This weekly podcast is a joint project of the Heavy Table and Secrets of the City, and it covers art, music, food, drink, culture, and more in the Upper Midwest. If you’d like to join us for the next taping, we’ll be at Marin Restaurant on Monday, July 6 and the Du Nord Cocktail Room on Thursday, July 23. Tickets: Marin | DuNord
Our podcast is brought to you by Annie B’s Popcorn and Caramels. Annie B’s has been handcrafting caramels and popcorn in small batches since 1978. Their products are all-natural, gluten-free, and made in Minnesota. Get a onetime discount of 20 percent off any order at anniebs.com with the promocode “Weekend.” Offer expires 8/31/15.
Hear the whole fifth episode here … (We’re no longer breaking the show out into individual segment files, but we’ll keep listing them so you can preview what’s on tap.)
SEGMENT 1: INTRODUCTION
Taylor and James get serious and talk about the classic experience of going up North, and are joined by guests John Garland and Dan Mogol.
SEGMENT 2: JOHN GARLAND AND DAN MOGOL
SEGMENT 3: PICK 3
SEGMENT 4: JESSE DEGROSS FROM PUBLIC KITCHEN + BAR
How to build a cocktail program from the ground up, how to show off the spirit at the heart of a drink, and how to make summer heat not just bearable but downright delightful.
SEGMENT 5: YOUR WEEKEND PLANS
Did you know M-60 firecrackers are waterproof?
Is there anything more disappointing than standing outside a closed bakery and peering into a darkened window with your hands cupped around your face wondering what fresh, warm, baked, sweet, flaky, doughy goodness you may have missed out on? We think not.
Such was the flaw in our Central Avenue Checklist plan. Our mostly nighttime excursions meant passing by all too many darkened bakeries.
So we set out on a Saturday morning to rectify this lapse. And Central Avenue did not disappoint us. In a single visit, Central threw at us a cultural diversity of baked goods (American, Mexican, German, and Iraqi) that you’d rarely find on a single stretch of road anywhere, thus reaffirming just how compelling an avenue “she” is.
And yes, we have started calling Central Avenue “she.” When you spend this much time together, it gets personal.
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, and The Chilean Corner to El Taco Riendo.
4925 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 4.3 miles to Broadway Street
On a shelf behind the counter sits a ceramic urn that reads “Ashes of problem customers.” Aside from this and a few other knickknacks, the most prominent decoration in the place is a giant red sign with one word on it: bakery.
Yep. Nailed it.
Heights Bakery is beautiful in its simplicity. The bakery case runs the length of the shop. Behind its glass are trays and trays of baked goods topped with glazes and sprinkles and coconut shavings and chocolate and nuts and cinnamon sugar and something pink and sparkly.
There are doughnuts made from dough and doughnuts made from batter. There are good-old-fashioned “old-fashioneds” and new-fashioned croissant-doughnuts. There are fritters and crullers and Bismarcks and braids. There’s stuff stuffed with vanilla cream and fruit jelly. And of course, there’s bread.
Heights Bakery isn’t just old-school, it’s the school that old-school was modeled after. It’s the kind of shop that still has bells dangling from the front door to alert the bakers in back that there’s a customer up front.
Behind the bakery case and through a door, you can catch a glimpse into the kitchen. This is where the magic happens. Rolling racks filled with trays of baked goods stand ready to be called into service. Bakers with flour-dusted aprons bustle about.
In the doughnut business, getting a raised glazed right is akin to a lawyer’s passing the state bar. When you prove that you can reach a certain standard with your raised glazed, you can officially conduct business as a doughnut shop. The Heights version doesn’t just pass the bar, it raises it.
Heights Bakery has been churning out baked goods since 1953. Our guess is that they’ve been doing it very much the same way — give or take a croissant-doughnut experiment or two — for 60-some years. And barring a change to their raised glazed recipe, we imagine they’ll be doing it for the next 60. — M.C. Cronin
In terms of value, little approaches the bag of doughnuts and loaf of cinnamon bread that we scored at the Heights Bakery for $10.50. We’d say that we got our money’s worth if these doughnuts were grocery-store quality. But they weren’t — they were good-to-ravishing, overall.
The raised glazed doughnut was intensely chewy, light and delicate, and — cue the sound of angelic harps — not too sweet. Sweet enough, but not that Krispy Kreme nail-through-the-head flavor that is nice for a bite or two, but no more. This is drive-across-town good.
Our blueberry cake doughnut was nothing fancy (witness the dyed blue streaks of industrial blueberry in the doughnut’s interior), but truly hit the spot. Like its raised compadre, it was properly sweet, but not overly so, and the flavor of blueberry was carried successfully through the icing.
Our cinnamon-sugar cake doughnut was also good, but once you’ve been to A Baker’s Wife, it’s hard to rally behind anyone else’s version.
The only less-than-stellar item we got from this splendid old place was the Bacon Cro-Nut, a needless attempt to surf the croissant-meets-doughnut wave that crashed at least a year ago. We found the pastry too sweet by half and the bacon that topped it closer to jerky than the breakfast favorite. — James Norton
4351 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 4.1 miles to Broadway Street
If Heights is an old-school American bakery, Adelita’s is its south-of-the-border counterpart. An old-school panaderia.
As such, there’s no one picking pastries out of the case for you with little squares of tissue paper while you hunch over, pointing through the glass. It’s pure self-service. You grab a metal tray and a set of tongs near the front door. Then you set out on your own tweezing pastries out of cases running along the perimeter of the room.
In This Toast: We sip 32 beers from 21 Minnesota breweries to determine the best local summer seasonal.
Which local beers are in season? Well, heat equals wheat, so we’re into hefeweizens right now. But we also love those thin summer session ales for pounding after a bike ride. Oh, and saisons, and pale lagers, and weird fruit beers, and firkins infused with stuff like tea and lemongrass and mint.
To help us separate the wheat from the chaff, once every few months, our friends at the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild harangue their member breweries to send us beer. This time, they delivered the biggest bounty to date: 32 local summer seasonals.
Helping us sort through them, was our expert tasting panel: Sean Cooke, Certified Cicerone with the Better Beer Society; Paige Latham, Heavy Table’s beer correspondent; Andrew Schmitt, director of MN Beer Activists; and Frank Haataja, host of The Minnesota Skinny.
All beers were tasted blind in flights of more or less similar styles. The judges were presented with a final flight of consensus favorites for more in-depth tasting. Here are the best beers for summer.
Gold Medal and Best In Show: Schell’s Hefeweizen
Heavy Table’s official summer beer is the ideal hefeweizen. Everything about Schell’s Hefe feels balanced — just enough malt sweetness, just enough fruitiness from the yeast, and it finishes clean. Our panel compared it to the Franziskaner, one of the style’s gold standards. Pair it with the warm sun shining on your face and the contented feeling that you’re drinking the best summer beer in Minnesota.
First Runner-Up: Schell’s Starkeller Peach
Schell’s grabs the top two spots in the tasting thanks to its latest entry in the Noble Star series of Berliner weisse interpretations. The peaches add a fleshiness to the Starkeller that helps round out some of the more acerbic tartness. The result is a cloudy, smooth sour with a true depth of flavor.
Second Runner-Up: Mankato Brewing Kato Beer
Mankato has delivered our preferred patio pounder. Their Munich-style helles lager is reminiscent of a fine cream ale — a subtle, corny sweetness balanced by a crisp lager finish. It’s light and bright and clean, and it was our consensus favorite pairing with food from El Taco Riendo, our judging fuel for the evening.
Third Runner-Up: Bauhaus Brew Labs Hairbanger
The hop-head’s beer of summer is this new Belgian-style pale ale from Bauhaus. It sports a somewhat herbal aroma before bashing in with piney hops in a rounded Belgian-tasting body. The bitterness comes on late, and the dry finish begs a return sip. A proud, enlivening beer.
Blacklist Brewing Imperial Hefeweizen
All kinds of hot, fusel alcohols on the nose, but it then mellows into a burly, aggressive, caramel, honey-tinged, complex monster. A lot to wrestle with, and we’ll happily do so.
Fulton Beer The Randonneur
Fulton’s summer saison has a great banana-coriander thing going on, with great color and clarity. And the hop balance is spot-on. A crowd pleaser, a laid-back winner.
Tin Whiskers Watts Wheat Wine
An impressive pineapple-and-banana Runts candy aroma leads to a full-bodied, sweet, and boozy monolith of a brew. Would make for a terrific nightcap after a Saints game.
Tin Whiskers Wheatstone Bridge
Tin Whiskers’ more approachable wheat beer is a stunner: balanced and smooth, with lovely notes of jasmine and citrus. Alongside Schell’s Hefe, this is our everyday wheat beer of the year.
Town Hall Brewery Apricot Summer
Our favorite flavored beer of summer comes from Town Hall. It was called “mellifluous” by one tipsy taster, but we understand the sentiment: light, fruity, and pleasant.
Notes from the Rest of the Tasting (by style):
56 Brewing NE Nectar Honey Kolsch
Kind of awkward. Honey on the nose, but also paint thinner. Good pale malt flavor, but the method doesn’t taste dialed-in.
Town Hall Brewery Wedding Kolsch
Fine enough malt character, but we couldn’t get past a whiff of intense Styrofoam staleness on the nose.
Sidhe Brewing Señor Sol Victorious
Faint caramel, some sweet malt, very little on the finish, and not much carbonation. This Mexican lager could have used a squeeze of lime.
Tin Whiskers Parity Pilsner
A gorgeous pilsner. Clean, pleasant, and straightforward. Proudly boring, perfectly beige.
Sessions / Summer Ales:
Beaver Island Brewing One Speed Belgian Single
Nice grainy, malty finish, a little tennis shoe rubber flavor. A light, uncomplicated sip. 4.7 percent ABV.
Beaver Island Brewing Fabulous Armadillo Summer Ale
Some smoky phenols, along with apple and citrus aromas, some malt complexity, assertive hops. Light and easy. 4.7 percent ABV.
Brau Brothers Hopsession Super IPA
Smells like those speckled white Easter egg candies, tons of grapefruit, not much body or carbonation. Nothing much but hops. 4.2 percent ABV.
Summit Summer Ale
Cidery aroma, nice mineral finish, pure and light. 4.4 percent ABV.
612Brew Mary Ann
A consistent punch of ginger. Long lasting and memorable.
Menthol aroma. Juicy, though incohesive. Flightworthy more than pintworthy.
The Freehouse No. 24 Earl-Grey-Tea-Infused Honey Wheat
Mulled potpourri spice on the nose. Earthy, peppery body. Black tea flavor shines.
Excelsior Brewing Sunburn Cherry Wheat
Interesting tea flavor, not much fruit flavor. Wheat-forward, though not memorable.
Indeed Mojito Shenanigans
Not sure what shenanigans were up when this one was brewed. Tastes the way a mint Mr. Sketch marker smells. Stick with their far superior original version.
Other Light Ales:
Bent Paddle Paddle Break Blonde
Light and grassy, squeaky clean. A hammock pounder.
Mankato Brewery Duly Noted Pale Ale
Too bitter, too simple, lacking aroma. A pronounced plastic flavor wouldn’t quit.
Waconia Brewing Pontoon Pale Ale
We picked up acetone on this one. A bone-dry finish leaves flavors of pepper and earth. Unbalanced.
Blacklist Brewing Makrut Wit
Big, bold, and sweet. Warming. Sweet honey and orange blossom. Hot and full bodied. This is your summer evening nightcap by the pool.
The Freehouse No. 11 Belgian-Style Witbier
Really nice. Light bodied, flavorful and bright. It tastes as if it should be enjoyed on a beach with grilled fish.
Mankato Brewery Ceres Summer Ale
No flavor up front. Alkaline-tasting. Hints of apple. Awkward, bitter finish.
Third Street Hunny Do Wheat Beer
Smells and tastes like cider. Fruity-sweet, easygoing, apricot, pear, ginger, and lemon. Convert your favorite Angry Orchard drinker with this one.
Tart / Sour:
Day Block Brewing Berliner Weisse
Pleasant, cloudy, and wheaty. Great on its own (without the accompanying raspberry syrup). Effervescent, and just tart enough. Balanced. Drinkable.
Excelsior Brewing MinneGose Gose Style Ale
A pungent, saline tang in a durable, wheat-filled body. Simple, a little funky, but palate-cleansing. This is your raw oyster beer of the summer.
Urban Growler Berliner Weisse
The woodruff syrup was a very nice addition to what was a mediocre Berliner Weisse. The beer had a strange Red Hots aroma and a chemical-tinged finish, and it really needed a viscous syrup to cancel the off flavor.
Past Heavy Table Seasonal Tasting Winners:
Spring 2015 – Town Hall Brewery One Simple Pale
Winter 2015 – Lift Bridge Silhouette
Autumn 2014 – Schell’s Black Forest Cherry
Summer 2014 – Badger Hill White IPA
Spring 2014 – Surly BLAKKR
Oktoberfest 2013 – Schell’s Oktoberfest
If you’re heading south of the Twin Cities on Highway 169, you’ll eventually arrive at the town of St. Peter. This beautiful old town along the Minnesota River has a lively downtown — (all of which is on the National Register of Historic Places) with a good mix of shops and art galleries. It also has a far-better-than-average eatery: River Rock Coffee. River Rock is right on Highway 169 (or, as it’s also called at this point, Minnesota Avenue), and is a congenial community gathering spot. At a recent visit, we saw people working on laptops, gossiping over coffee, and having a planning meeting for a new veteran’s memorial to be built in the town, and there was even one man who didn’t think twice about singing along with the music playing overhead. (For the record, no one even glanced his way, and he wasn’t a bad singer.)
The name is somewhat misleading. Yes, River Rock has a full complement of coffee and espresso drinks, but it also has a cafe menu. While limited in scope, it’s made up of a well-chosen selection of items that changes with the seasons. River Rock sources locally and organically as much as it can, buying fresh items from several local farmers and tinkering with the menu according to what is available.
During a recent visit, we tried the salad sampler ($7.75), a plate with all three of the day’s salads. It would be difficult to pick a favorite. The mixed greens were raised above the usual by being sourced from one of River Rock’s local producers — as were the peppery radishes — and topped with toasted breadcrumbs instead of croutons. The breadcrumbs provided a gentle crunch that worked well with the delicate greens. There was an udon noodle salad with kale and a sesame-soy dressing — flavorful but not spicy. The server said that a week earlier this salad had asparagus instead of kale, and we can only imagine how good that would have been. Finally, a grain salad containing brown rice, more of the peppery radishes, carrots, and a generous serving of fresh dill was tossed in a tahini dressing — a perfect blend of flavors. It was easy to see how these salads could change with the harvest.
The sampler came with slices of sourdough bread baked on site, with a hard crust, a chewy interior, and a tangy sourdough taste. The cafe offers loaves ($5) for sale on baking days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday), but they go quickly; a Thursday morning visit found the Wednesday loaves gone. River Rock provides other house-baked items, including its signature hermit cookie ($2), made of rolled oats, chocolate chunks, and whole wheat flour — a sturdy, yet chewy cookie that is not overly sweet and is made for a substantial afternoon snack. Other pastries are baked in rotation. A caramel crunch bar ($2.25) that appeared one day just about put this reviewer into rhapsodies. The caramel was thick, dark brown, and almost chocolaty in texture.
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 email@example.com.
Kebab Dinner at Al Amir Bakery
We have tasted many dozens of dishes on our encyclopedic trip from 694 to Broadway Street via Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, but few if any have touched us as deeply as the kebab at Al Amir Bakery. Skewered by swords and cooked over high yellow flames, the meat and tomatoes that make up the core of this dish are rich in flavor and thoroughly charred with soul. Everything about this simple Iraqi dish is beautiful.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | From an Instagram Post by James Norton]
The Nashville Slammer created by Jackson O’Brien of Peace Coffee
Jackson O’Brien, head barista at Peace Coffee’s Wonderland location, created this refreshing, tasty drink during our Summer Cold Press Lab. Combining cold press concentrate, sparking water, simple syrup, basil, and lime, the Slammer is a coffee lovers’ answer to iced tea and the perfect drink for summer barbecues. Read our story on the Cold Press lab for the recipe.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Joshua Page, from our Cold Press Coffee Lab]
Fish Provençal at Le Town Talk
The Fish Provençal at Le Town Talk was amazing. Fresh fish, smoky tomatoes, perfectly tender confit potatoes, olives … stewed to perfection, all topped with a bit of crème fraîche. Oh là là! C’était très bon.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]
Taiwanese Style Stir Fried Rice Noodles from Evergreen Chinese
This noodle dish is good enough to make you forget you’re eating in an fluorescent lit basement. Without too much umami or the essence of trying too hard, these noodles are addictive and authentic.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham]
Tuna Crudo at Piccolo
Ultra fresh fish topped with mojama (cured tuna loin), summer truffle, slightly cured quail eggs, and herbs, the balanced and beautiful dish pops with flavor, flavor, and more flavor. Chef Flicker’s creation gets my vote for dish of the summer (though there’s still time for competitors to vie for top spot).
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Joshua Page]