Snacking in the Bike Lane: Tacos and Cemitas on East Lake Street

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

This is the second in a four-part series of stories underwritten by Sociable Cider Werks that trace a 22-mile bike route through Minneapolis and St. Paul, hitting markets and off-the-grid eateries along the way.

Ask me what my favorite eating “neighborhood” is, and I will one hundred percent tell you that it’s Lake Street.

While Uptown continually loses street cred due to ongoing gentrification (RIP big, beautiful, old, neon Arby’s sign), any number of hidden-in-plain-sight Uptown gems are on Lake; these include Darbar Indian and even the new Hasty Tasty, which happens to have the best mac and cheese in the city.

But cross over into East Lake, and the thoroughfare takes you on an eating tour of the world.

Whether you seek the best fried catfish, the best burrito, the best Ecuadoran, the best Nepalese, or at least a dozen more international “bests,” Lake has it. Rarely can riding in a straight line get you so many places in a single hour. Bust out that cycle, pedal it forward, and see what I mean.

This series is underwritten by Sociable Cider Werks, makers of innovative libations that are best shared with a friend.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Que Chula es Puebla, 1116 E Lake St, Minneapolis

I don’t know any more-intrepid food slingers in the Twin Cities than the taco trucks of East Lake Street, many of which operate in the most frigid of weather. If the generators keep up, tacos shall spill forth from windows.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

A couple of years ago, a big green beauty appeared among the usual suspects and started serving some astonishing creations to match its aesthetic flash. As the name Que Chula es Puebla suggests, they’re cooking up some specialties from the Puebla region of Mexico, and you won’t want to miss the Cemita. It’s a beast of a sandwich, in which some of the bread is removed from the roll, and in that formerly flavorless space you will find avocado, Oaxaca cheese, crema, and chipotle sauce. The meat (beef, chicken, or pork) is breaded and deep fried and hangs almost obscenely off the bun. This is a sandwich to end all sandwiches.

Or go for the Tacos Arabe, served in a pita instead of a tortilla: an entire meal priced at $3. Que Chula es Puebla is neck-and-neck with El Primo (usually parked in the K-Mart parking lot) for the top taco in town. The hot sauces alone are worth the trip.

Not into Mexican? They got burgers and fries, dude.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Super Mercado Morelia, 1417 E Lake St, Minneapolis

Even the most dedicated East Lake Street Mexican food buff may not have made it to Super Mercado Morelia, and that’s a shame. It looks like nothing from the outside (or from the inside, come to think of it), but when nothing but home cooking will do, this is your place.

Walk to the back of the simple supermarket, where a woman will be running a buffet. Don’t ask for a menu — there ain’t one. The lady is your menu, and she’ll take you on a tour of the day’s offerings by opening the steam table wells and showing you around. If you’re not a Spanish speaker, choose with your eyes and your nose.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

I picked what could only be described as stewed chicken in fire sauce, and it was probably my favorite dish of this East Lake tour. It’s mind-numbingly hot, but also as nuanced as your grandma’s finest chicken stew, and served simply with beans and rice. Your choice of bread or tortillas (I don’t have to tell you which to choose, right?) finishes things. This is a day-maker in a bag for a few bucks. Head here when your heart, head, or soul is aching. They’ll set you straight.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

La Alborada, 1855 E Lake St, Minneapolis

As the trendy food world goes gaga for food halls, the best kept secret is that East Lake Street’s Mexican community has been doing them for decades. Look around and you’ll find a smattering of these markets where everything from a pair of boots to a tortilla press to a pastry can be yours inside of five minutes.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

An all-time fave is La Alborada, which contains everything a grocery store should, but holds also a bakery, a carniceria (a butcher counter, where all the meats required to make your tacos better at home can be had), and one of the better selections of dried chilies in the city. Lots more of course (tres leches cakes, flan, those chili-flavored potato chips you got addicted to in Mexico), but the real siren song is the lunch counter. On a recent visit we had Oaxacan tamales, my preferred type, as the banana leaf wrappers keep the masa more moist than do the more-commonly used corn-husks. Filled with mole, they’re an extra special find not available just anywhere.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Hey vegetarians, heads up: There are taco selections at La Alborada that are going to blow your mind. Start with handmade tortillas filled with rice, onion, and chilies; then choose either hard boiled egg, poblano pepper filled with cheese, or my pick of the moment, potato cake, a crisp-on-the-outside, lush-as-mashed-potatoes-on-the-inside dish unto itself. But tucked into the tortilla, it’s nothing short of a taco sensation.

There’s also a taco packed with veggies like zucchini, corn, and bell pepper, so if you’re always looking on forlornly while your buddies scarf cabeza and al pastor, this place is for you.

DIRECTIONS FOR THIS LEG, FROM SENTYRZ TO LA ALBORADA

SENTYRZ LIQUOR AND SUPERMARKET (see previous installment) 1612 NE 2nd St to QUE CHULA ES PUEBLA [6 miles]

Head south on NE Second St toward 16th Ave NE .6 miles
Turn right onto 8th Ave NE .6 miles
Continue onto Plymouth Ave N
Turn left onto W River Pkwy 1.7 mi
Turn right onto 11th Ave S 0.3 mi
Turn left onto Hiawatha Bike Trail 1.6 mi
Turn right onto Midtown Greenway 0.8 mi
Turn left onto 13th Ave S 0.1 mi
Turn right onto E Lake St, Destination on the right

QUE CHULA ES PUEBLA 1116 E Lake St. to Super Mercado Morelia [.2 miles]
Head east on East Lake St three blocks

SUPER MERCADO MORELIA 1417 E Lake St to La Alborada [.5 miles]
Head east on E Lake St for four blocks

LA ALBORADA 1855 E Lake St

PREVIOUS LEG: The Markets of Northeast Minneapolis
THIS LEG: Tacos and Cemitas on East Lake Street
NEXT LEG: From East Lake Street to University Avenue

Pearson’s Mini Mint and Coconut Patties

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

The newly expanded Dragon Star Oriental Foods in St. Paul is a wonder to behold. Upon entering, you’re struck by the size of the place — fruits, vegetables, deli offerings, dry goods, and cold beverages sprawl in every direction. And then you realize that there’s a back room. And then you realize that the back room is about twice as big as the (already respectably sized) market. This place sprawls, and within its chaotic hurly-burly an eagle-eyed shopper can find staples and oddities from not just Asian cultures, but from Latin and African cuisines as well.

You can also buy a pot large enough to cook an entire suckling pig, or several dozen whole chickens, for about $100.

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

And then, while checking out, you’re struck by another surprising minor detail: Pearson’s, the St. Paul-based maker of chocolate-enrobed mints and Nut Goodies, has two newish mini varieties of candy for sale ($1.50 for 3.25 ounces) The candies themselves are Pearson’s mint and coconut patties shrunk to the size of a quarter.

In terms of flavor, they hold up. The mint variety (made with real peppermint oil, they boast) has a serious mint kick, and while the dark chocolate doesn’t necessarily deliver at the level promised by the box’s “66% cacao” tagline, it’s really not too bad — certainly not that 50 / 50 mix of candle wax and sugar that passes for chocolate on most commercial-grade mint patties.

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

The coconut variety is even better. The real coconut that the patties are stuffed with lacks any of the grainy, gritty quality that sometimes brings down candy of this sort, and the balance between fruit and chocolate is good.

How they gained prominent placement at Dragon Star isn’t readily apparent, but who cares? When mini mints present themselves, it’s best not to ask questions.

Dragon Star Oriental Foods, 633 W Minnehaha Ave, St. Paul; 651.488.2567

The Farmhouse Market in New Prague

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

In New Prague, Coborn’s has long been the purveyor of edibles for the local population. But now there’s a new food market, one with an unusual business model, Farmhouse Market.

Located right on New Prague’s Main Street, Farmhouse Market is housed in a small historic building that has been spruced up and stocked with an eye to things local, organic, and sustainable. That may not sound a lot different from one of the metro’s many food co-ops, and in fact Farmhouse Market has a membership program, although as with a co-op, you don’t have to be a member to shop there. But unlike a co-op that’s open to everyone during regular business hours, Farmhouse Market is open to non-members only nine hours per week: Tuesdays from noon to 3 p.m., Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. But those who purchase a membership (currently $99 for the first year and $20 for an annual renewal) have access to the store 24 / 7 through use of a members-only keycard and a self-checkout system.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

You may wonder, as we did, where this idea came from, and how big the demand for local and organic products is in New Prague. Farmhouse Market owner Kendra Rasmusson (above, left) recently provided us with some answers. She’s from New Prague, herself, and grew up on a farm in the area. But like many small-town progeny, she found the big city more attractive after high school, and she moved to the Cities while pursuing first a Bachelor’s, then a Master’s in marketing communications. After marrying and giving birth to her first child, however, Rasmusson and her husband decided they’d rather raise their family in a small town, and off to New Prague they went.

Their daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of two, and that spurred Rasmusson to think harder about food and health. “The meds have really helped her,” she said. “But will they work forever? We don’t know. I know that food can make a difference in health, and I wanted to provide the best food I could for my family.” Like many others, she was saddened when Cedar Summit Farm closed. “I met with the Cedar Summit folks, told them I missed their market, and talked about the possibility of opening some kind of local, organic food store in New Prague,” she said. “They liked the idea, said they thought New Prague was ready for that. They didn’t want to be hands-on in it, because they’re retiring, but they offered to help and advise.”

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

So Rasmusson put her marketing communication skills to work and sent out a survey to New Prague residents last February. “I did it anonymously,” she said. “If the people here knew I was the one sending it, they might not have been so forthcoming.” She expected to get 100 responses, but within three days she had 250, largely supportive of the idea of a downtown market emphasizing local and organic. “There’s nothing really downtown,” Rasmusson noted. “Coborn’s is on the edge of the city. People want convenience, and the downtown is very bustling. We found this building; it has a parking lot next door; it seemed perfect.”

Except for one thing: the cost of staffing. “How could we, as a family with small children, staff someplace 24 / 7?” she asked. The potential solution turned out to be just down the street: Snap Fitness, one of the fitness chains that allows members 24 / 7 access without having staff on site much of the time. Rasmusson took the idea to city and county officials, who helped her refine it, and then she entered it in the Minnesota Cup, where it ended up as a semi-finalist. “But they suggested we try to open the store, then come back next year,” Rasmusson said. “I think they liked the idea of giving small towns a local grocery store.”

Beyond groceries, Rasmusson sees a use for the market in the community, especially for the upper level of the building, which has been rehabbed to create two community spaces, one a cozy spot for people to bring coffee and treats and chat, and another that can serve as a children’s playroom. Rasmusson envisions hosting kids’ art classes there eventually.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

New Prague has been supportive of the store, which opened on Halloween of this year. Rasmusson’s initial goal was to have 200 members by the end of the first 12 months of operation; within three weeks of opening, the store had 190 members. Technology allows her to monitor stock levels from home, so she can reach out to suppliers and restock sooner than planned, if necessary. The store has also been popular with local farmers and suppliers. They’re provided with their own keycards, so they make deliveries when it’s convenient for them. Rasmusson noted that she has four local egg producers who keep her supplied, and the demand for eggs has been so strong that all four producers have stopped selling eggs at their homes. “They’re thrilled,” she said. “They can focus on their farms, not on being available to customers.”

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The store has plenty of security, but Rasmusson feels that the vast majority of New Prague residents are honest. She’s also aware that this concept might not work everywhere. New Prague is a small town with just over 7,000 residents, but it has both industry and extensive farmsteads surrounding it. People nearby are knowledgeable about food sources and interested in cooking and eating good food. In spite of its small size, the town has farmers markets three days a week, with two locations, in the summer. Rasmusson sees that as a sign of interest, and also as a potential partnership. “We’re already talking with local CSA farmers about making the store a drop site,” she said.

What about that grocery store at the other end of New Prague? “We complement Coborn’s more than we compete with them,” Rasmusson said. “We’re smaller, different, focused more on specialty, and very local. I’m not going to have every single thing. I’ll probably still need to shop there myself now and then.”

Farmhouse Market, 120 Main St. West, New Prague, MN 56071

Three’s Company

Courtesy of Tiny Diner
Courtesy of Tiny Diner

This post is sponsored by Tiny Diner.

By Joanna Demkiewicz

We’ve got a lot going on here at Tiny Diner. After a founding 2014 farmers market managed our by farm lead, Emi Sogabe, we launched our 2015 Farmers Market last Thursday. We were featured in Small Business Revolution (a storytelling movement dedicated to honoring small business across the United States), and we were just awarded the Environmental Initiative Sustainable Business Award for our solar use, innovative water catchment systems, urban gardening, and dedication to education.

But I bet you didn’t know that the diner itself is just the beginning. In addition to the edible perennial garden outside the restaurant, we also own the Tiny Diner Urban Farm, a cultivated space located at 3957 42nd Ave S in Minneapolis.

Courtesy of Tiny Diner
Courtesy of Tiny Diner

In addition to growing really yummy vegetables and herbs, the Urban Farm is the site of educational workshops. Urban Farm manager and community outreach coordinator Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen hosts some pretty badass workshops, on topics such as how to compost with worms or how to bench graft apple trees. The workshops are low-to-no cost, with donations welcome, and often feature local experts, so you know you’re getting a genuine experience.

Courtesy of Tiny Diner
Courtesy of Tiny Diner

But wait – there’s more. We also rent a rural farm plot consisting of two acres of land on Bruce Bacon’s Garden Farme in Ramsey, Minn. We call this space Tiny Diner@Garden Farme, and TD@GF manager Taya Schulte has a variety of bounty coming our way this summer: radishes, peas, baby kale, arugula, lamb’s quarters, wild greens, rhubarb, endive, edible flowers, squash, and 20 varieties of tomatoes. It’s OK if your mouth is currently watering because you’ve got a lot to look forward to, like a local heirloom on your burger, or a local squash in your scramble. Our Garden Farme goodies are also available at our weekly farmers market, held Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the diner’s parking lot.

Just know that for us, three’s not a crowd — it’s how we get you the good stuff.

Tiny Diner, 1024 East 38th St, Minneapolis; 612.767.3322

Sikora’s Polish Market in Northeast Minneapolis

 

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Sikora’s Polish Market in Northeast Minneapolis is a true Polish market: Not Eastern European. Not Ukrainian with an offering of a few superb sausage varieties. True Polish.

“We get our food directly from a distributor in Chicago, where there are almost a million Polish-Americans. They know how to do it right,” says owner Maciek Sikora. “You can’t fool the old Poles.” But the young Poles know quality and authenticity, too. “Look at the coarseness of the grind for this sausage,” says deli manager Alina Jambor, who is many decades short of being an old Pole. She holds up a wonderfully garlicky slice of sausage with discernible chunks of meat and fat. “You don’t want meat that is all the same color, like a hot dog. A fine grind like that allows you to put in fillers. Good sausage doesn’t have filler.”

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

The Moscow ham is another example of identifiable food. A cross section reveals large cloves of garlic that were pushed into the meat before processing. It is then garnished generously with even more garlic. It’s moist, rich, and centerpiece worthy.

Another sign of Sikora’s being a truly Polish market is the remarkable selection of pierogi, nineteen in all including plum and blueberry. To Northeast resident and Sikora’s customer Diana Rajchel, it’s this variety that marks the store as “a real Polish place.” Diana puts a lot of care into her selection of food: “While I love Kramarczuk’s, there are differences between Ukrainian and Polish fare, especially when it comes to pierogi versus varenyky,” she says. “It was nice to find a place where I get exactly the right type. For me this distinction is important because it’s an act of ancestral connection: pierogi is a Lenten dish and must be vegetarian; there is a lot of folklore around Polish food and it’s important to me to see that honored.”

People unfamiliar with fruit pierogi may be hesitant to try them. But you need only add a little sugar to the sour cream, and then prepare and serve as you would the savory variety. Cooking and serving advice comes free at Sikora’s. If Maciek, his wife Jacie, or Alina can’t help you, Maciek advises, “Ask a customer with an accent and you’re set.” Customers readily share advice and recipes and there is no shortage of strong opinions, including those on how to use the nine varieties of flour carried at Sikora’s. “Polish bakers want specific flours for specific recipes,” Maciek says.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

The frozen pierogi and dumplings have received the ultimate seal of approval: The grandmother test.  After sampling the uszka from Sikora’s, a venerable customer — and the cook for multigenerational holiday dinners — resigned as the family’s maker of uszka (the savory mushroom dumpling that goes in barszcz, a beet soup served on Christmas Eve). She declared that all future Christmas-Eve dumplings will come from the store. (Anyone from the generation that invariably received The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas as a wedding present will recognize uszka as the two-page recipe that even Thomas calls “a long trip.” So who can blame Grandma?)

sikoras-interior-detail
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Sikora’s has been open since March and already has a devoted following. “We have people who come from other parts of the state with coolers so they can stock up,” Alina says. Sunday is a busy day, with many customers stopping by after mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church. The days before Easter were really bustling for Sikora’s; be prepared to rub elbows with other customers crowding into the store before a holiday.

Weekdays are quieter and a good time to visit if you want to find the perfect sauerkraut — the selection is impressive — or a good stock for your borscht. Take advantage of the deli manager’s knowledge of her products. Alina is happy to give samples and explain the differences between the bacons, sausages, hams, and cheeses in the cases. “Gypsy bacon is smoked twice. Any meat called ‘gypsy’ is moist, smoky, and very dark. It was developed to be stored safely and travel well,” she says. It is also a technique that intensifies the flavor, making a little bit of the gypsy bacon feel like a decadent treat.

sikoras-chocolate
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Leisurely browsing leads to the chocolate section. The vodka-filled chocolates are hard to miss, and the idea of a bit of actual vodka, rather than vodka-flavored cream, as a filling immediately brings Ogden Nash’s “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” to mind. Now you can have both, and in sparkly packaging. Sikora’s stocks a full selection of E. Wedel chocolates, a brand well known in Poland, including hefty bars with whole hazelnuts.

For those who want immediate food gratification at the market, a lunch of a kielbasa with Polish mustard and sauerkraut is $4. For $5, you also receive a Kinder Bueno chocolate bar, all to be enjoyed at a sidewalk table under an awning adorned with a Polish eagle. Grandmother would approve.

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

Sikora’s Polish Market, 1625 Washington St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418;
612.789.0907

La Alborada Market on East Lake Street, Minneapolis

Lori Writer / Heavy Table
Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Orlando Cruz would like you to think of La Alborada Market as your hacienda away from home. Cruz– originally from Axochiapan in Morelos, Mexico — has lived in Minnesota for nearly two decades. “Minnesota. It’s beautiful,” says Cruz. He got his start running an Envios Los Gallos money transfer business on Lake St. in Minneapolis before opening La Alborada in 2008, and knows his customers long for a taste of home. So, piece by piece — from the floor tile, to the decorative concrete columns, to the giant-wheeled wooden cart– Cruz brought Mexico to Minnesota.

More than just a dusty dry goods market, La Alborada is like a Latin Kowalski’s, impeccable and tidy, with displays of appealing fresh produce, a full-service meat counter that does a brisk business cutting meat to order, and a bakery. A lively antojitos snack bar near the entrance churns out a stream of tacos, torta sandwiches, freshly pressed juices, and licuado milk shakes, all made to order. When the weather’s nice, the antojitos bar spills outdoors to a tented area near the market’s entrance where they sell juices and cups of chopped fresh fruit.

La Alborada Market in Corcoran
Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Manager Juan Valdivia says that La Alborada is almost entirely a family operation, and “Someone from the family goes to Mexico every two or three weeks to bring back the ‘dulce de feria’ festival candy” that La Alborada stocks in the glass cases near the cash register. Valdivia explains that “every town in Mexico throws its own feria, and each feria has its own candy. People that are missing their town” long for “that specific candy,” he says.

Pairings Food and Wine Market in Minnetonka

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Combine the wares of Surdyk’s Liquor and Cheese Shop with the clean, sunny vibe and enormous baked goods of Yum! Kitchen and Bakery, and you’ll get a fairly accurate sense of what the new Pairings Food and Wine Market brings to the west metro. Opening its doors earlier this week among the office-park row that is Shady Oak Rd. in Minnetonka, Pairings likens itself to a European market that offers cheeses, charcuterie, wine, and spirits along with prepared meals, bakery treats, and gourmet dry goods such as pasta, beans, and chocolates.

The large dining room serves three meals daily, with the expected egg-based dishes for breakfast and brunch and a variety of salads, sandwiches, panini, pasta, and pizzas made to order for lunch and dinner. At first glance, much of the menu may look very similar to Panera’s, but hopefully Pairings’ focus on local ingredients whenever possible (and higher price point — salads and sandwiches at Pairings range from $7.50-$9.50) will push the flavor to the next level.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

A case also offers a rotating selection of ready-to-eat meals that, upon sampling, proved to be tasty and tender. Grilled beef tenderloin ($14.95 for 6 oz. of meat with two sides) was perfectly medium rare with a salty, smoky bite, and buttermilk-marinated grilled chicken wings ($2 for three) provided tangy morsels of meat that almost melted on the tongue. A creamy potato gratin had a pleasingly silky texture and delicate flavor, but the relative sharpness of the porcini mushroom risotto cake ($2.50) failed to match the luxuriousness of the other dishes. The humongous brownie ($2.50), practically ubiquitous at gourmet markets these days, had a rich cocoa flavor that was begging for a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

The cheese counter was a pleasant surprise, glistening with almost untouched wedges of domestic and international choices that this cheese lover appreciated. Those looking for Pleasant Ridge Reserve or other artisan cheeses no longer have to venture to Minneapolis for their preferred fromages.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The wine shop stocks a thoughtful selection of wine, liquor, and beer at a price point more in line with France 44 or Surdyk’s than Trader Joe’s. Most bottles ranged from $12 to $25, though a few priced at $7 could be found among the racks. Many varieties are available in half-bottles, making them perfect to add to a picnic basket, which Pairings also sells on the market side of the store.

It will be interesting to see how Pairings’ neighbors will embrace the market in the next few months, but it has all the elements of a successful shop: flavorful food, affordable wines, and enough elbow room to ensure a pleasant shopping and dining experience. But despite attentive service from the food market manager, the other staff still seemed to be in training mode and tended to hang back rather than engage customers. Hopefully, this will change as they settle into their new roles as gourmet ambassadors to the west side of town.

Pairings Food and Wine Market

Gourmet food and wine shop in Minnetonka
6001 Shady Oak Rd.
Minnetonka, MN 55343
HOURS:
Food Market
Mon-Thurs 7am-9pm
Fri 7am-10pm
Sat 8am-10 pm
Sun 8am-9pm
Wine Shop
Mon-Thurs 10am-9pm
Fri-Sat 9am-9am
Closed Sunday
BAR: Wine and beer
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $7-15