Breakfast at La Ceiba Bistro

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

As the warm sun begins to shine on South Minneapolis once again, so begins the mass migration to lazy breakfasts at Victor’s 1959 Cafe. We love it there, but can’t stand being taunted by the smell of black beans and plantains when we’re at the back of a 20-strong line. We found a new remedy for that situation: head east over the highway into Powderhorn, and get the same desayuno Cubano at La Ceiba Bistro.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Opened early this month, La Ceiba is the fourth concurrent eatery for Hector Ruiz of Cafe Ena, Rincon 38, and La Fresca. While we’ve noticed those three restaurants striving for smaller niches within Latin cuisine, everything about La Ceiba is back to basics. In many ways La Ceiba is the reincarnation of El Meson, the longtime Lyndale Avenue favorite that Ruiz helmed for over a decade before the building’s shoddy condition forced its closure in 2012. Many of the same entrees (the rice plates, paella, mofongo, corvine over coconut risotto) have made the move, as have El Meson’s “Best of” awards, which now line the entrance of the new spot.

La Ceiba’s address is listed as being on Bloomington Avenue, but it’s actually tucked away from the corner on 35th Street (look for the striped awning).  Inside, the walls are bright accents spanning the spectrum from orange to lime to lilac, with paintings of Cuban flags, toucans, and watermelons. It’s a Caribbean joint — you get the picture. They serve sandwiches and soup during lunch before offering El Meson favorites at dinner, but we expect La Ceiba will become our go-to breakfast in Powderhorn (along with Tiny Diner).



Central Avenue Checklist: El Tequila to The Heights Theater

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Sometimes you get exactly what you expect. Other times, not so much. We got a little of each this time around. Starting in this case with calling an unexpected audible.

We had originally intended to give Pizza Man a try but discovered they don’t offer inside dining. As tempted as we were to try a slice while sitting on the curb in front of Napa Auto Parts (really), the only slices available were a couple of hours old. So Pizza Man didn’t work out.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “We tried … but the pizza man couldn’t make it happen.”

But if there’s a philosophy that has held true in our lives, it’s that nature seeks balance. So while we lost Pizza Man, we found ourselves drawn to a place we had no intention of visiting.

As our companion for this round, Alex Lodner from Eater Minneapolis, found out, that’s the way the #CentralAvenueChecklist goes. What Central taketh away, Central giveth in unexpected ways.

This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, James Norton, Becca Dilley, and Alex Lodner.

Read the previous installments of the Central Avenue Checklist here: Paradise Biryani Pointe to Flameburger, Dong Yang to Big Marina, and New York Gyro to Jimmy’s Pro Billiards.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

El Tequila Mexican Grill & Bar
4005 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 3 miles from Broadway Street

The sign above the door says Mexican Grill & Bar, but a small white marquee near the corner of the building begs to differ. In black block letters it proclaims the place is an “Ecuadorian & Mexican Restaurant.” This sign has its priorities straight. The Ecuadorean food easily won out here.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Inside, it’s straight out of a Latin-restaurant design book. Two rows of booths are topped with wood awnings to provide the illusion of an outdoor plaza.

The bar fills the center of the restaurant. And it’s built for a party. Drink machines bubble with brightly colored liquid. Blenders stand at the ready. Bar stools on both sides await patrons. Much of the light is supplied by entertainment devices like a pull tab machine, an an Internet juke box, a crane game, and the flat-screen TVs you find at every bar.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Mmm … FREE chips and salsa.”

The far end of the restaurant is a black abyss. It was not until we walked there and our eyes adjusted that we realized the area held a stage for live bands and a dance floor complete with a spinning mirror ball. This rang a bell.

We asked our server if this used to be the Starbar? He nodded. He told us it’s been several other things, too. He counted them off, struggling at points to get the timeline straight. How did he know so much about the history? Because he’s been here through most of it. Seven owners, in fact.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Maybe this one will stick. Our server has a good feeling about it. If not, we’re pretty sure he’ll be around for the next one. “I come with the woodwork,” he said. — M.C. Cronin

*Food Notes*

A lot of restaurants have a menu that is generally accessible and a second — call it “hidden” or “insider” — menu aimed at those willing to dine more ambitiously. At El Tequila, the Mexican side of the menu, with its tacos and nachos and fajitas and burritos, is there because it’s expected and widely understood. But the Ecuadorean side is there because that’s where the passion is.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Bandeja Paisa ($17) isn’t a dish as much as it is an experience. This platter comes out groaning with smoky beans, properly cooked rice, a flattened and savory piece of steak, crackling pork, a sweet, caramelized plantain, a rich egg, and chorizo. Enough food to feed two people to the brim or highly amuse a group of four, the Bandeja Paisa is a big, proud, bull of a dish with a multitude of thoughts to share.

Our appetizer of Tostocarnitas ($7) seemed simple enough: big, crispy green plantain chips topped with mounds of slow-roasted pork and sour cream. But the textural and flavor contrasts of the dish were bold and numerous, making these delicious starters irresistible.

Along with our totally pro forma margaritas, our taco combo ($10) reinforced the sense that the Ecuadorean side of the menu is El Tequila’s reason for being. These competent tacos weren’t off-putting or poorly made, but they were bland and forgettable.

When we return (and we will), we’ll do a hundred percent Ecuadorean visit and relish each bite. — James Norton

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Great Moon Buffet
4029 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 3 miles from Broadway Street

Nothing makes you feel more like a gluttonous consumer than paying a toll to enter a restaurant. But if you don’t pay, you don’t get in. That’s just how it works at Great Moon Buffet.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Refilling the troughs.” / “An endless sea of deep fried golden food … and tongs.” / “Mussels in a buffet … what could go wrong?”

But we couldn’t justify paying for six full buffets when we were planning on trying only a smattering of items. So a couple of us paid to play while the others stayed behind at El Tequila.

The place is a shrine to the buffet-style restaurant, complete with an ornate crystal chandelier in the center of the room. The back third of the restaurant is devoted to a massive archipelago of steaming buffet islands. We grabbed our plates and began to troll. In the process, we managed to pull a few decent items from beneath the glass. But there were a few duds.

When we left, after just one plate each, the cashier at the front furrowed her brow in concern. “You’re full?” At the buffet, satisfaction isn’t judged by the quality of the food, but by the quantity you consume. To reinforce this notion, Great Moon offers a takeout option. You pay by the pound. — M.C.

*Food Notes*

A single $12 fee gives you access to the sprawling Chinese-American buffet that is Great Moon, but — like so many places of this ilk — once you’re past the gate you need to choose your food wisely. Letting food sit around is a sure-fire path to mediocrity and disaster, with the possible exceptions of curries, soups, and stews. Therefore, navigating the typical buffet is like picking your way through a gastronomic mine field strewn so thickly with explosives that a hopscotch-like approach is the only route to safety.

We thought Great Moon’s steamed dumplings were quite good — tender, not overly salty, and filled with meat that was savory and almost creamy in texture. A sesame-coated mochi square was similarly appealing, offering a nice chewy texture and a bold sesame kick. And the chicken meatballs we sampled were passably tasty.

After that, well, welcome to the mine field. Orange chicken that was sweeter than Mountain Dew, “sushi” that was a rubbery outrage, desultory fried this and fried that, and maltreated seafood that even culinary commandos are within their rights to dodge. —  J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Royal Orchid
4022 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 3 miles from Broadway Street

So, fruit and vegetable carving is a thing. The owner of Royal Orchid is an active practitioner of the art. There are pictures of his work on a table just inside the entryway … along with an offer of lessons, if you’re interested.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Handmade soap carvings and pad Thai.”

There are also laminated reviews of the restaurant, including a couple from 1988, when they opened on Nicollet Avenue in South Minneapolis, and one from 2006, when they moved to Roseville. Our server told us they even tried a Skyway location in downtown Minneapolis before settling in Columbia Heights.

It’s purple. Purple walls, purple tabletops, purple chair cushions. Flashbacks of singing dinosaurs come to mind. But there’s something charming about it. It feels as though the place has been decorated by the hands of the owners and their family. As if someone said, “Hey, orchids are purple, right?” and they ran with it. In an age in which so many restaurants focus on creating “experiences,” the simplicity and authenticity represented by Royal Orchid’s purple walls is refreshing.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Lost and found … or just left behind?” / “The tom yum was a hit.”

So is the food. From the explosion of flavors in the lettuce wraps to the delicate taste of the mango sticky rice, everything was both refreshing and authentic. It’s enough to make you question whether the Thai you’ve come to think of as authentic actually is.

Over the last 25-odd years, Royal Orchid has had many houses. Hopefully, they’ve found a home here in Columbia Heights. But if not, we expect they won’t disappear. They’ll simply find another location, invest in a few more gallons of purple paint, and keep the delicious Pahd Thai coming. — M.C.

*Food Notes*

At first glance, there was little to indicate that Royal Orchid’s Thai offerings would differ from the standard fare. But when you dig more deeply into the menu, interesting things float to the surface.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

For example, although Mieng Kham ($5) is billed as a lettuce wrap, it’s like no other lettuce wrap we’ve tried. Rather than a stewlike mix of chicken bits and brightly flavored veggies united by a gravylike sauce, Royal Orchid’s wraps are composed from a palette of incredibly bold little flavor boosters — and nothing else. Chunks of ginger, atomic-hot pepper bits, dried shrimp, small pieces of lime (with skin left on to amp up the kick still further), coconut chips, and chopped onions are inserted into a lettuce leaf and then dressed with sweet palm syrup. The result is something like a flavor brawl taking place in your mouth — first bright citrus, then withering heat, then sharp onion, and so forth.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Royal Orchid’s chicken Pahd Thai ($11) is a big, comforting hug. It leads with a sweet, eggy flavor and lacks some of the heat, acid, and textural contrast that can make this dish really sing. But its noodles were properly cooked (not overcooked — no small feat), and the whole dish had a clear, beneficent point of view.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Royal Orchid’s Red Tom Yum ($6) is a departure from the standard local version of the dish, and, as our waiter told it, a step toward what might be considered typical in much of Thailand. The soup was defined by a bright sweet-heat interplay undergirded by warming layers of spices, the assorted flavors bright enough and bold enough to make the typically tame vegetables that swam in our bowl profoundly interesting to eat. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Dragon House
3970 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 3 miles from Broadway Street

Given the nature of our mission to visit every restaurant on Central Avenue, nothing could dissuade us from trying Dragon Palace. Not even the “Now Hiring: Cook, Experienced” sign in the window.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Industrial tea pots for industrial-strength tea.”

Dragon Palace is an authentic American Chinese restaurant (not to be confused with authentic Chinese). The owner made sure we were aware that they were more Nankin Cafe than Little Szechuan. And that was just fine by us.

All the traditional American Chinese flourishes were there: each place setting outfitted with a Chinese Zodiac placemat and silverware (not chopsticks) rolled in napkins, red-tasseled lanterns dangling here and there, an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, and Chop Suey on the menu.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Are chocolate-covered marshmallows considered Chinese comfort food?”

The restaurant is old school in the best sense of the phrase. Their business office is a table in the main dining room. There’s even a pile of cheaters for patrons who left their eyeglasses home and need help viewing the menu. Clearly, they know their clientele. They’ve been serving the neighborhood for 43 years, after all.

For a bit of added interest, we ordered dishes comparable to those we tried at Asia Chow Mien during our first installment. There was no comparison — Dragon Palace was far better. But we acknowledge that attempting to compare American Chinese restaurants is a shaky proposition. Everyone has a favorite, and trying to convince them otherwise is a losing battle. — M.C.

*Food Notes*

Having already experienced disappointing egg foo yung and chicken subgum chow mein on Central Avenue, we steeled ourselves for a repeat performance at Dragon House. And then — blast the trumpets, and part the clouds — we received simple, lovely, classic renditions of both.

Our No. 3 Combination Plate ($8.75) featured a light, bright, salty but savory take on chicken subgum chow mein, crunchy as the dickens from the fried rice noodles and cashews that danced among the ground chicken, mushrooms, peppers, and celery. And while the egg foo yung was drenched in the traditional dark brown jacket of gravy that the stuff habitually wears, the egg patty was disarmingly light and fluffy, almost whipped in texture.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We were tipped off that the batter-coated, fried chicken wings ($5.50) were worth a try, and so they were. They had a light, crisp, crunchy exterior and a simple but juicy interior, and while they lacked much flavor or seasoning, the accompanying sweet and sour sauce and “extra hot” house mustard brought both elements to the dish.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We found the Lo Mein ($10.50) salty but palatable, boosted by noodles that were perfectly cooked and enchantingly tender. Nothing fancy going on here, but absolutely comfort food, as advertised.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

For dessert: The Dragon-House-made chocolate items that piqued our interest on the way in ranged from strange but harmless chocolate-dipped marshmallows to a tasty, chocolate-dipped Rice Krispies and peanut confection that was like nothing we’ve had before. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

The Heights Theater
3951 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 2.9 miles from Broadway Street

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We hadn’t planned on stopping at The Heights Theater, but its impressive, flashing marquee drew us in. Like moths to a flame, we crossed Central to take a look. Maybe they’d have an interesting food offering at the snack bar?

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “When we asked how the popcorn was, her expression said more than words ever could.” / “They don’t sell popcorn at the ticket booth … but maybe they should?”

With a movie in progress, the outside doors were locked. But a young lady working there saw us and cracked the door open. Nothing on the snack bar menu looked out of the ordinary, so we asked about the popcorn. Was it special in some way?

The answer was immediately clear. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and a she let out a low guttural sound. “Oooooooh. Best popcorn ever. We use real butter.” She smiled — baring her braces — and threw the door open for us.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table / “James takes popcorn notes by the old projector.”

The popcorn was delicious, but the real treat was the theater itself, restored to its original 1920s magnificence by a person possessed of a clear vision. Apparently the owner doesn’t just live for this theater, he lives in it. Right upstairs. Near the projector room. Talk about dedication.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Beautiful stenciled wood floors. Art Nouveau glass wall sconces. Copper ceiling. Grand piano. Mammoth antique theater projector. With this much attention to detail in the lobby, we wish we could’ve seen the theater itself. We’ll just look forward to coming back another time. — M.C.

*Food Notes*

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We tried a regular-sized order of Heights Theater popcorn ($4.25), and quite liked the stuff. It was properly salted, had a buttery flavor to it, and wasn’t over-steamed or otherwise botched. Just the thing for munching while watching Vertigo in elegantly rehabbed surroundings. — J.N.



Almendinger to Creamery Cafe, Scena, and More

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: Our columnist looks at an important move for a local chef, gets fired up for the star-powered Scena Tavern, parses the distillery deluge, praises cheese “cakes” … and a morel festival at The Sample Room.

shepherd-song-tap-logo-final-keylineThe Tap is a biweekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm. “We raise 100 percent grass-fed lambs & goats traditionally, humanely, and sustainably.”

shepherd-song-green-keyline

The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at editor@heavytable.com.

Peter Sieve / Heavy Table

Peter Sieve / Heavy Table

Almendinger Departing Third Bird, Scena, the Distillery Deluge, and Cheese Wheel Cakes

Seward Co-op’s new restaurant on Franklin Avenue has picked up some serious culinary firepower. LUCAS ALMENDINGER (above right, with Steven Brown) will be moving from The Third Bird over to the soon-to-open Co-op Creamery Cafe in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. He starts at the Creamery Cafe in a few weeks, and the Cafe should open its doors at the end of July, says the Creamery’s production manager Chad Snelson.

With Seward’s extensive experience sourcing quality local ingredients and its acquisition of a proven chef, there’s no reason why it can’t turn the Cafe into a blockbuster … assuming it can find the neighborhood’s price point for various meals, a target that can often be elusive. The Seward neighborhood has seen a surge of good food (from serious curry at Tracy’s to the newly opened Mon Petit Chéri to the terribly named but surprisingly good Sober Fish), but the Cafe will be doing three meals a day and will have to balance an impulse to push the limits of farm-to-table cuisine with the day-to-day competition for the frugal, hungry, but potentially loyal breakfast diner. It’s an exciting struggle, and a chance to put a finger on the pulse of Seward, Longfellow, and other nearby neighborhoods.

Jamie Malone at Sea Change

Peter Sieve & Justin Blair / Heavy Table

There’s no time to breathe: barely a fortnight has passed since Nighthawks started slinging its high-concept diner fare, and SCENA is already sucking up the oxygen as the Next Big Thing. As well it should — the upcoming restaurant (to be located at 2943 Girard Ave S in Minneapolis) combines the culinary forces of proven creators Jamie Malone (above) and Erik Anderson (below), who will be contributing extensive consulting and training to the new venture, and selecting its executive chef.

The restaurant’s press release name-checks some digging-a-page-deeper European favorites, including carbineros (big prawns that will be prepared live at the Scena Crudo bar), house-extruded canestri (pasta), and steamed clams with ’nduja (one of our favorite types of charcuterie, thanks to the version produced by Madison’s Underground Food Collective.)

Bringing Anderson and Malone into this big-money project in a consulting, asterisk-laden way could be anything between brilliant and classically dumb, depending on how things play out — if the two are merely fine-cuisine window dressing for an indifferently run, pump-out-the-standards Uptown meat market, the blast of pre-opening acclaim will boomerang as expectations are dashed; if the duo are successfully mined for their smarts and experience, the place should be a big, lovely, culinary powerhouse in a part of the city where young people with money want to eat smart, current food.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Heavy Table knows both Malone and Anderson and digs their cooking. If their influence definitively shapes the way Scena buys its product, cooks, and serves, Uptown should have a new powerhouse on its hands. We talked to Malone at some length for a story we wrote about battle wounds in the kitchen. She talked about why chefs do what they do, and said: “I often will think about that and wonder: What personality does it take to do this for a living … ? Maybe it’s pretty well known that cooks tend to be more on the introverted side of things. So maybe it’s a way of expressing care for others in a way that we don’t know how to do otherwise.”

And if you’ve got a free hour, grab a glass of something special, and pore over our 5,000-word debrief with Anderson, who talked to our own Peter Sieve about great skate dishes, the success of Tilia, and the appeal of timeless food.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

A TORRENT OF DISTILLED SPIRITS is washing across the Land of 10,000 Lakes, drowning local spirits aficionados in white whiskeys, gins, aquavits, rums, ryes, and more. Craft spirits offer a wild frontier opportunity that is in increasing contrast to the possibly approaching plateau of breweries and taprooms, the latter of which have sprouted across the state like mushrooms. Distillers on the horizon include Lawless Distilling, Twin Spirits Distillery, and Tattersall Distilling, and there will no doubt be others sauntering up to the starting line in the months to come.

Lawless founder Nate Karnitz, commenting in the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal, sums up the mentality pretty well: “When I was in school I started seeing [new distillers] popping up in Minneapolis, and I thought it would be better to get in at the ground level rather than trying to break into craft beer, which is in its fifth or sixth wave now.”

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Like the taproom boom, the distillery deluge has at least two components —

One is the production of beer or hard spirits and the selling of those spirits through liquor stores, restaurants, and bars. Conventional wisdom says that this is where the real money is, but not everyone can be Summit, or Phillips, or Surly — particularly when all of those big spirits makers are still aggressively engaged in maintaining and expanding their place in the market. At the moment, there’s a big novelty premium for putting out a quality locally distilled vodka or gin, and bartenders are eagerly mixing and showing off the local hooch — but at some point in the near future, the 12th or 14th or 27th painstakingly wrought Minnesota rye won’t elicit even a politely stifled yawn from drinkers and scene-watchers.

The other is the neighborhood real estate aspect of the boom. A brewery or distillery can make a fair-to-mediocre product and profit mightily if their taproom or cocktail room is located correctly and packed to the gills with locals and tourists celebrating the act of drinking locally. You can muddle through as a brewer or distiller but create a sparkling local business with a well-located venue that can catch cash from special events, private parties, weekly specials, limited releases, and all manner of other promotion that keeps the customers coming back for more. The potential for cocktail rooms to enrich Minnesota’s nightlife is real and wonderful, and it will help popularize the view of spirits as great local food, and not (merely) a fine way to fire up a buzz.

Becca Dilley Photography

Becca Dilley Photography

This is really a minor point, but it’s one very near and dear to my heart: brides (and other conspicuous celebrants) are starting to realize the appeal and value of trotting out CHEESE WHEEL CAKES. We live in an era when a top-of-line wedding cake can easily drift into the low four figures, but a massive 20-pound wheel of something lovely (like SarVecchio parmesan from Wisconsin’s Sartori, for example) runs a mere $320 and makes a perfect bottom layer for an Upper Midwestern cheese array that would proudly anchor even a mammoth celebration. Wisconsin leads the way, at the moment: Lindsay Christians has the scoop (or the slice, or the wedge, or whatever) over in the Cap Times.

— James Norton

Becca Dilley Photography / Flak Radio's 100th Episode

Becca Dilley Photography / Flak Radio’s 100th Episode

The Weekend Starts Now at The Bachelor Farmer (Taping of Episodes 1 and 2 from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, May 28)
50 2nd Ave N, Minneapolis

The premiere taping of the Heavy Table / Secrets of the City podcast The Weekend Starts Now takes place this Thursday night in the Afghan Room at the Bachelor Farmer. Hosts James Norton and Taylor Carik will present an irreverent but enthusiastic rundown of arts, culture, food, and drink taking place in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area, while entertaining a variety of guests and keeping their live audience guessing.

Guests will include illustrator-about-town WACSO and writer M.C. Cronin, Chef Paul Berglund, and Eric Dayton, with more names to be announced in dramatic last-minute fashion.

Tickets are free (and available online), but are nearly gone, so act quickly if you’re interested.

If and when tickets run out, don’t despair — 30 (free) tickets are available via Eventbrite for the taping of episodes 3 and 4 at the Chef Shack Ranch at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 8.

Ted Held / Heavy Table

Ted Held / Heavy Table

MN Morel Fest at the Sample Room (Saturday, May 30, 3-10 p.m.)
2124 Marshall St, Minneapolis

A who’s who collection of local chefs (Thomas Boemer of Corner Table; Jim Christiansen of Heyday; Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable; Todd MacDonald of the soon-to-open Parella; and Nick O’Leary of Smack Shack) will be serving up various wild preparations of morel mushrooms for the gratification of the masses at the end of this month. Live music, all-star bartenders, and chef-MC Sameh Wadi all threaten to make the event a great deal of fun. Tickets are sold on a sliding basis: $75 gets a 3 p.m. entry and the choicest VIP morsels; $55 gets a 4:30 p.m. entry and a full spread of mushroom dishes; and $0 gets a 7 p.m. entry, with music and food available for purchase.

NOW OPEN

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table



Blackstone Bistro in St. Louis Park

Joe Krummel / Heavy Table

Joe Krummel / Heavy Table

Though it sounds like an unholy alliance between an infamous former military contractor and the (fictional) shadowy government program that created Jason Bourne, Blackstone is, in fact, a recently opened Mediterranean fusion bistro in St. Louis Park.

We went, we ate, we shrugged.

Tucked into the affluent Excelsior & Grand residential and retail complex, the corporate feel of Blackstone fits right in — think lots of decorative brick arches, dark wood, white tablecloths, and dim lighting. The vibe is definitely “business lunch,” and the menu extends the something-for-everyone feel of the interior design. You’ll find some Mediterranean items alongside a deliriously vast and globe-spanning selection of entrees, pizza, pasta, burgers, soups, sides, sandwiches, and salads.

Joe Krummel / Heavy Table

Joe Krummel / Heavy Table

We began the meal with the Mediterranean Mix Appetizers ($16), composed of hummus, baba ghanoush, a cold mixture of roasted red peppers and artichokes, and fatoush salad. While the dish was generously portioned and sharable, we felt that its price was pretty high (a recurring theme), and that flavor was lacking. The spreads were fresh, but were missing depth — the baba ghanoush could have been smokier, and the hummus was rough-textured, bland, and in need of citrus. The salad was awash in a too-sweet vinaigrette, though nicely garnished with vegetables and fresh mint.

Joe Krummel / Heavy Table

Joe Krummel / Heavy Table

The flatbreads (pictured above: portobello) sounded intriguing, but ours fell, well, flat. The Alexandria Flatbread ($13.50) was topped with tomato pesto, figs, blue cheese, and a lot of arugula (though it wasn’t listed on the menu). The crust was mightily disappointing: spongy and limp, reminding us of the amateur error of cooking a Tombstone frozen pizza on a sheet pan instead of directly on the oven rack. The limpness was mysterious, as our side of pita bread was well-marked by a grill, and crisp — couldn’t Blackstone do the same for the flatbreads? The toppings, meanwhile, clashed in a dissonant mess of bitterness and blue-cheese funk.



Heavy Table Hot Five: May 21-28

hotfive-flames

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.

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1-new - one Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Biscuits and Gravy at The Buttered Tin
For my money, Buttered Tin has the best breakfast in St. Paul, and the biscuits and gravy are a standout. Remarkable biscuits cradle a pair of expertly poached eggs covered in a sage-sausage gravy that adds a whole other level of Thanksgivinglike comfort. They’re the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had in the Cities, and — it pains me to say it — they’re even better than Sun Street Breads’.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by John Garland]

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Bee2-new - twors from Eastlake Craft Brewery and Tacos from Sonora Grill at Midtown Global Market
Tapas my way: Sonora Grill tacos and Eastlake beer inside the Midtown Global Market. The best way to start your Friday evening.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Isabel Subtil]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3-new - threeThe Kenwood Burger at The Kenwood
The Kenwood Burger proves that pork belly might just beat bacon as a burger topping. Add some gooey Gruyere and a softly fried egg, and you’ve got an ideal mix of fat and flavor. You have the option of getting mixed greens with it instead of fries, but if you’re already in for a big burger, a slab of pork belly, and a fried egg, why bother?
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by Amy Rea]

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new fourJeweled Rice at the Saffron Launch Party for The New Mediterranean Table
This Persian-inspired dish is so much more than a mere side of rice. It’s bedecked with herbs, spice, and dried fruit. It was a perfect pairing with an Arabic-spice-rubbed roasted lamb shoulder served last Monday at a Saffron dinner celebrating the launch of Chef Sameh Wadi’s new cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. Jeweled rice isn’t currently available on Saffron’s menu, but you can make it yourself with a little help from the book.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Instagrammed by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveMieng Kham at Royal Orchid
This dish is like no lettuce wrap we’ve ever tried. Royal Orchid’s wraps are composed from a palette of incredibly bold flavor boosters including chunks of ginger, atomic-hot pepper bits, dried shrimp, small pieces of lime (with skin left on to amp up the kick still further), coconut chips, and chopped onions. Dressed with sweet palm syrup, the result is something like a flavor brawl taking place in your mouth — first bright citrus, then withering heat, then sharp onion, and so forth.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #2 | Contributed by James Norton from a future Central Avenue Checklist]