Salade nicoise isn’t exciting, but when done right, it’s a really satisfying meal — and never more so than when paired with iced tea on a sweltering late summer day. It’s not that we’d forgotten this classic, but in tracking down the latest trends we had sort of forgotten it. The loss was entirely ours. Over a recent lunch at the French Meadow Bakery & Cafe in Minneapolis, we rediscovered the French bistro classic (“in the style of Nice”) and its many pleasures.
At $15, Fresh Meadow’s nicoise isn’t cheap. But it’s hearty and includes impeccable ingredients. A good-sized portion of expertly seared ahi tuna goes a long way toward justifying the price, as do the juicy, super flavorful roasted tomatoes (far better than the desiccated, sun-dried tomatoes so popular in the 1990s). A lemon-herb vinaigrette and a mixture of olives brighten the dish and add briny zip. Rounded out with purple fingerling potatoes and a whole, hard-boiled egg, the salad avoids the perennial problem of its genre by being substantial enough to make for a satisfying and filling entree. Oh, and we can’t forget the crisp-yet-tender French green beans that provide great texture and subtle sweetness.
French Meadow could make this delicious salad even better by adding or offering anchovies — a key element of traditional salade nicoise — for a touch of funkiness. But even though we missed the funky fish, we’ll be back for this straightforward, healthy, and delicious summer treat.
When we heard the CC Club was bought by French Meadow — for the parking lot, it’s rumored — we were all a little shocked, saddened, appalled. You name it, we felt it. One of the last remains of Lyndale’s historic rockin’ past, the CC Club is a favorite spot of nightly neighborhood regulars, weekend adventure-seeking suburbanites, and just regular people looking to smoke cigarettes and drink beer.
So we decided to check it out, snoop around, and see what’s changed. And we are happy to report: nothing. Well, almost nothing. Besides the slightly brighter feel — that could be in my head — it appears the menu is the only thing French Meadow has influenced. With its brightly-colored and differently-sized block lettering, it’s pretty much “the same old food but with fancy new wrapping,” as the familiar waitress told us.
We ordered a few dishes that seemed newer, or at least fancier, like the CC Burger and jalapeño poppers (above), and a few standbys, including waffle fries, and it’s confirmed: The food is indeed the same. The delicious meal, a melange of brown fried things, is exactly what you want as you drink a pitcher of beer — heavy, salty, and comforting. And now a lot more visually organized. The waitstaff can no longer charge what they see fit to upgrade to cheesy waffle fries, an old standby. Actually, the cheesy fries are no longer on the menu — not that they were before, but the hangover fries (basically waffle fry nachos) are a reliable replacement.
But between sips of Summit EPA, I slowly realized where my hesitancy about this small change lies. With its snappy font and succinct descriptions, the menu is almost too tidy and fresh, with hints of the barbecue-joint branding at which places like The Lyndale Tap House excel. Which makes some sense — my burger did have chopped, leafy green lettuce on it that was not only crunchy but plentiful, a welcome addition to the slabs of bacon and sweet caramelized onions. But besides perhaps getting a new food / produce distributor through French Meadow, the relatively new menu almost makes me feel like I’m at a fake dive bar — a place that is intentionally grungy with a calculated amount of “roughness around the edges,” but has genuinely good bar food so you keep going.
So I guess all of our hesitance was unwarranted, at least for now. And there are even some tasty new additions. Even if it looks fancier on paper, the CC Club is the same place we grew to love, with The Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular” piping through the jukebox. As long as the CC Club doesn’t lose its distinct identity, we’ll be happy, burger and waffle fries in hand.
CC Club, 2600 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408; 612.874.7226
Here’s a quick game of restaurant word-association. French Meadow, go. Organic. Sustainable. A gluten-free, vegan-friendly, baked-goods glory land where Uptowners (and out-of-towners) have greened their palate with organic eggs, grilled tempeh, and the like since 1985. And now there’s a restaurant within the restaurant with the recent opening of Bluestem Bar and Table (their take on wine, beer, and small plates).
We tried two dishes on a midweek evening. It was after the dinner rush, and still close enough to the opening date that curious onlookers peeked into the space — asking the hostess questions and walking themselves on a quick tour.
The Rustic Tartines ($10) come with a trio of flavors topped on freshly grilled baguettes: jalapeño artichoke, wild Pacific smoked salmon, and hummus and avocado. The jalapeño artichoke variety was a disappointment; it had no burst of jalapeno at all, instead offering a muted combination of shredded parmesan cheese and artichokes. The smoked salmon was certainly fresh and colorful (thanks to the crisp slices of cucumber and red onion and caper garnish). But smoked salmon, capers, and cream cheese? Not novel by any means. Thankfully, the hummus had a tastebud-awakening lemony tang and peppery kick under the slices of fresh, mild avocado.
The Fried Chicken and Waffle ($12) is perfectly shareable as a snack, or substantial enough to act as dinner. Two cornbread waffles sit underneath a crispy piece of cornmeal-crusted chicken breast, surrounded by drizzles of smoky peppercorn syrup and spicy chipotle hot sauce, and topped with a dollop of green-onion laced creme fraiche. The chicken was perfect. Not dry. Not greasy. The ideal combination of crunch and tenderness. If only the dense, dry waffles could, quite literally, lighten up, this would be a perfectly clean version of a dish that can easily go cross the line into too-many napkins territory.
Visually, Bluestem feels like the place where graduates of French Meadow go to feel, well, sophisticated. The walls are lined with birch branches. The combination of yellow walls, rustic wood tables, and a gleaming turquoise bar ooze a serenely calming effect. There is a wine list that boasts a focus on sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines. This is where you go to support the green way of drinking.
From a culinary perspective our initial impression leaves a question mark. What void is Bluestem marked to fill? After decades dedicated to the cafe and bakery, was it simply time to segue into something new? The relative safety of the menu evokes the Dara-driven Facebook kerfluffle over the restaurant’s name, which is the same as that of an award-winning spot in Kansas City, MO — why not strike out in a new direction?
The space is beautiful. The wine list has a uniquely appropriate niche. But if Bluestem will stand up to the preexisting small plates / wine bars in Uptown, the menu needs some clarity and focus to support a brand that has already made its mark.
Bluestem Bar and Table
Wine Bar in Uptown, Minneapolis
2610 Lyndale Ave S
Sun 8am-11pm BAR: Beer and wine ENTREE RANGE: $10-21 VEGAN / VEGETARIAN: Yes / Yes
The CC Club has been a part of the Minneapolis bar scene since the 1930s. After 28 years, owners Mo & Sharon Emard and Linda Rauen are selling the neighborhood cultural icon and retiring.
Owners of the neighboring French Meadow Bakery & Café, Lynn Gordon and Steve Shapiro, in a transaction to secure parking for their guests, are purchasing the Legendary CC Club and the coveted parking lot that adjoins French Meadow.
“We view the CC Club as a neighborhood landmark supported by a loyal clientele and a dedicated staff, some of whom have worked at the bar for over 30 years,” shares French Meadow’s Gordon. “We plan to maintain and continue the CC’s traditions, and the best way we thought we could do this was to continue neighborhood ownership. This will assure that 26th and Lyndale remains the home to both these unique businesses.”
French Meadow Bakery and Mill City Cafe have both submitted info to our Atlas of Ethical Eating, the guide to local restaurants that are working to promote local, organic, and otherwise thoughtful food.
According to the Star Tribune, the French Meadow Bakery on Lyndale Ave was robbed at gunpoint last night shortly after closing. One of the suspects was apprehended while fleeing from the scene; the other remains on the loose. No one was hurt, and the bakery is open for business as usual today.
Every other Monday throughout the summer and fall while locally raised produce is spectacular and abundant, the Heavy Table will be exploring vegetarian cuisine, both in the kitchen and at local eateries. Read other stories in this series.
As a co-author of an upcoming book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who prepare them, I ate a lot of sandwiches in the first half of 2010, mostly Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches and Somali sambusa, but also, in support of my co-authors, the occasional meatloaf, fried walleye, or hot dago sandwich. I ate sandwiches for breakfast. I ate sandwiches for lunch. And, yes, I ate sandwiches for dinner. Sometimes for every meal in a day. Sometimes in family-owned delis so small I couldn’t turn around without clobbering someone with my purse; sometimes in celebrity-chef-operated restaurants anchored by shiny art museums.
Fortunately I like sandwiches, so this was not a problem, except that, Minnesota sandwiches, at least the iconic ones, tend to be incredibly, gloriously meat-tacular. So, the first thing I did when I submitted my chapters to my editor is swear off bacon-wrapped, pate-slathered, or deep-fried meat sandwiches. But, after months of eating, breathing, and dreaming sandwiches, I found I couldn’t give them up. Thus began my quest, still ongoing, for vegetarian, sometimes even vegan, sandwiches.
French Meadow Bakery and Café in Minneapolis serves up a vegan Grilled Reuben Tempeh sandwich ($9) stuffed with thick slabs of marinated tempeh (pressed cakes of cooked and fermented soybeans) and tangy sauerkraut and spiced tomato aioli piled onto slender slices of house-baked rye bread. The sandwiches are grilled until the bread has achieved that toasty, buttery exterior you look for in a grilled cheese sandwich, except that it’s all vegan, so there’s no butter and no cheese. Sandwiches come with your choice of chips and salsa, mixed greens, or, as pictured in the photo above, a spicy slaw.
I love the Fair in the morning: the streets are cool, the crowd is thin, and breakfast options abound. Sweet or savory; on-a-stick or on a plate; decadent or simple, the choice is yours. We’ve rounded up some some highlights for you to consider.
There are 79 booths that sell foods on sticks according to Fairborne’s Fabulous Fair Food Finder. Not many are breakfast items, but if you’re committed to eating only food on a stick, you won’t have to eat a Pronto Pup for breakfast (Though there’s no reason you can’t. In fact, many do).
The Farmers Union Coffee Shop is a lovely place to start your day, for coffee or, for $4.50, Mocha-on-a-Stick, espresso ice cream bars made by Grand Ole Creamery especially for the Fair. They are smooth and not cloyingly sweet: a fudgesicle for grown-ups.
For $3, Big Fat Bacon, a one-third pound maple-glazed slice of bacon, is a favorite, especially among kids. A small child, whose parents graciously permitted me to photograph their son’s Big Fat Bacon, was dancing with his.
If it’s not breakfast without eggs, a Scotch Egg — a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, rolled in bread crumbs, deep fried, and served (if you wish) with a dollop of homemade horseradish– might be your thing ($6), though they aren’t for everyone. They are scorching hot with a crispy exterior and a custard-smooth egg at the center. The Heavy Table’s Maja Ingeman found hers dry and flavorless and threw half of hers out; I found mine curious, and a good delivery vehicle for the horseradish, though half was also enough for me.
Fudge Puppies, Belgian waffles dipped in Swiss chocolate (or not) and topped with your choice of whipped cream, crunch coating, and, for $0.75, sliced strawberries, are a perennial favorite. The fudge puppy is a sugar bomb, but the malted flavor is appealing. If you like your breakfast sweet and outrageous, this may be the way to start your day ($3.75, but you can get $1.25 off with a coupon from the Blue Ribbon Book. The book also contains several “buy two get a dollar off” coupons, valid on certain days of the Fair.)
While the original point of food on a stick was to enable you to dine while wandering, foods-on-sticks have become increasingly unwieldy, with the stick often an afterthought or a marketing ploy. If you truly want a breakfast on the go, you can’t go wrong with a juicy, fragrant piece of fruit, $2, from the Produce Exchange. Options vary, but typically include apples, plums, oranges, and nectarines. This is also one of your healthiest options.
If you’re a fan of Grandma’s Bakery, but don’t get out to White Bear Lake often, swing by Mac’s Grill in the Food Building for a donut, $1.25.
French Meadow Bakery‘s breakfast pretzel ($5), stuffed with eggs, Swiss cheese, and chopped bacon, isn’t flashy or gooey-decadent, but instead is understated, soft, bready, and exceedingly portable. Their espresso bar features organic coffee.
The Peg, outside of the Ag-Hort Building, bills itself as “The Fair’s Only Full-Service Restaurant,”and possibly offers the Fair’s most civilized and peaceful dining. Open at 6:30am, it may also be among the Fair’s earliest dining options. The menu is standard diner fare: thick slices of French toast, eggs-to-order, steak, and hash browns — breakfast combo prices range from $4.25 to $7.50. The service is congenial and unrushed, which makes the Peg a peaceful haven amid the color and clamor that is the Fair.