The Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen in Minneapolis

Copper Hen in Minneapolis
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

In an era where entrepreneurs turn to Kickstarter to fund everything from major motion pictures to stuffed goats that give birth, the local food scene is no stranger to this crowd-sourced concept. Cases in point: Heavy Table’s own Secret Atlas of North Coast Food and Eat Street’s newest venture, The Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen. Headed by the husband and wife team of Chris and Danielle  Bjorling, the rustic, farmhouse-style bakery and cafe got off the ground at the beginning of the month after months of preparation and nearly $12,000 raised from supporters. And while off to a solid start — particularly in that bakery case — the Copper Hen will need some polishing to be a destination to crow about.

Many bakery / cafes start off cautiously, focusing on baked goods, breakfast, and lunch, but the Bjorlings ambitiously began dinner service from day one. Wisely, they kept the menu, which is the same for lunch and dinner, relatively modest, with a daily soup, a few salads and starters, a couple of pizzas, four sandwiches, and three entrees. The breakfast menu is much more compact, offering a small selection of scones, rolls, hand pies, the signature bacon blueberry breakfast “cupcake,” and a weekly chef’s choice brunch special.

Copper Hen Cheeseboard
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The bread basket ($6) is the obvious choice for a starter in a bakery, especially when served with a housemade strawberry rhubarb jam that would make a steel-toed boot taste divine. The baguette boasts a gentle flavor and tender crumb but could use a crispier crust to match the excellence of Rustica Bakery’s loaf. Though it’s supposed to be a sampler, our basket only had one variety of the five served daily. The smashed potato fries ($3.50 for a half-order / $6 for a full) are a bit misleading; though soft, buttery, and comforting, the sauteed taters don’t come close to the definition most of use for fries. Not that it will stop you from downing the pillowy potatoes, but leave your traditional interpretation of fries at the door.

The milkmaid cheeseboard (market price; $10 for the board pictured above) provides another platform for that strawberry rhubarb jam, along with a sweet, sticky fig mostarda and downright addicting curried cauliflower. All three pair well with the three cheeses recently in rotation. Unfortunately, the cheeses themselves remain a mystery, as the server couldn’t name them or make a point of inquiring with the kitchen. If a restaurant is going to wave the “farm-to-table” flag, it better know its ingredients and their origins backward and forward, so there’s no excuse for playing ignorant for a standard question among those inclined to order cheeseboards.

Copper Hen Arugula Salad, BLT, and interior
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

There’s no quibble with the arugula salad, though ($5 half / $8 whole). Generous dollops of sheep’s-milk ricotta temper the peppery bite of the greens, and the fried shallots and hemp seeds add a contrasting crunch. Two could easily share a cheeseboard and the salad and have a very satisfying meal (with room for dessert). Ordering the BLT ($11) likely won’t leave much extra space in your stomach, however, with its thick cuts of bacon layered atop slabs of cheddar, tomato, and butter lettuce. This isn’t a sandwich for thin, crispy bacon lovers — the bacon could be mistaken for slices of ham — but the hearty country bread contains all the fixings faultlessly.

Copper Hen Classic Pizza and Pot Pie
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Kids will clamor for the 10-inch classic pizza ($9), which features wide rounds of house-pulled mozzarella and fresh basil. While the crust doesn’t compare to the area’s gold standard, Pizzeria Lola, the naturally leavened dough offers a pleasant tang that distinguishes it from your typical pie. But for a dish you’re unlikely to encounter elsewhere, go for the chicken pot pie ($15). Meaty chunks of chicken combine with toothsome root vegetables and peas in a creamy sauce, but what (literally) seals the deal is the buttery, flaky pastry covering the crock-baked filling. Shatter the crust with your fork and watch the steam rise before you dig in. And offer a few forkfuls to your dining companion, who ordered the baked macaroni and cheese ($14) because, sadly, that meal isn’t close to the same caliber. The four cheeses seize and clump among the large, hollow noodles, and without sufficient sauce to coat the pasta, the mac falls flat.

Luckily, you can’t choose poorly among the bakery case. The large, chunky chocolate chip cookie ($2) lures browned butter fans with its rich, nutty aroma, and the flavor shines through each bite. After five years of cupcake mania in this town, it’s a pleasure to see cupcakes ($2.50) perfectly portioned and featuring a reasonable cake-to-frosting ratio. The delicately flavored cake is appropriately dense — it has substance but won’t sit like a rock in your stomach — and the frosting provides a sweet, creamy lusciousness without sending you into a diabetic coma. Vanilla, chocolate, red velvet — all are solid choices. Only the bacon blueberry breakfast cupcake ($3.75)  tastes more like a scone than cupcake and needs a tad more sugar if you are craving a more sweet than savory treat. Depending on the day, you’ll also find a few varieties of mason jar cakes, fruit-filled hand pies, and full-sized cakes beckoning with colorful sprinkles. You won’t find doughnuts, however — a smart decision when Glam Doll Donuts is just down the street.

Copper Hen Bakery
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The light, airy space will bring many passers-by into the Copper Hen. Scraps of blue printed wallpaper liven up the white-washed brick walls, and the dark cherry tables and counter make an elegant presentation. The Bjorlings have spaced the tables well, with plenty of room to maneuver, making it an ideal destination for families (in case the cupcakes themselves weren’t enough of a draw). As would be expected for a new venture, service could use more time to get into a groove. Our starters arrived with the rest of our meal on one visit, for example, and payment can take several minutes as the team learns the point-of-sale system.

Minneapolis doesn’t lack for good bakeries, but there’s always room for one more. As the Copper Hen crew settles into its space, it will be exciting to see how the kitchen evolves — and whether its Kickstarter funders made a good investment.

The Copper Hen Cakery & Kitchen
Bakery and cafe in Minneapolis
Rating: ★★☆☆ (Good)

2515 Nicollet Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55404
612.872.2221
HOURS:
Tues-Thurs 7am-10pm
Fri 7am-11pm
Sat 8am-11pm
Sun 8am-10pm
Closed Mondays
OWNERS / CHEFS: Danielle and Chris Bjorling
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE PRICE: $8-17

Strawberry and Champagne Cupcakes and Recipe Roundup

Courtesy of Mrs. Schwartz's Kitchen
Courtesy of Mrs. Schwartz’s Kitchen

Strawberry and champagne cupcakes (above); Seville blood orange marmalade; olive oil-dark chocolate cake; sweetheart coffee cake; lemon-ricotta pancakes; chocolate dessert ravioli; double chocolate cupcakes; raspberry and white chocolate waffles; ricotta and strawberry stuffed French toast and raspberry and goat cheese bread pudding.

Follow our Pinterest board for more recipes.

 

Thumbprint Cookies and Recipe Roundup

Courtesy of HeathGlen’s Farm

An assortment of thumbprint cookies, including a savory version (above); sweet potato biscuits; black forest cake; Torta di Noci (walnut tart from Sorrento); butternut squash casserolePhilly cheesesteak pizzabourbon bacon fat chocolate chip cookies; homemade tater totswild rice harvest salad; gluten-free Russian tea cakes; pumpkin-pecan pie cupcakes; and caramel apple almond crisp.

Follow our Local Recipes Pinterest board for more recipes.

Abby Jimenez of Nadia Cakes

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

On a recent Friday afternoon at Nadia Cakes, Abby Jimenez was reminded, yet again, that she’s sought-after. She settled onto a pink and brown sofa in her Maple Grove shop, placing herself amid a pack of mildly starstruck youth. Momentarily setting aside everything that goes along with being the CEO and executive chef of a most beloved cupcake shop, she smiled for a photo for the umpteenth time.

It was only several months earlier that she stood under the lights of the Cupcake Wars kitchen and watched the judges as they considered her Triple Berry cheesecake. They parsed its constituent layers: the dark graham cracker crust, cream cheese filling, sour cream glaze; the pond of berry compote kept in check by swirls of fresh vanilla bean whipped cream. They leaned in toward one another between bites to whisper and nod, betraying no glint of pleasure, no furrow of distaste. Opposite them, Jimenez was in the throes of inner torment: I messed this up. I gave them subpar cheesecake.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Then judge Florian Bellanger declared it the most amazing cheesecake cupcake he’d ever tasted, and Jimenez felt her world shift.

That’s not to say her career before Food Network success was without auspicious turns. An early maternity leave found Jimenez attending cake decorating classes at a local craft store, where she took so naturally to fondant that she began making and selling specialty cakes from her Los Angeles home. Tutorials, baking books, trial, and error taught her how ingredients mix, and why some cakes turn out dense and mealy, others light and fluffy. As orders piled up, Jimenez worked seven days a week to build the kind of cakes that are now tackled by a team of four. She had three refrigerators and three kids in diapers. Such was the rhythm of life for two years.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Then in 2009, Jimenez and husband Carlos found a space for Nadia Cakes — thusly named after their second daughter — in Palmdale, California. They charged its entire opening on credit cards. “We used everything,” Jimenez recalls, almost in disbelief. “We didn’t even have change for the registers on opening day.”

Demand was instant and unrelenting. It took only a few weeks for Carlos to quit his job and become full-time CFO of Nadia Cakes, a year to pay off the credit card bills. Wild success in Palmdale assured that a second location was feasible, wherever that may be. The desire for more affordable living and a better school system prompted a nationwide sweep in which the couple traveled to 23 states, trusting that the one they loved would have a spot for Nadia Cakes. They found what they were looking for in Champlin, Minnesota, and eventually set up shop just 20 minutes south.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Now sufficiently broken in after its July opening, the Maple Grove store has fallen into a stride that far outpaces the one required in Palmdale. A rotating cast of nearly 135 cupcake flavors (plus daily chef specials) takes center stage in turn, ranging from gourmet (Orange Chocolate Truffle) to zany (Sunk’n Drunk’n Irishman). Among them, 10 are regulars in the bakery case. It would be in their familiarity, in their very basic and approachable flavors, that we would find whether quality exists within such quantity. We would discover what a self-taught baker — one whose formal training amounts to a handful of craft store classes — could really do.

And so we begin where every cupcake appraisal ought to begin. What does a pastry chef do with the most basic of cakes, meant to headline a single ingredient with no added bells or whistles to distract (except the requisite rainbow sprinkles, of course)? For Jimenez, the answer comes in gallons and gallons of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean paste. The stuff shows up in almost all of her cakes, but you notice it most in the aptly named Vanilla Vanilla. Tiny black specks of it pepper the tender cake and fleck a thick and remarkably balanced buttercream. (Jimenez doesn’t like when she can pick out butter or sugar as the dominant force in a frosting, so she’s written a buttercream of nearly perfect stasis.) The resulting taste isn’t pushy or cloying; it’s a natural, confident vanilla.

Slow News Day Recipes in Lieu of Morning Roundup

Maple bacon apple crisp, grilled eggplant and summer squash with pumpkin seed oil, a farmers’ market breakfast sandwich, shortbread, smoked chicken quesadillas, apple buttermilk cupcakes with maple frosting, and cherry shrub.

Dutch Babies and Recipe Roundup

Fried cheese curds, smoky grilled chicken wings, Wow Cupcakes, shrimp and grits with sweet corn, Dutch baby pancakes, summer heirloom tomato salad, oven roasted tomato sauce, and summer tomato sauce.

Basil Raspberry Crisp and Recipe Roundup

Basil raspberry crisp, gluten-free fruit crisp, hydrating summer drinksvanilla cupcakes with cream cheese icing, and pizza with goat cheese, peach, arugula, rosemary, and fig preserves.

WI Cheese Kitsch and Morning Roundup

Our own Becca Dilley has a cheese kitsch photo spread in Culture magazine, a profile of Gastro Non Grata co-honcho and PBR rep Craig Drehmel, Rachel calls the BLT Jam Burger at Macy’s Oak Grill “the best new burger in Minneapolis,” a detailed write-up of Gastrotruck, a WI vs. MN beer border battle fest this July 13-14, WACSO illustrates Tanpopo Noodle Shop in St. Paul, a Chowhound demolishes Stella’s for inconsistent oysters, food trucks can start vending within designated parks with one-day permits starting June 19, bad pickles and Texas toast kill a grilled cheese sandwich at Club 45 in Conover, WI, three mini-reviews of food trucks by Rick (here are our Minneapolis and St. Paul five-parters on the same topic), a new indie wine shop in Madison called Square Wine Company evokes the style of Cork Dork, notes from a meal at Heartland, and a Minneapolis chef (the owner of Cupcake bakery) wins Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.

Angel Food Bakery & Coffee Bar in Downtown Minneapolis

Angel Food Bakery in downtown Minneapolis
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Like a mirage in a pastry desert, Angel Food Bakery & Coffee Bar opened softly on April 30, beckoning to workaday downtowners desperate for a morning doughnut or midday guilty pleasure just steps from Nicollet Mall and their office doors. Co-owner Cynthia Gerdes calls Angel Food Bakery a natural extension of Hell’s Kitchen, the 10-year-old downtown breakfast mainstay and music venue she owns with her husband Mitch Omer.

According to Gerdes, Hell’s Kitchen has always turned out its own scratch baked goods, led by pastry chef Katherine Gerdes. And “little by little,” she says, “word-of-mouth spread about her desserts, which was great, but we then ran out of space in the tiny baking corner of the kitchen.” Until Angel Food was born and installed just above Hell’s basement lair.

When speaking of bakeries, downtown Minneapolis is parched. Unlike South Minneapolis with its Patisserie 46 and Sun Street Breads, there’s little in the way of accessible specialty baked goods for pedestrians and people stuck in meetings or bound by half-hour lunch breaks. Angel Food seems like an excellent solution, filling the retail gaps left by Cocoa & Fig and Wuollet, and offering delicious Peace Coffee as a substitute for the nearest Starbucks.

Angel Food Bakery in downtown Minneapolis
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

There are other cool things about the bakery. For one thing, it echoes that smirking and flashy Hell’s Kitchen aesthetic, but in a lighter, fluffier way. White and tinsel frame the bakery’s open kitchen, where you can sit at the bar and watch the bakers knead dough or torch meringue. The bakery also offers bread (created by Craig Nelson, a New French Bakery alum), catering, delivery, wedding cakes, and basically any special service you can imagine.

And yet.

The bakery’s most important aspect — its execution of pastry classics — is poor, and on the whole, the product does not reflect the kind of years-deep experience and pastry finesse the Hell’s Kitchen team claims to have.

Let’s start with something iconic: the golden, coveted croissant ($2). Though beautiful, the one at Angel Food is salty and supple, without the delicate outer crunch and stretchy, swelling inner layers of an expert croissant, and its buttery flavor is more schmaltzy than sweet and authentic. Take a look at our story on the many examples of a righteous croissant in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Angel Food’s doesn’t hold a dripping candle to them.

The raised glazed doughnut ($1.50) was a bit of a disaster. On one occasion it had a moist, underfried inside, and on another day it was chewy and dense instead of bouncy and light. This fluffy-looking yeasted treat is as deceptive as a rosy, grinning baby with indigestion. A blueberry lemon scone ($2.50) was similarly disappointing. There were none of the flaky layers essential to scones. It was soft, moist, cakey. Calling it a muffin would have made more sense.

Angel Food Bakery in downtown Minneapolis
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

A carrot cake cupcake ($3), on the other hand, was a standard specimen made delightful by the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever had. It was light and just barely cheesy without being gooey, dense, or wearisome. The cupcakes in general cater to decadence and greed, with whimsical colors and plentiful frosting. The Anti-depressant Cupcake ($3) was a decent combination of chocolate cake and delicate chocolate whipped cream, but the dollop of caramelized chocolate on top would have done more exciting things as a filling.

Angel Food also makes muffins, tarts, cookies, and brownies the size of a saucer. Like the cupcakes, the brownies call to the id with words like “turtle,” “rocky road,” and “Butterfinger.” But again, they fall short. Though large and heavy, the chocolatey bases of both the Rocky Road and Butterfinger ($3.50) were bland, with a scant supply of their namesake flavors and just a tiny well of ganache in the center. Decadence they are not.

There are also baguettes and several sorts of large, golden loaves of bread for sale at Angel Food, and their sourdough’s ($4.25) thick crust hides a tight, slightly sweet crumb that makes for a sturdy slice of toast. In fact, the bread basket may be where Angel Food’s biggest asset lies. Being able to grab a loaf of decent, homemade bread before heading home from work, and in the same breath find a great cup of coffee, second-rate sweets, and an option for catered office meetings is an anomaly in downtown Minneapolis. And that’s just it — Angel Food Bakery is a great idea. But the food could be a lot greater.

Angel Food Bakery & Coffee Bar

Rating: ★☆☆☆ (Notable)

Full-service bakery in downtown Minneapolis
86 S 9th Street (above Hell’s Kitchen)
Minneapolis, MN 55402
612.238.1435
OWNER / CHEF: Cynthia Gerdes and Mitch Omer /  Katherine Gerdes and Craig Nelson
HOURS:
Mon-Fri 6:30am-6:30pm
Sat 7:30am-6:30pm
Sun 7:30am-3pm
BAR: Espresso
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: None
GLUTEN FREE / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: Under $6

The Hole Sports Lounge, Blood and Chocolates, Cupcake, Indeed Brewing, and more

Readers: Win Heavy Table pint glasses

The Tap loves restaurant tips from readers, so we’re awarding a Heavy Table pint glass to the best tipster each month. 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 Jason Walker at jason@heavytable.com.

January’s winner: Suzy Vowels of Minneapolis

The Hole Sports Lounge (now open)

2501 University Ave SE, Minneapolis | 612.331.7474 | theholesportslounge.com

Committed to serving “better-than-your-average bar food,” The Hole Sports Lounge has opened in the former Leaning Tower of Pizza space near TCF Bank Stadium. The Hole specializes in burgers, hand-tossed pizzas, and appetizers, all made in house, and there’s a full-service bar with 18 beers on tap.

Owner Jeremy Mahany said a signature item was Piquillo Poppers: peppers stuffed with cream cheese, manchego cheese, and chives, then hand-tossed in panko crumbs and almonds, deep-fried, and served with a balsamic reduction and house-made pesto.

“We pride ourselves on making all of our own sauces and using the freshest ingredients,” Mahany said. “We make all of our own pizza sauce, our marinaras, all our sauces that are served with appetizers like cheese, cucumber sauce, the mango honey mustard served with our wings, a chili-lime aioli, and a sweet-potato ketchup.”

Chef at The Hole is Ian Pierce, an alum of The 128 Cafe, Cesare’s Wine Bar, The Modern Cafe, and 20.21. He said creating upscale bar food was a fun challenge after building a career in fine dining and that, so far, The Hole’s menu was popular.

“It seems that burgers and pizzas are the hands-down winners,” Pierce said. “Hand-pattied black Angus burgers with just the right amount of a few key ingredients in the mix can go a long way to differentiate a great burger from a good one. I feel that some nice burger toppings like crisped prosciutto di Parma, manchego, and house-made pickles, along with our killer barbecue, aiolis, and my never-ending quest to teach cooks how to perfectly season each burger (and every dish), will set us apart.”

Blood and Chocolates (opening delayed)

495 Selby Ave, St. Paul | 651.492.4799 | Find it on Facebook

Blood and Chocolates, the vivacious brainchild of St. Paulite Kerry D’Amato and business partner Bo Wayne, has been struggling with what D’Amato called an “open-ended delay.”

D’Amato said some extra construction regarding city-mandated accessibility popped up, and that and other personal issues were behind the problems. She said the opening for Blood and Chocolates was in “a holding pattern.”

It’s fair to say that D’Amato wants her shop to be perfect before opening. Photos on the B&C Facebook page illustrate the level of sophistication she’s going for; combine that with any sort of delay  – personal or otherwise – and you’ve got a problem.

As she said, “It’s going to be sort of a full experience: Mind, body, spirit. That might be going a little far, but you’re not going to be walking into a chocolate shop and seeing a deli display case of chocolates that you choose from and that’s it. It’s going to have a lot more personality to it.”

D’Amato did say that she paid her landlord for a year in advance, so she has time to work out the kinks. She also supplied The Tap with samples of three chocolates: coconut and lime caramel, rooibos and vanilla caramel, and blood orange and gunpowder tea patty; all were terrific.

Cupcake (St. Paul expansion scuttled)

949 Grand Ave, St. Paul | cup-cake.com

Speaking of opening issues in St. Paul, Cupcake’s Grand Avenue bakery and wine bar has been permanently scuttled, although it wasn’t because of fighting City Hall. According to the Pioneer Press, owner Kevin Vanderaa pulled out after he couldn’t come to an agreement over parking with the neighborhood’s Summit Hill Association.

Vanderaa gave the paper a great quote: “It was going to be a beautiful little wine bar designed for women who don’t want to go to Billy’s and hang out with frat boys. I just don’t think it should be this hard to open on Grand Avenue.” Zing!

The Minneapolis location remains open as usual at 3338 University Ave SE.

Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake and Recipe Roundup

Toasted marshmallow milkshake, jalapeño crab dip, vegetable soup with millet, dandelion greens, chicken noodle soup, and chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel meringue buttercream.

Nettle Quesadillas and Recipe Roundup

Bok choy salad; banana cupcakes with candied hazelnuts; chiffon cake; grapefruit olive oil cake; cracked pepper and chives bread; crab, potatoes, prosciutto, and chive oil; nettle quesadillas; and rhubarb bread.