East Lake Checklist: Midtown Global Market

WACSO / Heavy Table

Our group of 11 gathered in the central hall of the Midtown Global Market. We shoved a few tables together and called that home base. Each of us was assigned a food vendor and given enough cash to order the specialty of the house along with something else that sounded interesting.

We returned with our offerings and set them down. Our table looked like a feast for a gluttonous king and his court. Soon the surface became strewn with the detritus of 11 people picking and poking at kolaches and pizza and lamb shanks and baba ghanouj. We used our grubby fingers and any available plastic utensil. We slurped and gnawed and grunted out our thoughts about the food. By the time we’d wiped away the drippings from our various tortas, tacos and dumplings, our thin, biodegradable napkins had pretty much biodegraded in our hands.

WACSO / Heavy Table

Then it was time for round two.

We loosened our belts, grabbed our cash, and did it all again. 17 different places, more than 40 menu items, all in a two-hour span.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

If you’re unfamiliar with the setup of the Midtown Global Market, imagine a large indoor bazaar with merchants offering cuisines and other goods from around the globe. So yeah, it’s pretty much what it sounds like: a global market. It’s housed in a gorgeous Art Deco stone building that towers over Lake Street like a capitol. This place once housed a bustling Sears store and catalog center. But where there were once stacks of tools and blue jeans and children’s toys, there are now stacks of tamales and baked goods and, yes, still a few children’s toys.

Prior to its opening in 2006, the Midtown Global Market was nothing more than the noble idea of a few local business owners. Today, it stands as a testament to the power of doggedly pursuing a vision. It could have been just another anonymous development. Instead, the Midtown Global Market is one of those special places that helps define a city. We’re lucky to have it.

Pro tip: You can get an hour of free parking in the ramp on the east side of the market. Just try not to forget to get your ticket validated as you stuff your face with … good lord, take your pick. — M.C. Cronin

This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, Becca Dilley, James Norton, Josiah Norton, Peter Sieve, Jon Campbell, Blake Iverson, Dave Friedman, Jane Rosemarin, Ted Held

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

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.”

Andy’s Garage

Andy’s Garage is boldly and proudly a burgers-and-fries kinda joint, so that’s the way we went. We tried the bacon- and barbecue-sauce-bedecked Rugged Burger ($9.50, with an order of fries) and found that it lived up to its name: a charred, appropriately salty umami bomb on a respectable bun. Whatever you order at Andy’s Garage, make sure fries are part of the equation. It’s a treat to watch an employee grab a whole potato from a crate, smash it through an old-school metal fry-cutter, and fry up the strips while you watch. Our fries were delicious — simple, robust, well-seasoned.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We weren’t as enthusiastic about our chocolate shake ($4), which suffered from anemic ice cream that was much more “ice” than “cream” and standard-issue pumps of Hershey’s Syrup (which always leans toward sugar as opposed to real chocolate flavor). The shake was, it should be said, nice and thick.

Heavy Table Hot Five: Dec. 1-7

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.

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James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - one - hot fiveFrozen Pepperoni Pizza by Mucci’s
The move from restaurant to frozen food powerhouse has been a short one for the opened-not-too-long-ago Mucci’s in St. Paul. The restaurant’s famed Montanara (fried crust) pizzas are in the freezer cases of many Kowalski’s (we got ours on Grand Avenue), and they’re bedecked with chewy, gooey, legit mozzarella and bold but tender sliced sausage. A serious upgrade over the rest of the freezer case.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

2-new - two - hot fiveBaked Granola at Cafe Patteen
The baked granola at Cafe Patteen in the Minneapolis skyway is served in little bags while it’s still warm. The hearty oats, nuts, and dried fruit are baked with orange marmalade, giving the mix a sweet, fruity note. If you have the patience to obtain milk, that’s remarkable. I can only attest to snacking on it by hand immediately.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3-new - three hot fiveChurrasco Plate at El Sabor Chuchi
The first thing you need to know about the $12 Churrasco Plate at El Sabor Chuchi is that it isn’t as big as you expect it’ll be. It’s about 50 percent bigger. I ran out of room in my notebook trying to record everything that arrived on it, but the short list includes a steak (pounded flat), a couple of eggs, rice, beans, thick cut fries, avocado slices, plantain fritters, and salad. If this stuff were mediocre, this would still be a pretty good deal, but the avocado was ripe, the beans surprisingly delicate and beautifully seasoned, the thick-cut fries clearly house-made and top-notch. The steak and eggs and the rest? Not bad. The value prospect of this humble plate of food is towering.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a recent East Lake Checklist by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new four hot fiveCaramel Roll at The Bachelor Farmer Cafe
There’s not much to the caramel roll at The Bachelor Farmer Cafe. It’s just a coil of enriched dough and a caramel coating, simple as can be. But the caramel is high-grade, and the simplicity of the roll makes it a lovely thing to pair with a cup of coffee.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveItalian Hoagie at Jakeeno’s, Midtown Global Market
Those who try the Italian Hoagie at the Jakeeno’s location in the Midtown Global Market are likely to fall in love at first bite. There’s a certain magic to a well-composed sandwich, and this thing had it — something about the right bread (the baguette it was made with was first-rate), the right meat-to-veg ratio, and the right vinegar-based dressing to tie everything together.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an upcoming East Lake Checklist by James Norton]

Jakeeno’s Pizza and Pasta in South Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Restaurants that keep their doors open year after year interest us. They must be doing something right to endure economic slowdowns, food trends, and intense competition. And Jakeeno’s has been going strong since 1975. It’s survived Generations X, Y, and Z.

What’s the key to Jakeeno’s longevity? Comfort. It’s familiar, unpretentious, and low-key. The staff is easygoing, and the customers clearly pick up the vibe. Even when busy, there’s none of the hustle, bustle, and, well, stress (on the part of staff and diners) that often characterize the latest “it” spots. Seemingly impervious to flashy trends, Jakeeno’s and its regulars are refreshingly comfortable in their own skins. Why else would we see such an embrace of what we’ve nicknamed the “Jakeeno’s lounge” — a laid-back posture more common on porches than in restaurants?

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A little sign over a little table near the front of the restaurant won our hearts. It reads, “The table by the door is ‘The Worst Seat in the House.’ Dine here and receive 15% off your meal.” Now get this: The deal applies year round, and even when there are other tables available. Hell, when we inquired about the sign, our server encouraged us to move one table over and get the deal. (Though too earnest to move, we appreciated the suggestion.) Speaking of deals, Jakeeno’s has them all: cheap date night, happy hour, and all-you-can-eat pasta, to name a few.

Like the atmosphere and service, the food is comforting. It’s what “throwback” Italian-American restaurants throw back to. Unlike Mucci’s in Saint Paul (which we adore), Jakeeno’s doesn’t update the classics. In fact, we doubt the recipes have changed much over the last four decades. Of course, red sauce is the cornerstone of the menu: rich, flavorful, and slightly sweet (thankfully not too sweet), it’s well suited to pasta, pizza, and hoagies.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Of the pizzas we tried, a simple pepperoni pie (large, $16.45) stood out. Jakeeno’s crust is thin and well balanced (not too salty or sweet) and sturdy when not weighed down with too many ingredients. Although it lacks the snap associated with “cracker crust,” it holds its own. Covering thin slices of zippy pepperoni, the cheese is nicely browned without being burnt. As much as we enjoyed this option, we didn’t care for Jakeeno’s margherita (large, $21.75): The cheese was too thick, and the overwhelming garlic and flavorless tomatoes were way out of balance.

Bread Pudding at Blue Ox and February 28 Tweet Rodeo

The latest from Twitter: @localdlish now sells Jakeeno’s Pizza & Pasta Sauce, @BlueOxCoffeeCo’s got cranberry cinnamon bread pudding for a wintery day, @kopplins has happy hours from 6-7am and 7-8pm, @ELBURRITOM is looking for a new deli leader, and today @RickNelsonStrib will eat pancakes for charity at IHOP.

Camel on a Stick and So Forth

Ten vendors from Midtown Global Market will be among the thronging multitudes hawking food and more at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. Highlights: Jamal Hashi‘s camel on a stick and the potentially more palatable mango on a stick*, Italian soda and garlic cheese bread from Jakeeno’s, a Manny’s Tortas booth, and the Fair debut of Cafe Finspang. [full details in PDF format]
*I’ve had camel. Tasted like camel-flavored chewing gum. Would hesitate before trying it again.

July 17 Tweet Rodeo

Mmmm, the tastes of summer: @DehnsGarden sells the first of their field-grown basil, perfect with the new everyday Parmigiano-Reggiano at @France44Cheese…  follow up the summery snack with solar-baked cookies, courtesy of a retweet from @CHOW_Com — take advantage of those UV rays while you still can!  In other events, @AziaRestaurant hosts an oyster and champagne reception on Monday 7/27, @MidtownGlobal advertises brunch by Jakeeno’s Trattoria on Sunday, and @TanpopoMN features new hours for the duration of Cirque Du Soleil.