This week in the Tap: Thoughts on the upcoming Minnesota State Fair, a look ahead at upcoming restaurants in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.
The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Minnesota Fair Food
2017 marks the 9th (9th!) year that the Heavy Table team has sallied forth to nosh our way through the State Fair and its food offerings. The State Fair functions as sort of a barometer of the Minnesota food scene. While it’s best known for its populist favorites (cones full of cookies, Pronto Pups, various forms of fried dough), there is always a glistening crust of ambitious new food to enjoy as well — everything from walleye-stuffed mushrooms to espresso shakes to custom-brewed craft beers to carp-shaped waffles stuffed with ice cream.
Barring nuclear war, there’s little chance of the annual frenzy ever dying down completely. But the past five or six years have seen the barrage of fair food move from a distant sideline to the main event. Once upon a time, Heavy Table’s encyclopedic and real-time flavor odyssey was unique, but we’ve since become one of a large pack of paid experts cruising through the fair from stand to stand in search of “scoops,” however minor or fleeting.
At the same time, fair-goers have become better informed, more skeptical, and more demanding. It’s like just about anything: If the crucible of interest gets hot enough, some of the dreck gets boiled off, and the really good stuff — or at least the really accessible stuff — bubbles up to the top.
Every year, I think about changing the way we do our first-day-of-the-fair rush, or even discarding it entirely. Thus far, we’ve stuck with it, for a few reasons:
We are committed to being completists and offering warts-and-all in our coverage. While no longer unique, it’s a rare enough combination that it has some real value for our readers.
It’s a unique opportunity to have a lot of conversations — with people at the fair, with purveyors, with radio hosts — about the Heavy Table and our mission.
And it’s a hell of a lot of fun for our writers and photographers to gather in a mob and take down 10- or 20,000 calories worth of food in one go.
We’ll see you at the fair! Watch our Instagram and Twitter channels Thursday morning for on-the-fly impressions, and then come back to heavytable.com first thing Friday morning for the grand tour. — James Norton
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Tillie’s Farmhouse, 232 Cleveland Ave N, St. Paul | Seasonal cuisine, some of it with a Scandinavian influence — with ingredients from local farms — in the former Trotter’s Cafe.
- Wonders Ice Cream, 298 University Ave W, St. Paul | A shop selling the latest craze (?): rolled ice cream. See also: Sota Hot and Cold at 394 University Ave W.
- Delicata, 1341 Pascal St, St. Paul | A pizzeria and gelateria by Matty O’Reilly, J.D. Fratzke, and Noah Barton.
- Kaiseki Furukawa, 33 1st Ave N, Minneapolis | Classic kaiseki (progressive small courses) dining at Kaiseki Furukawa, sister restaurant to Kado no Mise. $168 per plate (including gratuity and tax).
- Barrel Theory Beer Company, 248 E 7th St, St. Paul | As per the Growler: “A partnership between Surly Brewing Company’s former director of technology Brett Splinter, former Surly brewer Timmy Johnson, and CPA Todd Tibesar.” Our preview is here.
- Hoops Brewing, 325 S Lake Ave, Duluth | Expectations have been high for this new brewery, a project of Dave Hoops, formerly of Fitger’s. Our tasting notes.
- 12welve Eyes Brewing, 141 E 4th St, St. Paul | Brewery and taproom the Pioneer Endicott Building in Lowertown. Our overview is here.
- Portillo’s, 8450 Hudson Rd, Woodbury | First Minnesota outpost of the famous Chicago hot dog empire. Here’s our take on it.
- 510 Lounge & Private Dining, 510 Groveland Ave, Minneapolis | Private event space and open-to-the-public lounge run by Chef Don Saunders (The Kenwood).
- Gray Duck Tavern, 345 Wabasha St, St. Paul | “Comfort food from all over the world.
It’s a good time to be a fan of Japanese food in the Twin Cities. Tanpopo’s closing notwithstanding, the cuisine has boomed in recent years, from Kyatchi to Ramen Kazama to Tori Ramen. Each new restaurant adds a new vocabulary to the conversation started decades ago by Fuji-ya. Kado no Mise (33 1st Ave N, Minneapolis) brings an elegance and an understated, almost minimalist eloquence to the conversation. It might almost feel muted if you’re used to speaking at the volume of sriracha mayonnaise and Philly rolls.
The clean, bright interior of the restaurant, with its white tile and light-colored wood, is immediately striking. The long and narrow space — with an alcohol bar anchoring one end and a sushi bar with views of the kitchen anchoring the other — feels warm and inviting, despite the antiseptically beautiful design. We’ll credit that to the friendly service and the wonderful smells of the food you’re about to eat.
The food is similarly elegant and understated, almost muted, if you aren’t paying attention. For lunch, we tried seven of the eight flavors of Temari. Essentially nigiri, temari (named for balls made of decorative thread) feature slices of fish or vegetables wrapped around the top of a dense ball of rice. Seven pieces of sushi plus a bowl of miso soup went for $16, which seemed fair for the quantity and quality of the food served.
As for the flavor of Kado no Mise’s temari — in a word, they’re “mild.” When they work, the retiring flavor combinations are mellow and ethereal. When they don’t, they’re merely sedate, with the rice dominating. Not coincidentally, our two favorite tastes were the most profound: the funky, salty earthiness of the shiitake mushrooms, and the minty, slightly astringent bite of the shiso leaf. We’ve never tasted anything quite like rice wrapped in shiso, and if nothing else, it’s an intriguing contribution to the local flavor conversation.
The Yakiniku Don (marinated beef rice bowl, $9.50) was rich and savory, the meat tender and flavorful. Unlike many of our favorite rice bowls, it didn’t pack a great diversity of spicy/crunchy/creamy/otherwise-diverse flavor and textural elements — this is a rice bowl designed to soothe, not entertain, but it did its job admirably well.
While lunch at Kado no Mise left us content but not awed, we adored dinner, where the restaurant’s subtle strengths are more apparent and more slowly enjoyed. Dinner service started with a cup of chilled barley tea, a small and simple offering, with flavors of minerals and wheat and a pronounced aroma of sesame, that laid out what we eventually discerned to be the restaurant’s mission statement: the juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity, all thoughtfully prepared and elegantly served. The pickles and surf clam appetizer that followed was equally remarkable for uniting disparate ingredients by drawing out their similar, earthy flavors. It may be a little esoteric, but indulge us: at Kado no Mise, simplicity emerges from complexity and vice versa.
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.
Coconut Cake at Delicata
Coconut, much like Brussels sprouts or durian, is one of those ingredients that has two faces to it. Cheap dried coconut flakes impart little flavor beyond mustiness, and they get caught in your teeth, ruining whatever dish they’re in. But when coconut is executed well, it’s toasty, nutty, sweet, and cheerful, and it can elevate a simple, moist vanilla cake from ordinary to divine. Delicata has its coconut cake completely dialed in, down to the light-as-a-feather frosting that complements the soft-spoken coconut character of the dessert.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Kinoko Nabe at Kado no Mise
The flavor of the Kinoko Nabe (Mushroom Pot) at Kado no Mise brought me straight back to Japan. The hot clay pot contained a barely sweetened dashi in which young Japanese greens and a variety of mushrooms stewed. A grilled nebrodini mushroom lent its firm texture and smoky flavor, and a poached egg tied it all together.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Jane Rosemarin]
Jacktober Märzen-Style Beer at Jack Pine Brewery
Jack Pine Brewery, in Baxter, Minn., does its part to uphold the reputation of out-state breweries. Visitors to the space are welcomed to a small, north-woods-esque taproom with a line of sight into the brewery. Try the Jacktober, a classic Märzen-style beer with a subtle hop finish that builds, sip by sip.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham Didora]
Alt 1848 by Utepils
Maybe we were swayed by the gorgeous copper can this beer arrived in or by the setting (a friendly backyard poker game) but Utepils Alt 1848 is one of the most gregarious, easygoing, enjoyable craft brews we’ve tried this summer. Smooth and malty, mellow and just a touch earthy, this is a beer of real substance but no rough edges. It’s approachable and cheerful, and downright fun to drink.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Meatball and Egg Roll Rice Plate at iPho by Saigon
When we ordered the meatball and egg roll rice plate at iPho, we weren’t expecting what we got: five thick red strips of minced, sauteed meat that looked vaguely hotdoglike scattered atop the rice perpendicular to the egg roll. But, by golly, it works. The meatball strips are tender, flavorful without being pungent or overly spicy, and a perfect fit for the rice with some fish sauce, hoisin, and sriracha mixed in for good measure. It’s a substantial lunch that isn’t heavy, and because it’s iPho, it arrives at your table pretty much before you have time to put your menu down after ordering.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
This story is a product of Heavy Table’s first Listening Session, underwritten and hosted by the Lakewinds Food Co-op. On May 23, we interviewed 15 local food artisans over the course of eight hours, with a goal of taking a snapshot of the vibrant Minnesota food scene.
“Chefs really like our birds. It’s a good-quality blank canvas,” says Weston Gienger. Gienger wears the marketing hat (among others) for Kadejan, a Glenwood-based company that raises and sells less than 500,000 chickens a year. If you shop at co-ops or dine at restaurants with a farm-to-table connection, you’ve probably seen their birds. The 30-employee company has developed a statewide reputation that has elevated it to among the biggest of the small guys (or the smallest of the big guys, depending upon how you’re measuring your flock sizes).
“They have a different flavor and texture because they don’t have as high a fat content as other birds,” says Gienger. “We don’t try to pump up weight and add fat to the bird. And texturewise, it’s different because we air chill. We’ve been air chilling since ’89. That really sets us apart. It’s not a forced-air blast; it’s more that they’re put into a big, oversized refrigerator. It’s like curing beef. It dries it out a little more, and lets it age. It locks in the natural flavor and texture of the chicken.”
Kadejan got its start in 1989 as Pope County Poultry Processing, processing birds for local farmers. In the years that followed, in part due to encouragement from chefs such as Lenny Russo and support from co-ops including Mississippi Market, the company began wholesaling free-range, air chilled, antibiotic- and growth-stimulant-free chickens.
Today in the Toast: A tasting of four accomplished brews by newly opened 12welve Eyes Brewing in Lowertown, St. Paul.
Though St. Paul has nowhere near the number of breweries that Minneapolis does, the proliferation of breweries in the Lowertown neighborhood this year has been profound. Joining the 3-year veteran Tin Whiskers Brewing Company is Barrel Theory Beer Company, and Sidhe Brewing is in the process of moving from Payne-Phalen to a location near Union Depot.
The most recent addition is 12welve Eyes Brewing, housed in the lower level of the historic Pioneer Endicott building.
Unlike Barrel Theory, 12welve Eyes opened seemingly overnight to little press or anticipation from craft-beer enthusiasts. Its taproom is partially underground, down a stairway on a street that is relatively quiet because the Light Rail’s Green Line leaves little room for car traffic.
The company began when three glasses-wearing friends (thus the 12 eyes) bought some home-brewing equipment. After a move to Portland, Ore. to develop their skills, the Minnesota natives returned to St. Paul to open 12welve Eyes Brewing.
Elliot Grosse is the president. Co-founder Karl Eicher is not active in the company. The third founder, head brewer Dalton Buchta, runs the day-to-day brewing operations with help from assistant brewer Josh Oestreich. While they are by no means industry veterans, the quality of beer in the taproom is accomplished.
Buchta and Oestreich strive for a frequently rotating, balanced portfolio of sessionable beer. Though not everything falls into the ever-expanding “session” category, the incredible variety is impressive. “We want our reputation to be focused on the overall beer experience in our taproom, not just being able to serve one or two particularly well-made styles,” says Oestreich.
The broadly-appealing Mosaic Wheat IPA ($4 for 10 ounces) has a strong, grassy, tangerinelike aroma and is lighter-bodied than many IPA variants. The wheat adds a soft mouthfeel and rounds out bitterness on the palate. A lingering aftertaste is more bitter than the sips themselves.
An excellent dark beer in the warmer months is the Summer Brown ale ($4 for 10 ounces), with its earthy, light-roast coffee and toasted bread aroma. Flavors of bitter cocoa come through as the glass warms, while the finish remains neither sweet nor dry. The light body is seasonally appropriate, but low carbonation prevents it from feeling thin. For a more robust dark beer, the Legacy Chocolate stout, which utilizes chocolate from neighboring Legacy Chocolates, fits the bill.
Finally, the most surprising beer on the menu is the Lemon Hefeweizen ($4 for 10 ounces). Make no mistake, there is way too much lemon in this beer, yet it is shockingly popular. The extreme use of the fruit is attractive in its own way, and in fact the beer becomes almost cocktail-like. An unapologetic amount of lemon comes across with a flavor similar to that of Moroccan preserved lemon. Try cutting it half and half with the Dry-Hopped Hefewiezen for more balance, or enjoy it for the lemon bomb that it is. Summer is almost over.
There were no major recipe flubs that we could find, but instead, a significant detergent smell permeates the glassware. The glasses should be rinsed longer prior to pouring, or, ideally, the formula in the glass washer should be changed.
The current plan calls for 80-90 percent of sales to be through the taproom. Light distribution is possible within the year in kegs or crowlers. Hesitancy toward strong distribution is due in part to Grosse’s preference to engage the surroundings in Lowertown before expanding.
12welve Eyes Brewing may have opened only weeks ago, but Grosse is already thinking about the depths of Minnesota winter. As a young business owner, it’s hard for him to define the dozens of hats he must wear as the infant brewery begins to develop, but anxiety is his current state of being. “We are hoping that being connected to the skyway system really helps,” he says, adding that the neighborhood has been consistently supportive.
12welve Eyes Brewing, 141 E 4th St, Suite LL2, St. Paul, MN 55101; 651.493.8106