Delicata in Como, St. Paul

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

J.D. Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly have been busy. Between summer 2016 and March 2017, they opened two restaurants, Red River Kitchen and Bar Brigade. And now they’ve added Delicata, a casual Italian eatery in the Como neighborhood of St. Paul helmed by Noah Barton (former executive chef at Chino Latino). The newest member of the family has a lot in common with Punch Neapolitan Pizza. Like that local institution, Delicata offers a concise, pizza-focused menu emphasizing fresh ingredients in a family-friendly environment. And like the newer Punch locations, Delicata is counter-service only.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

But this newbie isn’t a knockoff. It adds unique twists to familiar dishes, often with great success (though limited, at times, by poor execution, but more on that in a bit). Take the Antipasto Platter ($12), for example. With sweet, plumped grapes, spicy giardiniera, savory gigante beans, salty cured meats and olives, and crunchy almonds, it’s a delicious adventure in flavor and texture.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Another starter, the Grilled Artichokes ($7) is a refreshing departure from standard artichoke dips: A quartet of smoky hearts pairs brilliantly with bright, nutty romesco sauce. Heaped on expertly bronzed crostini, the “dip” is spot on. The Big Mixed Salad ($12) also excellently updates a classic: We’d be thrilled if pickled onions, gigante beans, prosciutto, sliced egg, and marinated tomatoes became staples in pizza parlor salads.

Several pizzas showcase the Delicata team’s creativity and commitment to killer ingredients. The humbly named Pork Sausage ($12) is one of the most satisfying pies we can recall. It’s piled high with zesty meat, pillowy ricotta, and tender fennel slices; vibrant oregano and punchy romesco pull the aggressive elements into a cohesive whole.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

The Delicata Pizza, made with the eponymous winter squash ($12, top) is another inventive eye-opener. We were skeptical that combining naturally sweet squash and balsamic vinegar with salty prosciutto and blue cheese would work. But where we expected a power surge, instead we got a great balance of sweet and salty (if perhaps a bit too much blue cheese). A veggie option ($13, above) with artichoke, spinach, feta, and olives on rich red sauce doesn’t break new ground, but it’s as tasty as the more adventurous combos.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Delicata’s short list of desserts distances the restaurant from the pack. We’d travel far and wide for the Coconut Cake ($6). As one of our dining partners exclaimed, “That’s what dessert should look like — just stupid good.” Topped with small peaks of light meringue, the cake is moist, airy, and just the right amount of sweet. Slightly burnt shredded coconut is the secret not-secret ingredient, adding depth and texture to an already great slice of cake.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Both types of gelato we tried — pistachio and strawberry ($5 each) — held their own against the pastry. A little less dense and a little creamier than average gelato, these offerings explode with flavor. Given that Delicata bills itself as a pizza and gelato joint, we were surprised that it serves gelato from Sonny’s and Zia’s Gelato rather than make it in house.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Our excitement about Delicata’s desserts was, nonetheless, unable to smooth over the restaurant’s inconsistency. Some pizzas arrived crisp and adorned with beautiful leopard spots, while others showed up floppy and without char. Depending on the night, the Cheesy Garlic Bread ($5) was unappetizingly greasy or well-balanced and satisfying. Even the Big Mixed Salad varied visit to visit. After winning us over during on our first trip, it bombed on the second — limp greens seemed like they’d been dressed earlier in the evening rather than to order.

Delicata has the right ingredients to become an excellent neighborhood restaurant: a friendly vibe, comfortable indoor seating, a spacious patio, interesting yet approachable food, and rosé on tap. Given Fratzke’s and O’Reilly’s respective track records, we’re confident that Delicata will fix its consistency issues and, with a little luck, enjoy Punch-style success.

Jane Rosemarin edited this story; James Norton has worked closely with Noah Barton at Chef Camp.

Pizzeria and Gelateria in the Como neighborhood of St. Paul

1341 Pascal St
St. Paul, MN 55108
CHEF/OWNERS: Noah Barton / J.D. Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly
BAR: Beer and wine
HOURS: Mon-Fri 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sat and Sun 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m., beginning Sept 23)

Spicy Burdock Salad by Noah Barton of Delicata and Chef Camp

Kathy Yerich

This post is sponsored by Chef Camp. Want to learn more about Chef Camp? Come down to the Fulton taproom tonight (Wednesday, July 12) — the Chef Camp team will be hosting a meetup and answering questions. The first 10 people to come say hi will get a free Chef Camp T-shirt!

Burdock plants are stunningly common. They’re regarded as an invasive species, and they’re also potentially a side dish for dinner.

“I’ve lately become obsessed with burdock,” writes Noah Barton. Barton is the camp cook for Chef Camp (he’ll be at both the Sept. 1-3 and Sept. 8-10 sessions), and is opening the Matty O’Reilly/J.D. Fratzke restaurant Delicata later this summer. “It’s an invasive species that is highly edible, so we can feel good about pulling it out of the ground by its roots. The whole plant is edible, even the burrs when they are young, although I’ve honestly only tried eating the root.”

“You can find it just about everywhere, I’ve been pulling it out of the yard at my mom’s house in Inver Grove Heights, but I see it all over in the parks in my neighborhood, especially around Minnehaha Falls.” (Editor’s note: Burdock can’t be removed from public land without a permit.)

“Burdock leaves basically look like rhubarb, but they aren’t as shiny as rhubarb leaves. They almost appear fuzzy. The roots can be really hard to get out of the ground, but they look like long, skinny white carrots when you do get them out. The flavor is slightly grassy, not unlike a woody version of a parsnip.” In its first year burdock is short, like rhubarb. In its second year, burdock growth has annoying burrs that catch on your clothes or get stuck in your dog’s fur. Those are the seeds that spread the plant everywhere. The roots are edible from both first- and second-year plants, but are smaller and more tender on first-year plants.

Barton adds that the recipe is an opportunity to make good use of an invasive species, and that if you’re hiking somewhere where its harvest is legal, it could be an ideal foraged food from the trail.

“One could make the dressing ahead of time and then head out with a shovel in tow,” he writes. “Upon returning to their campsite [foragers] could quickly peel and shred the roots using just a vegetable peeler and blanch them in boiling water before marinating. It’s like ‘one less thing to pack’ salad. Of course, you could also add other vegetables, carrots, cabbage, or whatever to the mix.”

Kathy Yerich contributed to this story.

Noah Barton
Serves 4

12 ounces burdock root
¼ cup rice wine vinegar (seasoned)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
½ tablespoon sambal oelek
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Combine rice vinegar, sesame oil, sambal, garlic, lemon juice, sugar, and salt and mix well. Set aside.

2. Wash burdock root well. Using a vegetable peeler, remove outer skin.

3. Use vegetable peeler to cut burdock into thin strips.

4. Blanch burdock in boiling salted water for 2 minutes, or until just tender.

5. Place blanched burdock into dressing mixture and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Val’s Hamburgers in St. Cloud and Morning Roundup

A thoughtful essay on Val’s Hamburgers in St. Cloud; the Lowry Cafe is coming soon to Penn and Lowry Avenues; after 10-plus years of service, Chef Noah Barton is out at Chino Latino (via Barton personally; read our profile here); Iggers likes the food at Fogo but not the loud and frantic atmosphere; an impromptu beer and pie pairing session at Curran’s; Dara reviews Shefzilla (the book, not the person; our review is here); an autumnal dessert table; and an interview with Chef Eddie Hayes, Jr. of Ledge Rock Grille in Two Harbors.

Chino Latino’s Snap Crackle Pop Roll

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Chino Latino‘s Snap Crackle Pop Roll is filled with non-local fish and rolled in a  cereal product made by one of the country’s industrial food mega-producers, making it about as politically correct as a Veal McGriddle. That said, it’s damned tasty… and since sea scallops are a relatively sustainable fish choice, the roll is one of the rare sushi-esque choices that shouldn’t immediately induce guilt upon tasting.

The dish is a combination of lightly poached sea scallops with a spicy aioli, stuffed inside a reverse maki roll along with cucumbers and avocado. The twist is that Rice Krispies cover the roll’s exterior. The sweet and buttery scallops and avocado work well with the kicky aioli and the light but assertive crunch of the breakfast cereal coating. A bit of ponzu sauce completes the picture by providing a tangy finish. $15 gets you 10 big rolls — not cheap, but you actually get quite a bit of well-balanced and legitimately amusing food for the money.

Beyond the excellent taste and tolerable value, the Snap Crackle Pop Roll is an interesting thought experiment. By thrusting a low-brow mass-produced cereal into the fancy-pants world of sushi, it provokes an immediate response: “Hey, that’s not authentic! What the hell are you doing?”

Which in turn, of course, raises the counter-response: “Oh, like any sushi served in America is authentic? Particularly in the Upper Midwest, a solid thousand miles plus from either ocean?”

And the further response: “Hell, if ‘authentic’ Japanese sushi means eating endangered whales, is that really the ideal we should be shooting for?”

Well, whatever — as is typical for the creations of Chef Noah Barton, the roll is good food for thought — an added bonus for something that already tastes quite delicious.

Noah Barton of Chino Latino

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Chino Latino is the Minneapolis restaurant that doctrinaire high-end foodies love to hate. It’s big — $7 million worth of business last year, and a seating capacity of 415. It’s loud — every night’s a party, and weekends are Carnaval. And it’s everything a place like Meritage or Craftsman isn’t — its menu is geographically boundless, it does huge volume, and it serves silly drinks. The Crack Ho Mojito wouldn’t work at Figlio, kitty corner to Chino and also owned by Parasole; it sure as hell wouldn’t fly at Lucia’s, down the block.

When Beard Award-nominated Chef Stewart Woodman of Heidi’s hailed Chino’s #1 “fine dining” ranking on Urbanspoon as a sign of an ongoing gastronomic apocalypse, he spoke for a whole bloc of folks who would rather eat a week-old egg McMuffin than cross Chino’s lintel.

The thing is — and this isn’t a trivial observation — there’s a reason beyond happy hour specials that Chino does strong business year after year. There’s a freewheeling and passionate cross-cultural conversation in the kitchen that’s reflected in the menu, which is studded with the hot (the Ring of Fire sushi roll, Bang Bang Firecracker Wings), the festive (roast suckling pig, a Philippine paella) and the unusual (Lamma Island salty squid, guinea pig). The menu’s mix is a fascinating, ever-changing, overwhelming international mashup, a blend of the authentic, the adapted, the bastardized, the familiar, and the exotic. The back of the house staff keeps the bill of fare in motion.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“One of my executive sous-chefs is from Hong Kong; he moved here when he was a teenager and worked in every Asian restaurant in town,” says Noah Barton, Chino’s general manager and, before that, its long-serving executive chef. “One of my sous chefs — Chester [Dyrud] — grew up in Brazil for half the time, half the time here… another one of my sous chefs grew up in Oaxaca, most of my staff is either Mexican or Ecuadoran, so there’s a lot of authenticity that I can’t make up, that I draw from those guys.”

Barton has been a mainstay at the restaurant since its opening nearly 10 years ago, hired after doing stints in Southern California and Seattle, where he cooked Latin, Caribbean and Asian foods at various restaurants. Recipes that were home-cooking favorites for Chino’s sous chefs and their families become menu mainstays via the collaboration of Barton, who grew up in Fergus Falls and went to high school in Minneapolis.

The decade-old origins of Chino Latino go back to the international travels of Phil Roberts of the Parasole restaurant group, which owns Chino as well as Salut, Figlio, Manny’s, Muffaletta and others. Roberts, momentarily weary of French and Italian food, saw the opportunity to introduce a mix of Asian and Latin food — on a big scale — to the Twin Cities.

“If you look at the food of Asia and Latin America, there are a lot of common threads between them,” says Barton. “Chilis [the peppers] are a really obvious one. Chile de Arbol, which we use in Latin food, is also used in Asian food. Cilantro’s another obvious one. It’s used fresh in Southeast Asia, fresh in Latin America, and the dried spice is used in China. They use that in Chinese food, Korean food, and other northern countries.”

Chino Latino in Uptown, Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

It’s not fair to Chino Latino’s extensive and ambitious multi-ethnic menu to say that this is a restaurant driven by its atmosphere, but the fact remains that this a place driven in large part by its image: bustling, cosmopolitan, glamorous, fast-moving and poorly lit in a manner that suggests a good party, not a crummy interior designer. The restaurant’s striking interior (a wall of votive candles, a dark and inviting lounge, a punched-out floor highlighting the player-friendly boothes and a giant executive table) is a good match for its menu, which can be summarized as “street food from the hot zones,” but also includes sushi.

If entertainment, easy-to-share food and a bunch of good drinks are the aim, Chino is one of the best destinations in the Cities: it’s long on novelty and verve. While it gets loud and crowded on many evenings, the staff and floor plan can handle the crush, making it an ideal destination for a swinging happy hour or loud after-hours office get-together. Both the afternoon and late-night happy hours boast truly outrageous deals (a $3 torta sandwich special that includes a pile of chips and high-quality guac, a $2 poblano fundido) and make this a key watering hole candidate for those in the Uptown area.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Ordering from the restaurant’s menu takes work, and can be a process that takes two or three attempts and a number of drinks to perfect. Many of the entrees are, in fact, enormous and can feed 3-5 people depending on size and appetite. Careful consultation with waitstaff can mean the difference between a surprisingly reasonable bill and a great night out, and an enormous tab and 15 pounds of leftovers.

BEST BET: The plaintain-chip based Nachos del Sol and just about anything served during either of the restaurant’s two happy hours.

Chino Latino
2916 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Fusion in Uptown, Minneapolis
OWNER/CHEF: Parasole / Noah Barton
Sun-Thu 4:30pm-1am
Fri-Sat 4:30am-2am
BAR: Full
RESERVATIONS/RECOMMENDED?: Yes and Yes for Thu-Sat nights
ENTREE RANGE: ($10-45)