The Holy Grail for any restaurant is finding that perfect combination of great vibe and fantastic food. There are those that succeed in spite of offering only serviceable food. You often find them perched on the edge of a body of water—the killer view outweighing the food. Then there are the dives where die-hard patrons are willing to overlook the sketchy atmosphere because the food sings. But those are the extremes. The outliers. Most places are battling it out somewhere in the middle.
Honestly, you have to wonder how a restaurant ever achieves that perfect vibe/food combination. There are so many moving parts, so many mitigating factors. Not to say that any place on this outing was in any way “bad.” Not at all. They each have their good qualities. But we were also reminded of how difficult it is for even great restaurants to get everything right. It’s a truth worth always keeping in mind. — M.C. Cronin
This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, James Norton, Peter Hajinian
OTHER EAST LAKE STREET CHECKLIST INSTALLMENTS: Lake Plaza, Gorditas el Gordo to Pineda Tacos, Taqueria Victor Hugo to Safari Restaurant, El Sabor Chuchi to The Rabbit Hole, Midtown Global Market, Miramar to San Miguel Bakery, Mercado Central, Ingebretsen’s to Pasteleria Gama, La Alborada to Quruxlow, Midori’s Floating World to El Nuevo Rodeo, Urban Forage to Himalayan, Blue Moon Coffee Cafe to Merlin’s Rest, Hi Lo Diner to The Bungalow Club
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
The East Lake Checklist is the third Heavy Table illustrated travelogue to explore a major gastronomic thoroughfare in Minneapolis and/or St. Paul. The East Lake Checklist is the Heavy Table’s follow-up to our 55-restaurant survey of independent eateries on Central Avenue and our 72-restaurant series about restaurants on the Green Line. We’ll publish five-restaurant installments biweekly until we’ve documented every nonchain spot on East Lake Street between 35W and the Mississippi River. (We’re estimating 75 spots, but we’ll see how it shakes out.)
This series is made possible by underwriting from Visit Lake Street. Heavy Table retains editorial control of the series — as with Central Avenue and the Green Line, this tour will be warts-and-all.
“From the river to the lakes, visitors and residents can shop local and be social on Lake Street. More information at VisitLakeStreet.com.”
Blue Moon Coffee Cafe
3822 E Lake St, Minneapolis
No surprise, the theme is astronomical. Not as in “big,” but as in stars and moons. The exterior is painted twilight blue. The ceiling is midnight purple and the walls starlight yellow. Star and moon shaped ornaments dangle from a plant on the counter. Twinkle lights wind their way around the coffee bar. A moon terrain poster hangs on one wall.
While theme is astronomical, the aesthetic is lived in. There are a few tables in the front of the shop and an elevated lounge area in the back with a hodgepodge of well-worn, squashy couches and chairs. The enormous bulletin area is bursting with dog eared copies of local lawn mowing service flyers, event announcements, and used cars for sale. This is a community coffee shop through-and-through. An independent. A labor of love. And thoroughly comfortable being exactly what it is. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
You’ve got to hand it to Blue Moon Cafe – they are willing to take it to the wall when it comes to novelty lattes. Their Cabin Weekend ($4.25, 8 oz.) is a honey, vanilla, and turmeric(!) number that has no lack of turmeric, which creates a sort of earthy, thrillingly decomp-y note that underpins an otherwise classic sweetened latte experience.
Our Maple Cold Press ($4.50, 16 oz.) was a more conventional beverage – naturally sweet, quite refreshing, and iced without being overly watery. The coffee faded a bit too much into the background, but on a hot day this is a drink that would absolutely get the job done. — James Norton
Peppers and Fries
3900 E Lake St, Minneapolis
Peppers and Fries inhabits what appears to be an old convenience store space which has been updated by adding three glass-paned garage doors that open to a patio area out front. A chain-link fence surrounds the patio and it’s the first hint at the concept here: sports. Specifically baseball. The chain link is a shout-out to the batting cages and old-school fencing you find around baseball diamonds in community parks all over the country.
More obvious clues to the baseball theme can be found inside. There’s a oversized outfield score board painted on one wall. The bar in the back is labelled the “Bleacher Bar”. The walls are littered with pictures of ballparks, neon beer signs with Twins logos, flatscreen TV’s playing sports and posters with sayings like “No Pepper”. In short, if you’re looking for a baseball themed sports bar, this one seems to have all the bases covered. (See what we did there?) — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
Peppers and Fries is a place that is pulse-poundingly rammed with personality. The menu, built as it is around the two pillars of burgers and burritos, gets weird in a hurry. You very quickly get the feeling that the proprietors aren’t afraid to play around with interesting flavor combinations, and they’re not afraid to commit.
Take, for example, the PB&J Fries ($8.75). It’s an order of hot, crispy French fries smothered in peanut butter and spicy jelly evocative of the kind of sauce you’d dip cream cheese wontons into at a reliable neighborhood Thai restaurant. As strange as a peanut butter-and-jelly French fries dish might seem, it’s actually fairly close in flavor to a chicken satay dish, and quite enjoyable as a result.
The Lake and Marshall Bridge burger ($14) looked simple enough on the menu – two 1/4 pound patties, American cheese, lettuce, onions, pickles and special sauce on a three-tier bun. Got it – kind of a play on a Big Mac. But no: The thing is a burger TOWER. It leans crazily over the plate, and it intimidates the riff-raff. The bun is pleasingly eggy, the sauce on point, the toppings in balance, and – this can’t be over-emphasized – the seasoning on the meat absolutely perfect, salty in a savory and encouraging way with plenty of pepper for balance. We destroyed this thing.
We ordered our Pepper’s Classic burrito ($12) with chicken tinga, but someone forgot to add the chicken tinga, and what we got was a reasonably decent if massive rice-and-beans vegetarian burrito. The restaurant took 50% off the tab for the item, so we were ultimately pretty happy about how it worked out.
Our Pickle Martini (Tanqueray gin, dry vermouth, pickle juice, and a pickle garnish, $8) was simple, clean, easy drinking and pleasant. We thought the pickle and pickle juice would kick hard, but they integrated smoothly into the cocktail, and we downed it with pleasure. — J.N.
International Cuisine Bar & Grill
3508 E Lake St, Minneapolis
The name makes it sound like some generic eatery you’d find tucked away in some global hotel chain. Turns out the name is a bit of a misnomer (more below).
As for the space, it’s pretty straightforward. Black corrugated metal covers the walls. A long bar runs down one side of the main room and a row of booths run along the other. An adjacent room has additional tables.
A few pictures hang here and there, but there’s very little else to look at. It’s basic, simple, clean. In short, it’s nothing too surprising or remarkable.
And then the food hits the table.
That old thing about not judging a book by its cover? Yeah, there’s a reason that’s a thing. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
The international cuisine of International Cuisine is pretty focused on Ecuadorian (and a bit of Argentinian and Peruvian) cuisine, but that’s OK with us. The menu is surprisingly cohesive, and when we put all of the food that we ordered into circulation, we found that the numerous components of all of our dishes worked beautifully well together.
Our Tamale Peruvano ($8) was moist and wrapped in a banana leaf; the quick pickled red onions on the side were an ideal foil for the pork, olives, and masa packed inside of the tamale’s generous confines. Bright acid meets earthy, warm meat and corn – love at first bite.
The Plato Bandeja Paisa ($18) contained everything we’ve come to love about this crowd-pleaser of a dish – an aggressively charred steak pounded down to about a micron of thickness, a soft-cooked egg, an avocado, beans, rice, a roasted plantain, and a fatty slice of pork belly. The beans require specific explanation: they were stewed in a deeply spiced, curry-like sauce, cooked perfectly, and surprisingly light and delicate. With the accompanying rice and just about any other item on the plate, they were fantastic. The plantain also deserves a citation for being so fully roasted and charred.
The sausage that came with our Llapingachos ($8) upstaged the llapingacho itself – it was snappy, firm, meaty, and nicely grilled, while the fried potato cake was a bit underflavored, though pleasurable with hot sauce or other more brightly flavored sides. — J.N.
3300 E Lake St, Minneapolis
Sonora Grill has all the requisite touches you’d expect in a place named for a southwestern desert region and Mexican State: sun bleached animal skulls and antlers, a hunk of driftwood on the wall, paintings that evoke a desert sunset. The bar is not just a bar, it’s a Tequila Bar. The floors are terra cotta tile. The table tops are plank wood. A weathered wood arbor wraps around the front of the building.
But it was the simplest thing that distracted us. The overhead recessed lights, in addition to being turned up too bright, were an inexplicable mix of warm and cool color-temperature bulbs. Yes, we’re being picky, but Sonora clearly cares about details. Simply dimming the lights and ditching those cool color-temp bulbs would be an instant improvement. “Cool white” LED’s are a just another version of fluorescent tubes. And no one wants to see their food and/or dining partners bathed in bluish-green light. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
When it comes to our meal at Sonora Grill, we are going to tackle the elephant in the room straight away. The Paella ($24) is, in fact, a combination of rice, shrimp, fish, and sausage. But it is not, in any way that we would normally recognize, anything like a familiar (mixed, or preparación barroca) paella. It might be that the chimmichurri-like green sauce stirred into the rice is an unexpected move. It might be that the fish is underflavored, and raises the question of where the more expected shellfish (mussels and clams, typically) might have gotten to. And it is most certainly that the sausage in the dish, rather than being something spicy and earthy along the lines of chorizo, is actually much closer to miniature breakfast sausages than anything we were expecting.
All of that said: the dish’s sauteed shrimp, twisted and charred by high heat into unexpected shapes, were absolutely stellar. This is a dish that could be successfully re-imagined and sold as a seafood rice bowl, but framing it as “paella” conjures up too many unfulfilled expectations.
We weren’t wild about the Sonora Hot Dog ($10), as it came topped with a gritty ground meat that tasted a bit like dehydrated chili, and it sported what tasted like a fairly generic low-grade hot dog (albeit one beautifully wrapped in bacon.)
But we were happy to wash both our mains down with the Sonora Margarita ($10.50) which is everything we want in a drink like this: it’s simple, it’s tart, and the high quality tequila speaks clearly and with confidence. This may be one of the best margaritas in town. — J.N.
3601 E Lake St, Minneapolis
The place is dripping with British Isles pub culture. There’s the properly nicked-up wood bar, the cozy, tufted burgundy booths, the wood-paneled walls and shelves crammed with brit-flavored trinkets and knickknacks: photographs of footballers, coats-of-arms, sea charts, distillery maps, used books, vintage beer posters and pewter mugs. It’s as if the goal was to fill every available space with some pub artifact. The night we visited there was even a band singing acoustic, fiddle-tinged shanties.
Yet somehow, littered with these archetypes, Merlin’s Rest avoids coming off like a some twee imitation of an English pub. Perhaps the authenticity is due to its hodgepodge-y-ness and working-class vibe, both in terms of decor and clientele. You have tattooed hipsters rubbing elbows with baseball-capped students. Cubicle dwellers sharing bar corners with warehouse managers. You have groups of 20-something friends playing Settlers of Catan and 50-something friends tossing dice.
It’s the kind of bar you’d hope to randomly stumble into while trying to escape the rain on some scruffy London side-street. Only, no airfare is required. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
Fish and Chips ($10.50) seemed like the right thing to order at one of the state’s most legitimate and upstanding British Isles pubs, and we weren’t disappointed with what arrived. We got the default preparation (fries and fish heavily doused in malt vinegar) and while we thought the breading on the fish was a bit tough and chewy, the maltiness and brightness from the vinegar was a nice complement to the fish, which was fully flavored and savory.
Our Pie of the Week ($8.50) was Australian-inspired, which meant Vegemite and sausage, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with it. The overall effect of the meat, the onions, and the earthy Vegemite was something along the lines of a classic sloppy Joe baked into a delicate, flaky, buttery crust, and it was ravishingly good alongside our beers.
There is no better Pimm’s Cup in America than the one at Merlin’s Rest ($8), and we’re sticking with that until someone proves otherwise. The stuff sliced up and presented within this classic cocktail is jaw-dropping – strawberries, cucumbers, mint leaves, and more – and the beautiful presentation is well-suited to the smooth, seductive, refreshing cocktail within. — J.N.
After the shift in Minnesota distillery law and a crowdfunding campaign circa 2012, Loon Liquors launched in Northfield, Minnesota with a copper still and plenty of uncharted territory in 2014. The foundation of their Indiegogo campaign was their flagship Loonshine. In the early months, Loonshine was a white, unaged Whiskey, a spirit commonly seen at many of the green microdistilleries in the Twin Cities.
Co-founders Mark Schiller and Simeon Rossi have expanded their line-up from one prototype-like bottle to a catalog that includes a gin, a vodka, and a handful of liqueurs. The variety now available in liquor stores may be a product of their cocktail room. According to Minnesota laws, distilleries must produce any spirits or liqueurs that are served to visitors, which results in a wider array for consumers if those spirits are bottled and distributed.
One such offering is the Lac Coeur Coffee Liqueur, a certified organic spirit made with Peace Coffee’s Yeti cold press. It’s far from the only craft coffee liqueur on the market – Du Nord Craft Spirits Cafe Freida also uses Yeti cold press – but the combination of ingredients is more than java. Lac Coeur Coffee Liqueur combines the cold press with vanilla beans, cacao nibs, and molasses. It contains about half the sugar as mass-produced liqueurs like Kahlúa.
Lac Coeur is relatively low in alcohol, 25% ABV, and it’s pleasant over ice. The typical applications work — it makes for a wonderful white Russian — but is far more versatile since it is not cream-based or overly sweet. It’s dominate flavor is, of course, coffee, but it also adds depth of flavor to other brown-spirit-based libations. In a traditional Old Fashioned, it plays with the bitters and orange garnish and finishes in a tiramisu-like flourish.
In addition to adding breadth to their line-up, Loon Liquors has allowed their Loonshine to evolve into a lightly-oaked whiskey. It now has the color of ginger ale and mild tannic depth. Loonshine is made with organic barley and wheat, and is rested on oak staves for wood character similar to Crooked Water l’Eau Grand French oak finished vodka.
On first sniff, there’s a plastic-like aroma that is not present in the flavor. Instead, we found an enjoyable toffee and caramel corn like profile that works well to balance citrus and herbs. Not surprisingly, it’s lacking the depth of more hearty aged spirits, and probably will not woo any dedicated bourbon lovers. However, for mixing in bright, summer cocktails, Loonshine plays well.
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.
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.
Steak Chilaquiles at Sonora Grill
Chilaquiles is one of our favorite “all-in-one” dishes, and the Sonora Grill version is excellent. Simmered in salsa, the chips retain a little crunch, and runny eggs and chihuahua cheese add creaminess. Grilled juicy steak is definitely worth the $2 up-charge; unlike chicken and pork, it doesn’t get lost in the mix. We also dig a vegetarian version, with scrambled eggs and avocado.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by Joshua Page]
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.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a story by Beth Dooley]
Sausages from 88 Oriental Deli
These are 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.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a story by Mecca Bos]
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]
Roasted Cauliflower from Mint Mark in Madison, WI
We’ve become a fan of roasted cauliflower over the years, but this version, presented at the irresistibly stylish new Madison, WI restaurant Mint Mark, really takes the cake. It’s crispy as can be, dressed up with an umami-rich bagna cauda sauce, flakes of aged cheese, and golden raisins. There are many reasons to seek out Mint Mark’s various charms, but this cauliflower dish is at the head of the list.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
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