This is the third in a four-part series of stories underwritten by Sociable Cider Werks that trace a 22-mile bike route through Minneapolis and St. Paul, hitting markets and off-the-grid eateries along the way.
Depending on which side of the river you most identify with, University Avenue is the “Eat Street” of St. Paul, or Eat Street is the University Avenue of Minneapolis, and it’s a good thing we don’t have to choose, at the risk of starting a civil war.
The sheer number of eating and drinking establishments clustered together makes it virtually impossible for anything else at all to sprout up in between them, making it a no-brainer for consumptive crawls or rides. And thanks to that proliferation, you’re wise to get out of the car, or even off of the train, and really, really have a good look at what’s here, because as the storefronts whiz by, you might imagine that they are all similar, but you would be wrong.
This series is underwritten by Sociable Cider Werks, makers of innovative libations that are best shared with a friend.
Ha Tien Market
You know banh mi sandwiches. Every Minnesotan knows banh mi sandwiches as sure as she knows sweet corn and the proper placement of a bobber on the fishing line. But did you know that Ha Tien Market is practically ground zero for banh mi? Yes, nearby Saigon may have a bigger name for its gargantuan, three-for-$10 sandwiches, which go great with their gargantuan soups and bubble teas. But Ha Tien has earned a worthy name for itself as the cult-y place to go for the best barbecue pork banh mi around.
How cult-y? Approach the counter, and chances are the staff will know what you’ve come for, and they’re going to tell you if you’ve arrived on time or if you’re too late. Too late is typically anytime after the lunch rush, so if you come after say 1 p.m., you’re cutting things close.
Fatty, unctuous, crisp, bubbly, the pork belly hangs in full view on a hook, next fire engine-red Peking ducks, and when you order a sandwich, down comes the belly, and whack! whack! whack! a lady (or in some cases a guy) will create a sandwich for you with impressive flourish. Arguably, this is the only thing to go out of your way for as far as this particular lunch counter is concerned, but there are a few pairings to consider.
It’s easy to be split on Lao-style Papaya salad, the shredded, green papaya wonder that is gaining traction for the dish we are lucky enough to call almost ubiquitous in our Twin Cities. That said, stay alert for “Thai Style” and “Lao Style” differentiators on papaya salads, the latter prepared with a goodly amount more fish sauce, fermented fish, and shrimp paste to render the thing with an almost aquarium-like aroma. Love it or leave it, Ha Tien serves the latter, in convenient takeaway clamshells. I like mine with the purple sticky rice that acts as a foil to everything that’s going on with the papaya which is a lot— hot, funk, acid, tang.
Also, if the staff offers any specials, it’s worthwhile to grab it— on my last visit it was an interesting eggplant preparation roasted with sesame and while not necessarily mind blowing, a good way to get some veg in your life.
Wonders Ice Cream
In the age of Instagram eats, a very rapidly moving and expanding age, Thai Rolled Ice Cream is having its day. It’s weird-looking enough to be performance art, and it upends tradition enough to make it worth eating.
Smooth and creamy becomes, well, flat and and the same time cylindrical, so, yeah, why not?
It sort of reminds me of the first time I had Dippin’ Dots. Not exactly better than ice cream, but different than ice cream, like putting your cheese inside the patty instead of a plain old cheeseburger.
While Thai Rolled Ice cream is probably not poised to become as classic as the Jucy Lucy, it’s at least as fun. When Wonders first opened, lines formed around the block, for a chance to watch and learn, a chance to Instagram, and finally, a chance to taste.
In any case, by this time in your ride you’ll be looking for a little sweet satisfaction and refreshment, so check it out. At the very least you can tell the internets that you did.
88 Oriental Deli
Perhaps the most pleasant thing about food exploration is the reward of something completely new and amazing. There is new, and there is familiar and great, but new and amazing, that’s the fix we’re all looking for here at Heavy Table, amiright?
So imagine our thrill when wandering to the lunch counter of this unassuming Asian grocery store that at first blush looks like many others you’ve shopped. Approach the lunch counter way in the back, and you’ll be asked, basically, how much sausage you want. And the answer only lies in your own conscience: how much sausage can you eat?
This handmade specialty is like nothing I’ve had in the past, not the same as the lemongrass Hmong sausage I’ve grown something of a spiritual attachment to, nor the sour sausages found in many Vietnamese soups and sandwiches.
Instead, this link-like sausage comes with a warning— it’s hot— sneakily hot. Start devouring the sweet porkiness, and wait for the creep. It’s addictive, and magical, and something that will have me returning again and again.
This is a product that works best with a foil, so if you’re not offered the pickled carrots that sometimes arrive as sidecar, check out the pickled mango in the refrigerator section, that can provide a similar balancing act. It comes in a pouch with some brine, and will be a welcome addition to any charcuterie plate at home if you have any leftover.
And, because it’s there, order up a bubble tea that the staff will build to your specifications, multi-chromatic and gelatinous as you like.
DIRECTIONS FOR THIS LEG, FROM HA TIEN MARKET TO 88 ORIENTAL FOODS
LA ALBORADA (see previous installment) 1855 E Lake St to HA TIEN MARKET [6.5 miles]
Head east on East Lake St., continue on Marshall Ave. 6.3 miles
Turn left on Western Ave N .5 miles
Turn right on University Ave W, walk your bike, destination on left
HA TIEN MARKET 353 University Ave. West, St. Paul to Wonders Ice Cream [.2 miles]
Head east on University Ave. West
WONDERS ICE CREAM 298 University Ave. West, St. Paul to 88 Oriental Foods [.3 miles]
Head east on University Ave., cross at Marion St., head west on University Ave.
88 ORIENTAL FOODS, 291 University Ave. West, St. Paul
We visited last week’s First Taste Minneapolis Farmers Markets Preview and discovered that there’s a new crop of makers at our markets and good reason to stroll in the almost-summer sun. Along with ramps, tender greens, a few morels, and those oh so sweet overwintered parsnips, you’ll find a pantry’s worth of pickles, kraut, kimchee, and sauces, crafted from local produce. Each of these items pops up at various markets in the area – check the websites for current details.
Topos Ferments – Tangy carrots brightened with mint, golden beets with ginger, garlicky ramps, crafted by Jim Bovino, master of microbes. Light on funk, not too sweet, the flavors of each vegetable shines through.
Kiss My Cabbage – Adrienne Logsdon makes a kraut to love. That beet curtido loaded with cumin turns scrambled eggs into a dinner-worthy meal. Her kimchi changes seasonally.
Craft & Vine Picklery – Traditional pickles are packed in a balanced brine to be crisp and crunchy, hamburger ready. They’re available in Original Dill or Habanero Hot!
Mazzah – This traditional Afgahn sauce looks like pesto and tastes like a chutney. It’s a smooth bold blend of heat and warm spices. It’s translated to mean “flavor” in Farsi, and created by sisters Sheilla and Yasameen, using their mom’s traditional recipe.
Jen’s Jars – Chef Jennifer Alexander’s spinach and pine nut pesto makes a fine alternative to the classic basil blend. There’s plenty of garlic, a bit of heat, and the color is spring bright. Swirl into soups, toss with pasta.
Calvits Drinking Shrubs – These shrubs are for drinking, not mixing, and they’re tart and bright, sparking a range of summery sips. Try the Ginger Lemongrass with vodka, Beet Ginger with sparkling water and lime, Thai Basil and dark rum.
Root To Rise Kitchen’s Walking Vegan Tacos – Loaded with fresh veggies draped in creamy cashew cheese with a fiery hot sauce, these can compete with any taco in town.
3 Bear Oats Grain Bowls – Try the Shangri-La curry, with coconut, cashew and crystallized ginger for lunch or a light dinner. Not too hot, not too spicy, and plenty of zip … this one is just right!
There’s almost no better test of a home cook’s mettle than a large roast. Working with hefty sub-primal cuts like prime rib or leg of lamb (the subject of my previous piece) demands much stronger boning, roasting and carving skills than relying on pre-trimmed, conventional component parts like pork chops and beef tenderloin medallions.
But whatever sub-primals might ask of you, they return in spades: You get the ability not just to feed a large crowd, but also to wow them with an impressive display: That glorious hunk of roasted goodness emerging from the oven; the anticipation of that first, mouthwatering slice from the carving knife; that exquisite reveal of a perfect rosy interior framed by a brown, crispy, salty crust.
But let’s say you’ve already proven yourself with prime rib and leg of lamb. What’s next? Short of roasting an entire animal on a spit, how do you take your special-occasion cooking to the next level?
Here’s how: Roast up a whole saddle of goat or lamb.
What’s a saddle? Butcher specifications can vary a bit, but basically, the saddle of any animal is two whole loins, complete with the tenderloins that are on the other side of the bone. In reality, it is a what T-bone steaks look like in their sub-primal (whole-muscle) form.
If you took a cleaver to a goat or lamb saddle, you would end up with a bunch of small lamb or goat t-bone chops. But don’t start hacking away just yet…
With their smaller size relative to beef and pork, creatures like lamb and goat share the special trait of being some of the only animals that have a whole saddle that can be cooked for a small group of people at home. One saddle of lamb will feed 8-10, and a goat about 4-6, while a saddle of beef would feed about 50-60, and require large cooking setups to prepare.
As meat roasting goes, cooking a saddle is pretty simple, but for easy slicing, it’s best to take out the backbone before you cook it. This also creates a cavity begging to be seasoned with a mix of fresh herbs. See below for a demonstration of removing the bone, and seasoning with fresh herbs and breadcrumbs.
After your saddle is de-boned, seasoned and tied, it gets pan-seared, roasted or grilled to form a crackling crust, then cooked until medium or so, depending on your taste, then rested and sliced. Just like other roasts, there’s plenty of pan drippings for a great sauce, too — always a crowd pleaser.
For this basic recipe, I’m going to share a simple side of buttered turnips: an age-old partner to lamb and goat. If you have a local co-op, keep your eyes open for different varieties of turnips. Pictured are scarlet, gold, and purple-top, listed in order of the amount of sweetness each one has.
Back to the saddle. The tricky part about cooking a saddle isn’t the prep or execution. It’s finding a whole, high quality saddle to work with in the first place. Large cuts can be a hard sell at grocery or butcher shops due to their size and unit cost. Plus, with saddles, butchers can often get a higher price per pound by selling lots of smaller chops as opposed to one large piece, so they don’t hesitate to break those saddles down.
As a chef, when I’m in search of lamb or goat I look to my favorite purveyor: Shepherd Song. They ship around the country, and their 100% grass-fed product is the best I’ve tasted. Browse through cuts of their carefully selected heirloom breeds, and have them shipped right to your door at www.shepherdsongfarm.com
Herbed Goat or Lamb Saddle
This is a method for a roasted saddle and an optional side of buttered turnips. Serve with some cooked hearty greens or a salad for a complete meal.
If you don’t have a pan big enough to fit a saddle, you can brown it at 475F for 15-20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 250F until it’s finished cooking.
• Sharp paring knife for removing the backbone from the saddle
• Butchers twine, for tying the roast
A goat saddle will serves 4-6 as an entrée, Lamb 8-10
• 1 whole lamb or goat saddle
• Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
• 2 ounces fresh herbs: I like a combination of equal parts rosemary, thyme, and sage, combined with some chopped Italian parsley, but other herbs like savory could also be used. You’ll need about 5 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs in total.
• 4 tablespoons toasted breadcrumbs, preferably panko
• 1 tablespoon flavorless oil, like grapeseed or canola, for searing
For the buttered turnips (optional)
• 2.5 lbs turnips, the smallest you can find, peeled and cut into wedges, if the turnips are very large they could also be diced into cubes.
• 2 tablespoons roughly chopped Italian parsley
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
• ¼ cup finely chopped shallots
Prepping and seasoning the saddle
1. Before you remove the backbone from the saddle, put a small handful of rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley on the cutting board and chop all of the herbs together at the same time until fine. Reserve the herbs for seasoning the saddle.
2. Referring to the pictures above, remove the backbone from the saddle, score the fat side in a crosshatch pattern lightly to help the fat render, then season on both sides with salt and pepper.
3. Lay the saddle fat side down and season with the chopped herbs, then the toasted breadcrumbs. Press the mixture down on the meat to help it adhere, then roll it up tightly, seam side down.
4. Tie the saddle tightly with butchers twine to ensure even cooking. Allow the saddle to come to room temperature before you start to cook it.
Cooking the saddle
1. Preheat the oven to 250º F
2. Heat the tablespoon of oil in a large skillet or cast iron pan (a 12 inch pan will fit
a goat saddle). Turn on the oven hood, a fan, or open the window, as searing can make a little smoke and possibly set off your fire alarm.
3. When the pan is hot, sear the saddle deeply all over,about 10-15 minutes, removing fat from the pan as it renders that you can use to cook the turnips, if using. Either way, I like to remove fat as it gathers in the pan while searing to help cut down on any smoke.
4. When the saddle is deeply browned, place it in a roasting pan on a rack, or on top of some carrots or vegetables so the meat doesn’t directly touch the pan, which can cause the bottom to cook faster than the rest of the roast.
5. Cook the saddle in the oven until a thermometer reads 135, which will come out around medium from the low temperature cooking. Allow the saddle to rest in a warm place while you prepare the turnip, if serving.
Preparing the turnips (optional)
1. Increase the heat of the oven to 375º F
2. Put the rendered lamb fat in a large pan and heat until just smoking. Add the turnip wedges, season with salt and pepper to taste, then cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about 5-10 minutes. If needed, transfer to turnips to the oven to finish cooking.
3. When the turnips are just tender, add the shallots, and butter to the pan and stir to combine. Cook the turnips for 2 minutes more, double check the seasoning for salt, adjust as needed, then finally toss with the parsley and keep warm while you carve the saddle.
Carving and serving
When the turnips are done, transfer the saddle to a cutting board and slice with a sharp knife into 1 inch slices. Arrange the sliced saddle on a warmed platter surrounded by the turnips and serve immediately.
Not too long ago, after visiting yet another great eatery in Brooklyn Park, we asked the question: What else is going on up there in Brooklyn Park? Fortunately for us, someone took that question as other than rhetorical and pointed us towards even more places to try.
One of the places recommended was Crazy Cajun. This restaurant, which just celebrated its 3rd anniversary the first weekend in May, is helmed by owner John Nguyen, who hails from Texas. He grew up with Louisiana-style food and in a family with restaurant experience, but ended up here in the north, missing his favorites.
The menu has a variety of seafood iterations, from straight-up fried to fried and in a po-boy to boiled to raw oysters. There are also chicken wings, turkey necks, and gator, but seafood is the star here.
We tried the Dun’s Special Po-Boy ($13), which was fried catfish, shrimp, and oyster on a sizable portion of sturdy bread, with a zippy Cajun sauce, pickles, and lettuce and tomato. It’s the kind of sandwich you don’t want to eat on a first date, because you will make a mess of it. Go with someone you’re comfortable with and smash this beast into your face. It’s crunchy and tender and flavorful, with the fish mild and the Cajun sauce packing a little heat (but nothing overwhelming).
We also had that evening’s special (Wednesday nights only) of a fried seafood platter ($20 on Wednesdays). This is an enormous platter of fried oysters, shrimp, and catfish, served with hush puppies and three kinds of sauces, all made in-house: tartar, cocktail, and Cajun. The fried fish was flawless, crispy and hot, but not dripping with grease, and with the fish still juicy and not dried out. Like the fish, the hush puppies were beautifully fried and fresh, but still tender on the inside.
Perhaps most telling, the sides we tried were also excellent, rather than just things tossed on the menu to fill it out. The crawfish etouffee ($6 cup, $10 bowl) was wonderfully thick and stew-like with generous portions of tender crawfish and a little bit of heat. The red beans and rice ($5 cup, $8 bowl) was equally satisfying. Nguyen told us he simmers the beans for 5 1/2 hours, and uses a ratio of 1 1/2 pounds of bacon per 10 pounds of beans. There’s also pork sausage and ham hock, all of which leads to a smoky, salty (but not overly so) dish that stands well on its own.
Crazy Cajun also offers DIY seafood boils, with prices varying depending on ingredients chosen. Options include blue crab, snow crab or king crab; crawfish, jumbo shrimp, or mussels. Of course you can also add pork sausage or corn and potatoes, and there are varying levels of heat as well as two kinds of sauces to choose from. We suspect that this is an excellent option too.
Owner Nguyen hasn’t forgotten his Texas roots. He’s not only a chef, but a woodworker, and the restaurant has both a hightop table shaped like the state of Texas, and a long picnic table painted like the state flag, both of which he built. Crazy Cajun indeed.
Cajun food in Brooklyn Park
8578 Edinburgh Center Drive
Brooklyn Park, MN 55443
Wed-Fri 4-p p.m.
Sat 2-9 p.m.
Sun noon-9 p.m.
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: No / No
ENTREE RANGE: $5-$38
NOISE LEVEL: Can get noisy when busy
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.
Rice Plate With Pork Three Ways at Quang (#408)
This rice dish is “pork three ways” with eggs, and it sounds like overkill (or just right to cure a hangover), but none of the elements are heavy or overwhelming. The boneless pork chop is thinly pounded and slightly sweet while the pork skin and crab and pork pie are excellent sidekicks with contrasting flavors and textures. I suspect it’s a polarizing dish that you love or hate. Pro tip: request chili oil to give the semi-sweet dish some rustic heat. Editor’s Note: The original version of this story misidentified the dish number on the menu.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Joshua Page]
Kiss My Cabbage Curry Kimchi
As tasted at the First Taste preview of Minneapolis farmers markets, the Kiss My Cabbage Curry Kimchi is one of those condiments that can go with nearly anything – it has elements of sweetness, heat, depth of spice, acid, and umami and it complements just about any main dish without overpowering it.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by Becca Dilley]
Clarity of Purpose by Fair State and Surly
The result of a Surly/Fair State collaboration, Clarity of Purpose is an effort to create a New England-style IPA with the style’s full body, strong hop aroma, juicy flavor, and mild bitterness, but without any of the haze that drinkers typically see in this sort of beer. Mission accomplished: Although this isn’t as juicy and intense as the style can be, it’s mellow, tropical-fruity, juicy, and hop-kissed without being hazy or in any way astringent.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by James Norton]
Gravlax with Hataleipa via Breakfast with Beatrice
Without exaggeration, one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten all year. Rough-cut homemade gravlax made from Coastal Seafoods Atlantic salmon (cured with salt, pepper, brown sugar, dill, and aquavit), served on molasses and rye hataleipa (Finnish quick-to-make “emergency bread”) with cream cheese. The hataleipa comes from Breakfast with Beatrice, the new Beatrice Ojakangas book by University of Minnesota Press.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]
Buckwheat Napolean from The Bungalow Club
After tearing through the smorgasbord and a couple outstanding pastas at The Bungalow Club (loved the preparation, presentation, and flavor of the vegetarian lasagna), dessert seemed one dish too many. But the Buckwheat Napolean proved us wrong. The refreshingly light and restrained treat brings together slightly bitter, toasted buckwheat pastry with tangy rhubarb and creamy mascarpone.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by Joshua Page]