This week in the Toast: HeadFlyer Brewing and BlackStack Brewing open their doors, and J. Carver releases a Minnesota-made cognac-style brandy.
Editor’s note: Due to circumstances beyond our control, our original photos for this story were delayed. We hope to post them by the afternoon of Wednesday, April 26.
HeadFlyer Brewing now open
The new-brewery cookie cutter doesn’t fit HeadFlyer Brewing, which celebrated its grand opening on April 22. The space is not warehouselike, and the building in the Beltrami neighborhood is easy to find. The taproom makes the brew house look like an afterthought, not the other way around. And Neil Miller, the owner and head brewer, is one of the most approachable folks in the industry.
Miller, with a home-brewing background and training at the Vermont Brewers Association, appears to be the friendliest bartender of the bunch, when in reality he is the driving force behind the place.
HeadFlyer gets is name quite unceremoniously from a time when Miller and his wife, Amy, drove by Headflyer Lake in northern Minnesota and simply liked the name and the image it evoked. Together with two additional partners, Austin Lee and Nate Larson, the Millers searched for a space, settling on the Northeast Minneapolis because of the building they found there, rather than the concentration of brewers in the neighborhood.
The Miller (no relation) Textile Building sets HeadFlyer geographically east of most other Minneapolis breweries. The taproom’s design by Christian Dean Architecture is minimalist and clean, and the contrast of textures and cozy scale don’t scream “brewery!” Honey-toned wooden benches and tables were custom made from the building’s old flooring. The wallpaper and a splash of neon made me briefly crave frozen yogurt.
Despite its charm, the space has presented challenges in outfitting its 15bbl brew house. Low (read normal) ceilings limit batch size. On the other hand, smaller batches lead to faster turnover and more variety. To save space, beer is served directly out of large vessels called bright tanks as well as from kegs.
Miller is currently leading with tried-and-true recipes that have been developed over years of home brewing, and he has no declared specialty as of now. His beers were successful overall, with a misstep here and there.
The golden ale, None the Wiser ($5 a pint), will appease a wide audience. It’s grain-forward with upfront sweetness that is cereal-like. The finish is surprisingly dry and hoppy. Lager drinkers or those with less of a taste for craft beer may opt for this ale as it is lagerlike in its levity. As the beer warms, though, the sweetness becomes off-putting.
More successful is the Vanilla Bean Porter ($5 a pint). Vanilla in dark beers is often either overpowered or overpowering. This version has significant vanilla in the aftertaste but little on first sip. It tastes natural and complements the initial coffee and chocolate flavor contributed by the roasted malts. The body is noticeably thin, but a coffee character builds along with a hint of a cherrylike ester.
Though a troublesome buttery aroma gave a poor first impression, the Freckled Amber ($5 a pint) grew on us. This is a safe beer, full of caramel flavors, with contrasting moderate carbonation that is universally appealing. This amber doesn’t really declare itself any further as a malty classic, like an Irish Red, but also doesn’t fall into the “hoppy red” territory of Steel Toe Rainmaker or Able House Red. It would be a complement to many different foods and seasons.
Finally, It Was All a Dream ($5 for 10 ounces) is one of three IPAs on the eight-beer menu. The terms “juicy IPA,” as seen in this case, and “East-Coast-style IPA” are the beer buzzwords of the year and have become familiar to many drinkers. These are hazy or cloudy beers with strong hop flavors and relatively low bitterness. It Was All A Dream is delightful with potent apricot and grapefruit aroma plus a distant note of tree sap. It’s viscous and moderately bitter.
The pints are bargain-priced in some cases, while the small pours don’t line up — any 5-ounce pour is $3, which is nearly double the cost per ounce of many other short pours in the neighborhood.
Miller emphasizes the importance of HeadFlyer as a community gathering space. He is looking forward to having neighbors enjoy his beer straight from the source, and as such does not plan to expand into distribution within the year. Food trucks and music are soon to come, as is a more robust beer menu.
J. Carver releases Minnesota’s first brandy
With the help of neighboring wine experts and a blending team that includes a sommelier, Waconia’s J. Carver Distillery has released the first brandy made in Minnesota.
Brandy, which is distilled, fermented fruit juice, is gaining renewed steam with a younger crowd on the coasts and is shaking off its passe, bourgeois image. Most often made from grapes, brandy that comes to the United States is enjoyed most frequently by far in two states: Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Minnesota distilleries, however, usually focus on local products for distillation, which leaves drinkers with abundant local choices of wheat, corn, rye, and even beet-based liquors. Grapes, of course, are harder to come by. Local wineries grow what are known as cold-climate grapes, plants which thrive despite cooler winters, but the wineries import much of their raw product from wine-heavy regions, and they create a blend of the two.
In the Island View Brandy ($50 for 750 milliliters), cold-climate grapes from Minnesota and New York are featured exclusively and bring an important balance of sweetness and acid to the still, a balance not found in traditional wine grapes.
The team at J. Carver began their brandy process the moment the copper stills were up and running because brandy must age for at least two years. The small first batch was started in 2014 with the help of Ben Banks, the winemaker at Sovereign Estates in Waconia.
“The thing people don’t realize is that most brandy [worldwide] is made from leftover grapes. The stuff that’s not perfect enough to be used for wine,” Banks says, pausing a bit. “Well, we use the best grapes. We make very good wine.” This leads to the term Cognac-style brandy, meaning higher quality.
Two factors produced an excellent product, according to Banks. First, there were low volatile acids in the wine, due to the quality of the grapes. Second, it was a slow fermentation. “I don’t know why, but it went very slowly, which is always better,” he says.
The result is a complex and pleasant warming spirit with little alcoholic heat. The aroma contains fresh wood shavings, cocoa, and fig. At first sip, dominant flavors include toasted cedar, nutmeg, and cocoa butter, which are strongly incorporated with one another and smooth. Vanilla comes through on the finish.
Island View works well with both bitter and sweet citrus, which act in contrast to the dessertlike flavors. Its personality blooms beautifully with a splash of water or ice.
The name Island View is a reference to Coney Island on Lake Waconia, which is soon to undergo a major redevelopment. Bottles are now available on liquor store shelves.
BlackStack Brewing in St. Paul
The publicity that BlackStack Brewing has gotten so far has been from patrons of the adjacent Can Can Wonderland, who while waiting for their mini golf tee times at the taproom, take to Twitter to pass the hours. Located near the Midway area of St. Paul, the brewery flew well under the radar during years of planning, which according to owner Scott Johnson was entirely intentional.
“I just hate it when breweries say ‘opening soon’,” he laughs. “When is soon?”
Johnson and Bob DuVernois (BlackStack’s head brewer and a veteran of the local scene) were busy. They crafted 96 pilot batches before the building opened, while waiting for the city ordinances and permitting to shake out in their favor.
Since last month’s opening, traffic has been steady. Without declaring a specialty style or region of beers, BlackStack exceeds the bar previously set for classic styles at a brand new taproom. Expertise from DuVernois, formerly of Great Waters Brewpub and Excelsior Brewing Company, shows through and through.
One of the most pleasant and crowd-pleasing beers of our visit was the Ratify! Belgian-style wit ($6 a pint). Strong, yeast-derived flavors and the added flavors of coriander and pepper set this wheat beer apart from other easy-drinking ales. At the same time, the beer maintains its bright and easygoing personality with a tart lemon aroma and aftertaste that acts as a palate cleanser, leaving each sip to beg for another.
The black lager offers guests a decision: To coffee, or not to coffee. Spare Parts is the lager alone, while Spare Grounds has coffee added ($5 for 12 ounces). On its own, the dark lager displays excellent body, a frequent downfall of richer beers at new breweries, while the buoyancy from carbonation keeps it seasonally appropriate. In the caffeinated version, coffee taste is sustained throughout, which works in tandem with roasted and caramel malts. Together, these elements create a bitter-cocoa profile which will satisfy dark beer lovers.
Born out of experimentation with Loughran Family Malt of Ireland, the black lager was originally made after the maltster approached BlackStack with the request that they use this dark grain. The name Spare Parts comes essentially from using what was available to brew something on the spot, which at that time was Johnson’s garage.
Locally roasted True Stone Coffee is added in the form of cool brew, a method of steeping coarsely ground coffee in cool water for 22 hours. The advantage to cool brew over cold press, according to True Stone’s Tim Ficker, is “a much less acidic result.”
“We love working with the folks at True Stone,” explains Johnson. “They are just as serious about their coffee as we are about our beer.”
On the bitter side, the Local 757 New-England-style IPA ($8 a pint) showcases the trend of the hazy IPA and was added to the taproom’s opening lineup at the insistence of Johnson’s son and assistant brewer, Murphy Johnson. Made with a different variety of hops for each batch, this version features Australian Vic Secret hops, and nearly all are added very late in the brewing process. This means that the brewer can take advantage of the volatile hops oils for flavor and aroma while minimizing bitterness. The charm of this style is in its balance, with neither hops nor malt dominating.
Perhaps the most intriguing beer on the list is the Ends Meet, dubbed an “Antwerp-inspired Belgian-style ale” — abbreviated on the menu as “dark saison.” Neither description really does justice to the hazy, amber colored beer, which coats the palate with warm spices and dark fruit but leaves delicately. The flavors are similar to those of a Belgian dubbel, but in a restrained fashion. Johnson was inspired by his past travels to Antwerp, Belgium when he was the owner of All Saints Brands Inc., an import company that he operated about 15 years ago. There he fell in love with De Koninck, another ale that defies description in part due to the House Yeast strain’s character.
Yeast is of extreme importance to BlackStack. Johnson and DuVernois have prioritized variety of yeast, using a different strain for each of their current beers despite the high cost. The Ends Meet, futhermore, features a specialty strain, used only in this brew, that is bred, maintained, and shipped by their supplier.
“The challenge for brewers is what you want to brew versus what you want to aim for,” Johnson says. “You have to please the critic, but the general public, too.” This speaks to his dichotomous view of the future, and of his patrons. A taproom ensures an income, he noted. But distribution is in the distant future, first to a small handful of bars that he describes as loyal friends, and then potentially to liquor stores.
The clear drawback of a visit is the taproom space — it’s sparse to an industrial degree with very little warmth or character. Fortunately, friendly staff make up for what could otherwise feel almost sterile.
Most families have a “food unit” — a simple, reasonably healthy, omnipresent way to plug the food hole during moments when something more thoughtful and / or good-for-us and / or festive can’t be organized. It could be pasta with sauce, or rice with chicken, or noodles and broth, or any number of things from just about anywhere. For me, it has been bagels since my days in elementary school in Madison, Wis. (Editor’s note: This review is unusually autobiographical because the author’s prejudices and experiences are too deeply set to exorcise.)
Madison has a bagel shop called Bagels Forever, which has been making dense, pleasingly chewy, incredibly economical bagels since 1973. I grew up on them, eating them at home on weekends, in school lunches, at off-campus high school lunches (the retail bakery was a few blocks from Madison West), and later at UW Madison, where they were a college-fridge mainstay. After college, in Boston, the choice was between garbage “circular bread” bagels and bagels so passionate to be authentic that their exteriors were nearly bulletproof. For brunches, I baked my own. This meant an overnight rise, the use of malt syrup, and a boil-then-bake method, but the effort was worthwhile.
After moving to New York City, I ran a gamut of well-known places (Ess-a-Bagel, H&H, Tal, etc.) looking for the best, and eventually settled on a Brooklyn shop called Terrace Bagels. In the process, I also discovered the obvious: Even a typical NYC street bagel with a schmear of cream cheese or butter has a lot going for it, namely an exterior with some chew and character, and an interior that is dense and flavorful.
All of this is a run-up to explain that I don’t take bagels lightly and probably qualify as obsessed. And over the years, I’ve gotten fairly well schooled on the local, chain-dominated bagel environment, from the acceptable averageness of Bruegger’s to the fluffy horribleness of Einstein’s to the inconsistent, expensive, and occasionally excellent bagels of Common Roots. Rise Bagels — available intermittently at various markets and pop-ups, at least until their shop opens in the North Loop — are cracking good, and may be the new standard once they are available daily. In the interim (for the past four or five years) I’ve been mail-ordering bagels, four dozen at a time, from Bagels Forever.
St. Paul Bagelry bagels have a local following, but when I first tried them six or seven years ago, I was sent into a brief but serious funk. The shop was dank and depressing, the bagels bready and disappointing. But with the opening of the Bagelry’s second location, a shop at 54th and Nicollet in Minneapolis, it was clearly time to revisit and refresh.
The verdict: Firstly, the Minneapolis shop is quite charming. It’s light, it’s airy, it’s spacious, and a combination of booths and tables offers a lot of opportunities to meet friends or linger over a lox bagel and some coffee. More importantly, the bagels are pretty good. They’ve got a terrific exterior — chewy with a hint of crispness. The interior is disappointing for a classic bagel, as it’s too light, too insubstantial, and too close to white bread to work well for classic applications like a simple cream cheese spread. If you heat it and schmear it and then squeeze it, the soft interior has a tendency to collapse and leak warm cheese onto your fingers.
But the lighter weight and fluffier density actually plays well with more sandwichlike entrees and lets the toppings shine while the bagel hangs back, providing little more than a basic structure and a pleasingly chewy exterior.
Bagel varieties range from the canonical (poppy seed, plain, salt) to the heretical (sun-dried tomato, blueberry, jalapeño cheese), and there is a raft of flavored cream cheese options, all of which seem superfluous to a stubborn, unreconstructed bagel minimalist like me. But that said, if you’re going to offer a variety of creative sandwiches (some breakfast-focused, some lunch-oriented), there’s nothing wrong with having a lot of options at your disposal as you seek to please all palates.
Prices are reasonable — $10.49 for a baker’s dozen, $2.45 for a single bagel with cream cheese, and sandwiches from $4-$7.50. We tried a Lox (with capers, red onions, smoked salmon, and tomato for $7.50) and dug it. It tasted fresh and in balance, and while the fish wasn’t world-altering, it got the job done.
Bagels Forever will ship 48 bagels for about $36 (including shipping and handling), so my source isn’t changing, but I’ll bring my family to St. Paul Bagelry for breakfast and lunch when the opportunity presents itself. It’s a legit bagel shop with a legit product, and damned if it isn’t a cozy place to nosh.
St. Paul Bagelry, 5426 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55419; 612-353-4203
It’s a noble idea: Build a quick-service eatery that’s a lot healthier than the average fast food place. The North Loop’s Crisp & Green (another branch is in Wayzata) opened its doors a couple of months ago with the idea that people want plenty of fresh vegetables in the form of salads.
If you’re thinking of salad as the sad, throwaway dish some eateries add to the menu out of a feeling of obligation, the good news is that you’ll find that Crisp & Green has put care and thought into developing its salad-based menu (along with a couple of seasonal soups). Salads fall into two categories: signature, which are greens-based, and grain bowls.
On a recent visit, we tried the No Prob Cobb ($12.75) from the Signature menu. It was a hearty mixture of spinach, kale, chicken, avocado, tomato, bacon, queso fresco, and jalapeño, tossed in a jalapeño green goddess dressing. The vegetables were all fresh, with nary a wilting, slimy spinach piece in sight. The roast chicken was tender and juicy. The dressing tasted strongly of fresh tarragon — not a bad thing — and there was a surprisingly generous amount of avocado. The only major qualm we had was that there was a high number of raw jalapeño pieces and a low number of crispy bacon (real bacon) pieces; that’s an equation we’d like to see reversed.
The Minnesoba Bowl ($10.50) was a congenial take on an Asian salad. A bed of soba noodles was topped with spinach, pickled shiitake mushrooms, Persian cucumber, carrots, and bean sprouts, sprinkled with wasabi furikake, and tossed with a yuzo-miso-sesame dressing. The softness of the noodles (cooked past al dente) paired well with the crisp veggies, giving a nice balance of textures, and the cool salad benefited from the prickles of heat from the furikake and the tangy dressing.
When ordering a salad, you’ll be asked if you want the “regular amount” of dressing; we said yes, and found the salads to be overdressed. If you like extra dressing, you’ll be fine; otherwise, ask for a lighter dressing portion, or for dressing on the side.
We had mixed results with Crisp & Green’s beverages. The Purple Rain smoothie ($6.75), with blueberries, strawberries, banana, apple, and unflavored pea protein, was not overly sweet, as its description might imply. But one in our group thought the smoothie was — well — smooth, while another found an unpleasant grittiness with each sip. The cucumber-lime Agua Fresca ($2.75) tasted aggressively of cucumber, with the lime disappearing or leaving a slight aftertaste that was somewhat vinegary in nature, and not in a good way.
Still, the salads were of good quality (overdressing aside), hearty in size, and prepared in front of the customer by friendly, knowledgeable staff. The big question is whether or not spending $10-$12 for a custom-made salad (or you can concoct your own, starting at $7.25) is something people will want to do, especially when winter returns and people look for warmer foods. There’s also the question of whether people want to pay those prices when they can go to pretty much any grocery store, from Cub Foods to the co-ops, and build a salad themselves, for less money. No, the self-built salad won’t be as good and you won’t have access to as many unique ingredients (you don’t often see furikake at a grocery-store salad bar), but there are trade-offs. Regardless, it’s nice to see another stab at quick and healthy in the food market.
Crisp & Green
Salad and soup in the North Loop and Wayzata
428 Washington Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Daily 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $7-$13
NOISE LEVEL: High
PARKING: Some free parking spots; street meters
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.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Pork Gyro from The Naughty Greek
Our list of top three gyro places has long contained Gyropolis, Filfillah, and The Best Steak House (University) in that order, but with the ascent of The Naughty Greek in St. Paul and a recent lackluster visit to Filfillah, we’ve re-ordered it: It’s now Gyropolis, The Naughty Greek, and The Best Steakhouse. What makes the Naughty Greek gyro so good? Perfectly charred, flavorful, and not-too-fatty shreds of meat, a surprising but delightful sprinkling of herbed shoestring French fries inside the gyro itself, and a really good wrapper. The supple, flavorful, delicious pita isn’t made in house. but it is actually as impressive as if it were — we asked about it, and the owner freely confessed that it was “resurrected” through an application of herbs, oil, and heat.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Purple Rain Smoothie at Crisp & Green
Crisp & Green’s Purple Rain Smoothie (in honor of Prince, may he RIP) contains banana, blueberries, strawberries, apple, and unflavored pea protein. This flavorful and filling smoothie is a good fit for a breakfast on the go or even a quick lunch (it clocks in at 310 calories). The texture is smooth (not gritty like some fresh-fruit smoothies), and the flavor an ideal balance of sweet and tart. Bonus: If you’re focused on consuming maximum polyphenols, this is your beverage!
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]
Pot de Creme at Bar Brigade
Pot de Creme so easily goes wrong — too sugary, too bland, too rubbery and puddinglike. The stuff at Bar Brigade is first rate: exceedingly creamy, sweet without being excessively sugary, and touched with the firm hand of legitimate cocoa flavor that makes a dessert ravishingly interesting. As dessert concepts go, this is a simple one, but it’s a classic for a reason.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Meatball Sandwich at Geno’s
It’s not a sexy sandwich, but the meatball roll or hoagie at Geno’s is made with the right components — a bright marinara, light but rich meatballs, enough melted cheese to cover but not smother, and a properly toasted bun. It’s inhalable magic. At $10 on a roll or $12 on a hoagie, it’s a little pricey on the face of it, but the flavor justifies the outlay.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by James Norton]
Chocolate Macaron at Patrick’s Bakery
I’ve never been a huge fan of macarons. Most of the time they are far too sweet. It’s the magical colors that draw me in … but they rarely taste as magical as they look. The macarons at Patrick’s Bakery feature not just wonderful colors but gargantuan size — easily double the size of a typical macaron. The chocolate variety was not overly sweet and was dusted with cocoa powder, which neutralized a bit more of the sugar. The texture and taste were perfect. Each bite was chewy yet crispy and creamy.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]
It’s possible we’re at Peak Weird Beer right now, and we may never again return to this era. Every week, it seems, a Minnesota brewery puts out some mind-bending concoction that flirts with the edge of plausibility and known flavor profiles. Look at these recent reviews on our site: Fulton’s remarkable Culture Project Two, a coffee lager from Modist, and barrel-aged Cherry Dust from Indeed.
In that spirit, here is another bottle for your consideration (and, hopefully, your physical intake): Bent Paddle’s Valve Jockey Series Imperial Kvass, a 6.5 percent ABV, 10 IBU take on what is sometimes a less than 1 percent ABV, northern-European fermented beverage often made from rye bread. The beer’s humble, folksy roots remind us of Sima, a lovely and refreshing fermented beverage from Finland that we sometimes make along with Finnish crullers.
Bent Paddle’s kvass-inspired beer (we paid $10 for 750 milliliters at Elevated Beer Wine and Spirits) is a light-but-malty ale with spearmint, raisin, and lemon-peel flavors. The nose is bready and sweet, evoking Boston brown bread, and the body boasts rye spices, low acidity, and a retiring-to-the-point-of-bashful hint of spearmint. The finish is moist and clean, and the overall effect is a beer that’s both malty and refreshing, not your typical one-two punch. This is a beer that could complement anything with a honey or maple component, and there’s a gentle earthiness that would make it a good fit with ramen and / or mushroom-forward dishes. Is it a bit weird? No doubt. But it’s lovable, and it’s different. It’s a sign that anything goes in this glorious era of brew.