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.
“Lebanese Night” at Basha Mediterranean Wood Grill
We never got the actual name of our dessert, but the owner of Basha Mediterranean Grill told us that it translates to “Lebanese Night.” It’s a sort of Middle Eastern trifle, sweet bread soaked in cream and herbally-infused syrup, sprinkled with pistachios. The texture was divinely creamy, the flavor surprisingly light and fresh, kissed with rosewater. Something about the sweetness and syrup gave the dish a pecan pie-like sense of indulgence — it’s one of the most intriguing and delicious things we’ve eaten this year.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton in advance of our Central Avenue Checklist]
Sour Cream with Fresh Walnut Preserves Ice Cream from Froz Broz
Sorry to be a tease, but this particular Hot Five (Cold Five?) item you can’t have. Sour Cream with Fresh Walnut Preserves is the latest pint churned out by the FrozBroz ice cream savants for their weekly Facebook giveaway (lucky me). Most Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons you can stop by City Food Studio in South Minneapolis to see what’s in the freezer. (Ritz Cracker? Chicory Belgian waffle?) For now, however, you’ll have to wait until April 11. The Broz are taking a few weeks off for one partner’s paternity leave.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Contributed by Tricia Cornell]
Pho from Kings Wine Bar
The newly offered pho at Kings Wine Bar is light and sweet, deeply infused with star anise, and more homemade in character than the pho at many of the well-known shops up Nicollet Avenue. The nearly fat-free broth was poured over a tangle of rice noodles and arrived already garnished with basil, bean sprouts, and peppers. The brisket was sliced impossibly thin and served still cooking in the steaming broth.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Reviewed by Ted Held]
Guacamole from La Fresca
This dish has a bottom layer of roasted tomatillo plus a meaty texture and more substance than just about any dip out there. Blue corn chips are served with it, and they stand up well to the chunky avocado. It is perfectly seasoned and pairs well with a house sangria.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham]
Oyster Mushroom, Smoked Mozzarella, Rosemary, and Garlic Pizza from Black Sheep Pizza Eat Street
The chewy mushrooms on this Black Sheep pizza — the kitchen’s very generous with them — and tons of garlic gave me all the good food feels.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]
This story is sponsored by the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. It’s the second of a five-part series that will run on Heavy Table telling the story of Ely, its economy, and a special wilderness meal created by Chef J.D. Fratzke of The Strip Club Meat and Fish. Fratzke’s chef’s notebook from that meal runs this coming Monday.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area is inextricably linked with the identity of Minnesota. That such a pristine and wild place exists a few hours from the metropolis of Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of the state’s unique calling cards, and anyone who has canoed across a placid lake and heard the calls of loons bounding across the water knows that the place is indescribably precious.
The potential advent of sulfide-ore copper mining — with its invariably destructive impact on nearby watersheds — threatens not just the Boundary Waters wilderness, but also the thriving and sustainable economy of tourism and telecommuting that sets towns like Ely apart from small towns that have been hollowed out by the boom-and-bust economic roller coaster of mineral extraction.
Residents of Northeastern Minnesota have banded together to protect the wilderness that makes their part of the world unique, by establishing Sustainable Ely. Part education center, part base for adventure activism, and part advocacy organization, Sustainable Ely operates out of a former residence on East Sheridan Street in the heart of downtown Ely. Staffed by interns and organizers like Olivia Ridge (above), the organization supports efforts such as a canoe trip from Ely to Washington, D.C. (undertaken by the team of Dave and Amy Freeman) and the signing of a petition to protect the Boundary Waters, dramatized by a signable petition canoe located in the group’s headquarters.
“Our mission is local outreach,” says Ridge. “We’re focused on the community of Ely and we’re the face of this issue in our town. We’ve also started a national movement, a campaign to save the Boundary Waters. We’re a coalition of more than 18 national and state-level organizations that have joined our cause and have agreed to work for the goal of no sulfide ore mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.”
Jane Koschak and her husband Steve own River Point Resort and Outfitting Company. River Point is located on a mile-long wilderness peninsula bordered by the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake, and it’s at the doorstep of the protected Boundary Waters. It’s also immediately proximate to a prospective mine site. The site’s owners began exploratory drilling in 2006, shattering the wilderness calm with a high-pitched grinding sound, which spurred Koschak and fellow community members into taking action.
How did the sound of drilling near River Point Resort spur the community effort that is Sustainable Ely?
JANE KOSCHAK: From 2006 on, mostly during the winter in the early years, these drill rigs would run 24/7, day after day after day. And this high-pitched grinding sound, this squealing sound of the drill rigs … you can just imagine the impact on our lives.
When it comes to restaurant reviews, the phrase “star rating” is loaded, complicated, and confusing for a variety of reasons. Everyone’s star system is different; every reviewer brings different standards and biases to the table; and a star rating is always, to some extent, the subjective masquerading as the objective.
The Heavy Table’s star system is unusual – a “one star” review for us isn’t a slam (it’s a mixed review, and the stars get better from there on up), and we assess restaurants contextually. This allows for the existence of four-star taquerias or pizza joints.
Our high-star ratings aren’t dependent on a French brigade-style kitchen, pricey imported ingredients, or luxurious interior design. They’re dependent upon being superb at what you say you’re going to do. They’re dependent upon good value and good hospitality. They’re (little “d”) democratic that way.
All of this is to explain why, after three visits, we think the hot dogs-and-sausages joint Prairie Dogs deserves a three-and-a-half star rating. Our expectations were that we’d be served hot dogs and sausages. The place instead delivered absolutely fantastic hot dogs and sausages — and terrific fried bread and butter pickles, and a killer milkshake, and more.
The restaurant is a collaboration between industry veteran Tobie Nidetz and sausage artisan Craig Johnson, and the partnership brings experience, passion, and a laser-like focus on details to the restaurant. Although the dining room is a bit antiseptic, the wall decor (including a sprawling chalk menu) is lively and enjoyable, the hospitality is warm, and the concept is crystal clear: It’s all about the dogs and sausages, with a great deal of creativity, many artisan purveyors, and very few distractions.
Ultimately, of course, the proof is in the meat. Let’s start at the core of the menu: the Prairie Dog ($4.50), a Chicago-style hot dog. For those of us who care, Chicago dogs are an obsession. Done right, they’re a perfect symphony — soft poppy seed bun, snappy wiener, crunchy pickles and hot sport peppers, just the right amount of celery salt, the kick of mustard, the brightness of tomato and onion. Done wrong, they’re a mess — soggy, or overly salty, or wilted and sorry-tasting, or all three. Prairie Dogs makes a Chicago dog as good as, or even better than, the best we’ve had around here (that would be the Wienery or the also excellent Uncle Franky’s).
J.D. Fratzke of The Strip Club Meat and Fish (above) makes his PiPress debut with a column focused on food awards (also: read about our recent gastronomic trip to the Boundary Waters with him). And in other Fratzke-related news, Saint Dinette is hosting a final pop up (before opening) at Corner Table. The always noteworthy Sarah Master is leaving Barbette to start up her own Iron Range- and New Orleans-inspired restaurant and J.P. Samuelson is out after a brief stint at Red Stag. Brasserie Zentral is now offering brunch (here’s our review of dinner.) A look at the cheese (Lone Grazer) and meat (Red Table) of the Food Building. And the long awaited Corner Table spin-off restaurant Revival opens this Friday for lunch (here’s the menu in PDF format.)
If you spent a day being a tourist in your own city, where would you go? From history to art, theater to outdoor spaces — some serious criteria would be required to narrow down the immense pool of options. And while landmarks abound, perhaps more difficult would be choosing where to eat and drink.
For many out-of-towners, Hell’s Kitchen makes the list. From legendary house-made peanut butter to holographic bathroom art, the subterranean lair boasts captivating appeal without becoming tacky.
While their flagship burger, the Juicy Lucifer, may be underwhelming, even locals know that world-class breakfast and a steal of a happy hour are right in their own backyard. As of January, there is another draw: the Minnesota Room, which is a locally dreamed and fabricated space wherein all 804 Minnesota cities are represented.
The space avoids the nauseating pitfalls of kitschy decor and instead opts for genuine local pride, elevated to a level that is inviting rather than distracting: a fireplace inlaid with stones submitted from all over the state, a bison head veneered in chrome. While the Minnesota room can be rented for private events, it is still congruent with the restaurant as a whole, and is used for ordinary seating throughout the week.