Biscuits and gravy is a breakfast standby that goes wrong as often as it come off well. The biscuits get sad and sodden, the gravy goes greasy or overly salty, and the whole dish sits like a bowling ball in your stomach.
We’re big fans of Dumpling, a bricks-and-mortar Asian-inspired spot in South Minneapolis that has the eclectic soul of the pop-up it once was. So it’s good to hear that they’re expanding their menu and moving into brunch. Service starts the Saturday, April 15, and hours will be 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
We got a partial list of their brunch menu, and it’s far from formulaic. It includes:
There is a kind of low-level anxiety that accompanies brunch: maybe the line to get in will be too long, and we are too hungry or hungover or grumpy to wait, and the complimentary cup of coffee will only exacerbate our low blood sugars. Of course, those of us who love breakfast go anyway, and it nearly always works out. Still, it was nothing short of wonderful (and worrisome) to walk into the Pig & Fiddle, at 50th and France, at 10 a.m. on a Sunday and find it pretty much empty.
Maybe the gastropub’s brunch has yet to be discovered — it launched under six months ago — or maybe all the regulars were at home eating toast in bed. It was, after all, a cheek-chapping -18 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Whatever the cause, it’s not the Pig & Fiddle’s atmosphere. The dining room is paneled in warm oak, scrolling corbels, and painted murals of Brussels as it might appear in the early evening light. The morning we were there, the pub’s giant stone hearth was lit, and Postmodern Jukebox’s jazzy “All About that Bass” crooned overhead. It was a pleasant place to land in the polar vortex — and, more importantly, a tasty one.
The brunch menu is on the savory and short side (if you discount the lunchy items). Notably missing are a basic breakfast plate and an omelet, but the ten or so items offered provide something for nearly everybody.
The tres leches soaked Fiddle’s French Toast ($10) is the only sweet offering. The waiter brought us three massive slabs of the stuff and noted that the average diner finishes only half. It had a wonderfully toasty crust and a light, custardy middle — and we managed to polish off the plate.
The Corn Beef & Hash ($12) was also a hit: perfectly cooked sunny-side-up eggs on a bed of potatoes and mild corned beef. (By mild, we mean it had not been brined into a chewy salt lick.) A smattering of bright microgreens, scallions, and harissa ketchup scattered across the whole provided a nice break from the soft, comforting profile.
The Huevos Rancheros ($10) combined shredded chicken in a lightly spicy red sauce with super-crispy fried corn tortilla pieces, avocado, scallions, and crema. The meat was tender, the texture was marvelous, but the sauce needed a tad more kick. The kitchen brought us some Cholula hot sauce, and it was spot on. The harissa ketchup’s smoky tang would have been good here, too.
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.
Citrus Kombucha Cold-Pressed Coffee from Dunn Bros.
Three things that taste like summer shouldn’t necessarily taste great together. But they do. Trust me, they do. Shaken with a little agave syrup, the slightly sour kombucha and slightly bitter coffee meld into one bracing, refreshing summer pick-me-up.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Tricia Cornell]
Shrimp Salad at Eli’s Food & Cocktails
Eli’s on Hennepin has a long history, but it’s not generally a place I would seek out for a epicurean lunch. But I stand corrected. A beautifully balanced salad of the day featured large, tender, well-seasoned shrimp, ripe avocados, chopped tomatoes, and sliced ruby red grapefruit on a bed of bib lettuce, garnished with a lemon wedge and some croutons. A light vinaigrette and some fresh ground pepper enhanced the fresh ingredients. Bravo, Eli!
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]
Skoll Och Hati Barrel-Aged Stout from HammerHeart Brewing
The Skoll Och Hati barrel-aged stout from HammerHeart is a full, robust stout with mild beechwood smoke. Though subtle is not exactly the Viking way, the smoke and sweet notes balance delicately, while the low carbonation adds to the viscosity. Woodford Reserve barrel aging ties the whole glass together nicely.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham]
Farmer’s Brunch from The Copper Hen
The sweet-versus-savory breakfast dilemma is solved by the Farmer’s Brunch at The Copper Hen. Perfectly seasoned scrambled eggs, a root vegetable hash, creamed spinach and kale, and a stand-alone bread pudding — it’s everything we’ve ever wanted on a brunch plate all at once. We’ll be back for the bourbon breakfast cocktail!
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ruthie Young]
Old Fashioned with Old Scout Bourbon Upgrade at Marvel Bar
Rarely will I turn down a “is this expensive thing worth the money?” challenge, and so when the Marvel Bar menu offered the opportunity to try an $18 supercharged version of their Old Fashioned, I went for it. This is a beautiful sledgehammer of a drink: the first sip is pure high-octane bourbon, but as the massive, architecturally significant ice cube in the drink relaxes and melts, its citrus notes become more evident, along with the sweetness of the spirit. Reminiscent of a well-wrought mint julep in terms of how it evolves while you drink it, and worth every penny.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
A four-course brunch menu comprised of Birchwood Cafe’s greatest hits, carefully paired with different Peace Coffee offerings, like wine paired at dinner? Yes, please, and why haven’t we seen more brunch meals presented this way, as the coffee scene continues to grow?
When Birchwood’s owner, Tracy Singleton, launched a Kickstarter campaign to expand the restaurant in 2013, one of the proposed enticements for investors was the promise of this special event, done in coordination with Peace Coffee’s head roaster, Derek De La Paz, who worked with Birchwood’s chef to come up with the pairings. Last weekend round one (of many) of these tasting menus took place. Note: There will be similar meals served with pairings from Verdant Tea. Asked if she’d consider doing these events for the public in the future, Singleton said she’d consider it, depending on feedback.
Both Singleton and De La Paz spoke about what they do, their commitment to local and sustainable, and the long-time partnership between the two companies, while guests tasted this year’s Breakaway Blend, comprised of three medium coffees from Honduras, Ecuador, and Ethiopia. De La Paz noted that this is the third year of this seasonal blend, timed to coincide with bike race season, but that it’s different every year. It has a summery taste, with notes of citrus.
The first paired course was roasted tofu hash, made with flavorful marinated tofu and served with a Shepherd’s Way Hope cheese, which, while lovely on its own, also supported the dill oil drizzled on the plate and blended well with the grapefruit marmalade on birdseed toast. The accompanying coffee was Alchemy #10 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, an earthy, complex roast that mellowed when following a bite of the marmalade.
The savory waffle is a Birchwood classic. Since reopening in late May, the waffle has been available all day long, with more than 1,300 sold so far. Its myriad flavors work together unexpectedly well, instead of fighting each other: The waffle has asparagus, parmesan, and quinoa, and it’s served with lemon pepita butter and rhubarb jalapeno marmalade. Bacon lardoons — very generous lardoons — and a sunny-side-up egg finished the plate. Maple syrup was optional, and not really necessary. It only seemed logical to pair this with the Birchwood Breakfast Blend coffee.
Beans and rice was ostensibly the name of the third course, but it’s more like a deconstructed taco. Pureed black beans with lime and cumin were served with coconut-sweet pea brown rice over grilled corn tortillas and topped with a perfectly poached egg. Salsa roja, pickled vegetables, and avocado puree rounded out the accompaniments, adding a depth of flavor to the quieter taco ingredients. Sumatran Full City Blend highlighted the subtle pleasures of the beans and rice.
The final course of the morning started with Yeti Cold Press Blend, served cold and sweetened with maple syrup. After so many savories, it almost tasted too sweet — until the food arrived. Chef Marshall Paulson noted wryly, “It takes a lot to get me to eat oatmeal.” Not when it’s served in a coffee cup with maple and topped with crème brulee — the most ardent oatmeal-hater would have to rethink his opinion. Contrasted with the sweet brulee, the cold press became less sweet, a welcome balance.
One of the nicest aspects of the event was its community nature. Birchwood and Peace Coffee have always been community-focused, and the structure of the tasting reflected that. Tables of six people each were served family style, rather than individually plated, which led to much conversation and new introductions. As Kickstarter investors, the guests were very much Birchwood people — at one table was a couple who have been coming to Birchwood since it first opened, along with a young couple who had their first date at Birchwood and are getting married in October. Between Singleton’s and De La Paz’s commentaries, each table buzzed with congenial discussion and banter, with many variations on “No, you take the last bacon lardoon, I insist!” Offering these types of events to the public, structured in the same manner, would serve to keep building that community.
Learn more about this business on Heavy Table’s Atlas of Ethical Eating and Drinking.
When you walk into The Kenwood, Don Saunders’ impeccable, cozy eatery in the Minneapolis neighborhood from which it took its name, there are a handful of framed black and white photos on your right that depict life in the ‘hood back in the day. The one that caught our eye is of the Minneapolis Park Board Girls Rifle Team, circa 1920. In it, three young women with bobbed haircuts, knickers, and high socks are playfully pointing their rifles either directly at or just over the photographer’s left shoulder. The Basilica looms in the background. It’s a great photo, and it instantly affirms the restaurant’s dedication to the neighborhood. The Kenwood wakes up early and goes to bed late, serving breakfast, brunch, and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. There’s even a separate menu for the kiddos, and it looks pretty good, too.
The juxtaposition of girls with guns and staid historical black and white photography could also be seen as a signifier of the restaurant’s ethos in general. While the dining room’s plaid green walls may appear stuffy and formal at a glance, the food doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously, and is in fact a lot of fun. Which is not to say that it’s not polished – this is Don Saunders we’re talking about. The menu is a nice mix of the familiar (pancakes) and the novel (duck offal cigars), and bears its refinement through the use of fresh, regional ingredients, imaginative dishes, and a visual aesthetic that’s every bit as distinctive as the space itself. It feels fancy and casual at the same time, like an aristocrat in flannel.
Yelp’s brunch map puts Wisconsin and Minnesota at ground zero for bloody mary consumption (versus mimosas) and Slate writes it up; on a related note, here’s the Eater heatmap on where to eat brunch around here (some swell ideas, but hey, where are Meritage, Bachelor Farmer, and Kenwood?). A taste of the opening night at Lake & Irving. A City Pages nod for our Secret Atlas of North Coast Food release parties. Jerabek’s re-opens with some juggled management. And we’ll be signing books and sharing food at Ingebretsen’s from 1-4pm tomorrow — please join us!
Our expectations for brunch are always high. For the only meal we eat that’s a portmanteau, that seems valid. But too often we get burned with overpriced omelets, bad coffee, and corn-syruped pancakes in a facsimile of the meal described to Marge Simpson by her would-be suitor Jacques: “It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch … but you get a slice of cantaloupe at the end.”
In 2013, we expect more. We want thoughtful, flavorful dishes made with quality ingredients, but we don’t want them to be fussy, towering volcanoes of molecular hollandaise art and freeze-dried parsley. We want reasonable prices, yet filling portions. We want great coffee, and, of course, booze. And we want to have all this without it being a four-hour exercise in jaw-clenching, eyelid-twitching patience.
Thankfully, the Twin Cities have been steeped in a kind of brunch renaissance. The proliferation of small, chef-driven neighborhood restaurants has led the charge toward excellent weekend brunches that meet and sometimes exceed our high expectations — think Haute Dish, think The Kenwood, think The Bachelor Farmer. Hovering around the top of this list is the North Minneapolis gastronomic temple to all things porcine, Victory 44.
A neighborhood fixture known for balancing a casual vibe with rustic-yet-refined tasting menus, Victory 44 debuted a new brunch menu in early October, and we sat down to try a few things. It’s worth noting that on a Saturday morning, at the heart of the busy brunch hour, there was no wait. We were immediately seated by our friendly server, and started things off with coffee from the adjoining Victory 44 Coffee Bar & Provisions, which offers third-wave Dogwood excellence in all of its permutations. No “pumpkin spice” lattes here, thank you very much (though we should note that another Heavy Table reporter had a superb pumpkin chai latte this week at Fireroast Cafe).
The French press was prepared with exactitude — the cup highlighted the brightness of the lightly roasted beans while retaining the characteristic richness of the technique. The latte, in a nice bit of theater, was executed tableside by the barista, and skillfully topped with the requisite rosetta flourish.
The new brunch menu is divided into Firsts, Seconds, and Thirds. A three-course meal can be had for $20 per diner. We opted to choose a few items a la carte. All of the Firsts are under $10, and the Seconds hover between $10 and $14. There’s also a nice selection of inexpensive sides. We began with the $8 Brussels sprouts (above). Artfully arranged on one side of a gleaming white bowl was a generous heap of sauteed florets studded with quail eggs and candied walnuts, all atop a shallow pool of tart and sweet coarse-grain mustard sauce. Garnished with feathery wisps of microplaned dehydrated cheese and a sail of thin, crispy Benton’s ham, the dish was a fine way to start: vegetal, sweet, salty, and not overwhelming. The sprouts themselves held that envied balance of tender yet toothsome — a simple dish made great by someone who knows what they’re doing.
Next up from the Seconds menu was the Benedict ($10), the old standby that so often brings us to tears with its mediocrity. Not so here. A sturdy foundation of thick, 9-grain ciabatta toast supported luxurious folds of that profoundly smoky Benton’s ham (famously coveted by Momofuku’s David Chang), two slow-poached eggs, braised cabbage, and a tangy, mustardy hollandaise. On the side, the richness was nicely offset by a thick tangle of sharply dressed arugula. The eggs themselves truly deserve some praise here: carefully slow-poached, the yolks were perfectly unctuous, and they united with the thin, velvety blanket of hollandaise until we couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began.
As the Benedict disappeared, our other selection held on for dear life as our forks went to work: the Malted Waffle ($11). This huge, Belgian-style creation arrived snapped into four wedges, arranged into a Spinal Tap-scaled Stonehenge, and drizzled with a not-cloying caramel. Sugared raisins and candied Marcona almonds perched among the malted edifices, and a dense quenelle of mascarpone brought a creamy unification. The presentation was impressive, but the flavor trumped all: the sweet elements were all held up by the backbone of that deeply malty waffle, crisp on the outside, light and fluffy in the middle.
The thoughtfulness on display at Victory 44 also trickles down to the side dishes — we opted for the Cheddar Hash Browns ($5). Deeply browned and not at all greasy, there was no cheese to be seen. Upon first bite, however, the deep, sharp essence of good cheddar made itself known along with the delightfully chewy potatoes. Truly excellent.
Between bites of the rich Benedict, cheesy hash browns, sweet waffle, and sips of our excellent coffee, we felt like dazed somnambulant dreamers floating through a calorie-induced vision of the perfect brunch. Great food prepared expertly, priced reasonably, and portioned sanely. The service was informative, available, and efficient. We didn’t want it to end, but all things must — although at Victory 44, there was not a slice of cantaloupe to be seen. For that and more, we were thankful. And full.
(Victory 44, 2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, 612.588.2228)
Editor’s note: This brunch has been discontinued.
Many Midwesterners know about spaghetti suppers or church basement dinners — gatherings at long cafeteria tables beneath fluorescent lights. Often they are fundraisers or happen after services. The meal isn’t always great, but it has something. Like familiarity, or more likely the comfort of 20 or 50 other people sharing something they need, the echo of many hands and favorite family recipes.
In a lot of ways, the Filipino (or Pinoy) brunch in Circle Pines couldn’t get more Midwestern. Every Sunday from 10 to 4, Mena-li Canlas (above) lays a spread in the Pines Market convenience store and marks up a whiteboard with the day’s menu in joyful colors. A plate of rice and two entrees is $6.25; rice and three entrees is $7.50. It’s a good idea to check Facebook for the menu or call ahead.
“This is not restaurant food,” explained Canlas with a warm smile. She runs a word-of-mouth-based catering company called Tita Li’s Kitchen. “This is lola food,” she says. “’Lola’ means grandma.”
Canlas gave us a loving tour of her table: sweet and oily chorizo-like sausages, adobo dark-meat chicken that was tender and moist, crispy fried chunks of melty pork called lechon, and Filipino fried rice, which is essentially garlic-scented white rice. Canlas’s brunch was humble and heavy and nothing like we’ve ever seen. I kept imagining the buffets of rust-colored sloppy joes and sweet cookie salad I grew up finding at family reunions. How strange and wonderful to stumble upon someone else’s version of home-cooked weekend food.
Our plates were a fascinating mosaic of Asian, Spanish, and Latin American flavors. The lengua (Spanish for “tongue”) with mushrooms could easily pass for a tepid cream of mushroom-based pot pie without the crust. And Pancit Palabok is a medley of noodles, chopped bacon and shrimp, green onions, and hard-boiled eggs. It was porky, tangy, squishy, and totally confusing. But so is cookie salad.
Dessert gets its very own table at Canlas’s brunch. Pairs of empanadas sit close to piles of yellow button cakes made from rice flour, and a large purple and white jellyroll called Ube Roll. We dug into a slice of Leche Flan Cake ($3.50), which the woman at the table described as “egg on top, cake on bottom.” The fluffy chiffon cake is soaked in a golden, liquidy caramel that starts off almost boozy and ends up mellow and full of vanilla. On top, something like strained custard is buttery and marvelous.
When pressed by a friend, Canlas sheepishly admitted she’d been featured in a book published in 2012 called Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875, by Phyllis Louise Harris. And thank goodness, because Filipino food is hard to find in the Twin Cities. What we do have is this friendly, sparse spot in Circle Pines for a glimpse into what it’s like to have a family meal in a Filipino kitchen.
Filipino Brunch by Tita Li’s Kitchen
Filipino comfort food in Circle Pines
2 S Pine Dr (Pines Market / Clark Station)
Circle Pines, MN 55014
CHEF: Mena-li Canlas
HOURS: Sun 10am-4pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Limited / No
ENTREE RANGE: A la carte, combos $6.25-7.50
With a name like Butter, you expect a space bathed in warm, yellow sunshine that offers whiffs of sugar and flour as you stroll past its big picture windows. And thanks to a recent relocation from 35th St. and Grand to 37th St and Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis’ Kingfield neighborhood, Butter Bakery Cafe can live up to the promise of its name with a larger, brighter space for neighborhood residents to gather for a cappuccino and one of the best scones in town or a hearty meal. Owner Daniel Swenson-Klatt raised more than $16,000 to build out the new cafe with a 2012 Kickstarter campaign, and the money helped to create a new space that emphasizes natural and reclaimed materials, such as tables and counters made from discarded trees via Wood From the Hood. The resulting renovation offers a friendly vibe akin to the nearby Sun Street Breads or Common Roots Cafe.
Also to be expected: Any item featuring the cafe’s namesake succeeds brilliantly. The mammoth scones ($2.75) put most in their category to shame with their moist crumb and rich flavor (thanks, Hope Creamery butter). No hockey pucks here, that’s for sure – instead, picture the largest muffin top ever, but with slightly more heft and structure. The triple chocolate is irresistible, but the blueberry beckons from the bakery case as well.
The buttermilk biscuit sandwiches ($4.75 for egg and cheese) draw immediate comparisons to those at Sun Street just 11 blocks south. Both are crave-worthy: Butter’s version imparts a stronger butteriness (shocker) and delicate texture, while Sun Street’s biscuits are a smidge denser with more neutral flavor. Cheese lovers will favor the Butter biscuit, though, with the healthy slab oozing over the sandwich’s edges.
Those nursing a wicked hangover or struggling with a seriously starving stomach should order the huevos burrito, a bargain at only $8 for the immense amount of eggs, potatoes, cheese, and salsa stuffed into a flour tortilla and topped with a heaping ladle-full of black bean chili. There’s no wonder why it’s served with a steak knife. The wrap gets a surprisingly sweet touch from the fragrant chili, which would be better balanced with some additional heat in the salsa. A healthy platter of cinnamon-spiked french toast ($5.50) also fills the belly well but could benefit from some more time to soak up the eggy custard so each bite is rich and moist instead of slightly dry and bready in the middle.
In an era when brunch can often set you back as much as a casual dinner, it’s refreshing to see a place like Butter that combines budget-friendly prices with generous, high-quality food. The menu tops out at $8, and kids’ items, such as mini-pancakes, french toast bites, and a PB&J biscuit, are only $2. Any restaurant that leaves extra money in your wallet to grab a cookie for the road gets a thumbs-up in my book. Here’s to hoping the revitalized Butter Bakery Cafe keeps churning out its treats for many years to come.
Butter Bakery Cafe
Brunch favorites and sandwiches in Kingfield
Learn more about this business on Heavy Table’s Atlas of Ethical Eating and Drinking.
3700 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55409
OWNER / CHEFS: Daniel Swenson-Klatt / Erik Dietrich and Amy Kovacs
HOURS: Mon-Sat 7am-9pm
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Can substitute tofu for eggs in some dishes
ENTREE RANGE: $4.50-8 for brunch
WACSO visits the 1029 Bar in Minneapolis. Rick Nelson hands three stars to the Kenwood (here’s our review). A primer from the Beer Baron on how to give beer for the holidays. A hymn of praise for the fried shrimp tacos at Sonora Grill. A preview of St. Paul’s Bang Brewing Co. Tasting notes for Schell’s Chimney Sweet and Snowstorm 2012: Biere de Noel. Author Beatrice Ojakangas is coming to Ingebretsen’s on Dec. 8 (here’s our interview with her). StoryCorp interviews Sarah Burt of Saucy Burt’s (pictured above, here’s our interview). And a midnight brunch in Fargo. As always, lots of food and recipes going on over on Pinterest, and look for our revamped Recipe Roundup this Wednesday.