Indeed’s Mexican Honey is one of my favorite sorts of beers in that it looks like one thing, and then it charmingly turns out to be something else entirely. This “imperial lager” initially looks and tastes like yet another fajita-chasing, easy-drinking summer beer (it sports a mellow 17 IBU), but as you spend time with it, the experience evolves.
For starters, Mexican Honey has a surprisingly brutal 8 percent ABV, a strength that puts it within a short crawl of being barleywine (or regular old wine wine). The boozy punch gives each taste a level of substance and impact that slows you down as you sip. This isn’t a slam-it-and-forget-it lager or Pilsner; it’s another animal entirely.
The addition of Mexican orange-blossom honey seems to play out in the beer as a citric sweetness folded into its more-robust-than-expected malt backbone. All in all, this is a beer that might do best served in cordial glasses with baklava, or tres leches cake, or soft-rind cheese and fruit at the end of a meal, as opposed to doing the heavy lifting of accompanying a meaty entree or a salty, snacky appetizer.
It’s hard not to drink a beer like this and be reminded that we’re living in a golden age of craft brew around here. There are beer arrows in our quiver for just about every culinary need imaginable, and that should give any fan of great food (or great drink) a lot to cheer about.
There’s definitely a time and a place for the wildly creative, indulgent ice cream concoctions being scooped at places like Milkjam Creamery. But there’s also a time and a place for something simpler and more basic. When that craving arrives, you can do what people have been doing for nearly 30 years: Go to Conny’s Creamy Cone in St. Paul.
With its cheerful colors and block lettering, the building itself is reminiscent of a State Fair food purveyor. There’s a pride of place and a sense of being a good neighbor; on one visit, staff were outside, power-washing the siding.
And just like the State Fair, Conny’s draws crowds no matter the weather. On two recent visits, people were lined up on windy, 35-degree days waiting for their soft-serve fix. Is it worth the wait, especially in 35-degree weather?
Yes. Conny’s offers soft-serve ice cream in the standard flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and twist, but they can also add flavoring to the vanilla, thus creating an additional 28 flavors. The base ice cream is just what you want from soft serve: creamy and rich, with just the right amount of sweetness. But it’s not so rich that you can’t consume a lot of it at one sitting.
We decided to go completely old school and have a banana split ($4.39). It was delightful, constructed just like Bridgman’s used to do back in the day: three dollops of vanilla between a split-open banana, topped with strawberries (fresh), pineapple sauce, and chocolate sauce, with squidgens of whipped cream in each corner. Fancy? Not really, but so satisfying in an “I remember loving this in childhood, and it turns out I still do” kind of way.
A chocolate malt ($2.59-$3.59, depending on size) had a similarly retro, happy-making feel. The base ice cream is that same creamy vanilla, now swirled with plenty of chocolate.
The flavored cones ($2.20-$2.80, depending on size) were plump towers full of ice-creamy goodness. The blackberry was sweet, and maybe tasted more like raspberry than blackberry, but it was still refreshing. The caramel was light on stickiness, with almost a caramel aftertaste rather than a full-out caramel flavor.
Conny’s sells a number of food-stand items (chili dogs, chicken strips) that are serviceable, if not exciting. But really, you’re here for the soft serve. Skip the protein and get the sugar.
Conny’s Creamy Cone, 1197 Dale St N, St. Paul, MN 55117; 651.488.4150
Is there anything sexier than preserves?
The correct answer, of course, is “no.” Preserves capture the bounty of the north’s brief but glorious growing season in a format that stores indefinitely, plays well with other foods, and creates flavors brasher than just about anything else on the plate.
That so many preserves are over-sweet, muted in flavor, and / or deadly dull isn’t a fault of the format — it’s an outgrowth of techniques that fail to capitalize on their potential. Food writer Beth Dooley and photographer Mette Nielsen’s lively new book Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95) has the potential to seriously level up the preserves game in the Upper Midwest. It’s quietly revolutionary.
The book turns on a few clever ideas that play out in its pages. First, most books focused on preserves hearken back to the farm and call for the production of giant quantities, which presupposes large quantities of produce, huge pots, and lots of climate-controlled storage space. Second, many traditional preserves cookbooks create shelf-stable (as opposed to freezer) preserves, which require extensive processing that dulls flavor and mushes up texture. Finally, old-school preserves tend to be simple combinations of sugar with fruit, or salt with herbs and vegetables. The recipes of Savory Sweet are small-batch freezer preserves that combine subtle and novel ingredients, everything from Hot and Sweet Carrot Relish to Pickled Fennel with Lemongrass to Earl Grey Crab Apple Jelly.
We interviewed the authors at Nielsen’s studio / test kitchen in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, and they put out a spread of coulis, chutneys, relishes, and syrups that made the book’s thesis tangible. The flavors popped like wildfire — tart, sweet, and acidic notes intense but in balance.
HEAVY TABLE: How does the message of Savory Sweet tie into the conversation about local food in the Upper Midwest?
METTE NIELSEN: I feel that preserving is the next step if you’re going to talk about a local food economy. We need to do it on a much larger scale than even this book. We need local preserving companies and local canning companies. This is a step, and we hope it inspires somebody. We have a very short growing season, but we grow an abundance. In my little yard, I had a spot that was maybe 10 feet by 4 feet and I got 300 pounds of tomatoes out of that.
BETH DOOLEY: It’s crazy what you can actually grow. Everything [in the book] is done in really small batches. Most other preserving books are based on the notion you have access to really huge amounts. And everything is done in a 10-inch skillet.
NIELSEN: There’s a great new book out of California, but it’s based on this enormous copper pan that’s $500. And then you get 40 jars of jam. Why not make this amount and you get four? The scale of it makes more sense. And a lot of other books are based on the notion that you have a cool, dark place to store things. Even in my house, my basement is way too warm. Things start to fade. You store that same thing in the freezer, and it looks bright and crisp and like something you want to eat.
DOOLEY: You’re cooking the fruit or vegetables for a shorter period of time, so they’ll look more colorful and taste brighter. A lot of the work that Mette did was to say, “we don’t need that much sugar!” That’s why these things taste good.
HEAVY TABLE: They’re very sharp and bright – everything’s really bold.
This post is sponsored by Chef Camp, a culinary wilderness retreat north of Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 1-3 and Sept. 8-10.
Join top chefs (including Chef Camp’s chef-instructors Erik Sather from Lowry Hill Meats and Yia Vang from Union Kitchen) for a Tangletown Gardens pig roast featuring fire-roasted vegetables and a North Mallow s’mores bar. Tickets are $20 and include a Fulton beer.
At the Whole Hog Pig Roast, we’ll be serving a dish that includes pork roasted with flavorful tare sauce, fire-roasted vegetables, and Dumpling and Strand wild rice ramen noodles (made with rice harvested by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians). If you’re a home ramen maker and / or pork roaster, this is one sauce you’ll want to add to your arsenal.
1 cup water
1 cup soy sauce
½ cup mirin
¼ cup sugar
8 ounces smoked pork (or smoked bacon), chopped
8-10 ounces roasted chicken bones
Fresh ginger (about 2 Tbsp, chopped)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Thai chilies, minced
½ cup honey or palm sugar
- Put all the ingredients save for chilies and honey in a pot and bring them to a simmer (do not let it boil). Remove pot from heat and let the sauce steep for 30 minutes.
- Strain the solids from the liquid and add the honey and chilies.
USE: Put half the tare into a baking pan and add 1/2 Cup of water. Put the pork belly in the pan and and cover with tin foil and put it in a 300 degree oven for 1.5 hrs. After you pull it out of the oven, save the sauce, baste the pork belly with the remaining sauce, and crank the oven to 450 degrees and put the pork back in for 15 minutes (or until it’s dark golden brown). Cut up and serve.