Out with the American-Chinese restaurant Dragon House in Columbia Heights, and in with Adama Restaurant. The location changed ownership earlier this fall, and there’s nothing particularly American about the new menu (other than the kid’s menu, which is full-on American). While we were fine with the American Chinese incarnation, we were even more excited to check out a place reputed to serve authentic Ethiopian cuisine with a focus on the food of the Oromo people.
Adama has a menu full of authentic Ethiopian dishes (available for lunch and dinner). The first dish we tried was the Lentil Sambusa ($6 for 4 pieces). These were delicious, fried without being overly greasy, and generously filled with lentils and onions. The accompanying green sauce, redolent of cilantro and jalapeño, reminded us of a similar sauce at Som Taste; that’s not surprising, given that Somalia shares a sizable portion of Ethiopia’s southern and eastern borders.
We’d heard the Doro Wot ($12), a classic Ethiopian stew of chicken and boiled egg with an intense, spicy sauce, was good here, and we decided to order that along with the Adama Combo #1 ($25), a platter with portions of Alecha Misor Wot, Tibs, and Keye Wot served with Spiced Cottage Cheese, all atop injera bread.
Here’s where things took a strange — but not unwelcome — turn. The menu described the above dishes this way:
Alecha Misor Wot: Split lentils cooked with fresh garlic, ginger, onions, and tomato sauce
Keye Wot: Tender beef cubes simmered in a spicy sauce of onion, tomato, garlic, berbere sauce or red pepper
Tibs: Chopped prime beef, onions, and tomatoes, cooked with butter
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Beef Ribs at Black Market Stp
It’s hard not to smile when eating Black Market’s gargantuan, smoky, tender Beef Ribs (aka Flintstone meatsicles) with a side of rich, ever-so-sweet beans and pork shoulder. Though they look intimidating, the beef ribs are irresistible: Rendered fat melds with rich layers of meat under a candied, crackly outer shell. The combination of textures and flavors makes this not just one of the tastiest treats in town, but also one of the most interesting.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Joshua Page]
Harvest Pumpkin Soup at Meritage
We feasted on roast leg of beef, a terrific ham-and-apple salad, and legions of glorious starchy sides at Meritage’s 10-year celebration this week, and one of the standouts of the meal was a perennial favorite of the restaurant and its customers: the Harvest Pumpkin Soup. Typically served in a bowl, this dish came adorned with candied pecans and spiced crème fraîche, and it arrived in a pumpkin, befitting the special occasion.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
$1 Burger at the Fremont
Normally $7.95, on Mondays the Fremont Burger is just $1 (with, it must be noted, a drink purchase). A ⅓-pound beef, turkey, or veggie patty served with lettuce, onion, tomato, Fremont sauce, and your choice of cheese: This is our idea of a worthy deal. Plus, each burger is served with a healthy portion of Kettle chips, and you can add another ⅓-pound patty to your burger for just $1. This may not be the juiciest burger you’ve ever consumed, but it certainly gives its dollar-menu competitors a run for their money.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ruthie Young]
Pork and Beans at Black Market Stp
Black Market Stp takes the concept of “pork and beans” to new heights, and then some. Chef Robert Lorch-Benysek’s flavors great northern and pinto beans with molasses and the drippings from slowly-cooked brisket (he places pans of the beans under the beef to catch the juices). And for good measure, he mixes an entire pork shoulder into each pan. Paired with ribs, brisket, or additional pork shoulder, it’s the perfect dish for the cold months ahead.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Joshua Page as a supplement to his review.]
Fried Catfish at A & J Fish and Chicken
File this one under “we didn’t see it coming.” One of our best bites from our most recent crawl down East Lake Street hails from the utterly unassuming A & J Fish and Chicken, which, as it turns out, does some of the best fried fish we’ve tried in the city. The catfish at A & J has the perfect level of crispy cornmeal crunch to the exterior, a moist and tender fish on the interior, and a classic presentation. “Catfish served with two slices of white bread in styrofoam the way nature intended,” as M.C. Cronin wrote in a recent Instagram post. Look for this in our next installment of the East Lake Checklist on Thursday.
[Last week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted by James Norton, with an Instagram post by M.C. Cronin]
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.
The average age of an American farmer is 58; Ariel Pressman is 31. The average size of an American farm is 434 acres (the median size is 80); Pressman’s organic Seed to Seed Farm cultivates about 12 acres of land in Balsam Lake, Wis. The average farmer is a high school graduate; Pressman went to college for neuroscience and social psychology, looking at how unconscious prejudice influences decision making.
“My favorite game to play with my employees is ‘Who’s Wasting the Most Expensive College Degree?’” Pressman says with a grin. “It’s always me.” We talked to Pressman early this summer about the state of agriculture in the Upper Midwest, the joy of growing unusual vegetables, and the maddening thrill of working the land to supply produce and plant starts to wholesale customers including co-ops, Whole Foods, and the Minneapolis School District.
Pressman’s business has evolved from restaurants (he used to directly supply spots like Lucia’s, Tilia, and Mill Valley Kitchen) and the Mill City Farmers Market to bigger customers, like co-ops. “Lakewinds made me a grant and a loan to put up two high tunnels, which I’m growing tomatoes in,” he says. “I’m paying them back in tomatoes. It’s really a unique deal. And it’s a win-win for everybody.”
ON DISCOVERING THE UPPER MIDWEST
What I studied was really specific, and the options were you become a professor, or you don’t do it. I just didn’t see that as a reality. I had an office job my first year out of college, and it was pretty ho-hum. I was WWOOFing on a farm in Vermont for six months, and just by total happenstance the woman who ran that farm was an ex-pat from Luck, Wis. I was 22, and moving somewhere new seemed like a good idea.
I’m originally from Philadelphia. It’s hard to explain to people not from the coasts, but flyover country is real — I knew nothing about this place before moving here. When I moved here, one of my friends asked me if they had the internet in Minneapolis.
My intent was to come for a year and intern on the farm. But the farmland in Wisconsin is amazing. And the Twin Cities scene, as far as local and organic food, doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country. And then you couple that with the affordability of farmland.
If you look at the farms around Boston, they’re five hours away, and they’re paying 10 times as much for the land.
As a 31-year-old, I 100 percent financed my farm and my business. The fact is that I was able to buy my own farm. I have friends in the Boston area, and they’re buying starter homes, and they paid more for those.
THE BRUSSELS SPROUT BOOM
Our big-success crop has been Brussels sprouts. When I started farming [five years ago], the kale trend was at its peak, and I funded my whole farm on kale. Slowly but surely, kale has plummeted. As that’s gone down, Brussels sprouts have just infinitely exploded.
When I first started, it was an uphill fight to get shelf space for Brussels sprouts. I don’t sell to many restaurants anymore, and it’s cool to see the reverse effect — restaurants started buying them, and then all the co-ops and supermarkets wanted to buy them. I’ve seen that happen with a couple crops, which is really cool.
My first year I grew one bed [of Brussels sprouts], which is like 600 plants. This year we’re growing 24 beds, which is about 15,000 plants. So it’s really been cool.
ON THE JOY AND MISERY OF FARMING
People have one of two perceptions: Either it’s this romantic, hold hands and watch the rainbow experience, or it’s just endless toil. The reality is it’s both. You definitely have times when it’s a wonderful, amazing, borderline spiritual experience, and then you have times when it’s heinous.
[In May, we were] planting onions for Lakewinds Co-op, and it was like a Greek-style push a boulder up a hill thing: 80,000 plants going into tiny holes, in the rain. Nobody’s having a good time. But, by the same token, we had all these extra strawberry starter plants, so I was eating strawberries out of our greenhouse.
The bigger you get, the more you spend time managing rather than doing. I think the attraction of farming is the challenge of it. I don’t know what I’m doing after 10 years, because it’s a different experience every single day and every single time.
If you’d talked to me my first year, I’d say, “I’ve got it under control ——”
ON TAKING THE WINTER OFF
[The work week] goes from 60 hours to 30 hours. I’ve been trying to figure it out. You work for years to get the idea of having an off season, and then you get there, and you’re not sure what to do. It’s amazing how fast weeks fly by when you’re watching Netflix in the middle of winter in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin.
The interview was lightly edited for clarity.
Over the past decade, I’ve eaten at no fewer than 500 different restaurants in a professional capacity. That includes time spent as a food writer at Minnesota Monthly, City Pages, and the Heavy Table. The number may be as high as 1,000, but details tend to blur as the calendar pages pile up on the floor. With all those calories logged and menus perused, it’s still safe to say that there is literally no place quite like Meritage.
Meritage (which celebrated its 10th birthday last night with a meal including spit-roasted whole leg of beef and harvest pumpkin soup) is a remarkable place. It’s a restaurant that is decidedly high-end but executes its menu with such care that it also offers superb value. It’s a place where you can taste a real canard à la presse or slice into an old-school baked Alaska.
And it’s a place where the best virtues of French dining — great ingredients, classic methods of preparation, careful plating — are still thriving, much to our collective good fortune. Speaking personally, I would almost always take a good taqueria or pho shop over a trendy restaurant, but I would also almost always take Meritage over just about anyplace else. There’s a lot that sets it apart, but here are a few discrete thoughts.
Think of “deep hospitality” as everything you’d want from a Michelin starred restaurant — an authoritative knowledge of the menu, insight into cocktails and wine pairings, a talent for timing and details — with none of the stuffiness that can creep into upscale dining. It’s hospitality that feels warm (not smothering), competent (not condescending), and inclusive (not snooty).
Your server at Meritage will be too busy making you feel comfortable and at ease to show off; if they happen to be deep-diving into the backstory of a dish or working overtime to help you enjoy your meal, it’s because that happens to be the best way to ensure that you have a lovely evening. Whatever the means, the end goal is the same: a truly pleasurable meal.
SEAFOOD THAT MERITS THE NAME
If you’ve spent time on either coast, you’re aware that seafood is always going to be a blind spot for the Upper Midwest. There’s no shame in it — we’re far from the ocean, and we’ve got access to brilliant pork, beef, and lake fish, plus tremendous beer and cheese. We can manage just fine. But with only a few exceptions, if you’re looking to experience a taste of the ocean in Minnesota, you’re going to be getting a distant echo of its potential rather than a roaring crescendo of flavor.
Meritage is one of those exceptions. Its annual Oysterfest is the visceral symbol of the way that the restaurant lives every day, namely by pursuing a deep relationship with purveyors (particularly oyster farmers). It’s those relationships that make the seafood stand out for its variety and freshness. Also, no one, anywhere, has been able to lay a glove on the wild-caught Pacific shrimp cocktail.
CLASSIC DINING DONE IN FULL
If you watch classic films or read the skillfully written detective novels of author and serious gourmet Rex Stout, you quickly get a visceral sense of what dining out used to be: well-dressed patrons taking hours to have long, full conversations while enjoying dishes prepared from scratch with love and care. There is a glamor to be had. You’re not just gaining calories or eating to Instagram, you’re part of a scene that feels a well-planned cocktail party. (See also: Saint Genevieve, Burch, Bar Brigade.) It’s the opposite of vulgar. While the wine might be good and the clothes fashionable, the overall point isn’t the wine or the clothes; it’s the joy that comes from connecting with your fellow human beings and letting your guard down for a couple of hours of fun.
As a mood, cool can be great, but it’s the opposite of warm for a reason. Meritage is a warm place to which you want to return, and that’s why it’s stuck it out for a decade (an eon, in restaurant years). We’re looking forward to what the next 10 years bring to this St. Paul institution.
Meritage, 410 Saint Peter Street, St. Paul MN 55102; 651.222.5670
This week in the Tap: 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 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 email@example.com.
- Bull’s Horn, 4563 34th Ave S, Minneapolis | Doug Flicker’s meaty, burger-forward revamp and reinvention of the former Sunrise Inn space.
- Martina, 4312 Upton Ave S, Minneapolis | The former Upton 43 space has become an Argentine- and Italian-inspired spot by Daniel del Prado, formerly of Burch.
- NOLO’s Kitchen and Bar and The Basement Bar, 515 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis
- Sisters’ Sludge (relocated), 3746 23rd Ave S, Minneapolis | A fresh start for the popular Minneapolis cafe, including beer and wine.
- Benedict’s, 845 E Lake St, Wayzata | A “modern diner” focused on breakfast fare.
- Twin Cities 400 Tavern, 1330 Industrial Blvd NE, Minneapolis | A new collaboration between Scalzo Hospitality and Parasole.
- Five Watt Northeast, 861 E Hennepin Ave | A second location for the popular Eat Street coffeehouse and roastery, including an expanded food menu. As featured in the Hot Five.
- Rebel Donut Bar, 1226 2nd St NE, Minneapolis | More action within the “fancy doughnut” sphere, but in this case, miniaturized.
- The Market House Collaborative, 289 5th St E, St Paul | Now open: OctoFish Bar. As per the Shea designers: “The space will include a seafood market, a casual seafood restaurant, a boutique butcher shop, and a bakery, and we can’t wait to kick off.” Vendors are reported to include The Salty Tart bakery, a Peterson Meats full-service butcher shop, Almanac Fish Market.
- Seventh Street Truck Park, 214 W 7th St, St. Paul | A food hall with a rotating collection of trucks and three separate bars. Our review here.
- Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery, 445 Smith Ave, St. Paul | “A craft brewery specializing in German lagers and a wurstery offering a variety of house-made sausages.” Another Kickstarter campaign success. Our brief review.