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.
Miners’ best friends, edible hand warmers, meals in a pocket: Cornish pasties are a versatile, earthy, nigh-indestructible comfort food. What these empanadalike pastry edibles lack in sexiness, compared with foams or poke bowls (or, well, nearly anything else), they make up for in hearty, savory wholesomeness.
Although the global pasty hearkens back to the late 19th century and the spread of Cornish mining foremen around the world (including the Iron Range and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula), the format has seen a mini-boom in the metro area, appearing at restaurants, in food trucks, and even in a couple of brick-and-mortar locations. One such spot, Lands End Pasty Company in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis, has been in business since 2014. It’s an uncle-and-nephew shop, and we talked to Pete Jacobson (the nephew and front-of-the-house part of the equation) at some length about the pasties of Lands End.
The engine of a pasty is its crust, and it tends to be on the “structure-only” side of things — tough and resilient, but mostly flavorless. Lands End offers a crust with flavor, some pleasant flakiness, and structural integrity, a combination that Jacobson credits to his uncle’s pre-launch testing regimen.
“My uncle [Jon Earl] was making three batches of pasties a day for six months,” he says. “The main goal was to get the crust right. We go with pastry short crust for the pasties. It’s tough, but not indestructible. It’s an overworked pie crust, basically. It’s not too tough to eat, but it will hold up to handling.”
Even after developing an optimal crust, Earl found himself facing the classic entrepreneurial challenge: scaling up.
Promise falafel and/or shawarma under the roof of an independent restaurant, and we’ll be there — few foods are as soulfully nourishing as well-done Mediterranean classics. Zait & Za’atar promises these classics on its homespun, approachable menu, but it has some focusing to do before it hits the bull’s-eye.
One of the most difficult challenges facing any restaurant is that of decor. Go too cluttered, and you eat up valuable space (and make a difficult space to clean); go too minimal and you risk making guests feel as though they’re eating in a warehouse. Zait & Za’atar goes the latter route, with bare walls and widely spaced tables that give the room a somewhat foreboding feel.
That said, the first thing to hit our artfully tiled table was delicious. Zait and Za’atar’s fresh-squeezed lemonade ($3) may actually be the best in town. The sugar-to-citrus level is perfect: It’s incredibly tart and compensatingly sweet, with an herbal supporting note that makes for a deep, balanced, thirst-quenching beverage of the highest order.
After the lemonade things get more complex. We tried the restaurant’s Meat Shawarma Sandwich ($7.50, above) and its Falafel Sandwich ($6, top) and both had elements of greatness undone by parts that weren’t completely functional. Both wraps were crippled by the dry, cardboardlike pita that contained them, an especially glaring shortcoming when compared with the mellow, toothsome, soft pita around the corner at The Naughty Greek.
This week in the Tap: Some thoughts on long-form interviews, and a look ahead at upcoming restaurants, 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.
ON THE VALUE OF LISTENING
If you want to insult a journalist, suggest that he or she is a “mere stenographer.” It implies that the reporter merely records and transcribes speech before dumping it upon the reader, unfiltered, unanalyzed, and uncontextualized. This has become a well-known axiom in the journalism world, and it’s accepted at face value. Good journalism is thought to consist of mining the exact right words or the exact right sound bite and printing that alone.
Long paragraphs are a sign that you’re doing it wrong, and only a fool would tape record and transcribe when you can instead just get the money quotes you need on a pad of paper, in shorthand. That’s how the pros do it.
Allow me to retort. I recently spent eight hours at the Lakewinds Food Co-op in Richfield conducting Heavy Table’s first listening session, a series of 15 interviews with farmers, artisans, brewers, and coffee roasters that will give birth to as many (or more than that many) stories in this online magazine.
I’m transcribing all eight hours, word for word, a job that will likely take 20-30 hours when all is said and done. It’s a taxing job, and one that many who cover local food would argue is a waste of time. But here is what’s gained:
1. There is no better way to get the essence of someone’s story than to record it, listen to it again, and type it with your own hands. You have to catch the transitions, and the jargon, and the overall sweep of the argument.
2. Sometimes what you thought you heard the first time is simply wrong. You missed a qualifying clause or a way that the context of the answer altered the answer itself. A second listening will illuminate that.
3. When the final stories from this session come out on the Heavy Table, readers can read people’s complete and accurate thoughts, in full paragraphs. Yes, the journalist should understand a subject’s context and plumb the content for verifiable truth. But after that, sometimes the best thing a writer can do is find an interesting person, let them tell a story, and get out of the way. Trust that your subjects are interesting people, and let them speak.
Becca Dilley and I took this sort of oral history approach to the Wisconsin cheese industry with our books Lake Superior Flavors and The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin. It’s our favorite way to work, and it’s a way to paint a big yet subtle picture. On a lesser scale, we hope the Listening Session series plays out the same way, with Minnesota makers occupying the spotlight. — James Norton
- Grand Cafe, 3804 Grand Ave S, Minneapolis | Now owned by chefs Jamie Malone (above) and Erik Anderson, the cafe features cooking with a French viewpoint along with a new stone patio at the side of the building.
- Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative, 3134 California St NE, Minneapolis | Member-owned. the brewery is primarily a production space, with limited tastings and other public events.
- Lien Son, 1216 Broadway St NE, Minneapolis | Back in business after years out of commission.
- Tenant, 4300 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis | A tasting-menu-only restaurant in the former Piccolo space.
- Black Stack Brewing, 755 Prior Ave N, St. Paul | Sharing a complex with Can Can Wonderland.
- Cardigan Donuts, 40 7th St S, Minneapolis | More action within the “fancy doughnut” sphere.
- Kado no Mise, 33 1st Ave N, Minneapolis | Carefully crafted Japanese fare at Kado ne Mise; sister restaurant Kaiseki Furukawa is on the way.
- Colossal Cafe, 2403 E 38th St, Minneapolis| New, larger cafe in the former Pilgrimage location.
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.
Brisket Bowl from Gastrotruck
Those of you who crave lighter fare when the summer heat hits, avert your eyes. If, however, you think summer means nothing more than a long series of opportunities to consume smoked and grilled meats, track down Gastrotruck. The brisket has a deep, dark flavor and just enough sauce. Order it as a sandwich or a bowl (with brown rice). Either way, you get generous, well-considered sides, like baby arugula and a potato-and-green bean salad with a whole lot going on. (Veggie lovers, if you’re still reading, Gastrotruck does make a mean black bean burger, also available as a bowl.)
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Tricia Cornell]
Traditional Steak Pasty at Lands End Pasty Company
This week we met with 15 food artisans for half-hour interviews and sampling sessions as part of our first Heavy Table Listening Session at Lakewinds Food Co-op. Interview #1 was Pete Jacobson of Lands End Pasty Company, and he arrived with a still-warm steak, potato, onion, and rutabaga hand pie that we dove into for breakfast. Like the best of its kind, this pasty was stick-to-the-ribs hearty, well-seasoned but not overly salty, and covered in a crust that was tough but tasty, and durable but not leathery or bulletproof.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Sorghum Caramels from French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Asheville, N.C. is a bit of a drive, but we found ourselves there last week as a planned vacation to Barcelona became an impromptu road trip from Miami to Minnesota. While taking in the local scenery, we ended up at a chocolate and ice cream shop called French Broad Chocolate Lounge (named after the river, not a type of person) — and it turns out the founder, Jael Rattigan, originally hails from Minneapolis, which brings us full circle. The shop’s product is fantastic. The elevated but straightforward ice cream flavors rival those of Jeni’s, and the chocolate is luscious and full-flavored. We tried chocolates filled with caramel made from locally grown sorghum molasses, and they were rich, velvety bombs of caramelized sugar and chocolate intensity.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Dagos at Dusty’s Bar
Dusty’s is an easy-to-miss dive bar in the shadow of the Grain Belt complex. It serves food from a scratch kitchen, and its dagos — in St. Paul, generally a cheesy, saucy, patty-shaped-meatball sandwich; here more a pork-based hamburger — are flavorful and addictive. Try the classic, with caramelized onions and peppers, or the California, with lettuce and tomato ($8 each, sides $1).
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Didora]
’Tuckey-Style Old Fashioned at The Lexington
The ’Tuckey-Style ($12), as the name suggests, is the classic without a twist: Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, house bitters, and orange zest. This critical recipe tweak resulted in a near-perfect drink: an appropriate level of alcoholic heat, classic orange oil aromatics, and a truncated finish that doesn’t overstay its welcome on the palate.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Paige Didora]