What are the tastes that will always stick with you?
As we approached the end of 2012, we asked ourselves that question. Our answers are all over the map, justified a hundred different ways, but all those little brushstrokes add up to create a massive, teeming canvas of savory meats, vibrant vegetables, and delectable sweets. Plus booze.
Tricia Cornell | Writer
Family Meal at Piccolo, Minneapolis
Here’s a little taste of what the staff sits down to eat before dinner service at Piccolo: North Carolina–style pulled pork in a tangy barbecue sauce, slow-cooked red beans with ham hocks, and cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet and slathered with maple-bacon butter. It is hearty, soulful, and the polar opposite of the tiny, painstakingly composed plates Doug Flicker serves up every night. It was also easily among the best meals I ate in 2012. Chances are good that you’re not on staff at Piccolo, so why should you care? Two reasons: You can find the recipes in Come In, We’re Closed and Flicker is going to be serving that barbecued pork at Sandcastle, the new refectory at Lake Nokomis this summer. (And can we hope for the maple-bacon butter? Please?)
Apple Cake from The Spoonriver Cookbook by Brenda Langton and Margaret Stuart
I didn’t grow up Jewish, so I can’t pull out my mother’s or my bubbe’s apple cake recipe for Rosh Hashanah. This means I have tried many, many, many apple cake recipes. They ranged from dry to greasy, without stopping in the middle. But I’m never trying another one again, because Langton’s is perfect. It is tender and light and tastes richly of honey without being overly sweet. In fact, forget the new year: This may be the perfect cake for any occasion. Happy birthday, kids, I hope you like apple cake.
Six-Corner Sling from Eat Street Social, Minneapolis
Eat Street Social has switched over to winter cocktails now, but let’s hope the waters of March and the warm winds of June bring back the Six-Corner Sling. I was born with a sour tooth rather than a sweet tooth and nearly always order a lemon-based cocktail. And this is the yardstick against which I will measure all future drinks: barely sweetened, herbal with punt e mes (a Latin vermouth), and bitter with green chartreuse. Perfectly balanced.
Becca Dilley | Photographer
Tom Thumb, Homemade
This was a dessert made for an upcoming Heavy Table story by Andy Sturdevant looking at meals from the past via the book Friends and Their Food. A Tom Thumb is essentially a meringue dessert composed of egg whites mixed with Saltines and “nut meal,” served with ice cream and mashed strawberries. I thought this was going to be hilariously bland, but instead it was a lovely take on a pavlova – the salt from the nuts and crackers made for a surprisingly complicated flavor. Awesome.
Laoshan Black Tea from Verdant Tea, Minneapolis
The joy of drinking Laoshan black tea comes at least partially from the experience of talking and drinking tea for two hours during our gongfu tea ceremony and interview with David Duckler, the owner of Verdant Tea. But subsequent home tea brewing has shown that the tea itself is a big player. It has an almost malty or chocolatey character, and the unexpected taste of the drink reminds me to just slow down and enjoy it.
Grilled Uni from Aburiya Kinnosuke, New York City
I loved the uni (sea urchin roe) grilled on a salt stone thing at some semi-obscure basement Japanese place in Midtown Manhattan. This was my “Madeleine” moment, taking me back to eating at lobster bakes during family reunions in Maine. I kind of want to cry when I think about this dish— it tasted like walking on an ocean beach with the sun shining.
John Garland | Writer
The Pig-Pen from the Sassy Spoon Truck, St. Paul
I wrote a lot about street food in the cities this year. Eating burger after cupcake after bacon banh mi was a more harrowing experience, albeit a delectable one, than I was ready for. I’m an office worker, so some of those lunches sunk the rest of my workday like a stone. That’s why the Pig-Pen stood out so magnificently. It’s a glorious mound of miso-braised pork with an equally sized heap of Asian cabbage slaw. The pork is nutty and semi-charred, the slaw fresh and vibrant. Best of all, it’s a functional meal — good protein and healthy carbs. Whereas a few trucks out there survive on novelty, Sassy Spoon delivers real food, really well.
Sweet Pea Pate from Birdhouse, Minneapolis
I’m a regular at Birdhouse. I’m not sure what initially drew me so strongly to the place, but that dollop of heaven in a ramekin sealed the deal. Spread onto flaxseed toasts, it’s creamy and substantial with a piercing freshness from the mint. At $5 during happy hour, it should be crowned as Uptown’s destination snack. Sadly, though, it’s also seasonal, not likely to rear its head again until sweet peas come back in the spring. Thank goodness their lamb burger isn’t seasonal as well.
The Valkyrie from Merchant, Madison, WI
What I found at Merchant was a pure expression of the creativity and thoughtfulness that makes craft cocktails so compelling to begin with. The Valkyrie is one of the paragons of their program. It somehow delivers a wonderful balance between tequila, a full ounce of Angostura bitters, lemon juice, lime juice, and a tincture of epazote. I would have named it The Velvet Elvis: a fuzzy, wildly colored, cheeky depiction of a classic and soulful spirit.
Soleil Ho | Writer
Tsukemen from United Noodles, Minneapolis
United Noodles’ tsukemen, or chilled ramen, was an innocuous summer special that destroyed my preconceptions about noodles, flavor, and everything. I still don’t know what the hell was in those little bowls (Was it their perfectly spiced char siu? Special sesame oil? DMT?) that kept me coming back week after week.
Whole Roasted Pig from Hiep Thanh BBQ & Deli, Brooklyn Center
Based on a friend’s recommendation, my family ordered a gigantic roast pig from this modest little deli out in Brooklyn Center for my wedding reception. Our faith was rewarded with the best roasted pork I’ve ever had, with insanely crispy cracklings and meat perfumed with spice. My grandparents loved it so much that they took the head with them back to Illinois!
A shot of Jameson at Piccolo, Minneapolis
The last thing I ever did in my role as an intern in Doug Flicker’s kitchen was to take a commemorative shot of Jameson with the other cooks before we all left for the night. In retrospect, that last moment at Piccolo represents a major punctuation mark in my life: an initiation ceremony that I’ll remember fondly every time I smell that particular brand of whiskey.
Aaron Landry | Producer
Bits of Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault, dipped in honey and then dipped in coffee grounds from Peace Coffee at North Coast Nosh IV at Peace Coffee’s Roastery, Minneapolis
There were so many great things at NCN IV, but I kept sneaking back to grab another bite of gorgonzola. Sometimes I’d go and start nibbling on one, then have a conversation with someone, and then have another as if nobody would notice it was my second except those behind the table. And then I’d come back again 20 minutes later. And then I’d say, “I need to take one for a photo too,” and then eat that one as well. It was a simple treat that didn’t really balance well, but it was enjoyable (and addictive) insofar as to experience the different great flavors fight.
Putting My Trust in Bartender Peder Schweigert at Marvel Bar, Minneapolis
On a recent visit with a friend this autumn, Peder took us through a mixed beverage journey guided simply by a base, the sensations we wanted, and answering a few yes or no questions. The highlight was a drink with North Shore Aquavit, El Dorado 15 Year Rum, Wray & Nephew Overproof White Rum, Mangoustan’s Rhum d’Origine Carte Grise, and bitters. A strong drink, sure, but one where whatever conversation you’re having halts and turns to picking out the different pieces of the drink and how they all play against each other. The next step was less about what to order but rather telling Peder in what direction I thought my palate should go.
Finding Joia Soda at Foodland, Kailua, Hawai‘i
Working on The Heavy Table while living in Hawai‘i is not easy. I get to see and read everything from afar but never get to enjoy it outside of my visits back to Minnesota. For example, finding great cheese is hard and getting good microbrews shipped to the middle of the Pacific requires real investment. Having said this, I still have a hard time explaining my extreme excitement (and bewilderment) when I randomly saw Joia Soda at Foodland, a local grocery store. And with my Maika‘i Card, I somehow am getting it cheaper than I would in St. Paul — another rarity. The first time I saw it, I literally examined all sides of the four-pack box to verify it was authentic. I’m stocking up and I’m quickly becoming “that guy” who’s pushing “fancy sodas” from Minnesota. It’s so great to see it here in a world where the primary import from the Midwest is Spam.
Jill Lewis | Writer
Duck and Shiitake Soba Noodle Bowl from Masu, Minneapolis
I was a little late boarding the Masu train, but the duck and shiitake soba noodle bowl I had my first visit got me hooked. What’s not to love: It has tender, chewy noodles; rich, meaty broth; and succulent duck breast slices. Pure, steaming love in a bowl. My husband and I shared that first bowl, but we quickly learned that we’d need our own on subsequent visits.
Pastrami Sandwich from Icehouse, Minneapolis
A pile of smoky, paper-thin pastrami on a fluffy, sweet bun is enough on its own for a satisfying meal, but when you add on the fried egg (and you better, even if you have to pay an extra dollar), Icehouse‘s messy-but-masterful sandwich becomes crazy-good. (Egg yolk — not ketchup — should be the standard sandwich sauce.) The Eat Street restaurant’s Be’Wiched Deli pedigree shines through this dish, and ask for extra of the addicting, vinegary housemade pickles, too.
Bulgogi Tacos from Sparks, Minneapolis
Who would expect a restaurant featuring everything from Spanish-inspired garlic soup to pizza to gluten-free enchiladas to turn out such exciting Korean flavors? Not me, but I gobbled up the Bryn Mawr neighborhood joint’s duet of blistered tortillas filled with well-seasoned beef, fiery kimchi, crisp veggies, and a little sour cream to tame the tastebuds just a smidge. The tacos are meant to be an appetizer, but I’m tempted to ask for two orders on my next visit and call it dinner.
James Norton | Editor
Bavarian White Sausage from Ken and Jen Thiemann, Knife River
This homemade charcuterie never made the cut in my profile of Ken Thiemann and Borealis Brewing because it would’ve disrupted the story’s flow, but I regret its omission: Made from half pork and half grass-fed beef, this sausage was smooth, subtly spiced, and out-of-this-world delicious. It was a taste not just of Thiemann’s German roots, but of his family’s sense of hospitality as we talked beer for a couple of hours in his straw bale and stucco beer monastery.
Rustic Fruit Tart from The Lynn on Bryant
Dessert tends to check a box: chocolate, sure. Fruit, why not. Creme brulee, OK. It’s sweet, it completes your meal, it works well with coffee. The rustic fruit tart that we tried at The Lynn on Bryant was nothing short of edible art, every bit of this delicate, soft, crispy, crunchy, sweet, cool, warm, tart little dream correctly calibrated and singing in harmony… plus that ineffable something, that sense of soul, that makes good food great. Talk about a flashbulb memory.
Corner Table’s Pate en Croute from North Coast Nosh V at Open Arms, Minneapolis
When Corner Table joined us (and our hundreds of guests) at the fifth edition of the North Coast Nosh sip-and-sample event, they came ready to impress with a massive, gorgeously browned pate in pastry crust emblazoned with the event’s name. It made me happy to look at, and still happier to eat — the Corner Table crew has a way with meat.
Emily Nystrom | Copy Editor
Bella Pizza from Bricks, Hudson, WI
Bricks impressed me, from the salad to the pizza to even the Atomic Fireball palate cleanser on the way out. But the highlight was the Bella Pizza. The red onions are cooked a bit so they’re soft and mild rather than crunchy and sharp. The crisp asparagus and pine nuts add some satisfying texture. The tomato sauce is tangy and the cheese is ample and high quality. And the crust is perfectly baked, just chewy and crusty enough. Hudson has a number of nice restaurants, shops, and sights, but it’s Bricks (and the Bella) that I’d love to pick up and drop in the middle of Minneapolis.
Cold Tofu Teishoku from Tanpopo, St. Paul
Like every go-to dish should be, the cold tofu teishoku at Tanpopo is reliable, comforting, and so irresistible it’s nearly impossible for me to order anything else. The teishoku, or “set meal,” comes on an adorable little tray and includes edamame (or miso soup), pickled vegetables, sticky white rice, a salad with ginger dressing, and the best part: a block of tofu topped with scallions and a delicious house-made sesame sauce. It’s not a meal everyone would love, but for this vegetarian, it’s the ultimate comfort food.
Cream Pie from HauteDish, Minneapolis
When I stop by HauteDish for its four-course Meatless Sunday tasting menu, I feel like I’m treating myself to an upscale night that’s sure to be tasty yet still within budget. On my visit earlier this year, the dessert was a smooth cream pie with a surprising buttery, rich, dark chocolate crust and a side of creamy chocolate sorbet. Every bite was delicious, but it was the unique substitution of chocolate for graham that most delighted my tastebuds.
Susan Pagani | Writer
Lake Herring Special from The Craftsman, Minneapolis
One August evening, my husband and I stopped by The Craftsman for a late dinner. We’d been in the yard all day, so we were tired and looking for burgers, but at the last second my husband ordered the herring special. There were two whole herring on the plate, pan fried in butter and served on a bed of diced, summer vegetables — sweet corn and peppers among them, I recall — and the only spice on any of it was salt and pepper. The vegetables were sweet and bright; the fish was delicate but meaty, with a clean flavor, and an earthy sweetness of its own. It tasted like the day we’d just had, like summer.
Mushroom Pot Pie from Icehouse, Minneapolis
I’ve never thought of pot pie crust as something to eat by itself. You don’t break it off and nibble it — you crush it into the creamy filling, much like an oyster cracker over chowder, and enjoy the rich textural contrasts, right? Therefore, I was surprised and not entirely pleased when the mushroom pot pie at Ice House arrived not in a ramekin or pie tin, but as a standalone biscuity thing atop a heap of tiny black lentils. But oh, what a good idea that little fellow turned out to be. The pastry was delicious in its own right and just firm enough to stand up under the pie’s pungent taleggio and mushroom filling. The lentils were al dente, and very, very tasty and satisfying when scooped up with a bite of filling. Still, all those savory details aside, it’s the pastry — tender and buttery and perfect — I dream about when we’ve been apart for too long. If you don’t love mushrooms, try the apple pie; it’s all that and a scoop of ice cream.
Fig Financiers, Homemade
Each year, I offer my good friend Maria a homemade cake for her birthday. She chooses the flavor and format — layer cakes and rose water! — and I do my best to make something that is edible and, if not gorgeous, at least appetizing. This year she ordered fig financiers, a cupcake-like treat she had read about in The New York Times. I will admit I was delighted at the simplicity of the thing: The cupcake is made with brown butter, hazelnut flour, eggs, and powdered sugar and decorated with a thick round of fig. I liked it even better after I’d pilfered one from the cooling rack and inhaled it it whole. Imagine a light, nutty pound cake with a beautiful ruby center of warm fruit. I ate another one, only to see if it went well with a cup of tea. It did, and since my cup was large, I ate two more. The remaining four were devoured on the shore of the Mississippi after an unsuccessful (and rather terrifying) canoe ride… and then, of course, I baked a whole new tray for my Maria, who enjoyed them wholeheartedly on her birthday. All in all, fig financiers are a keeper.
Joshua Page | Writer
Heirloom Tomato Salad from The Craftsman, Minneapolis
Few things scream summer like a salad of super fresh local tomatoes, fragrant basil, tangy cucumber dill dressing, and heavenly, golden-brown croutons (generous chunks of sourdough from Rustica Bakery, pan seared with butter, then tossed with herbs, salt, and pepper). This simple preparation allows the stars of the show to shine, making us wish that tomato season lasted more than a couple measly months.
Lambalot Acres Rack of Lamb from Clancey’s Meats & Fish, Minneapolis
Risking family scorn, I decided to roast lamb rather than turkey for Thanksgiving. I shelled out a pretty penny at Clancey’s for a couple small racks sourced from the awesomely named Lambalot Acres, a family farm in Augusta, WI. Roasted with a mixture of rosemary, garlic, and olive oil, the lamb was well worth the expense. The family not only spared me the rod, they spoiled me with praise.
Fettuccine con Cinghiale from Broder’s Pasta Bar, Minneapolis
Fresh pasta, wild boar, porcini, caramelized onions, and chestnuts isn’t an obvious combination, but it sure is a tasty one. Luscious, rich, crunchy, and oh-so-comforting, it’s the perfect winter dish (the only thing missing is a fireplace). The good folks at Broder’s assure me that it’ll be on the menu for at least a few weeks, so you’ve still got time to enjoy this special preparation.
Emily Schnobrich | Writer
Parsnip Soup from Cafe Levain, Minneapolis
This year Cafe Levain featured a parsnip soup at one of its Sunday suppers. And seriously, what sounded like a basic harvest soup turned out to be just as magical as that three-course-dinner chewing gum from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The soup could have passed for a bowl of melted vanilla ice cream, it was so nutty, sweet, and silky (probably coconut milk). A curl of chili oil gave the decadence a little structure, and at the bottom were tiny florets of roasted broccoli and tender cubes of parsnip that brought in autumn with a sigh.
Bucatini with Braised Greens, Homemade, Minneapolis
My friend Maggie cooks at two restaurants, so naturally I welcome any chance to eat her food. But my favorite thing she’s made happened totally off the cuff. A bunch of us were hungry one winter midnight, so Maggie pulled cabbage and random greens from the fridge, chopped them thin, and braised them in a huge pan with some crispy mushrooms, a little cream, and parmesan. Tossed with good thick bucatini, the meal was chewy, hearty, and insanely meaty. I stuffed myself and sat there, suddenly revering my friend’s improv skills and the simple power of vegetables to reach deep into my carnivore senses.
Curry Fish from Cheng Heng, St. Paul
When I can’t decide what to order at a new place, I defer to curry. It’s a band of spices I can rely on. But at Cheng Heng in St. Paul, the curry fish is more than just a trustworthy friend. It’s a total babe. When salmon and coconut curry are steamed in banana leaves, the fish grows custardy, thick, and sweet. A little kaffir lime and lemongrass make it a heady, almost boozy bowl of fish I find myself craving most lunchtimes, no matter what pearls of the fridge lie before me.
Varsha Seetharam | Intern
“La Panza” Caramelized Lamb Belly Lettuce Wraps from World Street Kitchen, Minneapolis
I usually avoid things like “lettuce wraps” when I see them on a menu, because how good can they really be? Well, after eating the caramelized lamb belly wraps at World Street Kitchen, the answer to that question is pretty damn good. The charred, crispy exterior of the lamb belly houses a silky interior that almost melts in your mouth, and the acidity of the pickled cucumber and daikon perfectly cuts through the fattiness of the meat. The lettuce provides just the right amount of crunch and freshness without competing with the flavors of the gamey lamb, like a taco shell might. And it’s Paleo, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Yazoo Sue with Rosemary Bar Nuts from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
I have been obsessed with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream since I discovered it about a year ago. While all of their flavors fall within the very good to excellent range, my favorite, by far, is Yazoo Sue with Rosemary Bar Nuts, an ice cream play on beer and nuts. The cherry wood-smoked porter-flavored ice cream is packed with pecans, almonds, and peanuts dusted in brown sugar, rosemary, and cayenne. It teeters on the border of sweet and savory, and is bursting with umami, something I never thought I would be able to say about an ice cream. This was not just my favorite ice cream of 2012, but my single favorite bite, across all food categories, of the year.
8-oz. Flat Iron Steak at Butcher & The Boar, Minneapolis
The first four times I went to the Butcher & The Boar, I had the Smoked Beef Long Rib. It was so completely satisfying that I didn’t feel the need to explore the rest of the menu. On my fifth visit, I accidentally ordered the steak. Yes, accidentally. I was so preoccupied when the server stopped by to take our order that I distractedly said “I’ll just have the flat iron steak,” forgetting, for a moment, where I was and what I actually wanted to order. The steak was impeccably seasoned, with an earthy, smoky, flavor and cooked perfectly — easily my best “mistake” of 2012.
Kate N.G. Sommers | Photographer
Ficelle Sandwich from Surdyk’s, Minneapolis
Hidden amid the olive oil, cheeses, and crackers available at Surdyk’s Cheese Shop is the rogue ficelle sandwich. Not listed on any of their daily special menus (and found in a crock atop the deli case), the twiggy batons pack a powerhouse of flavor: salami, prosciutto, arugula, and onion on bread with adequate crunch and the perfect amount of chew. The sandwich is ideal for a mild nosh to tide you over before dinner, and I rarely leave the shop with out one, or two, in my bag.
Basic Biscuit Plus (Over Easy / Pepper Jack / Bean Cake) from Sun Street Breads, Minneapolis
I’m not normally one to opt for the vegetarian option when sausage is available. But the savory bean cake on this breakfast sandwich is the perfect consistency to soak up egg yolk, and it’s packed with so much flavor even a true omnivore might second-guess her need to ingest meat. The pepper jack adds a nice kick and, oh man, those biscuits…
Tacos and Salsa Bar from Maya Cuisine, Minneapolis
Taco places abound in South Minneapolis, but in Northeast we have only a handful of options. Thankfully one of them is Maya Cuisine, whose handmade tortillas would make any south-of-downtown dweller envious of our amazing taco options. The lengua and chorizo con papas are among my favorites, but when ordering, feel free to skip the toppings; a DIY salsa bar is available just beyond checkout to help you deck out your tacos however you like — no muss, no fuss.
Jason Walker | Writer
Americano from Blue Ox Coffee Co., Minneapolis
I love coffee but I’m no expert; I don’t analyze my cup as long as it’s decent. Yet each time I take a first sip of Melanie Logan’s terrific Americano I think, “Damn, that’s good coffee.” Blue Ox is the type of shop I seek out even though it’s not in my neighborhood — Logan is super nice, the place is comfy, and damn, that’s good coffee.
Smoked Porter from Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub, Minneapolis
Having interviewed Northbound’s owners a couple times, I was admittedly pumped with high expectations for this new brewpub. Chef Bryce Strickler’s menu of smoked meat and fish sounded heavenly, and I had high hopes since brewer Jamie Robinson was a Town Hall alum. But I wasn’t ready for that porter, a sublime combination of smoke, malt, and a hint of chocolate and coffee. It knocked my socks off.
My Pineapple Cheese Ball, Homemade
Sure, it’s partly due to childhood nostalgia (the recipe came from my grandma), but every year it’s the best thing I eat. Try it and see — it always earns raves at the annual Walker cookie party. Simple, homespun, and delicious, it wouldn’t be the holidays without one.