Clearing the Table: Saying Farewell to the Heavy Table
This is among the last new posts you’ll read on the Heavy Table. I’m really excited to be taking on the new role of Food Editor over at The Growler. While writing and editing there, I’ll keep telling the stories of Upper Midwestern food.
The Heavy Table will keep posting content throughout May, and go on hiatus in early June.
It has been an honor and a pleasure to write and edit for you, our readers, over the past decade. When I co-founded the Heavy Table with Aaron Landry in early 2009, we had no idea that this website would do so much to enliven the culinary conversation in Minnesota.
For the life of the Heavy Table, we’ve posted new content on the site every Monday through Friday. That amounts to nearly 7,000 posts ranging from brief Twitter roundups to 5,000-word epics illustrated with original photography and illustrations.
We’ve done everything from books to radio appearances to freewheeling sip-and-sample events, riding the gastronomic wave that has swamped our beautiful corner of the world.
None of this would have been possible without the support of our readers, our advertisers, and the chefs, servers, owners, farmers, purveyors, and others who make the Minnesota food scene the powerhouse that it has become. I am profoundly grateful to all of you; the past 10 years have been a gift.
— James Norton
THE HEAVY TABLE: A RETROSPECTIVE
FROM DIGITAL TO PRINT: Creating Books That Tell the Culinary History of the Upper Midwest
A number of real books have emerged from our virtual pages.
The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food (2013) was largely written and illustrated by Heavy Table contributors, and our readership was the base from which we were able to raise $22,000 in Kickstarter funds to print the book and pay our collaborators. It’s a beautiful collection of maps, drawings, stories, and reviews, and we’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Becca Dilley and I wrote The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin (2009) before embarking on the site, but our project Lake Superior Flavors (2014) was created very much in tandem with its mission of exploring the Upper Midwest.
Minnesota Lunch (2011) brought together an all-star team of Heavy Table writers and photographers to track some of the state’s folk history through luncheon favorites ranging from banh mi to the Jucy Lucy to porketta to pasties.
It’s unlikely that anyone else remembers this, but I wrote a serialized culinary novel called Knife Skills that ran on Heavy Table in 2009-10. It’s got some moments.
STRAIGHT-SHOOTING REVIEWS: Defining the Debate With Unvarnished Writing
One of the Heavy Table’s distinguishing features has always been its reviews. In an era where it’s hard to find anything written from a diners’ perspective – warts and all – we’ve fought to preserve a cantankerously independent voice.
People think immediately of some of the more negative reviews we’ve written over the years (Giordano’s, Freehouse, Union) but we’re particularly proud of some of the off-the-beaten path pieces we’ve been able to write about (La Alborada, New Prague Kolacky, Angry Minnow Brewpub, the whole Checklist series) and the spotlight reviews that combine tasting notes with market context and deeply informed insight (Brasserie Zentral, Pizzeria Lola, Bachelor Farmer.)
THE CHECKLIST PROJECT: Exploring Minnesota’s Greatest First-Generation Dining Corridors
More than 210 of the site’s reviews fall under the “Checklist” rubric, and they represent an unusual collaboration between two writers (myself and MC CRONIN), an illustrator (WACSO) and a photographer (BECCA DILLEY). Over the past few years, we’ve eaten at 55 spots on Central Avenue, 72 spots along the Green Line (mostly in St. Paul) and another 90+ on East Lake Street.
EARLY SOCIAL MEDIA ADOPTION: Real-Time Publishing
The Heavy Table launched on Twitter in 2009, just as the service was getting a strong local foothold; we pioneered Foursquare use locally, and racked up 20,000+ followers in a short period of time. While Twitter (17K followers right now) was our initial growth engine, support from Facebook (12K), our email list (3.8K) and (late in the game) Instagram (6K) have all maintained our rapport with our readers and community.
Traditional Web traffic has risen and fallen over the years, hitting a peak of 200K+ (overwhelmingly local) pageviews a month in 2013.
THE NORTH COAST NOSH: Turning the Digital Into the Tangible
Over the past seven years and often in conjunction with the Wedge Coop, we’ve curated 16 different North Coast Nosh sip and sample events at venues including the American Swedish Institute, The Soap Factory, and the Food Building. Each event brought together 140 to 450 paying attendees sampling from between 20 and 40 different brewers, bakers, chocolatiers, cheesemakers, ranchers, and more.
Nosh events regularly sold out and were beloved by attendees and purveyors alike for their emphasis on making real connections. A low attendee to purveyor ratio (usually about 15:1) made for many warm, meaningful conversations and little of the crowding, lines, and sample scarfing typical of most food festival events.
CHEF CAMP: Taking Food Into the Wild
One of the most exciting things to grow out of the Heavy Table effort is the annual chefs-teaching-over-open flames retreat called Chef Camp, a project of Dave Friedman and myself. We’ve had a blast cooking feasts, feeding throngs, and watching some of the best chefs in the business connect with campers in a brilliantly gorgeous natural environment. (Chef Camp 2018 is scheduled for Aug. 31-Sep. 2 and we hope to see you there!)
THE TAP, THE TOAST, AND THE HOT FIVE: Constant News in a Busy Market
With The Heavy Table, we tried to use our powers of skepticism and observation to constantly answer the questions of “what’s going on?” and “why does it matter?” To address the first of those questions, we started up three long-running regular series: The Tap (new restaurants and closing restaurants, biweekly), The Toast (beer, cider, spirits, biweekly) and The Hot Five (five of the best things we’d tasted in the preceding week, weekly.) If you page through the archives of any of these features you can flip through the past 10 years of Minnesota food history.
RADIO STORIES AND THE WEEKEND STARTS NOW: Heavy Table on the Air
Heavy Table contributors have been found all over the dial (and audibly online, via the magic of podcasting). I’ve appeared dozens of times on Minnesota Public Radio and The Current, telling the stories of food and drink in the Upper Midwest, and collaborated with Taylor Carik (Secrets of the City) on two seasons of The Weekend Starts Now, a local food, drink, and culture podcast taped in front of live audiences at various Minneapolis-St. Paul locations.
We’ve also enjoyed (so much!) our conversations with John Hines at WCCO News Radio – he’s made us feel like welcome guests every time we’ve joined him on the air.
SOME FAREWELLS FROM READERS
After announcing our upcoming closure, we got some wonderful notes and tweets from friends and readers. Here are a few of our favorite responses to pop up on Twitter:
Over the years, more than 110 different contributors have posted on Heavy Table, and we’ve worked with dozens of photographers as well. The roll call that follows isn’t exhaustive, but it’s an attempt to say thanks and acknowledge the strong work of all the people that made this publication a reality.
My co-founder AARON LANDRY launched The Heavy Table on sound footing – clean design, strong brand identity, good social media presence. His imagination, dedication, and hard work in our initial years put us on the map, and his continued support over the years has been greatly appreciated.
This site wouldn’t have been a shadow of what it was without the support of my wife and favorite collaborator, BECCA DILLEY. She was our first and last photographer, tirelessly talented and dedicated, and willing to support the site (and me) through good times and bad. She’s also a brilliant wedding and events photographer, so if you need something skillfully documented, drop her a line. You should also read her amazing recipes for pumpkin pie and the Afghan appetizer known as kaddo.
The Heavy Table is unusual in that its copy has been edited not just by an assigning editor (generally me) but also by a second copy editor. This was standard practice back in the neolithic days of print journalism, but we stuck with it as a standard to diminish our rate of typos, misspellings, and good old fashioned errors. We’ve been luck enough to have a few dedicated copy editors over the years, including the dauntless EMILY NEWHALL, the hyper-observant ELIZABETH MEAD CAVERT SCHEIBEL and our current copy chief, the dedicated and eagle-eyed JANE ROSEMARIN.
Along with Becca Dilley, WACSO (above right) and MC CRONIN (left) have been our collaborators on the remarkable Central Avenue, Green Line, and East Lake Street Checklist projects. In total, we’ve visited, photographed, eaten food at and reviewed more than 200 restaurants in three of the state’s most interesting and significant cultural corridors. We visited five spots a night every time we dined out, so we’ve hit the streets with these guys more than 40 times and shared a good 100-120 hours of facetime in pursuit of great eats. Even so, we look forward to doing it again sometime.
One of The Heavy Table’s true cornerstones and a lot of fun even at a brutal mass pie tasting, associate editor MAJA INGEMAN (active from 2009 to 2015, 549 posts) kept us on track with story assignments and editing, while finding time to write stories including our review of Cheng Heng, an early look at the Marvel Bar, and a thoughtful review of Gorkha Palace.
The sleek, polished, and always on time photography of the tremendously prolific KATIE CANNON helped build the site in its early years, and she was no slouch as a writer either. From 2009 to 2013, she had 83 posts to her credit including The Art of the Perfect Baguette, Beekeeping with Nature’s Nectar, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Scott Pampuch-era Corner Table.
I met JILL LEWIS while working at The Daily Cardinal in Madison, and having her turn up in Minneapolis, ready to write, was one of the best things to happen to the Heavy Table. Among her best stories (she wrote 168 posts from 2009-14) are: an exhaustive exploration of every dessert at Cafe Latte, a profile of the sisters behind Rise Bagels, and tons of ongoing insights into Wisconsin cheese. She (along with Becca Dilley) was one of my major collaborators on our thoroughly viral and infamous April Fool’s Day email “interview” with Prince.
The peripatetic AMY REA (active from 2014-18, 94 posts) has turned the greater (emphasis on greater) metro area into her personal stomping ground, finding remarkably good eats in strip malls, diners, and fantastic first-generation restaurants. Particularly great: her recent series on Asian restaurants in Brooklyn Park (here’s part 1 and part 2, and note the photographic collaboration with Brenda Johnson).
JOSHUA PAGE is a professor and author in his own right (check out The Toughest Beat if you get a chance, it’s riveting and relevant), but despite his academic qualifications he’s always turned in lean, clear, jargon-free prose that gets readers pumped to eat. He contributed 66 posts to the Heavy Table from 2012-2018, including some great reads like a long-form interview with restaurateur Tim Niver, a love letter to the rotisserie chicken at Holy Land, and a thoughtfully brutal takedown of Union.
Highly amusing and always well-informed, SUSAN PAGANI turned in 83 meticulously written posts between 2009 and 2017. All her stuff is worth reading, but a few of our favorites include her profile of Solveig Tofte of Sun Street, a preview of HauteDish, and her bittersweet sendoff of The Craftsman.
The fiercely knowledgeable TRICIA CORNELL is also an author in her own right, and her books (Eat More Vegetables, The Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook) are terrific additions to any locavore’s library. During her time at the Heavy Table (2010-17), she wrote 151 posts, including our in-depth review of Tilia and stories on baker John Kraus and author Jeff Hertzberg.
PAIGE LATHAM DIDORA (2014-18, 77 posts), followed in the footsteps of John Garland as our resident beer (and spirits) sage, and her skillful authorship of The Toast has made it into one of the best-respected and most enjoyable recurring spirits features in the region. We’ve always prided ourselves on being thoughtfully and constructively honest in our criticism, and perhaps no writer better lives up to that ideal than Paige.
Writing 51 posts from 2014-18, TED HELD has grown into one of the most assured and perceptive critics we’ve had on staff, and his stories are as detailed as they are nuanced; check out his reviews of Mama’s Pizza, Lakewinds Food Co-op, and Kado No Mise.
You can and should still read spirits connoisseur nonpareil JOHN GARLAND (active from 2010-15, 112 posts) – he wrote stellar stories for us including an epic tale of loose meat sandwiches in Iowa and an-indepth interview with Mo Rocca, and he’s now active at The Growler as a writer and senior editor.
From 2010-16 and over the course of 250 posts, EMILY SCHNOBRICH evolved from a bright-eyed apprentice to steady-handed journeyman, slaying all manner of linguistic and conceptual dragons along the way. A few of our favorite posts by her include a stone bowl bibimbap roundup, a visit to Val’s Rapid Serv in St. Cloud, and the unearthing of the House of Curry in Rosemount.
It makes sense that ERIC FAUST (active from 2009-11, 69 posts) wrote mostly about coffee. It was his obsession at The Heavy Table, and it remains his obsession as he runs Duluth Coffee Company, which would be our #1 pick for Duluth cafe and coffee roaster even if we didn’t like Eric so much. Check out Minnesota Coffee: Why Starbucks Can’t Make It and St. Paul’s Two Worst Cups of Coffee.
Longtime Tap editor JASON WALKER now does communications for the SFA, and if you look at some of the stories he wrote (The ABCs of Raising Urban Chickens, Coon Creek Farm of Mondovi), you can see a rural theme threading its way through his work. We’ve always wanted to be connected to the land around our cities, and Jason was always brilliant at helping us do that.
We have ALYSSA VANCE (writer active from 2009-13, 41 posts) to thank for stories including a profile of Nico Giraud and Peter Eckholdt and the team behind Gray Duck Chai – she was also close to the heart of the publication as the organizer of a number of meetups and anniversary parties.
Since her Heavy Table days HANNAH ROGAL has spent time making great cheese and great bread (at North Coast Nosh site The Food Building) – while she was here from 2011-13, she wrote 86 posts on everything from Lynne Reeck of Singing Hills Goat Dairy to Anne Rucker of Bogart Loves Bakery.
When PETER SIEVE (above right) isn’t performing as a musician or hosting guests at The Corner Store, he’s contributing to the local food scene. He wrote 27 posts for us from 2013 to 2017 and authored some of our most interesting (and detailed) profiles, including the first profile of Sean Sherman and a deep dive with Erik Anderson.
You can listen to contributor SOLEIL HO on her own nationally buzzed-up podcast The Racist Sandwich, but we also recommend you thumb through some of her Heavy Table stories including What to Eat While You’re Occupying Government Plaza and The Ideal Sustainable and Local Restaurant. She was active from 2009-12, contributing 45 often fiery and/or hilarious posts.
LORI WRITER (2009-10, 81 posts) was one of our first contributors and among the most precise and well-informed; we learned a lot from her zeal and passion for the scene. Here’s her piece on how to make Vietnamese coffee and yogurt, and a wonderful evening in a Somali kitchen.
We’ve been lucky enough to have some fantastic contributing photographers over the years: here are some shots from a few of our most prolific contributors, all of whom deserve huge shout-outs for trudging through the culinary swamp of the Minnesota State Fair (with special thanks to route organizer Sarah McGee)!
NATALIE CHAMPA JENNINGS (website)
BRENDA JOHNSON (website)
KATE NG SOMMERS (website)
BRIANNA STACHOWSKI (website)
ISABEL SUBTIL (website)
We were fortunate enough to have DAVE WITT contribute 47 of his Louie the Loon review cartoons from 2011-14; they were funny, they were skillfully drawn, and the food notes were always on point.
It has been a legitimate joy working with VARSHA KONERU as an intern and collaborator, and we’re grateful for all her help and contributions.
TAYLOR CARIK of Secrets of the City wasn’t technically a contributor but we had a blast cohosting The Weekend Starts Now with him, and those often beer-soaked live appearances have aged into wonderful memories.
And then there’s me, JAMES NORTON (editor and writer, active from 2009-2018, 3,661 posts). That’s a lot of posts. I guess if I had to pick a few favorites, I’d point to The Deliciously Polyglot Flavor of the North: A Minneapolis-St. Paul Dining Guide, Lessons from a “Devil in the White City” Feast, and any of the insane Minnesota State Fair new food roundups, but there’s a lot out there, man. I also kind of love this conversation about Rocky Rococo’s with my old college friend Sean.
Oh, and Feasting on Frozen Waters. It took me a few months to realize it, but that was the best meal of my life, and I expect that it shall always remain so.
HEAVY TABLE SHUTDOWN FAQ
WHEN DOES THE SITE STOP PUBLISHING?
We’ll have new content throughout May, and then pretty much go dark first thing in June. We may bump out the last East Lake Street Crawl in June if we can’t turn them around quickly enough between now and then (we have 10 places yet to hit.)
WILL YOU KEEP THE WEBSITE AND ITS ARCHIVES ONLINE?
Yes, that’s the plan. Our hope is that the passive revenue (banner ads) exceeds the hosting bills, and it can kind of hang out for several (or possibly many) years to come.
WILL ANYTHING EVER BE PUBLISHED ON THE SITE (OR ITS SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS) AGAIN?
In an infinite universe anything is possible, but my new destiny lies with The Growler, and my Upper Midwestern food chops are fully at their disposal.
ARE YOU GOING TO SELL THE SITE?
Almost certainly not. Offers (if any crop up) will almost certainly be of the “we’ll give you $1,000 to chop up your site for parts” variety, and it’s worth far more to us to preserve the archives and the brand for the next 3-5 years than to dump it as junk.
THE HEAVY TABLE, IN PHOTOS
From the get-go, The Heavy Table prioritized images. That meant running them larger than almost any other site at the time, hiring photographers to shoot original images rather than scraping them from the Web or going without, and making sure the visual element was always part of the story. See below for a collection of our favorite shots.
When putting together a photo retrospective of the Heavy Table’s nine plus years of publication, I’d originally planned on included 20 shots. That ballooned to more than 30 as I found photo after photo that recalled something potent – humor, or passion, or striking composition. We start with a photo of Olivier Vrambout of the Bikery in Stillwater – this was the first profile that we ran, and it was a fitting beginning for the Heavy Table. His shop was small, his story was good and his product was excellent.
Contributing photographer Kate NG Sommers happened upon the fire that destroyed the original Heidi’s location while it was in progress.
We met Minnesota baking legend Marjorie Johnson while judging a Kitchen Window pie contest. It goes without saying that she won.
Guy Fieri is, like Andrew Zimmern and a handful of others, one of those global personalities who happens to stomp around our neck of the woods quite a bit. We had a blast meeting him.
A drop-dead gorgeous photo of shrimp at Tilia. We’re all about the gritty real-world side of food photos, but sometimes the food really looks like this.
I loved our pie taste-offs in theory, but in practice they were a wee bit overwhelming. Made for good photography, though.
The Bittercube guys are so good at what they do – the drinks, the attitude, the look.
Our series on chefs’ tattoos and scars put a fine point on the pain associated with the glory.
Home cooking wasn’t normally our thing, but sometimes we celebrated with our friends and documented it, too. This was the time we made a timpano, ala Big Night.
Chef Russel Klein presents of the finest roast birds we’ve ever consumed at the wonderful Brasserie Zentral (RIP).
One of my favorite portraits on the site – the long-time power duo of Tim Niver and J.D. Fratzke, two of the scene’s legitimate heavies.
The making of porketta in Hibbing is no trivial thing.
The Native Foods Nosh that we co-produced at The History Center was one of the most meaningful events the Heavy Table was involved with over the course of its lifetime.
This shot of Hell’s Kitchen in the winter is transportive. It’s a postcard from our city.
A favorite diptych from our story on Feasting on Frozen Waters, a multi-course banquet prepared fireside on an island in the Boundary Waters in the middle of winter.
Becca Dilley’s farm photography tour has a lot of “meet the animals” shots that are among my favorite.
We never get tired of the Asian duck wall, no matter how many times we encounter it. It suggests unapologetic bounty.
One of my favorite stories to do was tasting and writing up 22 different heirloom apples.
Hitting the bricks on University Avenue – five restaurants at a time, 72 in all.
This shot of melted ice cream from Milkjam is a technicolor dream.
Exploring University Avenue (and other haunts of serious, un-focus grouped, real food) was an honor and a privilege.
Behold: the River Monster of University Avenue!
Insight’s “Gravity Well” beer. As far as expression / action / subject matter goes, this may be a perfect shot, and I love it.
Two greats of local food: Beatrice Ojakangas and Erick Harcey.
The “makers” portion of covering local food is always one of the best bits – the people are so legitimately excited to be doing what they do. This series is from our Lakewinds interview series.
Bartending at the always excellent Tattersall.
If you’re going to spend nine years of your life editing a website about local food, it should, at the very least, be fun. The Heavy Table was tremendously fun.