ops, the farmers markets and a bunch of pick-your-own orchards. They’re doll-sized and taste like they have been dipped in honey, with a fantastic snap.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted by Tricia Cornell]
Fall in Sweden from Swedish Crown Bakery
Cardamom sprinkles, Swedish pearl sugar, apple filling and a lingonberry jam topping combine to make the croissantesque Fall in Sweden one of our favorite local pastries. Like all of the offerings at Swedish Crown, it shows a European sensibility in terms of how it balances the sweetness of sugar with the tart brightness of fruit, resulting in something ultimately a lot tastier than the vast majority of American doughnuts.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Chicken Tikka Dosa from Copper Pot Indian Grill
Great Indian food is bold. It’s got texture, fiery heat, and a tremendous depth of spice that you can get lost in. Copper Pot is serving up some of the best Indian in the region, and we were particularly delighted with their chicken tikka dosa. Filled with charred chicken and earthy, pungent onions, this massive crepe is built to be dipped in an accompanying vegetable soup that packs a serious hot-’n’-spicy flavor wallop. All in all, fireworks on the palate.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #2 | Submitted by James Norton]
La Belle Vie, which the Star Tribune describes as “Minnesota’s fine dining pinnacle” is calling it quits later this month after 17 years of operation. Chef/owner Tim McKee told the Star Tribune that the closing was due to what the paper paraphrased as “changing consumer tastes, rising costs and increased competition.”
McKee was named Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation in 2009, the first Minnesota chef to win the honor.
The Wisconsin town of Hudson is a glorious place to be on a sunny summer day. Not to be too chamber-of-commercy about it, but this river town offers residents and visitors myriad ways to recreate in the beautiful St. Croix environs: parks, beaches, boating, patio bars … Ironically, it is on such a rare summer day that we descend into the cool, windowless basement that houses Winzer Stube.
More wine cellar than Rathskeller (Winzer Stube literally means “vintner’s lounge” — thank you Google Translate), the atmosphere is not insistently German. The walls are covered with postcards from German towns, the pillars are wrapped with plastic vines, and the tables are dressed in Continental red-checked vinyl. The bare joists and wood paneling say St. Croix Valley as much as they say Rhine Valley. This is Wisconsin’s analogue to the Rhine: historic Hudson-on-St.-Croix, a burgeoning wine region in its own right.
The menu (a photocopied sheet of paper — rolled up and cinched in a napkin holder — that frustratingly curls up on itself as you try to read it), lists many dishes by their German names, so a deeper read is required, unless you already know words like Kassler Rippchen and Schlemmertopf “Weiskirchen.” A few of the dishes are translated parenthetically, like “Wurstküche (Sausage Kitchen).” Many are not.
The Wurstküche ($15 for 3 sausages) is where we began our meal. What better litmus test for a German restaurant than a triad of sausages: an herb flecked bratwurst, a coarse-ground and smoky mettwurst, and a finely ground knackwurst. Served on a platter with caraway sauerkraut, German potato salad, and grainy mustard, all three sausages were grilled and sliced lengthwise. They were good, but the mettwurst was the favorite, standing out from the common bratwurst and the wiener-like knackwurst
The sausage litmus test was passed. Next we learned that at Winzer Stube, all the entrees are shockingly large. Each comes with a bevy of sides: spätzle, tangy red and / or white cabbage (to cut through the protein and fat), and a choice of potato (our favorite was mashed — we are biased toward cold potato salad with mayo over Winzer Stube’s warm potato salad with vinegar dressing).
The Paprikaschnitzel ($15), a pork cutlet pounded so thin and so wide that it covered the entire plate, was breaded and fried and smothered in a delectably savory sour cream and paprika sauce. Topped with sweet red peppers, the pork was moist and tender, salty and sweet, and the breading retained its crunchiness all the way to the next day’s leftovers.
The Rinder Rouladen ($17) was an order of magnitude tastier than what we expected from the menu’s description. Like a higher-class version of a ham and pickle rollup, the rouladen was two thin, browned but tender steaks, wrapped around dill pickle spears with bacon, onions, and mustard. Covered with brown gravy, this dish was the very pinnacle of comfort food. Caramelized meat, crunchy pickles, a hint of bacon, and the zip of mustard — this dish had it all.
The Ungarischer Goulasch (Hungarian goulash, $14) was an enormous bowl of rich, shimmering stew, thick with sizeable chunks of toothsome beef and pork and abundant bell pepper. Heavily spiced with caraway (a deal breaker for some) and served over spätzle with a dollop of sour cream, this is some serious stick-to-your-ribs fare.
With one rich and hearty dish after another, the surprise of the night was the chicken with cranberry and pecan chutney ($15). The chicken breast was grilled with picture-perfect crisscross char lines. The chutney was made from real, sweet and tart cranberries, and it had a great nutty taste and texture. It paired perfectly (if out-of-seasonally) with the chicken.
Winzer Stube serves the kind of food that would be so easy to phone in, but that’s not how they roll, and they say so on the menu. These are mother’s recipes, and indeed everything we ordered had a homemade feel to it. It doesn’t feel like hyperbole when they boast the “most authentic and delicious German food and spirits this side of the Rhine.” The food would by all rights be delicious year round, but we’d recommend Winzer Stube as a destination for the chillier months. Warm summer days are precious in these parts and are ideally spent on picnic blankets eating stone fruits and berries, or at least in restaurants with trendy retrofitted garage doors, hoisted to let in the summer breezes. But when the leaves turn and the winds blow out of the north, Winzer Stube’s food is just what a body and soul needs.
Everything about Winzer Stube, from the small-town-cafe-style service to the outdated tap beer list to the typo-laden, photocopied menu (is that a knockoff Comic Sans font?), was casual. We had the impression that we were surrounded by regulars. The accordion player was all smiles, and so was everyone else. And why shouldn’t we be? We were drinking lager by the liter and eating outstanding homemade German food served in unreasonably large quantities for unreasonably small prices, and when we walked up the stairs after dinner, the sun was still shining on a summer evening.
516 2nd St
Hudson, WI 54016
Owner / Chef: Marie Schmidt
Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes / Ask
Dire Dawa was no more. Shuttered. Out of business. Chairs stacked on tables. Tables pushed in corners. Corners gathering dust. The only sign of life, a dim light emanating from a lone beverage cooler inexplicably still plugged in near a register doomed never to ring another order. In the introduction to the Central Avenue Checklist we wrote of challenging ourselves to stop passing those restaurants we always pass on our way to those we already know. Dire Dawa was that restaurant for us. We’d gone by it so many times. Always curious. Imagining what we might be missing. Thinking we need to stop there sometime before it’s gone.
Dire Dawa was the restaurant that inspired this whole crazy journey. It was supposed to be one of the last we visited. An ideal way to wrap things up.
What happened between the time we started the Checklist and now to cause Dire Dawa to close? Who knows? What happens to any of these places that mysteriously disappear? Mediocre food or service, unreliable help, unforeseen circumstances, hapless business decisions? Or is it simply that not enough people challenged themselves to give it a shot?
Whatever the answer, one thing is certain. If you see a place that interests you, go. It may not be there tomorrow. Another hard lesson learned from our faithful teacher, Central Avenue. But there is a silver lining. In an effort to salvage something from our night, we decided to duck into Little India again. Maybe we’d missed something on our scouting excursion so many months ago. That’s when we found a bakery case we hadn’t seen before.
Goodbye, Dire Dawa.
Hello, Little India.
Read the other installments of the Central Avenue Checklist here: Paradise Biryani Pointe to Flameburger, Dong Yang to Big Marina, New York Gyro to Jimmy’s Pro Billiards, El Tequila to The Heights Theater, The Chilean Corner to El Taco Riendo, the Bakery Edition, Hill Valley Cafe to Ideal Diner, Al Amir Bakery to Fair State, Pico de Gallo to Arcana Lodge, Karta Thai to Tattersall Distilling.
Little India International Market
1835 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | .7 miles from Broadway Street
If you’re ever in need of a pot the size of a small car, you will find it here. Along with stacks upon stacks of 20-pound woven bags of rice in more varieties than you knew existed. Idli rice, sona masoori rice, ponni boiled rice, ponni raw rice, ambemor rice, and basmati rice grown in the foothills of the Himalayas (an important distinction if the marketing on the outside of the bags is to be believed).
There’s a case filled with exotic frozen entrees and hardly a Lean Cuisine in sight. They sell brightly colored spices in bulk plastic bags at exceptional prices. The typical grocery-store aisle markers for bread and chips have been replaced with hand-painted signage for “Naans & Chapatis” and “Paratha” and “Sweets and Pan.” And they don’t just have a meat market, they have a “Super Meat Market” with lamb, goat, beef, chicken, and fish.
Everywhere you turn, you’re faced with foods you can’t pronounce, can’t understand, can’t prepare, and yet somehow desperately want to buy. (We still regret not buying something called Fatafat, which seemed to be a candy-like digestif.)
In keeping with the theme, the bakery case was filled with unfamiliar, oddly shaped, and brightly colored items, none of which were labelled. In order to get across which items we wanted, we had to point through the glass and hope the tong-wielding man behind the counter guessed right.
We ate out of a to-go container on the brick window ledge outside the market, returning inside to buy paper towels when it became clear from our sticky fingers and faces that eating these things — whatever they were — required them.
The dessert case at the Little India market on Central Avenue is a challenge we had never really faced before — kheer and gulab jamun at Indian buffets marked the limits of our experience, and this case went much, much deeper than that.
Yes, kheer and gulab jamun were both present, but so were … yellow tube-like things. And beige diamond things. And chunky square brown things. And … well, more things than we could really assimilate. Our purchasing process was helter-skelter — “two of those … green cubes? And some of those orange … pretzel things, please?
That said, this is what the Central Avenue Checklist is all about — it’s about mixing it up, trying new things, and occasionally being utterly out of your element. We paid $11 for a whole pile of things, and with apologies for our ignorance, here’s what we thought:
The flat tan diamonds — which we later found out were the cashew-based kaju katli — were mellow and nutty with a bit of greasiness and a marzipan-like density.
The green pistachio halwa squares? Well, they had a cream-cheese-meets-pistachio vibe going on, and kind of an herbal fudge thing going on too — they started mild and then came on a bit more strongly.
The yellow, kind of tube-shaped things sharply divided our crew. They packed a super-syrupy, anise-inflected herbal sweetness of great intensity, and had a dairy-at-the-edge sort of lactic power that disturbed or enchanted tasters depending upon their points of view.
The orange piped-out-pretzelish dealie-boppers known as jalebi had a great crunch to them, and a pastry-meets-candy-meets-cheese kind of flavor that was, to put it mildly, difficult to place. Of everything we sampled, these were perhaps the farthest from our knowledge. We liked them.
The yellow-orange blondie looking things were a bit chalky, and a bit oily. They recalled the flavor of those “I Luv U 2 Much” conversation hearts that help contribute to the awfulness of Valentine’s Day.
And the gulab jamun were great. The doughnut-y pastry chunks were dense but tender, and while the syrup they were soaked in was mind-blowingly sweet (as is traditional) it was also pleasantly flavored with a touch of cardamom and rosewater.
In short: a tremendous amount of food for thought.
Kim’s Vietnamese and Chinese
1824 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | .5 miles from Broadway Street
We opened the door to discover that there was not another soul in the place. Just nine empty tables and us. Had we walked in without an agenda to eat here, we could easily see ourselves silently backtracking, hoping to leave before anyone in the kitchen realized we were here.
In the end, we were glad we didn’t.
Our host / server seated us. She recommended a few items, none of which sounded like anything we’d ever order. So we promptly ordered them.
Then we tried not to watch America’s Got Talent on the big screen TV while we waited for our food to arrive, which is hard to do when there’s nothing else in the restaurant to distract you.
We attempted to strike up a conversation with our server about the, shall we say, interesting businesses next door: Central Sauna Bath and Gene’s Barber Shop.
She was friendly but oddly tight-lipped about the whole thing. She told us she didn’t know anything about the businesses except that they’re owned by the same family and that they’ve been around for 40 years. Then she told us Kim’s has been around for 25 years. So in 25 years, they’ve learned nothing about the sauna massage right next door? Hmm. This was starting to sound like an interesting story.
Or maybe we were just searching for a distraction.
Riffing whimsically off of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in order to sell caramel apples appears to be a guaranteed road to controversy. The Facebook page of Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store has exploded in vitriol over the past couple of days in response to the store’s “#CaramelApplesMatter” signage, with numerous reviewers and commenters charging insensitivity (or worse) and numerous other commenters posting angry rejoinders. One possible moral of the story: If you’re goofing around with a movement dedicated to combating violent manifestations of institutional racism, it helps to have a really deft hand.