East Lake Checklist: Ingebretsen’s to Pasteleria Gama

WACSO / Heavy Table

The beauty of a busy thoroughfare like Lake Street is the history that quietly builds up along its sidewalks. It’s not a museum, perfectly curated for your learning pleasure. It’s living history. Unpolished. Ever changing. You become part of it by just being there. In a couple of blocks you see the immigrant experience that formed the city we are today. Businesses established by first-generation Americans sit side by side. A century-old Scandinavian market operates just down the block from a new Somali/Ethiopian restaurant and a Mexican bakery. There’s no telling how things will change decades from now, but we think you might find a few tasty reasons below to visit these businesses today. In a way, you’d be shaping history. — M.C. Cronin

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, James Norton,  Tim McIntosh, Becca Dilley

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

n WACSO / Heavy Table

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.”

 

WACSO / Heavy Table

Ingebretsen’s
1601 E Lake St, Minneapolis

It’s hard to imagine East Lake Street without Ingebretsen’s. The place has been slinging Scandinavian specialties like picked herring, Swedish meatballs, and fruktsoppa (fruit soup) on Lake Street since many of our great grandparents were in cloth diapers: 1921 to be exact. So, tradition runs deep here. You can feel it in the wood floors, in the Swedish horses on the gift store shelves, and in the hints of rosemåling you find here and there. You even sense it in the people who work here.

WACSO / Heavy Table – CLICK FOR LARGE VERSION

One of the guys behind the counter — we’re pretty sure he was an Ingebretsen — gave us a history lesson. He told us Ingebretsen’s was one of the first delis in the city to get refrigerated glass cases back in the 1930s. An interesting detail made all the more so by the fact that earlier we’d been looking through those very same cases selecting a salmon filet. Those refrigerators have been running for almost 100 years. So, why can’t we buy one that last longer than five years these days?

WACSO / Heavy Table

We visited Ingebretsen’s after the New Year and missed out on the — apparently ridiculous — Christmas rush. “We go from our busiest time of the year to our slowest time of the year almost overnight,” said our friend behind the counter. Traditions run deep. It’s easy to see why this place is so incredibly loved by the families of the Nordic immigrants who helped shape the Twin Cities. — M.C.

*** FOOD NOTES ***

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

It’s hard to know where to go with a deli spread as wide and varied as the one at Ingebretsen’s (everything from fruit soup to lutefisk to luncheon meats), so we kept it simple: a package of lefse ($7), a half-pound of smoked, pepper-studded salmon ($8.50), and a half-pound of whitefish ($5.50). The lefse was delicate, almost feathery light, and papery thin, with a legit potato flavor through and through.

We thought the salmon was wonderful — evenly smoked with a pronounced (but not acrid or overly aggressive) smoky flavor, a tender, moist texture, and good, evenly distributed hits of black pepper. The whitefish was simple as can be — neutral in flavor with only a hint of smoke, a blank canvas on which to paint other flavors. — James Norton

 

WACSO / Heavy Table

Halwo Kismayo
2937 Bloomington Ave S, Minneapolis

A couple of us spotted this place while parking and peeked into the front window just to make sure it was actually open. Our plan was to go wrangle our full group and return, but a gentleman came out and insisted we come in right away. The patrons gathered in the main room welcomed us with open arms.

WACSO / Heavy Table

They treated us as friends immediately, happily filling us in on details about the restaurant, smiling and joking with us. They told us the place had been more of a cafe, but it recently reopened with a full kitchen. They said it wasn’t a cheap endeavor, but it was worth it, because, according to the entire group, it has the best sambusas in town. These guys couldn’t have been bigger advocates for the place if they were owners. In fact, if they weren’t owners they should get a commission for the sales job they were throwing down.

WACSO / Heavy Table

The decor is straightforward. There’s an order counter and a few tables in the front room, and there’s a small room with additional seating in the back. Eventually, the rest of our group joined us and we were seated in the back room.

Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of sambusas, so we’ll have to come back sometime. Something tell us we’d be welcomed. — M.C.

*** FOOD NOTES ***

East Lake Checklist: Miramar to San Miguel Bakery

WACSO / Heavy Table

Is there such a thing as gastronomic whiplash? If so, we’re pretty sure we experienced it this outing. Within a span of a few hours we went from fish tacos to goat meat to mu shu pork to asada quesadillas to pineapple pastries. You might think by the end, we’d be begging for mercy. And to some extent we were. Yet, as we’ve learned before, our body’s ability to consume food doesn’t adhere to a strict rule book. Which may be why, after a long night of stuffing food in our faces, we still found ourselves shoveling forkful after forkful of chocolate flan cake down our gullets. So much for moderation (and modesty). — M.C. Cronin

This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, Ben Hajkal, James Norton

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

Ben Hejkal / Heavy Table

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.”

 

WACSO / Heavy Table

El Nuevo Miramar
501 E Lake St, Minneapolis

You have to hand it to El Nuevo Miramar. For a new restaurant and bar, they went big.

WACSO / Heavy Table

The space is big. It’s on a corner with two-story-high ceilings surrounded by windows. A staircase at the end of the room rises to a loft area. One wall is painted to look like a stage, complete with red velvet curtains. It appeared as though they could move a few tables and convert the place into a performance hall in a matter of minutes, though our server told us they use the space mostly for karaoke at the moment.

WACSO / Heavy Table

The lighting is big. There are large chandeliers. There’s LED accent lighting running length of the bar and along a row of high top booths. There are industrial-strength fluorescent fixtures. There’s a professional stage-lighting rig that wasn’t turned on the night we visited, thankfully. Even without the stage lights, the place was bright enough to see from space.

The food is big, too. A group of people near us shared some kind of seafood platter, featuring crab legs, that stretched out across the table. Two gentlemen next to us had giant glass goblets filled with a chilled shrimp cocktail concoction. As for the size of our tacos, well, they could’ve been carried to the table by forklift. — M.C.

*** FOOD NOTES ***

Ben Hejkal / Heavy Table

Sift Gluten-Free Bakery in Nokomis, Minneapolis

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

We love gluten, just to let you know where we stand. But we felt that if we turned this review over to the gluten-free beat, such as it is, that we’d be giving Sift (4557 Bloomington Ave S, Minneapolis) short shrift.

We will however give short shrift to the controversy, such as it is, surrounding the steady rise (get it?) of gluten free. Yes, celiac disease is real, and it is miserable. Yes, there are charlatans who will tell you that everything can be cured by eliminating gluten from your diet. Enough said about that.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

On to the baked treats that we picked up just as the sun was rising this past Saturday morning. Sift is a delightful and welcoming space, with a display case filled with an astonishing variety of muffins, bars, brownies, cookies, doughnuts, cakes, scones, and little tiny quiches. The beaming, smiling face that greeted us turned out to be that of Molly Miller, owner of Sift. She was visibly thrilled to be there and was more than happy to share with us her journey from longtime hobbyist baker to semi-pro farmers market vendor to professional baker with her own brand-new shop.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Her enthusiasm is well warranted. Our favorite item was the Ham and Cheese Quiche Bite ($2.50). The crust was chewy and buttery, and perhaps a little corny. The egg filling was creamy and shot through with pockets of melted cheese and bits of smoky ham. Our only gripe was the silver-dollar size. We could have eaten an entire full-sized quiche. On the other hand, if it were bigger, we’d have missed out on the lovely crust in each bite. I guess they know what they’re doing: These things are seriously craveable.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The Spiced Pear Coffee Cake ($3.50) was delightful. Airy, and rich with cinnamon and cardamom, it had a moist, fluffy crumb and a lovely aroma. For lack of wheat flour, it was missing nothing. We’ve had sweeter coffee cakes, but this one, with its spiced pear, had a sophisticated element that we’ll definitely return for.

Lucky Oven Bakery in Armatage, Minneapolis

 

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Red Wagon Pizza has been living in the shadow of the not-so-far-away Pizzeria Lola and the whole Ann Kim empire since its birth in 2014, and that’s a shame. It’s a remarkably consistent and well-loved spot, a reliable dynamo of both comfort and innovation. And it should come as no surprise to fans of the spot that when Kristy Dirk, a longtime Red Wagon pastry chef, spun off her own breakfast restaurant and bakery, called Lucky Oven, she managed to capture a lot of the same magic. You can see the through lines from Red Wagon to Lucky Oven — quality, scratch-made fare, and plenty of original culinary thoughts, without ever losing sight of deliciousness. The contributions of Patisserie-46-trained chef de cuisine Adam Beal are also no doubt shaping the menu and honing the quality of the baked goods that fill the restaurant’s cases.

The spot is not particularly large, but it’s sunny, anchored visually by a charming display of vintage Easy-Bake Ovens, and (on a recent Sunday morning) absolutely thronged by enthusiastic diners.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Let’s start with one of the most ambitious things on the menu, the Steak Sandwich ($14). We didn’t know that we needed a $14 steak sandwich for breakfast until we tried it, but we’re converts now. The steak is tender, marinated in a flavorful chimichurri sauce, and cut into small, easy-to-manage chunks that fill the interior of a housemade ciabatta roll. The steak swims in a potent mixture of aioli, beautifully caramelized onions, and pickled peppers that makes the whole sandwich a veritable umami body slam balanced with enough brightness and heat to even it out. It’s ravishingly good.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our Brioche French Toast ($9) didn’t look like much on the menu or on the plate. It’s just a couple of big slices of rich bread drenched in eggs and dairy, sauteed on the griddle, and served with a generous schmear of fruit compote. Somehow, however, this stuff transcends its simplicity. The pieces we got were finished perfectly (deeply browned just to the point of charred, but not crossing that line) and had the slightly crunchy, slightly chewy texture that the best pain perdu tends to sport.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

It’s easy to steer an order of eggs Benedict into the realm of the inedible. All it takes is too much salt, too much richness, a broken Hollandaise, or a general sense of dreary excess. The Beeler Ham Benedict ($11) at Lucky Oven has none of those problems. The English muffin base is perfect: chewy and structurally sound but not clunky or difficult to cut. The ham is mellow and flavorful, the hollandaise balanced in terms of quantity and seasoning. The dish comes on in a mild, genial manner, but the more you eat the more you like it.

Lucky Oven’s dedication to scratch fare and sunny, modern ambiance seems to suit the neighborhood perfectly, and the place would seem to be facing just one major problem: whether to expand.

Lucky Oven Bakery
Bakery and Breakfast in Armatage Minneapolis

5401 Penn Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55419
612.252.2262
OWNER / CHEF: Kristy Dirk / Adam Beal
HOURS:
Daily 7 a.m.-3 p.m.
BAR: No
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Not really
ENTREE RANGE: $8-$15
NOISE LEVEL: Amenable din
PARKING: Limited street parking

Heavy Table Hot Five: Oct. 13-19

hotfive-flames

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 editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - one - hot fiveLox it Down! at the Hennepin Avenue Five Watt Coffee
The newly opened Hennepin Avenue location of Five Watt Coffee has a food menu that revolves around quality hot dogs, a couple of panini, and a lox-on-rye creation called the Lox it Down! We’ve eaten our share of smorrebrod (Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches), and this rye, lox, capers, arugula, and cream cheese sandwich definitely strikes a Nordic chord: It’s mild, mellow, and totally pleasing, with the dry rye toast counteracting any of the potentially unpleasant moisture of the lox, and capers bringing a touch of tartness to the party.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

2-new - two - hot fiveYou Can Rum But You Can’t Hide from Hola Arepa
If you like a boozy cocktail, this is the drink for you. It’s built from Cruzan light rum, Cruzan dark rum, cinnamon grenadine, falernum, orange liqueur, lime, and grapefruit. Falernum, a cordial made from an infusion of citrus, spices, nuts, and sugar is what makes this drink so amazingly zingy. Drink responsibly.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

3-new - three hot fivePear-Chocolate Tart from Solomon’s Bakery
The beautiful pear-chocolate tart from Solomon’s Bakery at the Mill City Farmers Market is lighter than it appears. The chocolate filling is rich but delicate, as is the crust. The pears are from another Mill City vendor, and before being baked, they’re carefully cored, so the consumer has only to gently pull on the stem for the center to be easily lifted out. Autumn on a plate.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

4-new four hot fiveQuesadilla de Flor de Calabazas at Don Chilo at Lake Plaza
The single most astonishing thing we ate while touring Lake Plaza on East Lake Street was the Quesadilla de Flor de Calabazas (around $8; no prices on menu). The tortilla was made on site and then filled with a combination of two cheeses, squash blossoms, mushrooms, onions, and peppers. It was chewy, tender, gooey, earthy, full-flavored, and downright elegant.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from this week’s East Lake Checklist by James Norton]

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveShrimp to Share at Tilia
I can’t think of one item on Tilia’s menu that we don’t like. Sitting at the kitchen counter is an epicurean overload … so enjoyable if you’re into that sort of thing. We watched as items were passed to the wait staff, trying to see something we have not had, and the shrimp caught our eye. Shrimp, peas, fermented black beans, spicy sauce, and grilled scallions are presented on an herby and decorative puree. Not a carb in sight to soak up the juice, but a spoon did the trick.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]

The Croissant at Bellecour in Wayzata

James Norton / Heavy Table

Besieged by hype about Bellecour (and its bakery) we made our way out to Wayzata a couple of weekends ago to snag a breakfast of pastries and coffee. If you know good bakeries, you know the feeling we had when we walked into Bellecour — it was a Patisserie 46 feeling, a Rustica feeling, a Bachelor Farmer feeling — that sense that everything in the shop had a crisp, buttery, just-so thing going on, and that every bite was going to be good. An assortment of baked goods proved that feeling correct, but the plain old croissant was the best of a lovable bunch.

A really great croissant is almost a contradiction — soft and buttery yet cunningly woven from seemingly hundreds of distinct crispy, crunchy, delicate layers of pastry. It almost disintegrates in your mouth, crumbling and melting with every bite. It’s one of the best foods humanity’s yet devised, but it doesn’t come easy — making a really good croissant takes time, patience, and technique, and from tasting the croissant at Bellecour it’s evident that they have plenty of all three.

Bellecour is a long drive for me (about 25 minutes), and there are equally good versions of everything they do in Minneapolis proper, which isn’t hurting for good bakeries. Except … the croissant. The croissant is going to be the siren song that takes me an hour out of my way, sometime soon, to taste those buttery layers again.

Bellecour, 739 Lake St E, Wayzata; 952.444.5200

Emily Marks of The Bachelor Farmer

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

The baker Emily Marks is also an artist. She is deeply conscious of the details around her. At The Bachelor Farmer, she revels in the restaurant’s mission to build relationships with small farms and producers. She notices when the hue of her egg yolks changes her lemon curd to neon yellow, and when the shells change from thin to thick and brittle.

She’s rewritten recipes to account for the different types of wheat in her Baker’s Field flour. What one baker could view as an annoying inconsistency, Marks finds inspiring. She understands that the grain supply changes with the weather and the farmers.

As a pastry chef, she focuses on what’s in season or what she has preserved over the summer. As an artist, she plays with the tangible elements of her world, bending flavors, pushing limits. But she’s eager to play with more than your taste buds; she wants to provoke a feeling in you or a memory of something you’ve had in the past. Her medium is food, but her work is in nostalgia.

UPBRINGING

HEAVY TABLE: What was your culinary upbringing like?

MARKS: My parents adopted me from Korea when I was four months old. I grew up in White Bear Lake. My earliest memories are mostly around food. My parents were hardworking and didn’t prepare fancy food for us, but my dad had a routine of reading cookbooks every morning like someone would read the newspaper. When I was old enough, I started reading them with him.

In one of my most vivid childhood memories, I was looking up at our kitchen countertop, every inch filled with strawberries from Pine Tree Apple Orchard. To this day, every time I smell strawberries, my mind flashes back to that memory, and I think of the summers our countertops would be filled with the berries that my sister and I would help my dad make into quick jams to put on toast and to give as gifts.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

In high school, I read cookbooks and food magazines and watched a lot of public TV like Martha Stewart and Julia Child. I got kitchen appliances for birthday gifts. I still have my tiny white KitchenAid mixer I’ve had for twenty years. It’s super old-school and has been through a lot, but it still works just fine. Every time I pull it out, I think of how small and old it is. I still love it. After a day working in a commercial kitchen with huge equipment, coming home to bake with it feels a bit like using an Easy-Bake Oven.

HEAVY TABLE: Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

MARKS: From a young age, when someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them I wanted to stay at home and have a lemonade stand in the yard. When high school graduation came along, I was less sure. I really didn’t like school or the idea of more of it. I was involved in the fine arts in high school and thought it was fun, but I still didn’t feel like I was passionate enough about anything. Culinary school should’ve been obvious, but it was not on my radar.

I ended up going to college at Northwestern, a super-tiny Bible school in St. Paul. It was nice at the time, and had a small art department with really great instructors. I focused on drawing and painting and gravitated toward nature in my work. At the end of college, I was more into abstract expressionist and minimalist art; the things that look easy but are super complex. It’s the same for me now with baking.

In college I think I kind of drove my roommates crazy. We had these tiny kitchenettes in our dorm rooms where I made kimchi once. I probably stank up the whole hall. My roommates didn’t make fun of me, probably because I also often baked them treats. I remember hand-whipping cream for a whipped-cream topping and my roommates were completely amazed.

Rose Street Patisserie in Linden Hills

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Patisserie 46 has branched out and has opened the first of what may be many locations under a new name: Rose Street Patisserie. Staff at Rose Street said the name change was made because the 46 was too confusing to move to different locations. (Given that the new location isn’t on a street called Rose, we’re not quite sure this is much of an improvement.)

If you’re a fan of Patisserie 46 — most people are — you’ll likely be delighted with Rose Street. Here you can find all the same artisanal breads (miche, baguette, multigrain) as well as the eye-catching sweets and confections that are almost too stunning to eat — but when you do eat them, they’re beyond decadent.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Where Rose Street (and any future iterations) will differ is primarily in the approach to the nonsweet part of the menu. While Patisserie 46 has meal specials that change daily or weekly, Rose Street will rotate only seasonally. And you’ll be able to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with your meal.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

At a recent visit, the Panna Cotta Parfait ($7.50) was treated as a breakfast item rather than a dessert. The panna cotta was light as a whisper, and the fruit that topped it fresh and tangy. An accompanying granola contained dried apricots and almonds, adding some nice crunch to the delicate panna cotta.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The Avocado Toast ($10) was as visually attractive as any of the pastries. It made a perfect light lunch, with a crunchy, toasted multigrain slice bearing up under an avocado mixture with cherry tomatoes and radishes topped with watercress. The radish and watercress were mildly peppery, not enough to overwhelm the mild avocado, and it made for a satisyfing-without-causing-a-food-coma meal.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The star of the day was the Tarte Flambée ($12), an Alsatian flatbread comprised of a thin layer of creme fraiche topped with crispy, smoky bacon and onions. The crust was thin and snappy-crisp, and the creme fraiche was a surprisingly good change of pace from the sauce or cheese of a pizza.

The staff thought these items would be on Rose Street’s menu into the fall, so go now and get your fill before the menu changes.

Rose Street Patisserie
Pastries, breads, breakfast, and lunch in Linden Hills

2811 W 43rd St, Minneapolis
612.259.7921
BAR: Beer and wine
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Sometimes
ENTREE RANGE: $9-$14
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
HOURS:
Tues-Sat 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sun 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
Mon closed
PARKING: Lot and street

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Michael Lillegard of Duluth’s Best Bread

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The story of Duluth’s Best Bread is the story of the city’s contemporary food revolution, writ small.

You’ve got young blood (brothers Michael and Robert Lillegard, who are 25 and 30 respectively); you’ve got urban renewal (a bakeshop established in the former Cake Occasions spot in the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood); and you’ve got an artisanal product (bread, croissants, and sweet rolls made by hand).

The Lillegards themselves are anything but typical bakers. Robert (who runs the business side of things but stays out of the kitchen) is a freelance author who contributes regularly to The New York Times, and Michael has a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“Coming to the end of undergrad, I thought: What kind of job do I want?” says baker Michael Lillegard, speaking while portioning out dough into loaf-sized balls on a recent Friday afternoon. “So I went to grad school so I wouldn’t have to think about it for another year and a half. I wanted to be a college teacher, but I didn’t want to get a Ph.D., so I wouldn’t be a professor. My advisor said: ‘No, you’re not going to do that [be an instructor]. That’s a waste of talent. You’ll be bored out of your mind.’ I took that to heart. …”

Meanwhile, Michael’s casual, backyard brick-oven baking with his father was going great guns, focusing on bread and pizza. Michael’s lack of interest in taking a desk job, combined with Robert’s interest in running the “business” parts of a business, created a synergy that set the stage for the founding of Duluth’s Best Bread, which has been up and running in its current form since late 2015.

“I found I love the business side of things and strongly trusted Michael as a business partner,” wrote Robert via email. “He was always better than me in sports and school, so I knew he’d be a good entrepreneur. I didn’t actually care what business we did. In fact, while waiting for our baking licenses, we had a brief and disastrous foray into selling martial arts weapons over the internet. It’s good that as brothers we trust each other and are close friends.”

The booming state of local and artisanal food in Minnesota has been a backdrop to the bakery’s founding and growth.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“There’s an increasing interest in eating things produced locally,” says Michael Lillegard, with whom we continued our conversation. “People like walking into a place where the people are from here, and they work here, and they’re making everything here, and it’s got a high quality of artisanship.” The Lillegards’ bread can be picked up at their shop, but its local provenance and artisanship is helping it get around town, too. It’s available at a variety of local markets, and their sweet treats get out to places like At Sara’s Table, Red Mug, and Beaner’s Central Coffeehouse. The bakery goes through about 400 pounds of flour a week.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The shop’s bread has a crust that’s crisp and substantial without being impenetrably tough, and it has an interior that’s fairly dense and mostly uniform without having the insubstantial, monotonous appearance or taste of factory-made bread. Cold fermented and made with wild yeast, the bread has a distinct flavor and character, but it’s not particularly aggressive or assertive — it’s a good high-end utility bread. The shop’s cranberry (well, craisin) and wild rice bread is a modest variation on the theme. The mild nuttiness of the rice and the widely scattered tang of the light sprinkling of craisins represent a conservative evolution of the basic bread’s character.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Duluth’s Best Bread shines most ostentatiously through its croissants, which are pure dynamite — their crispy, crackly, multilayered exteriors are a sheath for a rich, buttery, moist interior. The shop’s chocolate croissants use first-rate chocolate from the Minnesota chocolatiers at Meadowlands. The chocolate has a bright, almost fruity character and a moderate amount of sugar that turns what could be a novelty croissant into a surprisingly refined experience.

“[The chocolate] fits really well with the pastry. As you know, croissants aren’t really a sweet, they’re somewhere in between,” says Lillegard. “[The pastry] is buttery, so it goes really well with sweets, but it also works really well as a sandwich.”

If the croissant were less excellent, we would have objected to the relatively modest stripe of chocolate running down one side of the pastry, but as it was, the bites without chocolate were just as pleasing as those with it.

And the cinnamon roll that we sampled was a gorgeous specimen, lightly iced, cinnamon-forward, delicate in texture, and large without being grotesque. (For the record, we think that grotesque can work, too — see Naniboujou Lodge.)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The context for Duluth’s Best Bread is a neighborhood that boasts at least two other leading exponents of regional flavor.

Duluth Grill and Bent Paddle [Brewing] … set the stage for us coming here,” says Lillegard. “There’s this building of a culture. … Since they built the interstate here, this whole neighborhood has been, to some extent, vacant. So it’s a rebuilding of what once was a business district.”

Although the shop’s footprint is small at the moment, it’s a distinct part of a scene that Lillegard sees as rapidly expanding. “It’s like my yeast culture: You inoculate it a little bit, and you don’t really see anything going on, but a little bit later it just — PSSHT — blows up.”

Duluth’s Best Bread, 2632 W 3rd St, Duluth MN; 218.590.5966. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Thu and Sat; otherwise at locations including the Hillside and Denfeld Whole Foods Co-ops, Stokke’s Adolph Store, and Gannuci’s Italian Market

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

 

Brake Bread Bakery on West Seventh in St. Paul

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

There’s something to be said for doing one or two things very well. Brake Bread, a bakery on West Seventh in St. Paul, has got that concept on lockdown. Micah Taylor and Nate Hogue (pictured above) have been honing their bread-making and business skills as a bike delivery bakery for the past few years, pedaling their naturally leavened loaves straight to customers’ doorsteps. Now they finally have a brick-and-mortar shop where you can pick up a hearty loaf of bread (among other things) most days of the week.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Brake Bread’s bright and airy little shop is minimal and focused. Tall wire shelves get down to business displaying the day’s bread offerings as well as day-old loaves and big bags of tuppence (aka bits of stale bread to fling to the birds). Most days the bakery is stocked with classics like baguettes ($3), a white sandwich loaf adorably dubbed “Fwuffy” ($5.50), white and whole wheat artisanal loaves, and Granny Gear ($5.50), a brown round that’s stuffed with flax, oats, and sunflower seeds.

The kitchen is currently in experimental mode, cranking out new creations every week to see what sticks. We took home a loaf of Steel the One ($5), a raisin-studded rye with a malty sweetness that we want to devour every morning for breakfast. Toasted, with butter.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Brake Bread’s regular rotation is an excellent arsenal of everyday classics. Bread rolls out of the oven around 10 a.m. each day, and each loaf is bursting with that crucial yeasty perfume that separates a great bread from a squishy loaf from Cub. They need no assistance. The baguette is a well-constructed specimen, with a crackly crust and a light, stretchy interior. And the Classic Cruiser ($5) is a delightfully sour white loaf with a crisp crust that’ll keep nicely for a few days. And even after it’s gotten a bit stiff, you’ll find yourself stuffing slices into the toaster to enjoy every last crumb.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Beyond killer bread, the bakery keeps it simple with other goodies. You’ll find an edited collection of cookies and gooey caramel rolls. We were particularly smitten with the Sugar Lime cookie (50 cents each), which is like a soft and chewy cookie version of key lime pie. And Brake Bread’s scones are perfect, with golden outsides and moist but crumbly insides. Try the Snickerdoodle ($2.50)! It’s your childhood. For the non-sweet-tooth, the bakery makes Spinners ($3), which are shaped like cinnamon rolls but are filled with savory ingredients instead. There’s one filled with olives and feta (below) that would make a great sidekick to scrambled eggs.

Savory Bake House in Longfellow

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

How many truly legitimate bakeries do the Twin Cities have? That’s a difficult question to answer: For every place with real bakers infusing creativity, joy, and talent into their pies, cakes, doughnuts, and savory delights, there surely must be two or three that are essentially assembly lines that end in a bakery case. South Minneapolis has been the grateful receiver of a few bright new lights on the baking scene over the past few years. The star that is Patisserie 46, of course, the creative doughnuts of Bogart’s, and the cleverly mid-American, mid-century-inspired Mon Petit Chéri leap immediately to mind. Add to the mix the newly opened Savory Bake House in Longfellow.

Owners Sandra Sherva and Max Okray have experience at the Birchwood Cafe and Merlin’s Rest that has helped ground them in the rhythms of the neighborhood, and this background comes through in the baking. The goods on offer aren’t the high-flying and impeccably styled Euro-theatrics of Patisserie 46, but neither are they the grubby daily churn of a run-of-the-mill neighborhood bakery — Savory’s stock-in-trade is simple, clever ideas, executed well.

Take, for example, the butternut squash, bacon, spinach, and blue cheese savory tart ($4). This could easily have been a snoozer of a dish, overwhelmed by underseasoned squash or spoiled by watery spinach or spiked by overly sharp cheese. Instead, caramelized onions gave it a mellow warmth. Its pastry was strong but not overly chewy or thick, and the bacon’s salty depth was a splendid counterpoint to the gentle tang of the blue cheese. And the squash? Sweet and present without being insistent.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Even better was the Chicken Shepherd’s Pie ($5), a hand pie filled with a mix of potatoes, peas, and chicken and crowned with a tender, delicate crust that still miraculously held its shape. The flavor of this dish was warm and intoxicatingly soothing, and the salt level — the key to food like this — was perfect.

A chicken corn chowder pie ($5) that we tried was similarly brilliant. Intense flavors of carrot, chicken, and corn all shone through. This was no muddled or oversalted mess. Like its cousin, it was seasoned with a deft hand.

Heavy Table Hot Five: Sep. 11-17

hotfive-flames

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 editor@heavytable.com.

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

1-new - oneTater Tots at Tavern 4&5
The tater tots at Tavern 4&5 in Eden Prairie are not even in the same category as sad tots coming out of a freezer bag. These bite-sized pieces of fluffy mashed potatoes are delicately coated in panko and fried, and are much lighter in texture than regular tots. They melt in the mouth and are the most comforting of comfort food. You can get them as an appetizer to share, but be prepared to fight for the last one.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

2-new - twoBeignets at Mon Petit Chéri
Mon Petit Chéri has quickly become one of our favorite neighborhood bakeshops, and we feel even more warmly still about it now that it’s offering (sporadically, on special) legitimate, New Orleans-style beignets. Far (far!) too many beignets in these parts come out doughy and heavy, more doughnut-like than divine. MPC’s version (which comes with an apple-cider glaze) is spot on, slightly chewy and cloudlike in texture.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - threeAvocado Toast at Bar Luchador
We found a lot to like at the new tacos-and-tequila place, Bar Luchador, in the old Campus Pizza location. Near the top of the list: avocado toast, consisting of charred crostini with large amounts of creamy avocado, Kewpie mayo, and onion, and a nearly raw egg that brought a ton of unctuous richness to the party. This stuff was intense yet soothing.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | From an upcoming review by James Norton]

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

4-new fourSour Cream Raisin Pie at Lange’s Cafe in Pipestone
This is road-trip food exactly as it was meant to be. Lange’s will serve you dinner at noon and supper in the evening and pie at every meal, if you want it — even after one of their famously mammoth cinnamon rolls at breakfast. Sour cream raisin pie is a diner tradition crying for a comeback. Lange’s is so thick it is almost spreadable — and sweet enough to make your teeth ache. In other words: exactly right.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by Tricia Cornell]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Vomacha at Chameleon’s Coffee and Deli5-new -five
Chameleon’s Coffee and Deli in New Prague is one of many cafes in the area selling the traditional Eastern European soup known as vomacka, which they spell vomacha, but where other cafes serve it with a bottle of white vinegar on the side, Chameleon’s cooks it into the creamy soup. The result is a deeper flavor, with the vinegar cutting through the cream and dill more thoroughly than when it’s just added on top, and the soup is even richer and more complex.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]