Snacking in the Bike Lane: the Markets of Northeast Minneapolis

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

This is the first 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.

You live in one of the most bikeable metro area in the United States, but when was the last time you went off the beaten path? You already know that biking and eating (and drinking) go together like a snowball on a July sidewalk: Peddling can melt away the calories you consume.

The Twin Cities are blessed with clusters of mom-and-pop lunch counters hiding in plain sight. It is my contention that these sometimes difficult to find, decidedly unflashy, rarely Instagrammed, sometimes holes-in-the-walls serve some of the best food in our state.

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

And here’s some even better news: These foods, counters, and storefronts are often found in neighborhoods you perhaps haven’t thought to bike. You already know that transport on two wheels is the best transport: You see the world at eye level, without the barrier of glass and metal. Walking up to a lunch counter is metaphorically similar. There are fewer barriers between you and the food. Less artifice. More deliciousness. Obvious bonus: This food is practically designed to bundle up in a plastic bag, be toted outside, and get snarfed on the curb next to your bike tires.

Cycle this route from Northeast to East Lake to University Avenue to St. Paul’s East Side in installments, or if you’re feeling epic, do the whole thing in a single day. Whatever the case, be sure to stop at at least a couple of these places. After all, if you’re not working up an appetite, you’re not cycling hard or fast or long enough.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Dong Yang, 725 45th Ave NE, Hilltop

If you have a friend who loves Korean food and she hasn’t been to Dong Yang, bring her. She’ll think you’re nothing short of a ninja. On the outer edge of Northeast, as it creeps into Columbia Heights, in a nondescript strip mall (the type of location where many of the world’s finest foods hide), Dong Yang’s lunch counter is concealed behind stacks of kimchee and rice crackers.

A grocery store first, Dong Yang has a back kitchen with grandmas who cook as you might imagine they do at home. The mostly Korean clientele enjoys the bustling daily lunch service (no dinner served here, so this is a lunch counter in the truest sense).

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

We highly recommend the Japche, a jumble of glass noodles and julienne veg to satisfy any serious noodle craving. It’s usually eaten on special occasions in Korea, but here it can be yours anytime for less than 10 bucks. Kimchee fanatics should also consider the Kimchee Stew, a clay pot holding a bubbling lake the color of what it is — gochujang (hot pepper paste) dissolved in stock and kimchee brine, with more kimchee added in. Don’t go in headlong. It bubbles hot fire for a reason.

Most items fall under the $12 mark, and a new and welcome addition is the gorgeous illuminated menu board with full color photos and descriptions in both Korean and English. The only misrepresentation is that the real thing is even prettier than the picture.

Editor’s Note: We originally placed Dong Yang in Minneapolis; it’s actually in Hilltop.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Sunny’s Market and Deli / Bark and the Bite, 2207 University Ave NE, Minneapolis

Once you’ve understood the symbiotic relationship Bark and the Bite, a barbecue food truck, has with Sunny’s, a classic corner store, you’ll wonder why every corner store doesn’t have a similar arrangement.

Sunny’s had a commercial kitchen that went largely unused, but since Bark and the Bite has been cooking out of it and serving from a simple lunch counter at the back of the store, stopping off for a pack of gum and a roll of toilet paper hasn’t been the same.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

In no time, you’ll be hefting out a bowl of Black Bean Chili with burnt-end brisket along with the Charmin. The chili is a special, so keep your eye on social media for its roughly weekly appearance. This marvel is rife with heavy smoke and the coveted burnt ends. Think of this chili as the ham hock and split pea soup that you get only when the ham has been devoured and the holiday is over. It’s the explosion after the bomb.

The crowning glory of the dish is a raft of cornbread providing little sugary pops of crunch to balance out the formidable bass notes of the almost-chocolate broth, falling-apart brisket, and black beans.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Also see the passive-aggressive wings: Tennessee Hot Wings tossed in dry rub. According to the cook, “The hardest thing about this job is making these wings and then having to sell them.” Imagine hot-hot-hot chili sauce melding with duck confit tossed in the signature dry rub that offers pings of more heat, spices, and sugar. House-made sweet pickles piled on top offer brine, and lots of smoke underpins it all. This is also an off-menu item. You gotta know to get them, and now you do.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Sentyrz Market, 1612 NE Second St, Minneapolis

All across America, old, coveted neighborhoods in big cities are in an elaborate gentrification dance in which new construction and progress want to move in, while the preservation of what is already there is key to why anyone would want to be there in the first place.

Northeast Minneapolis being no different — with its bars and churches and strong Eastern European sensibilities — tries to keep its bearings as rents skyrocket.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Sentyrz Market, established in 1923, is where you want to go for the Old Nordeast. Now that the Twin Cities is engaged in a full-on grocery store competition (Fresh Thyme or Trader Joe’s? Hy-Vee or ALDI? Kowalski’s or Byerlys?), my money goes to Sentyrz. The most obvious reason is that because of a grandfather clause, you can buy booze with your groceries in a single transaction, the way the rest of the thinking world does. The only other establishment in the Twin Cities where you can perform this important enterprise is at Morelli’s on St. Paul’s East Side, which we will learn about down the line.

Here, you can scan the aisles not for organic or local products but for fortifying and time-tested items like fluffy, made-on-site egg salad sandwiches, quarts of kraut, mayonnaise salads with ring macaroni and cubes of ham. But most importantly, look for the butcher shop, which might make the best summer sausage and wild boar brats in the state. Carry these (hopefully you’ve brought a pocket knife on your ride), along with a bottle or two of cheap wine, back to the cycle. This is what mid-ride moments are made for.

DIRECTIONS FOR THIS LEG, FROM DONG YANG TO SUNNY’S TO SENTYRZ

DONG YANG, 725 45th Ave NE, to Sunny’s Market [3.5 miles]

South on Quincy Street NE .4 miles
Left on 42nd Avenue NE
Right on Jackson Street NE
Left on 41st Avenue NE
Right on Van Buren Street NE .7 miles
Left on Columbia Parkway .5 miles
Left on Fifth Street NE .8
Get on Grand Rounds Trail heading south, parallel to University Avenue 1 mile
Turn left onto University Avenue NE at 27th Avenue .4 miles

SUNNY’S MARKET AND DELI, 2207 University Ave NE, to Sentyrz Market [.5 miles]

South on University Avenue NE
Right on 22nd Avenue NE .2 miles
Left on NE Second Street .4 miles

SENTYRZ LIQUOR AND SUPERMARKET 1612 NE Second St

NEXT LEG: From Northeast to East Lake Street

Brunch at Hai Hai

James Norton / Heavy Table

If there was ever a meal that needed some conceptual busting up, it’s brunch. You’ve got your sweet (stuffed French toast, pancakes, doughnuts), your savory (bacon, corned beef hash, standard issue egg-derived whatevers), and your alcohol (bloody marys laden with gonzo chef skewers, Belinis, greyhounds). You can dial up the price point and the complexity or you can dial them down, but it’s tough to buck the reigning paradigm and find something legitimately different.

To a large extent, that’s fine: Come Sunday morning we’re all tired, and we’re often hung over at brunch, and it’s reassuring to roll into something comfortably like a blanket stuffed with pigs. But after a while, the experience gets old, and until the dim sum scene around here develops and stabilizes there aren’t all that many alternatives.

Enter Hai Hai. We enthusiastically joined the critical consensus on this Northeast Minneapolis spot that serves Southeast Asian small plates along with cocktails displaying a rummy island twist. Which is to say, “hurrah!” and “delicious!” and “more, please.”

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

So here’s more: A couple of weeks ago, Hai Hai rolled out its brunch program with service from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and it’s like nothing else in town. We tasted our way through most of the menu, and in a certain way, it doesn’t really matter what you get. It’s all good, it’s all vibrant, and it’s all a marvelous combination of stimulating and comforting.

On the stimulating end of things: real heat (which can be accentuated by an optional plate of spicy mix-ins), sharp bites of vinegary acid, and fantastic crunch vs. soft textural contrasts. On the comforting end of things: warm, chewy carbs like the Chinese cruller, sweet fish syrup on deftly fried chicken, tender grits, numerous poached eggs, luscious congee. No matter what you get you’re going to end up reaching across the table to try your dining companions’ food, and you’ll all be richer for the tasting.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

It’s a shame that one of the best fried chicken dishes in the state is only available 10 hours a week, but that’s just the way it goes: The Thai Fried Chicken and Papaya Salad ($14.50) at Hai Hai is straight-up killer. The chicken is tender, the exterior is ridiculous crispy and full-flavored, and the bonus bits — lime-leaf honey butter, a chewy puck of sticky rice, papaya salad — are fully thought out and well integrated into the dish.

Hai Hai’s Caramelized Pork Congee ($11.50, top) is a rich, creamy, intoxicating bowl of warmth, the perfect dunking material for the accompanying savory youtiao (Chinese cruller) and a terrific receptacle for whatever kind of spicy heat you’d like to add to the mix.

James Norton / Heavy Table

The Omelette Banh Mi ($12.50) is a wonder of texture, from the crispy-chewy bread to the butter-soft eggs and the rich pate spread. We ended up throwing the accompanying fried potatoes and Garnet yams into our congee, where they played beautifully with the spice and rice.

James Norton / Heavy Table

And our Laksa Shrimp and Grits ($16) brought herbal complexity and Thai chili heat to the delicate creaminess of grits and the mellow sweetness of the well-cooked shrimp that crowned the dish.

Ruts can be comfortable, but there’s something glorious about bursting out of them. Hai Hai offers you the perfect excuse to do so this coming Saturday (or Sunday) morning.

Hai Hai, 2121 University Ave NE Minneapolis; 612.223.8640. Brunch served 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Nye’s redux in Northeast Minneapolis

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

When polka-bar institution Nye’s Polonaise Room announced plans to close in 2016, the outcry was widespread. The drive to build condos in the budding neighborhood was unstoppable, and no business was sacred, even after 66 years of success.

It came as a surprise to many when Nye’s owners, Rob and Tony Jacob, announced that they had plans to reopen once the mixed-purpose building was erected. The smaller space, which occupies just the corner rather than the block, opened a few weeks ago. Some felt betrayed — that the goodbye wasn’t authentic — but one thing is clear: It’s not the same.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

And the new Nye’s Bar isn’t trying to be. Red velvet ropes are present outside the entrance, and the waitstaff looks like it belongs at Seven Steakhouse, across the river. Instead of polka entertainment, there’s a piano, though during our visit all was silent. The lighting and seating appear to be a nod to the classic, but little else is reminiscent of the Polonaise Room.

The straightforward cocktail menu contains a combination of classics and variations on the same. The prices fall close to those at other Minneapolis cocktail bars, but overall the cocktails pack less of a punch.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The Old Fashioned ($10), made with whiskey (brandy upon request), sugar cube, bitters, ginger ale, soda, and orange, plus a cherry garnish, was weak and bland. While most takes on this classic tend to be spirit-forward, this version tasted watered down, as though the ice had melted immediately. The addition of ginger ale and soda should have been a clue, but it was worse than anticipated. Not only was the whiskey almost lost, the other flavors were attenuated, too.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

More successful was the Iron Butterfly ($12), a twist on a White Russian made with Bailey’s, Kahlúa, and New Amsterdam vodka. There was a pleasant and pronounced nutty undertone, perhaps from an unlisted ingredient (or the Kahlúa), that added to the intrigue of this mix. While the spirits were not particularly potent, the balance of ingredients was good, and the sweetness wasn’t overpowering.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Finally, the Manhattan ($10) was an undrinkable flop. The vermouth was so heavy-handed that the whiskey and cherry took a backseat, and a potent chalklike astringency took hold. It’s possible that the bottle was oxidized or unrefrigerated as the unpleasantness was significant.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

We felt ourselves glancing up at a mural of the old facade, which blankets one brick wall, concentrating hopefully, as though it was a Magic Eye capable of coming to life. While we have fond memories of the cocktails at the original, this new version of Nye’s combines the quality of mixed drinks found at a neighborhood dive bar with the stuffy, impersonal service of a club. It lacks the buoyant kitsch and authenticity (not to mention food — there’s now none) of the original, while overpromising through ambiance and price point.

For lovers of the Polonaise original, it may be best to regard Nye’s as gone, because, in all practicality, it is. This misguided attempt at a revival feels like a poor movie sequel no one asked for that threatens to taint affection for the original.

Nye’s Bar, 112 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55414; 612.236.4854

Raspberry Roselle by Fair State Brewing Cooperative

James Norton / Heavy Table

Fair State’s recent release of Spirit Foul created a mild panic of positive hysteria (we were certainly part of the problem), so it seems that the Northeast Minneapolis-based brewery is laying it on a little thick by following up in a matter of weeks with a cheerful, limited-release, holiday-ready raspberry and hibiscus sour ale that’s equal parts novelty, talent, and fun.

Like most modern beers with something interesting to say, Roselle rewards the drinker who takes the time to smell the glass before draining it. The aroma is floral with a berry-like earthiness, and it’s lovely and compelling.

The beer is tart and clean, with a woodsiness and pleasant dry finish. It’s the best of both raspberries and a light, mellow, 10-IBU sour ale, without any sugary qualities or unpleasant aftertaste. Though the brew has an earthy core, it finishes with a berry-kissed crispness. While the beer is a respectable 5.7 percent ABV, it’s remarkably delicate and free of any boozy notes.

It shouldn’t be taken as a slight to say that Raspberry Roselle is strongly reminiscent of another regional beer — if you’ve ever had New Glarus Brewing’s excellent Raspberry Tart, you’ll find that Roselle has some similar qualities. Both represent the natural character of the fruit without being either sugary or unpleasantly astringent or funky. It’s no small accomplishment.

The Berliner Bun at Aki’s BreadHaus

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

American sweet baked goods tend toward the garbagey side of things. Cookies, doughnuts, pie, you name it — if it’s made commercially but meant to feel homemade, it’s generally going to be a one-note, sugary slab of sugary sugar. (Commercial stuff that’s meant to feel commercial — and here we mean things like Oreos, Mint Milanos, Nilla Wafers, and so forth — can often be absolutely excellent, but on their own weird terms.)

The problem is this: Sugar is cheap, and it’s addictive, and it blasts so hard that it covers up textural imperfections and cheap, artificial flavors. You would hope that independent bakeries would figure out this problem and move past it, but not all have. Many are mired in a 1980s malaise, throwing bags of white powder at problems that should be solved with butter, real fruit, good chocolate, and the application of time and talent.

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

Times change, and these days they’re changing for the better. Aki’s BreadHaus in Northeast Minneapolis is among the forefront of area bakeries that bring a sensible European approach to baking desserts, reining in sugar so that it can be a harmonious supporting player, not a cracked-out, guitar-smashing diva. Case in point, Aki’s Berliner Bun ($1.50), which feels much like a bread roll that has made a passionate leap toward becoming a jelly doughnut. The roll is rich, soft, and tender, the jelly is legitimately fruity and sparingly piped, and while the exterior is sprinkled in sugar, the overall experience of eating a Berliner Bun is the enjoyment of a cheerful balance between sweet and savory and tart. The sugary outside is more than counterbalanced by the sheer volume of the rich, yeasty, barely sweet interior.

We’ve picked up on this welcome turn toward subtlely sweet baked goods at other places with a European bent in the area — Swedish Crown Bakery, Fika at the American Swedish Institute, Patrick’s, and the French-inflected Patisserie 46, among them. Savory Bake House also deserves a shout. Their products use sugar judiciously, leaning on good baking technique and quality ingredients to create balanced treats.

The truth of the matter is this: The Europeans have us dead to rights on the question of sugar in baked goods. Too much sugar is like too much of anything else — spicy heat, or fat, or salt, for example — it blasts the palate and destroys other things you might want to taste, such as buttery pastry or natural fruit. Culturally, America has a long way to go before it get to baked-goods nirvana, but at least locally we’re on our way.

Aki’s BreadHaus, 2506 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis; 612.578.7897

 

The Back Bar at Young Joni in Northeast

Nick Fay / Heavy Table
Nick Fay / Heavy Table

One of the most promising Minneapolis neighborhoods for beer drinking recently added cocktails to its list of reasons to visit. The Sheridan neighborhood of Northeast, while relatively quiet and residential, is gaining steam as a nightlife destination. Part of Young Joni, but with a separate entrance along the same alley as Dangerous Man Brewing Company, is an unnamed cocktail room, popularly dubbed “the back bar.”

Though the term “speakeasy” is avoided, it is hard to ignore the similarities to underground operations like Volstead’s Emporium in Lyn-Lake. In fact, both have alleyway entries and red lights demarcating the entrance during open hours.

Nick Fay / Heavy Table
Nick Fay / Heavy Table

After passing through a dark vestibule, drinkers will find several low tables, plush seating, and an abbreviated bar. This backdoor cocktail bar has all the flair of Parlour within the dimensions of a shipping container, plus cozy vintage touches. Unfinished raw wood walls with light bleeding in give a treehouse feel.

Nick Fay / Heavy Table
Nick Fay / Heavy Table

The cocktail menu doesn’t categorize drinks as classics or signatures in the fashion of many high-end bars. Instead, each drink stands very much alone, and the menu features a single one on each page. During a handful of visits over a few weeks, no changes were evident.

Adam Gorski, best known for his role at the helm of La Belle Vie’s cocktail program, is responsible for cocktails at both Young Joni and the back bar.

backbar-pouring

One signature drink drew mixed opinions. The Corduroy Angel, made with Calvados Coquerel, sorghum, and Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro, was boozy and robust. The amaro, made from rhubarb, but with a smoky character, came off as oddly chemical in nature, like liquid smoke with an aromatic twist. On the other hand, the sorghum adds a restrained, molasseslike sweetness. The supporting characters effectively stopped the Calvados from shining, but this is a cocktail for amaro fans.

The Bruised Ego, while sweet, was well-constructed and intricate. Juniper, rye whiskey, and cardamom have overlapping flavor profiles, with each contributing a powerful mix of herbal and spice notes while playing off one another. On our first visit, the cardamom was overpowering, but the second version was much more balanced. The citrus and honey add significant sweetness and cut through the heavy herbal flavors.

Nick Fay / Heavy Table
Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Sunshine Superman was a favorite. Hopped gin, grapefruit, and Punt e Mes were served with a straw in a highball glass over large ice cubes, which made the drink refreshing and sippable. The initial bitterness, from house-made infused gin, is pleasant. The Centennial hops — not only in the gin but also floating atop the ice as a garnish — add a beautiful grassy note, contrasting perfectly with a bright grapefruit punch.

The back bar rises above the everyday but doesn’t stretch into special occasion territory. Cocktails were all $12, which is in line with Marvel or Tullibee, and they can be delivered to the Young Joni dining room if your table there becomes available. Service was mediocre at tables, while at the bar it was more prompt and knowledgeable.

The back bar at Young Joni, 165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413; 612.345.5719

Nick Fay / Heavy Table
Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Young Joni in Northeast Minneapolis

Lucy Hawthorne / Heavy Table
Lucy Hawthorne / Heavy Table

Next time you’re in Northeast Minneapolis, the pervasive aroma of wood smoke will levitate you like a cartoon character until you involuntarily find your slobbering, somnambulant face pressed against Young Joni’s glass-walled entrance. It has been a long wait for Ann Kim’s fiery new venture, and everyone’s patience has paid off deliciously.

Following in the footsteps of Kim’s successful and lauded Pizzeria Lola in southwest Minneapolis and Hello Pizza in Edina, Young Joni also trades on her expertly-fired pies — and why not? They’re among the best anywhere. But Young Joni takes the elemental core of Kim’s expertise — the simple wood fire — and amplifies it to wonderful effect across a range of delightful and surprising dishes.

Lucy Hawthorne / Heavy Table
Lucy Hawthorne / Heavy Table

But before you get a peek at the menu, the first thing that will hit you is the space itself. Designed by Studio MAI‘s Milo Garcia — who has also designed the infamous Gjelina in Venice Beach and Verve Coffee in downtown Los Angeles (both establishments having been visited by this writer, with the design making a big impression) — the restaurant is truly unlike anything else that currently exists in Minneapolis or St Paul. The kitchen, bar, and dining areas occupy the same airy, soaring space, but the design pulls off several neat tricks at once. The wraparound bar cuts a long hypotenuse through the space, with the back kitchen counter facing the ovens; the phalanx of four-tops is nicely broken up by a few large communal tables, and one wall is lined with banquettes that can cradle couples in lush upholstery and low lighting. Within the same room, there are multiple places to go, and quite a few different dining experiences you can have. Warm, natural materials appear everywhere, from the custom-made furniture to the incredible iridescent tile surrounding one of the wood-burning ovens. Rough timbers contrast with creamy, forest-green tabletops and supple leathers; the bathrooms make neat use of raw copper piping that echoes the massive copper pizza oven that anchors the kitchen. Custom-made light fixtures dot the walls, and it all comes together artfully.

Yet perhaps the most impressive trick pulled off by Young Joni’s design is that the details are there if you look for them, yet all of it manages to fade into the background to bring what’s most important into focus: your food and your friends. In a neighborhood dominated by taprooms where the predominant vibe is backward hats, food trucks, and board games, the stylish but causal vibe cultivated at Young Joni is most welcome. It’s clear that Kim and her partners have calibrated every element of the place to encourage conversation and conviviality. This is the rare restaurant in which you can actually talk without yelling, but still clearly hear the (well-curated) music. How they did it, we do not know, but it’s a relief.

Young Joni’s not-so-secret, speakeasy-style cocktail lounge — accessible from a separate entrance off the alley next to a lightsaber-like red beam in the concrete wall — exudes a similar cool factor, but tilted toward a 1960s vintage vibe. Look for our separate take on their cocktails soon — but for now, it’s worth noting that the audio system is second to none. An analog reel-to-reel tape machine sits on the bar, playing custom playlists filled with jazz, soul, and lounge through a stack of tube amps and high-fidelity speakers.

Lucy Hawthorne / Heavy Table
Lucy Hawthorne / Heavy Table

So! The food. People will come for the pizzas — as they should, because they’re uniformly great — but the rest of the menu is where Young Joni machetes a fresh path through the thicket of redundant dining options in Minneapolis, and we highly recommend that you order expansively from the non-pizza side of things. The menu is divvied up into Vegetables, Salads, Other Delights, and Pizza, and everything is meant to be shared. Ann Kim’s Asian roots bob and weave throughout in some delightful ways.

Baker’s Field Flour & Bread

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Northeast Minneapolis’ Food Building, already home to The Lone Grazer Creamery and Red Table Meat Co., now has another local, food-based operation that more than fits with these cheese and meat producers: It’s Baker’s Field Flour & Bread, a local flour mill and commercial bakery.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Baker’s Field is the result of a collaboration between Steve Horton, a founder, former owner, and baker at Rustica Bakery and Kieran Folliard, a restaurateur and founder of 2 Gingers. Horton is hands-on in the business, working as head miller and baker. He noted that going from baking to milling might seem kind of a reverse direction, but it was a decision rooted in the question, “How do we go back to controlling the sourcing and processing of what we need to bake?”

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

For Horton, that starts with procuring grains grown in Minnesota, Michigan, and North and South Dakota and milling them into flours — primarily a whole-grain wheat flour and a bread flour — half of which are supplied to restaurants including Restaurant Alma, The Bachelor Farmer, and Spoon and Stable. The rest is used for Baker’s Field’s own breads as well as retail sales. The miller also works with buckwheat, corn, rye, spelt, and oat flours.

Catrina’s Cerveza and Grill in Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Call it the “Chipotle Effect.” Increasing numbers of local ethnic restaurants are reimagining their menus and putting a customer-friendly, customizable, spin on how they present traditional fare. Instead of four-page-long menus broken out by meal courses or proteins, there are, instead, a few formats — burritos, bowls, tacos, salads — that can be dressed up or down according to taste and the population of a long (and initially intimidating but ultimately empowering) condiment and ingredient bar.

We’ve noticed this format at places serving food as disparate as Japanese (One Two Three Sushi), Moroccan (Moroccan Flavors), and South Asian (Silhouette Cafe), but the newly opened Catrina’s Cerveza and Grill in St. Anthony, just over the border with Northeast Minneapolis, may get the prize for most faithful Chipotle tribute: sticking to the Mexican-street-fare-made-modern model.

The difference between Catrina’s and Chipotle — and it’s a doozy — is that Catrina’s food has spice (spiritual), grit (metaphorical), flavor, and soul that the more homogenized and mainstream stuff at Chipotle tends to lack. This makes for a lovely experience — all the charm of legitimate homespun fare with the efficiency of a respectable quick-service chain.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our Barbacoa Taco Salad (slow cooked shredded beef, $7, above left) was — and this isn’t usually how we’d describe barbacoa dishes — remarkably light and refreshing, with the soothing taste of the meat contrasting with the corn, lettuce, and pineapple we’d gotten it dressed up with.

And while our Catrina Bowl al Pastor ($6.75, above right) lacked some of the depth and chew of our favorite al pastor pork in town (the tacos at Taqueria La Hacienda come to mind), the overall flavor was rich and honest, complemented nicely by the hot and deeply flavored chile arbol sauce that was ladled over the dish. And while we loved the salsa de arbol, it was just one of a palette of convincing homemade options including a pineapple salsa; pico de gallo; citrus jalapeño; roasted-tomatillo salsa verde and for the spice-inhibited, a mild salsa.

In short, an easy-to-navigate (and -customize) menu that was fully inhabited with deep flavors and real cooking. Surely the best of two (or possibly more?) worlds. With some great Mexican places operating just a short distance away on Central Avenue (Maya Cuisine and El Taco Riendo ranking at the top of our list) Catrina’s really had to bring it to compete. So consider it brought. And next time you’re on the east side of St. Paul, you’ve got a solid taco option nearby — Catrina’s first location is in Oakdale.

Catrina’s Cerveza and Grill
Fast-casual Mexican in St. Anthony

2510 Kenzie Terrace
St. Anthony, MN 55418
612.788.1229
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
RESERVATIONS: No
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Lot and street
ENTREE RANGE: $6-$9
BAR: Beer
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Not really

‘Baristas Gone Wild’ at Spyhouse with Chef Camp

WACSO / Heavy Table
WACSO / Heavy Table

Are you the sort of person who brings a (shatter-proof) French press into the wilderness? Do you demand decent coffee no matter how wild the setting? Then you’ll want to head to Northeast Minneapolis on Saturday, May 14 to attend Baristas Gone Wild. You’ll join the award-winning roasters of Spyhouse Coffee as they prepare you for a wild summer of camping, canoeing, and coffee brewing.

And you’ll also learn more about Chef Camp, the Sept. 2-4 camp retreat featuring some of Minnesota’s best chefs teaching open-fire cooking.

Baristas Gone Wild will feature demonstrations on coffee roasting and various styles of brewing (with tastings!), and a coffee mixology tutorial with an emphasis on coffee drinks that would be ideal when made and enjoyed in the great outdoors.

When:
Where: Spyhouse Coffee — 945 Broadway St NE, Minneapolis 55413
Tickets: $10 + fees via Eventbrite
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

 

Modist Brewing in Minneapolis

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Beer in Minnesota is growing so large, and so quickly that shortages of ingredients and facilities are unavoidable. In recent years, there has been a real fear of a nationwide hop shortage. For both up-and-coming breweries and established ones, it is a feat of politics and planning to obtain this key plant. Of course, real estate can also be problematic. Buildings suitable for making beer are hard to find, and starting from scratch is not always easier. When zoning laws, water requirements, and waste management are considered, it comes as no surprise that Northeast is packed with craft beer while Highland Park is not.

In a time of abundance in the microbrewing industry, perhaps the most severe shortage is knowledge. Worthy head brewers are hard to come by. Of the brewery openings that we have covered this year and in the final quarter of 2015, all but one fall into either of two categories: breweries with former home brewers at the helm — such as 10K Brewing, u4ic Brewing — or investment breweries (those founded by nonbrewers), such as Nutmeg Brewhouse.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The newest brewery to open in the Twin Cities is Modist Brewing Company, located in the North Loop, which employs several of the city’s most experienced beer minds. Although the business plan was drawn up three years ago, the founders took their time to develop relationships and hone their skills, making Modist one of the most anticipated openings of 2016.

Eric Paredes, Modist’s chief manager, met its head brewer, Keigan Knee, while volunteering at Harriet Brewing — a brewery that has become a common launch pad for many within the industry. Paredes was working in corporate marketing while selling growlers for the brewery. Knee’s roommates at the time were becoming involved in beer as well, John Donnelly at Midwest Supplies and Lucid Brewing, and Kale Anderson also at Lucid. The two became key players at Modist, as head of sales and head of operations, respectively. The fifth member of the team is Dan Wellendorf, who adds design, marketing, and social media expertise.

The majority of Knee’s brewing experience comes from Dangerous Man, a brewery famous for its darker beers, which has won medal after medal in brewing and popularity contests alike. Knee is the second former Dangerous Man member to open a brewery, Oliphant Brewing in Sommerset, Wis. was also opened by a Dangerous Man alum. The immediate success of these two breweries bodes well for Modist, and it also sets the quality bar very high.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The word Modist derives from the same root as modification, which is a mission statement of sorts.

“We aren’t doing things differently because we think we are better,” says Paredes, explaining that it’s not about sticking it to anyone or bucking a trend. The modifications, in this case, seem to be derived from a kind of creativity that can best be described as pushing boundaries. “We fully expect that not everything will be perfect. But we can learn something important from a batch that did not turn out.”

North Coast Nosh 14 at Solar Arts

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: The Heavy Table and the Wedge Co-op are bringing together an amazing slate of local food and drink purveyors in Northeast Minneapolis.

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 James Norton at editor@heavytable.com.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The North Coast Nosh Comes to Northeast

The Heavy Table and Wedge Community Co-op are pleased to announce the 14th edition of the North Coast Nosh locavore sip-and-sample series for Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. Join more than 30 local purveyors — cheesemakers, brewers, chocolatiers, BBQ magnates, and more — for an evening of sipping, sampling, and great conversation.

The Nosh takes place Feb. 25 from 7-9:30 p.m. at Solar Arts by Chowgirls in Northeast Minneapolis. Tickets are $30 via Eventbrite; Pre-Nosh tickets are $58 and include four small-group presentations and sample sessions from 5:30-7 p.m. as well as admission to the main event.

Ticket price includes samples from all our purveyors. Guests must be 21 years of age or older. Our Noshes generally sell out, so please get your tickets sooner rather than later if you’re excited about the event!

Our Pre-Nosh features the Good Food Award-winning Red Table Meats, the Lone Grazer Creamery, Chowgirls Killer Catering, and the Wedge Community Co-op.

PRE NOSH VENDORS
Wedge Community Co-op
Chowgirls Killer Catering
The Lone Grazer Creamery
Red Table Meat Company

buy-tickets-bug

NOSH VENDORS*
Alemar Cheese
Anelace Coffee
Annie B’s Confections
Beez Kneez Honey
Belle Amour Macaroons
B.T. McElrath Chocolatier
Chef Camp Minnesota
Cocoa & Fig
Faribault Dairy
Gerhard’s Brats
Gray Duck Chai
K’ul Chocolate
Meadowlands Chocolate
Mon Petit Cheri Bakery
Patisserie 46
Peace Coffee
Poorboy Candy
Redhead Creamery
Rise Bagel Co.
Superior Switchel Company
Triple Crown BBQ
True Dough
Verdant Tea
Wisco Pop

SPIRITS
Badger Hill Brewing
Bourget Imports
Du Nord Craft Spirits
Fair State Brewing Cooperative
Indeed Brewing
Lift Bridge Brewing

*This list is partial and will be added to. Final lineup is usually close to expected lineup, but vendors may be added or deleted as circumstances dictate.

— James Norton

NOW OPEN

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
  • The Draft Horse, 1401 Marshall St NE, Minneapolis | New restaurant at the Food Building featuring food made from products from The Lone Grazer Creamery and Red Table Meat Co., along with grab & go sandwiches on Patisserie 46 baguettes, salads, and soup. Read our Bite here.
  • Coconut Thai, 3948 W 50th St, Edina, MN
  • The Bachelor Farmer Cafe, 200 N 1st St, Minneapolis
  • Taco Cat, Midtown Global Market | The cult favorite, bike-delivered taco place has become a bricks-and-mortar affair, replacing the former Burrito Mercado spot in Midtown Global Market.
  • Nutmeg Brewhouse, 1905 W County Rd 42, Burnsville | “A brewpub that explores the former British Empire from a culinary point of view,” as per the Growler.
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
  • Upton 43, 4312 Upton Ave S, Minneapolis | This spot, by Victory 44’s Erick Harcey, is a chance for the much lauded chef to bounce back from the bust-up of Stock and Badge and rollup of the ambitious but shaky Parka. Read our review here.
  • Heirloom, 2186 Marshall Ave, St. Paul | W.A. Frost chef Wyatt Evans hopes to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors (such as Russell Klein and Lenny Russo) and found a new St. Paul gastronomic institution. “Modern but … approachable … slow food” sounds pretty good to us (quotes from the Pioneer Press preview).
  • Scena Tavern, 2943 Girard Ave S, Minneapolis
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
  • Savory Bake House, 3008 36th Ave S, Minneapolis | Located across the street from Merlin’s Rest, “Savory is a new twist on the old school rustic bakery everyone knows and loves,” or so says their Facebook page. Baker is Sandra Sherva from Merlin’s Rest and formerly of Birchwood. Read our review here.
  • St. Genevieve, 5003 Bryant Ave, Minneapolis | This Steven-Brown-helmed restaurant has begun to dish up approachable French fare.
  • ie, 4724 Cedar Ave, Minneapolis | AKA “Italian Eatery.” Scratch pastas, with an eye toward the style of Bar La Grassa.
  • Urban Forage Winery and Cider House, 3016 E Lake St, Minneapolis | We profiled these guys when they were mounting their (successful) Kickstarter campaign, and they have a fascinating take on how to do earthy, grassroots local wine and cider.
  • Red Lantern Sushi, 465 Wabasha Ave, St. Paul | A new branch of the White-Bear-Lake-based sushi restaurant has opened in the old Fuji-Ya space in St. Paul.