Heavy Table Hot Five: April 20-26

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 fiveSmorgasbord Plate at The Bungalow Club
We’ve been looking forward to the Craftsman’s successor — a classy but accessible Italian-inspired place called The Bungalow Club — ever since we heard about it a few months ago. It was well worth the wait. The crown jewel of our first visit was a Smorgasbord Plate that did justice to the tremendous charcuterie plates Craftsman chef Mike Phillips used to put out back in the day. The pate was light and airy, the deviled egg spread devilishly delicious (and equally light on the palate), and the pickled veg all profound without being acrid or aggressive.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table

2-new - two - hot fiveBrisket Rice Bowl at Sweet Chow
After our initial review of Sweet Chow but before going on MPR to talk about their food, we decided another visit was in order. We’re glad we went. The food was equally (or more) delicious than on visit number one. The highlight was the Brisket Rice Bowl, which boasted about 10 different condiments (pickled this, that, and the other, kimchi, poached egg, flying fish roe, etc.) and perfectly cooked, beautifully barked slices of brisket. Every bite was different, nourishing, and tasty.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - three hot fiveCroque Monsieur at Modern Times
What makes a good croque monsieur? They’re not all alike, but let’s examine the version offered at Modern Times: substantial ham, copious (but not excessive!) cheese, soulful bread; and a good balance of saltiness, meaty savory flavor, and the carbo-richness of the bread. A perfectly dressed and perfectly simple side salad was an unexpected bonus.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table

4-new four hot fiveSummit Lazy Sipper
Summit Lazy Sipper — which was part of our great State Fair roundup — is now available in cans. At first taste, the blond-colored beer has the crispness of a Pilsner with the aromatics of a pale ale, but after a few sips, a complex graham cracker malt builds in the back of the mouth. It’s an all-around winner with a crowd-pleasing profile, and it’s only 4.8 percent ABV. Try it with nachos.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham Didora]

James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveJapanese Set Breakfast at JK’s Table
When our copy editor Jane Rosemarin reviewed the breakfast at JK’s Table in Edina, I felt compelled to check her work — not from doubting her palate, but from a years-long curiosity about Japanese breakfasts and an inability to find one anywhere else in the metro. As presented at JK’s, the meal is a remarkably simple but classy way to start the day: grilled fish, rice, two tiny rolled herbed omelets, sesame avocado, and pickled veg. It’s a drive, but I’ll be back.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #2 | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

Pepperoni Pizza at Geek Love at Moon Palace Books

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

What does it take to build a community? The newly relocated Moon Palace Books is putting in the work to create a gathering space in Longfellow, and based on a vibrant mix of customers late yesterday morning, the pieces are coming together. There were people buying books, people entertaining their kids in the kids’ section, and people dining — alone or with friends or family — at the just opened Geek Love Cafe at the back of the bookstore. Taken as a whole, it created the feel of a lively place where people were coming together to read, talk, and eat.

The menu at Geek Love is simple — pizzas, wings, and salads, with a short but well-curated beer menu. We went basic, grabbing some wings and a couple of hot-and-ready slices. The pizza itself is simultaneously nothing special and precisely right. It’s thin, foldable, greasy, a bit charred, with some toothsome texture imparted by cornmeal: a decent approximation of a run-of-the-mill New York slice at a reasonable price ($4.50). The menu’s distinct lack of frills fits the space: comfortable booths with tabletops showing off covers from classic books, and a menu aimed at speed and comfort rather than ambition or pretense.

With the opening next door later this year of the Arbeiter brewery, Moon Palace/Geek Love seems well positioned to be the living room from a fast-evolving Longfellow neighborhood.

Moon Palace Books and Geek Love Cafe, 3032 Minnehaha Ave, Minneapolis, 612.454.0455

Heavy Table Hot Five: Nov. 18-24

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

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

1-new - oneCrispy Pork Dumplings at Dumpling
When Dumpling’s your name, your dumpling game better be tight. Challenge accepted and met at Dumpling. These extremely appetizing appetizers hit our table beautifully browned and super crispy, packed with a dense, flavorful, herbed meat filling that was among the best we’ve had in the metro. Mrs. Dumpling, the savory pastry’s now in your court.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

Ruthie Young / Heavy Table
Ruthie Young / Heavy Table

2-new - twoYucca Fries at Mañana Restaurant
The yucca fries at the popular Hola Arepa in the Lyndale neighborhood of Minneapolis sparked our love for the food, but we think the same snack at the El Salvadoran Mañana Restaurant in Dayton’s Bluff, Saint Paul give Hola’s a serious run for the money. The deep-fried root vegetable comes out in thick, hot fingers. They are as starchy as a potato fry but have an attractive earthy flavor and a bigger bite. What’s more, Manana’s yucca fries are served with a portion of fried pork rinds, creating a salty, starchy snack plate of dreams.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ruthie Young]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - threeHamburguesa del Gordo de Res at Hamburguesa El Gordo
One of our favorite hamburgers in the Twin Cities is at the newly established Hamburguesa El Gordo in the Plaza del Sol on St. Paul’s Payne Avenue. It’s a plate-sized monster burger with ham and bacon and cheese on a toasted bun spread with mayo. The burger is accompanied by a killer hot charred pepper that is the perfect friend to the mountain of richness. Kudos to reader @heyitswick for the tip.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new fourBanh Mi at Dumpling
Sure, it’s not typical for us to have a restaurant pop up twice in the Hot Five, but Dumpling had a hell of an opening night. The Dumpling version of the classic banh mi sandwich gets a number of things right: The baguette is perfectly light, chewy, and crisp, the pork is flavorful (and doesn’t get swamped by the bread or pickled veg), and the overall balance of sandwich toppings was on point.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveApple Turnover from Solomon’s Bakery
The apple turnover from Solomon’s Bakery in New Brighton is like a little apple pie, with a mildly sweet, flaky crust and just the right amount of apples inside — not so many that they overwhelm the delicate crust, just enough to taste the apple … and plenty of cinnamon. A perfect fall treat.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

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.

Details on the upcoming Hi-Lo Diner

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

Selected details from a press release touting the upcoming Hi-Lo Diner on East Lake Street in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis:

“Owners of Blue Door Pub and Forage Modern Workshop’s new concept Minneapolis, MN: James Brown and Mike Smith of Forage Modern Workshop and Brownsmith Restoration, along with Pat McDonough and Jeremy Woerner of The Blue Door Pub to open Hi-Lo Diner in a restored 1950’s diner, late 2015. Hi-Lo diner will be taking the place of a vacant Taco Bell across the street from Forage Modern Workshop that has not been in operation for over eight years.

Originally named the Venus Diner, which was located in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, this iconic 1955 Fodero Diner will be completely restored and placed on site at 4020 East Lake Street.

• Original 1955 Fodero Diner, completely restored
• Will serve classic, American diner food
• Full Bar with classics like Bloody Mary’s Mimosas, etc.
• Also a small menu of specialty cocktails and adult malts
• Owned and Operated by James Brown and Mike Smith of Forage Modern Workshop and Brownsmith Restoration and Pat McDonough and Jeremy Woerner of The Blue Door Pub.
• Opening late 2015

About the Owner/Operaters: The Blue Door Pub serves creative burgers,  wings, and more from a scratch kitchen and serves craft beer in an inviting family environment. Brownsmith Restoration is a full service general contractor and period design company. Forage Modern Workshop is a furniture and home goods store offering goods for the modern lifestyle.”

The diner will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Peppers and Fries in Longfellow, Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

As Longfellow begins to heat up as a homestead for young families, the neighborhood’s food and drink offerings have been undertaking a compelling odyssey. Peace Coffee showed up and started packing them in; Parka flared up, burned out, and was reincarnated as a Dogwood Coffee; and even the Rail Station has added a ton of craft beer taps and a new breakfast service. Add to the list Peppers & Fries, a newly opened joint that underpromises and overdelivers.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Peppers & Fries (which bills itself as a “burger and burrito grill”) doesn’t look like much — it’s a former service station converted into an independently run burger joint with a stripped down design aesthetic and plenty of big-screen TVs. But after visiting a couple of times, we found more than enough to come back for, particularly on warm days when the garage doors are rolled up, and the whole restaurant is converted into an open-air beer garden.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Start, for example, with the cheese curds ($9). Our experience with breaded cheese curds has been almost uniformly negative — in contrast to the soft, almost fluffy texture of battered curds, breaded curds tend to be hard, unpleasantly flavored geodes, their rocky exteriors concealing doleful, doughy bits of congealing cheese. Peppers & Fries offers breaded curds, but we found the breading to be pleasingly thin and the cheese inside of the curds to be piping hot and delicious. The idea of returning for a basket of these and a cold beer or two is truly appealing.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The burgers are just what you’d hope: classic, solid takes on the dish, reasonably sized (6 oz.), and served on tasty, toasted buns. We particularly enjoyed the Firehouse 21 ($10), which comes with grilled jalapenos, melted pepper jack, and chipotle mayo. The menu description touts the burger as “cooled down with cream cheese,” and that’s exactly right — the cheese’s tangy neutrality tames the fiery elements of the burger until they’re flavorful and balanced.

Bike-Delivered Miso Ramen from United Noodles

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

From Monday through Friday, there is no real place on the Heavy Table for autobiography. That said, it’s Saturday and I am suffering from a summer cold that may end my life. So this review of the bike-delivered Miso Ramen from the United Noodles UniDeli may wander a bit.

I think by now we’re all tired of hearing about Proust’s madeleine. But there’s a great deal going on with that metaphor, the cookie that conjures up a rich sensory world of both formalized and half-processed memories, using molecules of flavor to create something like an edible time machine.

For me, the totality of United Noodles is that madeleine. The first pan-Asian grocery store that I ever visited (in Chicago, Illinois) was physically and metaphorically my gateway from a childhood of brats, pizza, and luncheon meat to the realization that there’s a wide, wild, complicated, and wonderful world of food out there.

So when I take my son down the aisles of United Noodles, I’m also walking with my 17-year-old self, goggling at the squishy cubes floating in brightly colored liquids, the mysterious pastes, and the chips flavored like shrimp or seaweed or vegetables that I’ve heard of but likely never really tasted fresh.

And when its ramen shows up at my doorstep, it’s a chance to reflect on how and why we eat the food that we do, and how we put together the language we use to explain it.

I. YAOHAN MALL

I have been asked how I got into writing about food, and the answer is I got into journalism, and then shortly thereafter I got into food, and then after years of pursuing them on completely parallel tracks, I finally crossed them over and created a hybrid.

I caught the food bug in high school when we took a Japanese class trip from Madison, Wisconsin, to the pan-Asian (largely Japanese) Yaohan Mall in Chicago. My friend Kathy and I made sushi for class once, but we made it the night before and refrigerated it. Suffice it to say that it didn’t really do the art form any justice. “Gummy” is probably the kindest word that we can use to describe that situation.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

But other than that well-intentioned atrocity, I’d never had sushi before. Had heard of it. Was intrigued by it. Had no concept of what to expect. So when we got to Yaohan, at the top of my list was getting to the food court and buying sushi. It came in a little plastic clamshell package with the squirt-it-from-the-packet soy sauce and the squirt-it-from-the-packet wasabi and a bit of slightly chewy pickled ginger in the corner.

For maximum exoticism, I made sure to try maki containing raw fish, so that when I had my first sushi I was tasting raw tuna, vinegared rice, seaweed, and wasabi. These were four things I had never tasted before, tasted in concert. This was not merely a new flavor, or a new combination of flavors, it was the entryway to an entirely different spectrum of flavor, akin to hearing rock-n-roll for the first time after a childhood of nothing but classical music.

At the time, I was nonplussed. It wasn’t a matter of disliking the stuff; I finished it, and then sort of put it out of my mind. But after returning to Madison, the flavors — all of them separately, but most of all, all of them together — wormed their way from my unconscious mind to my subconscious to my conscious stream of thought. I needed to try sushi again. I needed to try anything and everything Japanese again. I needed to try anything from anywhere that was new. The universe had been revealed to me, and it was a very big place.

2. THE DEMOCRACY OF FOOD

When you start dining out, you start to orient yourself up and down the spectrum of price, and around the world in terms of geography and ethnicity. You learn what places are cooking for other recently immigrated first generation people and which have been completely sanitized for Midwestern palates, and which are a hybrid of both. And the way you eat starts to define who you are. Not the totality, of course, but an aspect: How far will you drive for a good meal? What will make you drive further? For what, if anything, will you wait in line, will you try a Russian roulette game’s worth of potentially terrible versions, will you drive to Champlin or Stillwater or Northfield? It’s your time, it’s your money, it’s your friends, your wallet, your waistline.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Look at where you’re dining: downtown Minneapolis or Eat Street (the 20s? or the 30s and 40s?), or Highland Park, or Uptown, or Bloomington, or Lowertown. Look at what you’re eating: corporate lunches, or diner breakfasts, or Hmong soul food, or burgers, or bratwurst, or imported cheese. It all reflects a pile of choices.

Sitting at home in South Minneapolis with a horrible cold waiting for a bike messenger carrying ramen and wearing a Hamm’s cap under his bike helmet is another choice.

3. “COMFORT”

Say “comfort food” to a random Minnesotan, and you may hear just about anything: Steak. Pho. Hamburgers. Stewed goat. Pizza. Apple pie. Tacos al pastor. Pulled pork sandwiches. Thanksgiving turkey.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Anything is a valid response. Anything is comfort food, if it takes you home. Were I to eat a last meal, and were I given 5 seconds to blurt out what that meal would consist of, it would be four — no five! — orders of shrimp tempura rolls from Wasabi restaurant in Madison.

It’s not that there aren’t better foods out there. (The foie gras- and brioche-stuffed roast chicken at Brasserie Zentral… oh, man. My mom’s lemon meringue pie. Sushi from Sushi of Gari in Manhattan… and so forth.) But those shrimp tempura rolls somehow taste like home in a way that nothing else does. Maybe it’s because they were the first thing I really fell in love with after stepping through that door into the wider world of food.

Unlike most shrimp tempura rolls, the ones from Wasabi don’t have any cucumber to get in the way. They always hit the table warm. The tempura is soft but crispy, the shrimp retains a bit of fresh snap. Surely no customer is intended to eat more than two orders’ worth, but I’ll have three if the situation warrants.

Ramen like the stuff served at United Noodles taps into that same vein. It’s something that you inhale, and then afterwards, you sigh. It’s not complicated, or at least it doesn’t feel complicated, which is what matters most.

4. DISENTANGLING THE GOOD FROM THE BELOVED

That first sushi I tried wasn’t particularly good. The Rocky Rococo’s pizza that I still eat from time to time isn’t good. The Wuollet chocolate long john that I eat on particularly difficult mornings isn’t bad, but it’s no YoYo Donuts or Mojo Monkey. But just because these things aren’t, technically speaking, the finest of their spectrum doesn’t mean that they can’t live in my heart.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

And just because they live in my heart doesn’t mean that I, as a food writer, should defend them as being brilliant when they’re not. If you’re going to write about food — or even talk about it seriously with other people who want to talk about it seriously — sort out the evidence you have from your suppositions from your personal tastes, and deal with each pile differently.

Any time I’m eating somewhere where the per-plate cost drifts north of $50, I try to remember Marcus Aurelius:

“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood. Perceptions like that — latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time — all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust — to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them.”

I try not to spend 100 percent of my time stripping away the legends that encrust stuff, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit when the tablecloth is white and the water is served “sparkling or still or tap.”

5. HEAVY TABLE’S MISSION

When we write about food at the Heavy Table, we do our best to keep our wires uncrossed. Which is to say: When we like something or dislike something, we try to figure out the why behind the what. Because it may be that the very thing that struck us as off, or “inauthentic” while for someone else is funky but perfect, or exactly how they do it in the little town that they happen to be from. One person’s “burnt” can be another’s “charmingly carbon-kissed.”

Our goal is always to start from the flavor and the texture of the food and spiral out from there. It’s great to know the story of the chef, and the restaurant, and the culture, and locality, and growing method, and the soil, but the place we try to start is the taste of what’s going to be in your mouth. And from there: We can go anywhere, but we’re armed with the basic and (as much as possible) the objective shared truth of the thing.

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

6. MISO RAMEN FROM THE UNITED NOODLES UNIDELI

$10 (plus $4 delivery charge, plus tax and tip) gets you a fairly generous bowl of chicken broth and a pile of stuff to put into it: noodles, one of those pink spiral fish cake things, some tender pork belly, bok choy, scallions, bean sprouts, half a hard-boiled shoyu egg. The broth arrives separately packaged from the rest of the ramen, which makes for a fresher tasting experience for the home user.

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

The broth is rich. Very rich. Whatever you may think of the noodles or other ramen-related helpers included in your purchase price (and an educated taster would find them decent to good, I think), the broth is liquid comfort, like drinking a roasted chicken. For me, the ramen was a trip overseas, but also a trip back home.

United Noodles bike-delivered ramen, 5-10pm Thursday-Sunday, 612.208.0123; limited delivery radius (Seward and Longfellow)

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

Maple Grilled Cheese at Parka in Longfellow

DWITT / Heavy Table
DWITT / Heavy Table

Parka in Longfellow, Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Editor’s Note: Parka is now closed.

Not too long ago, things were looking pretty bleak in Longfellow. The much-lamented closing of Town Talk Diner in Jan. 2011 (on the heels of the departure of Manny’s Tortas in 2009) dealt hammer blows to a neighborhood with few places to eat, many of which were (and still are) dearly priced mediocrities or grungy Chinese joints.

Then: the revolution. Peace Coffee opened its doors in 2010 and began providing locally roasted coffee and a classic coffeehouse atmosphere. Harriet Brewing got started in 2011 and became an anchor for craft beer and live entertainment. The mediocre Glaciers became the happily rehabilitated Mosaic Cafe in 2012.

And just this month, two more points of light: the Minneapolis wing of The Blue Door Pub, and Parka, a nexus of talent including top-flight coffee roasters (Greg Hoyt and Dan Anderson of Dogwood), chefs (Erick Harcey of Victory 44), and bakers (Steve Horton of Rustica); if you’re curious, Stephanie March explains Parka’s parent company, Stock and Badge, right over here.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

That all these wunderkinder are sharing space with a smart new furniture and home furnishings boutique called Forage Modern Workshop (above, left side of photo) is a puzzler for would-be guests. Is Parka (above, right side of photo) a coffee shop? A restaurant? Casual? Upscale? Yes to all — despite being such a little place, it needs access to a pile of masks to accommodate all of its ambitions.

We’ll briefly dispense with the coffee and baked goods by saying that they’re good — reliable, on point, modern, well executed, and worth enjoying. On to the food.

What’s most notable about Parka is how its various dishes look familiar on the menu, stun and delight you with tricks and surprises after they arrive on the table, and then — after all the razzle-dazzle — lead you to somewhere warm, comforting, and familiar.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Case in point: chicken and wild rice soup ($8). In theory, a dish we all know (and generally love). And on the palate, Parka’s version hits all the right notes. It’s rich, luscious, warm, familiar, and comforting, with enough flavor and texture contrast to keep it interesting. But the road you take to get there is strange indeed: It involves a ceramic chicken barfing broth into your Christmas ornament-like hemispherical glass bowl. There it splashes around among both the expected (chicken) and the novel (a popped wild rice-studded homemade marshmallow, which, rest assured, is sweet without clashing with the dish as a whole). It’s a wild ride to a familiar destination, with the deep spice flavor of ras el hanout riding shotgun and a king oyster mushroom in the driver’s seat.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Equally pleasant and bewildering is the restaurant’s cranberry “Jello” salad ($8). You know this dish from countless Thanksgivings. And the flavors are all there: There’s a rich creaminess (in this case, chevre mousse, not Cool Whip) amongst the tangy-sweet gelatinous cranberry, offset by the gentle vegetal flavor of celery and the crunch of apples and pecan. And then there are wafers of chevre meringue, hard and flat like little river stones. And they’re delicious, and they make sense, and yet they’re strange little artifacts in this context, and that’s alarming and it’s also awesome.

I traded emails with Parka chef Chris Olson about the dish, and got the following in response: “Erick designed the jello salad (and the rest of the menu) to taste like Minnesota cooking. You know, like mom made if your mom was Minnesotan. The jello is cranberry thickened with agar agar; celery and apples are compressed with Aleppo pepper and ginger syrup, respectively. Goat cheese takes two forms,  meringue and mousse. Of course, there’s pecan soil too.”

Of course.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

While the starters tend toward the wild and wonderful, the main dishes are slightly more sedate. Mom’s Meatloaf Sandwich ($14) with bacon-tomato relish and cheddar, on a Rustica roll, was comfort on a bun. The Wisconsin-shaped cutting board / serving plate was a nice added touch.

Two things tend to go wrong with a dish like this: salt level (often greatly over-salted; our sandwich arrived with just the right dose) and bun, either because it’s tough and gigantic, or because it falls apart under the slimy assault of the meatloaf and toppings.

No and no — the Rustica bun held up the structural part of the bargain and tasted fine in the process. It’s an added bonus that the sandwich comes with first-rate French fries, with crisp exteriors and big, full, potato-y interiors that work well with the (thank you, Parka) regular old unpretentious ketchup that comes on the side. The little white puffs of dehydrated duck fat that come with the fries don’t taste like much, but they don’t do any damage, either.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We were less in love with the fish fry ($12), which features big bland pieces of cod fried up tempura style and served with pineapple bits, cucumber, dill, jalapeño slices, and aioli. The texture of the batter was perfect (and it was grease free, to boot), but neither it nor the fish provided much in the flavor department, which meant a constant effort to mine taste from the little dots and pools scattered across the plate.

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

Goulash ($11) by contrast was just what you might expect — impossibly tender cubes of braised beef hanging out amongst tomato, corn, and macaroni. It would be good in any setting, but on a cold night it was the perfect remedy.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We quite liked Parka’s Banana Cream Pie ($8) which features caramelized bananas and a smear of banana pastry filling, with whipped cream, a dusting of chocolate, and a citrus-inflected spike of something on the pastry piece (could it have been pineapple?). The pie wasn’t overly sweet, and the subtle play of flavors and textures made this a thinking dude’s (or lady’s) dessert. Not that there is anything wrong with that; not all meal-enders need to be a bullet of fudge to the central cortex.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Service at Parka was pleasant, and execution on dishes was strong, neat, and consistent (hat tip here to Chris Olson, who did equally fine work opening Moto-i and assisting with the launch of Masu). [Editor’s note: Chris Olson was let go from Parka on Feb. 12, 2013.] The dishes Parka serves are ambitious, and it’s nice that they both require and receive talent able to render things like the delicate tempura-style fry on fish, and the fine knife work that lends many of its dishes their textural and visual pop.

If Parka faces any challenges in the future — and it’s not clear that it does — they are likely to come in one of two forms. The first, a core neighborhood clientele that, after the fourth round of vomiting ceramic chickens, would appreciate something a little simpler and more akin to Campbell’s. The second, the envy-inspiring Travail or Tilia problem: long lines and high demand for clever, well-executed food that delivers time and time again.

Parka
Coffee shop and Bistro in Longfellow

4021 E Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55406
No phone
OWNER / CHEF: Stock and Badge / Erick Harcey
HOURS:
Kitchen Open Tue-Sun 11am-3pm and 5pm-10pm
Coffee Shop Open:
Tue-Fri 7am-10pm
Sat-Sun 8am-10pm
Mon: CLOSED
BAR: Beer + Wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $11-16

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Blue Door Pub Opens in Longfellow

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A neighborhood hub from the get-go, St. Paul’s Blue Door Pub is known for three things: one, its modern, upscale spin on the South Minneapolis soul food known as the jucy lucy; two, its well-curated collection of local brews; and three, the long, sometimes prohibitive lines that form at its door. Last night, the restaurant opened a second location in South Minneapolis, close enough to its St. Paul spot to draw off some of the excess mobs. The new spot is strategically located in the under-served neighborhood of Longfellow, where locals have long clamored for more (and better) restaurant options.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The restaurant was set to open for the first time ever last night at 5pm; guests arriving at 5:03pm were met by a full dining room, a full bar, and an hour-long wait. Longfellow appears to be receptive to the idea of Blucys. The new space is bigger than its brother in St. Paul, cozy, clean and modern, and ready to dispense the same hearty, burger-driven fare that has made getting a booth at the Blue Door such a coveted achievement.

The Blue Door Pub in Longfellow serves lunch as well as dinner.

(The Blue Door Pub, 3448 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55406; phone number not yet listed)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Potter’s Pasties Plans Permanent Minneapolis Digs

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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.

December’s winner: Paul Schadewald of St. Paul

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

North Coast Nosh VII tickets now available

The staff of The Heavy Table and the crew at Peace Coffee are proud to announce the seventh edition of The North Coast Nosh. This local food sip-and-sample gathering features purveyors such as brewers, cheesemakers, coffee roasters, and more sharing tastes of their products with our food-loving guests.

The Nosh will take place 5:30-8:30pm on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Peace Coffee roastery in Minneapolis.

Potter’s Pasties (opens this spring)

1827 Como Ave, Minneapolis | 612.819.3107

Another example of what will hopefully be a continuing trend in 2013, Potter’s Pasties, a well-known local food truck, is opening a brick-and-mortar storefront in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The store will operate out of Joe’s Market in a spot formerly occupied by Broadway Pizza and will have no seating: Customers will head downstairs to the entrance, grab their pasties and head out, which owner Alec Duncan said was the way traditional English pasty shops operate.

Potter’s will sell both fully and partially baked pasties and will have delivery available, while still operating the regular food truck around the Cities. The store will be open 5-10pm weeknights and until at least midnight on the weekends.

“To be honest, I was getting phone calls constantly for pasties after hours, par bakes, ‘where is your truck for dinner?,’ deliveries, etc.,” Duncan said. “The store was kind of a no-brainer.”

The current Potter’s menu will be available at the restaurant as well as some specials that may include seasonal British treats. Duncan said some specials that had proven popular, like a jucy lucy and curried pork pasty, could be added to the permanent menu.

“Seeing how so many late-night delivery establishments offer the same old shit in different ways, we thought, ‘Let’s change it up,’” he said. “And the product seems to be perfect for it. I mean, it’s a versatile food. Comes in its own pocket, easy on the go, not messy unless you’re completely shit-faced or have never been taught how to close your mouth when chewing. I can literally do most food I would present on a plate in the pocket, hence the specials we have done.”

Potter’s Pasties is shooting to be open March 1, but Duncan said he hoped to park the food truck near the new store and be open prior to that to establish a presence as soon as possible.

Smoke in the Pit (opens next month)

3733 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis

Owners Dwight and Ivy Alexander are hoping to open Smoke in the Pit barbecue sometime next month at 38th St. and Chicago Ave. The barbeque joint, which uses an all-smoke method of cooking, used to operate on East Lake St.; now, the Alexanders are opening a new place closer to their home. This corner is really expanding food-wise, as Kim Bartmann’s Tiny Diner is being built just down the street while Mi Sinaloa and the terrific Blue Ox Coffee Co. have opened in the past couple years.

A must-see photo from the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association’s Facebook page shows the Smoke in the Pit building from the late ’70s. Then, it was a polka-dotted dive called The House of Breakfast that apparently would be well-described as “unconventional.” Check it out.

Becca Dilley / Minnesota Lunch
Becca Dilley / Minnesota Lunch

Blue Door Pub (opens this month)

3448 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis

The saga over the long-delayed Minneapolis Blue Door Pub seems to be finally culminating in an opening date: The Star Tribune says it’ll be open by the end of the month.

Sounds like construction and licensing issues kept pushing back the Blue Door’s progress. No surprise there, but given the fact it’s been on The Tap’s list since August 2011 you have to give its owners a high-five for tenacity.

Expect the cheese-stuffed burgers and craft beers of the St. Paul location, only with a few more seats.

NOW OPEN

CLOSED / CLOSING:

  • Pandolfi, 3922 W 50th St, Edina | 952.928.3000
  • D’Amico Kitchen at the Chambers Hotel, 901 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis
  • Pardon My French, 1565 Cliff Rd, Eagan, and Mall of America
  • River Room (inside Macy’s), 411 Cedar St, St. Paul. Closes Jan. 31. | 651.292.5174
  • Nokomis Grill, 5406 34th Ave S, Minneapolis
  • Takk for Maten, 11 E Superior St, Duluth
  • Origami, 12305 Wayzata Blvd, Minnetonka
  • Italianis, 3508 E Lake St, Minneapolis
  • Adagio Cafe, 5001 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis
  • The Donut Cooperative, 2929 E 25th St, Minneapolis | 612.353.6089

COMING UP:
Minneapolis

  • Smack Shack, Washington Ave N and 6th Ave N, Minneapolis. Opens Jan. 22.
  • Dangerous Man Brewing, 1300 2nd St NE, Minneapolis. Opens Jan. 25. | 612.209.2626
  • Zeke’s Unchained Animal, 3508 E Lake St, Minneapolis | 612.720.9878
  • Northgate Brewing, 3134 California St NE, Minneapolis | 612.234.1056
  • Blue Door Pub, 3448 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis. Opens this month.
  • Glam Doll Donuts, 2605 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis. Opens Feb. 15.
  • Smoke in the Pit, 3733 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis. Opens in February.
  • Burch Steak, Burch Pizza Bar, 1942 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis. Isaac Becker’s planned steakhouse in old Burch Pharmacy; opens in February.
  • Parka, 4023 E Lake St, Minneapolis. Opens early 2013.
  • One Two Three Sushi, 80 S 8th St (IDS Center Skyway), Minneapolis. Opens early 2013.
  • 612 Brew taproom, 945 Broadway St NE, Minneapolis. Opens early 2013. | 612.217.0437
  • Potter’s Pasties, 1827 Como Ave, Minneapolis. Opens this spring. | 612.819.3107
  • The Nicollet Diner, 1428 Nicollet Ave S, Minneapolis.
  • The Original Just Turkey Restaurant, 3758 Nicollet Ave S, Minneapolis
  • Tangiers Eatery and Lounge, 116 First Ave N, Minneapolis.
  • Rincon 38, 3801 Grand Ave S, Minneapolis | 612.408.7063
  • Red Cow, 3624 W 50th St, Minneapolis. Opens in 2013. | 651.336.2179
  • Origami, 1352 Lagoon Ave, Minneapolis. Opens in 2013.
  • Seward Cafe, 2129 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis. Opening for dinner service. | 612.332.1011
  • Broders Wine Bar, 2221 W 50th St, Minneapolis
  • Tiny Diner, 1014 E 38th St, Minneapolis | 612.822.6302
  • Spill the Wine, Lake and Bryant, Minneapolis. Moving from downtown location in April 2013. | 612.339.3388
  • Morrissey’s Irish Pub, 913 W Lake St, Minneapolis. Opens early 2013.
  • Rocky and Shem’s Ice Cream Shoppe, 56th and Chicago, Minneapolis.
  • Sandcastle, Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis. Doug Flicker’s concessionaire restaurant at the lake. Opens spring 2013.
  • Town Hall Tap, 5019 34th Ave S, Minneapolis
  • Marin, 901 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis. Replaces D’Amico Kitchen at the Chambers hotel. Opens this summer.

St. Paul

  • Daily Diner Frogtown, 615 University Ave, St. Paul. Opens this winter. | 651.789.7661
  • Las Sirenas, 199 Plato Blvd, St. Paul. Opens this winter. | 651.888.2233
  • Bang Brewing, 2320 Capp Rd, St. Paul. Opens in 2013.
  • French Meadow, 1662 Grand Ave, St. Paul. Opens in 2013.

Greater Twin Cities Area

The Tap is the Heavy Table’s guide to area restaurant openings, closings, and other major events. The Tap is compiled and published biweekly by Heavy Table writer Jason Walker. If you have tips for The Tap, please email Jason at jason@heavytable.com.

A Little of This, A Little of That: Gandhi Mahal’s Thali Platters

Gandhi Mahal's menu cover
Natalie Jennings / Heavy Table

Despite my deep shame and fear of rejection over this recurring condition, I feel that now is the right time for me to come out. Understandably, my neighbors and Twitter followers may judge me for this, and I only ask for their patience. The thing is, I am a victim of Prolonged Indian Food Fatigue (PIFF).

It’s happened like this again and again: I take the first bite of a pitch-perfect and ethereal entree at an Indian restaurant, and it’s all good. But then, something curious occurs. After my fifth or sixth bite, ennui sets in like a grungy buzzard on my neck. There’s just… so much food left. And no matter how good it tastes, I know that my seventh bite will taste just like my eighth, and so on and so forth. With leftovers in hand, it’s usually easy to tweak the accompaniments or flavors at home, but I usually just give mine away anyway.

This is especially true at Minneapolis’s Gandhi Mahal, where the dinner portions are gigantic — one order is enough to feed two people, and they would be wise to expect to bring home leftovers as well. That is, until I discovered the thali.

Gandhi Mahal's Thalis
Natalie Jennings / Heavy Table

Gandhi Mahal’s thali platters are basically PIFF-proof sample portions of their appetizers, entrees, and dessert. They offer two options: the Masu Karma Platter ($15 for one person, $25 for two) for omnivores and the Gandhi Thali ($14 for one person, $23 for two) for vegetarians. Like the casserole, thalis are named after their unique serving vehicle; in this case, the vehicle is a steel tray with multiple compartments. Unlike the casserole, it allows one to try a nice variety of flavors.

The Masu Karma Platter (above, right) comes with a piece of aloo (potato) pakora, a piece of onion bujia, lamb curry, chicken korma, rice, raita, and mango chutney. In place of the meaty bits, the Gandhi Thali (above, left) includes vegetable curry and sag paneer. The staff also brings out a small tray of papadum wafers with tamarind, onion, and cilantro chutneys (below). (Hardcore Indian foodies like to crumble their papadums over the whole kit and kaboodle.)