University Avenue exerts a strong gravity on those seeking authentic Southeast Asian cuisine, and justifiably so. We have to remind ourselves to break free from that pull and venture away from the St. Paul thoroughfare, sometimes just a few blocks, which is where we found a Cambodian gem called Kolap Restaurant (601 Dale St, St. Paul).
Inside its plain brick building at the corner of Dale and Thomas, Kolap is sparsely decorated, aside from artwork depicting temples and landscapes and an archway into the kitchen reminiscent of a temple facade. Scaffolding mounted to the ceiling with lights and speakers suggests live music (or karaoke?).
We had the same server on both visits. We’d be hard pressed to remember friendlier service combined with a higher language barrier. We communicated basically in enthusiastic smiles and nods, and items numbers from the menu. He was among the more engaging servers we’ve met lately.
Kolap’s menu has dishes ubiquitous at Asian restaurants like chicken wings and pad thai as well as regionally specific dishes like pho and lemongrass chicken. But if you go to Kolap (and you should), you’ll want to try something that we haven’t seen anywhere else (if you’ve seen it locally, please let us know): the simply named Sour Soup ($9). It is a combination of familiar ingredients like tomato and pineapple along with novel ingredients like lotus rootlet and moqua (a young melon that behaves here like a cross between a potato and a cucumber). The first thing that hits you is the sweet, piquant aroma of the roasted, chopped garlic scattered on top of the enormous bowl. A pile of basil and cilantro lead you into the steaming broth, which is filled with the aforementioned ingredients in addition to fish (probably tilapia), chicken, and a few perfectly cooked shrimp. Sparse lotus rootlets were crunchy and fibrous. The broth is not unlike that of pho, and all of the ingredients together make a sensory feast. Sour gets top billing, but it is no more pronounced than sweet, salty, umami, and a mild bitterness and astringency from the moqua. It is an outstandingly singular dish and it took a couple of visits to process.
As for the rest of it, everything we tried was expertly prepared and arrived at the table quickly. The Spring Rolls ($3) were plump and fresh, filled with crunchy herbs and vegetables and properly cooked shrimp and pork. Chicken With Lemongrass ($8.75) was flavorful with a lemony, aromatic sauce, wok-kissed chicken, and fresh peppers and onions that retained their crispness.
Loht Chha with chicken ($8.50) arrives with all the visual charm of a plate of cooked earthworms. The noodles and sprouts are of a similar length, width, and beige facelessness. But the noodles and chicken have a great char, and green onions and egg add depth of flavor.
Kolap’s menu may be less expansive than Cheng Heng‘s, perhaps the Twin Cities’ best-known Cambodian restaurant, but if you’ve ever sat at Cheng Heng and flipped back and forth through the menu trying to decide which of the entirely unfamiliar dishes to eat, the answer will be easier at Kolap. You’ll have the Sour Soup.
Kolap Restaurant, 601 North Dale St, St. Paul, MN 55103; 651.336.6108
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 email@example.com.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
The Lowry Hill Meats Burger
The burger at Lowry Hill Meats is nothing fancy. It’s a hyper-juicy quarter pound of delicious beef bedecked with caramelized onions and a salty, sticky, full-flavored house-made American cheese(!) But despite (or because of) its simplicity, it’s now become one of our favorite lunches, and the start of what we can only hope is a new Wednesday-afternoon tradition.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Flyover Country by Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Oakhold
The first thing that grabs you about Fair State and Oakhold’s barrel-aged sour Flyover Country is the aroma. It’s rich and complex, funky stone fruit and acid. We kept going back for more before even sampling the first drop; there’s a compelling story wafting upward from each glass. The beer itself is a powerful wave of flavor that breaks immediately as it hits your palate, a blast of complex acidity — riffing on coriander and orange peel — that crests quickly and exits cleanly, leaving you refreshed with each sip.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Honey Walnut Shrimp at Hong Kong Noodle
I’m a shrimp lover, which means you embrace disappointment. I imagine about 33 percent of shrimp must come from the terrible part of the ocean, but that’s not the case with the good people at Hong Kong Noodle. These big shrimps are always crispy, and they are covered in a heavenly sauce full of sweetness that is balanced by the crunch of the also-sweet candied walnuts. It’s not often that any type of meat pops in your mouth, but this absolutely does.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a Desert Island Top 10 post by Sean McPherson]
Goat Rice Bowl from Union Kitchen
We ordered one of everything at Yia Vang’s Union Kitchen pop-up this Monday at Grand Cafe, and we’re glad we did. Everything was good-to-excellent with a lot of funk, depth of flavor, and balance throughout. The Stout Beer Braised Goat Rice Bowl may have been our favorite single taste. The goat was stewed to tender, fully flavored perfection, and the accompanying soft-boiled egg, pickled carrots, and jicama and bok choy were lovely complements to the big soothing flavor of the meat.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Hot Tuna Hoagie at Hogan Bros.
Absolutely nothing — not an atom — of this sandwich has changed since Hogan Bros. and I arrived in Northfield at almost exactly the same time, 26 years ago. It starts with soft, crustless bread, flecked with whole wheat in a pre-whole-grains-heyday kind of way. “Everything” is a perfectly calibrated balance of shredded lettuce, onions, tomato, banana peppers, mayo, and a special sauce that seems to be mostly Italian dressing. “Hot” means a quick trip to the microwave. And the whole thing drips just enough to make you feel alive and young and carefree again. And now you don’t have to worry about quarters for laundry.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Tricia Cornell]
Well-regarded chefs Erik Anderson (formerly of Porter & Frye and Sea Change, pictured below) and Jamie Malone (Sea Change and Barrio, above) are the new owners of the slowly going-out-of-business Grand Cafe. This move has been publicly known about for quite some time, and there has been speculation that they’d transform Grand Cafe into their long-discussed project Brut, but that’s not to be – “This is the Grand Cafe by Erik and Jamie,” they write in a press release about the takeover, below.
We are excited to share that we are the new owners of the Grand Cafe! We are still looking for the perfect spot for Brut, but sometimes you follow that path that life puts in front of you. When we were presented with the opportunity to take over the Grand, we started dreaming about what we can do with it once we applied our creativity and experience. We know it will be incredible, and we could not pass it up.
The Grand Cafe has always been a hidden gem; a humble place that speaks to real life, and we want to keep it that way. This is not Brut. This is the Grand Cafe by Erik and Jamie. The space has a patina that has taken 70 years to build, and we can’t wait to add our personalities to it! It’s exciting for us to think about the idea of walking in to an unassuming South Minneapolis restaurant and being happily surprised by a greeting from Bill Summerville, who will be assisting us to ensure our guests get the best possible experience ( and wine!), as well as food from two nationally acclaimed chefs.
Guests can look forward to seeing many of the beloved brunch classics on the menu with a few of our own updates. As for dinner, guests will see our takes on forgotten French classics as well as modern and technique-driven surprises. The sweet, and humble, nature of the restaurant will stay, no flash, just a bunch of people who love cooking, wine and taking care of people, working together in a little neighborhood restaurant.
All our best,
Jamie & Erik
Look forward to our taking over the following social media accounts very soon..
Eddie Wu is the owner of Cook St. Paul, a diner and Korean-food gateway on St. Paul’s East Side. His restaurant on Payne Avenue is bedecked with colorful “All Are Welcome Here” signs in Arabic, English, Hmong, Somali, and Spanish. “Black Lives Matter” posters are displayed on his restaurant’s storefront. He knows well that unity isn’t the same as uniformity, and he’s happy to bullshit with anyone who walks in his door. He’s created a “greasy silver spoon” vibe, as he calls it, by giving a nod to Serlin’s Cafe (the diner that lived in his restaurant’s space from the 1930s) while also introducing the Korean food he knows and loves. It’s a made-from-scratch restaurant — from the English muffins for your eggs Benedict to the kimchi for your mac and cheese — and a place unafraid of mixing in a dash of politics.
The spot attracts its share of high-profile regulars: On any given day, you could just as easily sit next to State Senator Tom Bakk, U.S. Representative Tim Mahoney, Eater editor Joy Summers, a mechanic from Dave’s Auto Shop, or a fanatic regular with the Cook St. Paul logo tattooed on his biceps. Wu, a restaurant owner who won’t allow himself to be called a chef, was just filmed by the Food Network for a series that will air late this summer. He’s laid back about it. He’s not driven by the luster of stardom. On Friday nights, he’s happy to cook Korean food with plenty of house hot sauce, while wearing his “I Love Eve” T-shirt (Eve is his wife) and holding an “Eddie Wu” in his hand. What’s that, you ask? A twist on the Arnie Palmer using the house lemonade he spent years crafting blended with Grey Duck chai.
HEAVY TABLE: Tell me about your upbringing. A culinary background?
WU: By birth, I am Edmond Charles Hansen III. I didn’t know I’d be a Wu someday, but my wife’s identity was stolen, and she was already on her third name, having been adopted, so I took hers. Ninety percent of the men I’ve met are appalled by me taking a woman’s last name. I’m not interested in tradition for tradition’s sake. My dad always told me my name was spelled Edmund (rather than Edmond, as his is spelled) so that our mail wouldn’t get mixed up, but I realized when I needed my birth certificate at age 18 that he was wrong. The spelling of my birth last name, Hansen, was changed when the first of my family members immigrated here. Names don’t mean shit to people.
I’ve been told McDonald’s was my first word. I’m one of five siblings, and my parents divorced when I was four. I grew up eating Tombstone pizza, hot dogs, and Chef Boyardee.
My dad was a Chief of Paramedics for the St. Paul Fire Department. He’d work for a period of time and then have ten days off. He’d sometimes take off and not tell us where he was going. I remember asking my sister once where my dad was, and she was like, “Oh he’s in Florida.” After my parents split, my mom was on welfare and struggled to take care of herself. My sister pretty much raised me.
When I was six, and because my parents weren’t hanging out that much, I would take rocks out of my front yard, clean them, and use my older sister’s clear nail polish to shine them. I’d put them in a wagon, and sell them around the neighborhood. I’d spend 10 hours a day out selling rocks. I used the money first to put a lock on my bedroom door, then buy a mini fridge, then food, and then I’d pay back my sister for the nail polish, plus interest. I remember buying frozen chicken Kiev and sitting on my bed with my door locked watching a movie and feeling like a king.
When I met my wife, there was still a good amount of my diet that was 7-Eleven-based: a taquito in my mouth and a Gatorade in my hand.
HEAVY TABLE: How did you claim your own path in the culinary world?
WU: When I was 14, I started washing dishes at Drover’s Inn in South St. Paul. Evidently, it was an institution. I just thought it was a lame restaurant in a hotel. It was the first time I saw how real food was made. From dishwasher, I was promoted to prep cook and then line cook. I worked there for two years. The head chef at Drover’s left to open Clyde’s on the St. Croix in Bayport, Minn. He poached me and three of my friends from Drover’s to help him, and at 16, I was running his kitchen. The place had a walleye special. I didn’t know what I was doing but I worked through the trenches and put in my time.
At 18, I stopped, and didn’t cook for a long time. I had the exact amount of credits I needed to graduate high school, and I planned to join the Marines after graduation. One day, I was hanging out with two other friends who spotted a Schwan’s truck down the street. They stole food from the truck, and we got caught. I didn’t steal anything, but I was with them. Because I was 18, and the other two were still minors at 17, the officer chose to charge me with the theft. It wasn’t exactly a “prison or Marines” scenario, but my recruiter did move my boot camp ship date from October of ’97 to August of ’97 in order to avoid that happening.
When I decided to enroll in the Marines, my sister was shocked, “The Marines, Eddie?” But I decided if I was going to serve, I was going to do the hardest one. There was even a pool at Clyde’s on how long it would take me to fail out of boot camp. They had an over-under bet. It wasn’t even if, but when. Of the four that joined with me, I was the only one who made it through.
I had really negative experiences up until the Marines. When I got there, it was the first time I felt like someone had a vested interest in what I was doing. I worked for Sergeant Stephen Griffin, and he took a really practical approach to leadership. He commented once, he believed I was probably the thorn in the side of anyone who had ever been in charge of me. At the same time, as long as I produced the results he was looking for, what I did didn’t matter. I was good enough to the extent that he didn’t have to punish me, but bad enough that he didn’t have to give me too much responsibility. Even still, at 22 I was in charge of 40 people in two different countries: in Kuwait, and a team on a boat off the Indian Ocean.
Right after the Marines I worked at Sodexo as a general manager for corporate accounts. It was soul-crushing. It didn’t help when I went to a managerial training, where other GMs were talking about how they’d been with the company for twenty years. I couldn’t imagine ever following that path, doing the same thing day after day, so I left. I had to do something to prevent that from being my life.
I found a job as a bathroom attendant at a strip club in Denver called Shotgun Willie’s. The place had a hundred girls working on seven stages. They started calling me “nice guy Eddie” because I wasn’t doing drugs on the job or stealing from them. I made three times more money as a bathroom attendant there than as a GM at Sodexo. I was making $150 an hour. After a while, they promoted me to a manager because I knew how to avoid fights. I managed the place for six months and was there for a year-and-a-half, total.
I was working in Denver when I met my wife, Eve. We went to high school together and reconnected when I came back to Minnesota for my brother’s funeral. A few months after the funeral, she started flying out to Denver every month to get tattooed. She had her entire back tattooed by a guy in Denver, so it took multiple trips. She continued making weekend trips to visit me, and I’d fly back to Minnesota monthly for a few days too. The path I took to becoming a husband and a father is about as irregular and unadvisable as you can get. We got married without telling anyone on an April night in Vegas. At that time, my wife’s father became sick. So I went from what seemed like an overnight change of living on my own in Denver, to being married and moving into a house back in Minnesota with my wife, my new father-in- law and two step children. I flew back to Minnesota, and then loaded up a car, and drove back to Colorado on Sundays, taking 4 different trips with my stuff before I eventually came back to Minnesota.
After coming back here, I had two ankle surgeries, two spinal surgeries, and a jaw surgery. I had five surgeries in five years, and they were all from my time in the Marines. I was [clinically] depressed, didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I couldn’t get anything done because I was constantly recovering from surgery.
It was my wife who finally told me, “You don’t want a boss. You want to be your own boss.” So I went to community college, and I took all business classes. My wife encouraged me down the path of opening my own restaurant.
HEAVY TABLE: What drew you to Korean food?
WU: I had eaten Korean food once while I was in the Marines in San Diego. But it was my wife who introduced me to it. She’s Korean but was adopted and raised in the U.S. When we were in Denver, we ate at a Korean restaurant. We drank shochu and sang karaoke. It was there I discovered Korean hot sauce. I loved it and wanted to know everything about it.
After community college, I apprenticed at a [St. Paul] Korean restaurant my wife introduced me to called Sole Cafe. The owner’s name was Kimberly, and she needed help on the business side of things. I told her, “If you teach me how to make your hot sauce, I will reorganize and restructure your restaurant.” Nine months later, I had taken on much more than restructuring her business, I was her busser, dishwasher, server, and prep cook. And anytime someone came into the restaurant that she didn’t want to talk to, she’d point them to me. In many ways, I admired her work ethic and felt like, “Kimberly! I just need your approval!” It was from her I got a solid grasp on the fundamentals of Korean cuisine.
This story is sponsored by Chef Camp.
Join some of Minnesota’s most talented chefs in the woods to learn about primal cooking methods and share the best local flavors. This immersive retreat for chefs and food lovers in the North Woods runs from Sept. 1-3, 2017.
The chefs who will be cooking over the fire this year include:
Noted French chef VINCENT FRANCOUAL, former proprietor of Vincent, A Restaurant and the current culinary director of Cara Irish Pubs. Vincent cooked with famed chef Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin, a 3-star Michelin-rated restaurant. He’ll teach a class on cooking Provençal fare over an open fire.
ERIK SATHER, owner of Lowry Hill Meats, a butcher shop in Minneapolis. Through years of cooking in some of Minneapolis’ best restaurants, Sather has demonstrated a passion for connecting to the source of his ingredients. At camp he’ll teach our campers how to make tortillas from scratch and fill them with heritage pork and fixin’s foraged from the wild.
JASON ENGELHART, executive chef at Meritage. Jason creates high-end French-influenced cuisine at one of the state’s top restaurants and is an enthusiastic backyard griller / smoker of meats. His class, The Art of the Char, will explore the unique flavors that can be produced over an open flame.
YIA VANG, Union Kitchen pop-up founder. While working in some of the foremost kitchens of Minneapolis (including Nighthawks, Borough, and Spoon and Stable) he began to find his own voice in showcasing Hmong food. Vang will draw on cooking traditions from his Hmong heritage to teach a campfire pork char siu class.
Forager KATHY YERICH, forager and co-author of Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest. Yerich is the vice president of the North American Mycological Association, and will lead a hike through the camp’s extensive network of backwoods trails called “What is this, and can I eat it?”
Chef Camp is a wilderness culinary retreat at YMCA Camp Miller, 90 minutes north of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Campers stay in cozy cabins, take chef-led campfire cooking classes, forage, sip artisanal coffee and cocktails, participate in classic camp activities (think archery, canoeing, and crafts!), and feast under the stars in an open-air mess hall.
A ticket to Chef Camp starts at $650 and includes all food, beverages, lodging, activities, and chef instruction.
Get a taste of Chef Camp in the city!
Join us for a Fulton Gran Fondo pre-ride feast on Friday night featuring Chef Camp chefs Erik Sather of Lowry Hill Meats and Yia Vang of Union Kitchen. Sather will be cooking up a whole hog (from Tangletown Gardens) porchetta-style, and Vang will be slow-roasting veggies over the fire. Join us for an epic meal, fun camp activities, and the launch of Fulton’s newest “HOPSTAR” Session IPA.