The Well Fed Guide to Life heads out to Parka (above; here’s our recent visit and deep dive interview). Bradstreet Crafthouse is closing as the Graves 601 changes hands. Tiny Diner is opening next week. Heavy Tablers talk Lake Superior Flavors on Twin Cities Live with Elizabeth Ries and Stephanie March. Tin Whiskers brewery opens this week and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman will be on hand to cut the ribbon. Bogart’s Doughnut Company has been slammed by hungry fans (including us, yesterday morning). And Wisconsin spirits (Kringle Cream! Wondermint!) are starting to appear in New York cocktails.
Say what you want about Longfellow’s Parka, but it’s never been boring. Located in funky space shared with the Minnesota chic boutique Forage, Parka launched in early 2013 promising a bleeding edge haute cuisine spin on Midwestern comfort food. It was a concept that started strong but eventually wavered as staff changes took their toll, a trend that reached its climax early this year with the departure of Erick Harcey from the Stock and Badge collective formed to combine the powers of Dogwood Coffee, Rustica Bakery, and Harcey’s Victory 44 restaurant.
In short: Parka has presented diners with a roller coaster of innovation, inconsistency, ambition, and a value prospect that has ranged from fair to frustrating.
We sat down with Dogwood’s Greg Hoyt (above left) and new Stock & Badge food director Sam Kanson-Benanav (above right) to talk about “Parka 2.0,” a rebooted menu and philosophy that promises to anchor the spot in local food and the Longfellow neighborhood that surrounds it.
HEAVY TABLE: When Parka got rolling, it seemed like a complicated concept that started strong but wandered. What ground have you guys covered, and where are you today, with this new menu?
GREG HOYT: We lost our way, in that our gut was to do a neighborhood place that was casual, fun, and kind of quirky and not taking itself so seriously… but we started out with three meal periods, dinner being the most prominent — with servers, and pretty prep-heavy, extensive dishes that maybe were a little more provocative than what we wanted.
SAM KANSON-BENANAV: I think you hit the nail on the head when you said ‘it seemed like a complicated concept’ — it wasn’t a complicated concept, but it just complicated itself in the process. When well-executed, it [top down, molecular gastronomy influenced food] can be as good as anything, but that’s not my approach to food. I care just as much about the process and the ingredients and the sourcing of food, but I like to present it as accessibly and as relatably as possible.
That’s not just what I want to see on a plate of food, it’s what the neighborhood wants to see on a plate of food. I don’t think the over-complication of Midwestern comfort food was really doing it for the space.
A massive update on the Brasserie Zentral (etc.!) project; and catch a preview of Brasserie Zentral at North Coast Nosh X at the American Swedish Institute. Madison is getting its own all-night breakfast joint called the Short Stack Eatery. Just after the publication of Andy Sturdevant’s light and illuminating report on the Sunday traffic to Hudson liquor stores, the scene gets really ugly. A diner at Parka reports creative ideas, and (unrelatedly) under-salted fries and over-salted ice cream. Erik Anderson is back in town and ready to party. Angelina’s in the Park opens in Woodbury in March. A nice profile of 45th Parallel Spirits in City Pages (above: Referent Vodka). And mark your calendar not just for the Nosh (Feb. 23) but also for the Twin Cities Daily Planet Sausage Fest (Feb. 5).
An update on Five Watt Coffee (we broke the news of its opening here.) One for the “Tragic Breakups” file: Johnny Michaels is out at La Belle Vie. City Pages dings Freehouse for a lack of focus (we did the same in our review). Some intriguing details about Aki’s Bread Haus in Northeast. Sugar Love Bakery is opening in Woodbury. Matt’s Jucy Lucy is ranked #10 on a list of most influential burgers by Time magazine. Some PiPress love for Chef Shack’s new place. Rick Nelson digs Honey and Rye Bakehouse (we did too.) City Pages collects the 14 open or soon-to-open local distilleries (here’s our recent visits to Norseman and Far North, pictured above.) And Eric Harcey is opening a place called Bent Arrow in the old In Season location… and is stepping away from cooking as part of the Stock & Badge partnership (formed with Rustica and Dogwood). Whether that’s also a tragic breakup remains to seen; Parka may be the canary in the coal mine.
The Heavy Table crew — large in number, adventurous in appetite, generously endowed in the palate department — travels quite a bit and eats quite a great deal, collectively. What follows are some of our favorite bites from 2013. Guten appetit!
(And if you enjoy these bites, you may want to flip back to our gems of 2012.)
Dena Alspach | Publisher
Jasmine Deli: Banh Canh (Tapioca Noodle Soup)
With its thick, silky noodles twisting in an unbelievably clean, clear broth, the tapioca noodle soup (banh canh) at Jasmine Deli is one the best lunches in town. Order a huge bowl with chicken or tofu and then just try to sit patiently once Lee sets that plate of crisp bean sprout, basil, and jalapeño slices in front of you. The soup is balanced and delicious and yes, you will eat it all. Don’t forget the Sriracha. Oh, and definitely grab a banh mi to take with you for later. Sandwiches are made fresh each day on perfect, crusty baguette and stuffed with mock duck, chicken, or pork; then carrot, cilantro, and jalapeno.
Adam Vickerman’s pop-up dinner: Ribeye / Brussels / Kale / Rogue Smokey Blue
One of my favorite trends is the wealth of super-chef pop-up dinners happening all over the Twin Cities. This October, I was lucky enough to get a spot at the Colossal Cafe for Adam Vickerman’s dinner (who usually runs the show at Cafe Levain). If you haven’t yet hit a pop-up, stay alert and jump on tickets immediately. The unique intimacy of these experiences and the level of service you enjoy is worth triple the cost. The bite I’m still dreaming about is Vickerman’s perfectly seared ribeye with smokey blue cheese from Rogue Creamery in Oregon, served with brussels and kale. I almost hugged him.
Tilia: Pot de Creme
You know how sometimes when you’re in a restaurant and what’s set before you makes you clap your hands and stomp your feet with happiness? No? Then get to Tilia and order Zoe Francois’ pot de creme. Amy Thielen (her new book is featured in our 2013 holiday gift guide) gives an epic assist with her birch syrup; there’s a good chance you’ll write poetry about it later. Maybe on Twitter. (Who me?) This absolutely luscious dessert is served in a delicate laser-cut eggshell, so you may (may) sit like a lady, holding it gently, just momentarily ignoring your fellow diners.
Ryan Burk | Writer
Kings Wine Bar: Bloody Mary Ribs
It would be easy to over-analyze the task of choosing just three items from a year spent eating well. So I went about it like word association. Without much thought at all, the Bloody Mary ribs from Kings Wine Bar in Kingfield came almost instantly to mind. The braised-then-fried rib is so tender it takes about zero convincing to separate from the bone. And the Bloody Mary portion of the equation doesn’t disappoint either, with the celery seed and soy seasoning nicely evoking a generously salted rim. I didn’t miss the vodka at all.
Parka: Banana Cream Pie
I’m a sucker for banana cream pie. Order it any chance I get. And the banana cream pie at Parka in Longfellow is one of my favorites. It’s an enormous, deconstructed mess of a dessert, the sight of which made my eyes bulge noticeably from their sockets when it was set down in front of us. It’s loosely built on a sturdy pastry foundation, decked in banana slices, some sort of custard-y banana filling, a generous drizzle of salted caramel, topped with whipped cream and finished with a dusting of chocolate shavings. There’s also a bright citrusy pop of flavor that asserts itself in a pleasant way, which saves the whole thing from being just another one-note, cloyingly sweet banana cream pie. It wasn’t the prettiest dessert I had all year, nor was it the most inventive or sophisticated. But what it did is present familiar, beloved flavors in a way I hadn’t expected. And that’s something that gets me every time.
The Strib has a great story about how Wisconsin grew into an organic farming mecca. A profile of the Not Doing Jack in the Morning cocktail at The Rabbit Hole (here’s our review of the restaurant from last week, in case you missed it; pictured above.) A virtual taste of brewery-aged New Glarus Winter Warmer. Chowhounds wring their hands about dicey experiences at Parka (and the implications for the Stock and Badge project at the MIA) and whether the rice bowls at The Left Handed Cook have slipped amid all the Rabbit Hole excitement. And Birchwood Cafe’s Kickstarter got funded to the tune of $112,126; what’s next to fund? Maybe Lost Falls Distillery? I’m stoked about this dark cherry rum plan… (Oh: And those of us who funded the Shagbark Hickory Syrup guy have some hickory syrup to look forward to, too…)
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For some, breakfast is a desperate attempt to quell what one of our photographers dubs “hanger” (with a hard “g”) – that perfect, wrathful intersection between hunger and anger; for others, it’s a way to jump-start metabolism or get a quick burst of energy to start the day.
Enter the egg sandwich. It’s a basic formula of “carbs + protein + grease = effective breakfast” known for its simplicity, not culinary genius. So when Parka added an egg sandwich to their menu, we had to try it. Because… it seemed safe. And after a rollercoaster of experiences with the kitchen — from a glorious first few encounters with dehydrated chevre powder-sprinkled Jell-O salad and garam masala-scented chicken soup to the “Parka roulette” that ensued — we were a tad cautious. Case in point: The recent pazole [sic], which vaguely resembled the hominy-studded, tangy soup that might result should Chef Boyardee attempt an adventurous cooking day in Central America. Or an otherwise crisp and tasty stack of onion rings unceremoniously drenched in an “espresso-mustard” sauce so bitter, so acrid, so pungent, it must have been dredged from a certain staff writer’s coffee “cellar” — or perhaps the compost bin.
But we loved the locally roasted Dogwood pourovers and the neon pink Synesso machine, and the warming, zippy Gray Duck Chai, and the impossibly flaky pastries from Rustica, and the refined fur-trapping artist chic of the “I-want-to-buy-it-all-but-I’m-too-broke-so-I’ll-buy-yet-another-cocktail-glass” adjoining furniture store… so we kept going back. And we embarked on an eggwich journey.
Because, like Parka, this eggwich has been evolving. The first iteration utilized protein in a different way: It featured a suspiciously perfect folded egg — a closer analog to the egg disc so common in the infamous Egg McMuffin — and swapped the traditional meat patty for an unctuous, tomatoey bacon jam and micro greens. But the bread — and this is where it went wrong — was one of those oddly dry, egg-washed torpedo rolls that instantly squashes upon taking a bite.
In a step in the right direction, Parka reincarnated the eggwich after a month off the menu. Only this time, it ditches the torpedo roll in favor of a lightly griddled biscuit. Gone is the folded egg; in its place is a fried one replete with runny yolk. Benton’s ham — the stuff from Tennessee so prized by David Chang and countless other celebrity chefs — is the star of the show, bringing its addictively smoky, salty A-game and enough texture to mitigate an otherwise gooey mess. A slice of aged cheddar adds a little earth and funk to the mix; a schmear of cinnamon apple butter cuts the salt and adds enough sweetness to make it sing. Each bite is a messy, gooey affair, one which tastes at once salty and smoky and sweet — then spurs you to have another. This isn’t perfectly balanced molecular gastronomy. This is breakfast crack.
At this point you’re already obeying conventional rules by eating your breakfast, so don’t bother eating your veggies: The eggwich’s accompanying micro greens are tossed in a pleasantly light but off-puttingly onion-forward dressing. The eggwich (and coffee, of course) is all you need — and, we can hope, all Parka needs to get their kitchen back on the right foot.
Parka, 4021 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55406
Terzo, a new wine bar at 50th & Penn from the couple behind Broders’ Cucina and Broders’ Pasta Bar, opens this Wednesday per Rick Nelson. A view of Parka (reviewed here) on the weekend, including photos by our own Katie Cannon. The New York Times takes note of local ice cream “designers” Froz Bros, profiled here. And Dara rounds up her top 5 (loaded) hot dogs, just in time for the dog days of summer we all hope are right around the corner.
Rick gives Parka 2.5 stars (pictured above; here’s our enthusiastic review, and some lovely photo outtakes from shooter Becca Dilley). A new food truck to watch out for, Hot Indian Foods. The Well Fed Guide to Life podcast experiences brunch and audio trouble at Wise Acre Eatery. Details on the new Brau Brothers brewery. We almost lost Lenny Russo to a Slovenia car accident. Trout Caviar muses on maple syruping and Modern Maple by Teresa Marrone. And a tale of two goudas (plus more about Marieke Gouda) by our own Jill Lewis.
Today in beer news: a profile of Schell’s brewer Jace Marti and a look at the brewery’s new Noble Star Collection, Lift Bridge celebrates the release of its second edition of Irish Coffee Stout, Summit shares details of the latest Unchained (100% Organic Ale), and a tour of Chippewa Falls (i.e. the home of Leinie’s). A Madison food writer takes the food stamp challenge. A visit to Amand’s Exotic Food Market and the newly opened Smack Shack restaurant. The Well Fed Guide to Life heads over to Twisted Fork. And more good vibes for Parka (cranberry Jell-O salad pictured above; here’s our review).
There’s a legal fight to allow even bigger breweries the right to sell growlers. We talk up Parka on the Current (pictured above). An attempt at faux pho. Details on lunch at Rustica bakery. A gastronomic weekend in Pepin County, WI. And some more photos from our last North Coast Nosh, at Peace Coffee’s roastery.