Brooklyn Park’s Vietnamese Food Scene, Part 2

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

A few months ago, we ventured up to Brooklyn Park after hearing rumors that there was a lively and growing Vietnamese scene there. Turned out we’d heard right, and our first visit left us hankering for a return. So back we went, looking for three more Vietnamese eateries, and following the same simple rule as last time: no pho or banh mi, because those are everywhere. We wanted to try what isn’t so easily found.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Our first stop was Thanh Vi, an attractive, large restaurant in a small strip mall (which our server told us was owned by the restaurant owner). Like many of the restaurants we visited, Thanh Vi’s menu has its share of Americanized items, but then you come to the category marked Authentic Vietnamese Dishes, later followed by a section titled Thanh Vi Dishes, and things become interesting.

We began with an iced French coffee with condensed milk ($3.55), a classic Vietnamese drink, and one we’d thoroughly enjoyed at Phuong Trang. Thanh Vi’s was equally delicious, but while Phuong Trang served the coffee brewing with a phin filter, so diners get the full experience, Thanh Vi’s came already brewed and assembled in a plastic to-go cup with a straw — not the same experience at all.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

That, however, was our only disappointment at Thanh Vi. After much debate, we started with Com Tam Bi, Cha, Tau Hu Ky, Tom, Thit Nurong ($13.65), or broken rice with grilled shrimp, grilled pork, shredded pork, egg loaf, and shrimp paste in bean curd wrap. Both the grilled shrimp and grilled pork were tender and slightly sweet, with a nice amount of char to round out that sweetness. The egg loaf was mild and seemed design to be paired with the more assertive barbecued meats. The shredded pork was almost like a vegetable side dish, very mild and soft. Perhaps the most surprising thing was the shrimp paste in bean curd wrap. One person at the table noted that it had an egg roll vibe to it, but funkier, and enhanced by dipping in the traditional fish sauce. Altogether, it was a platter meant to combine and play with rather than eat one item at a time.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

We were excited to see that Thanh Vi offered several soups not in the pho category, and when we asked our server what he’d recommend, he pointed to Hy Tieu Nam Vang ($8.75), a soup made with noodles, barbecued pork, shrimp, squid, imitation crab, and fish and pork balls. This was a surprisingly delicate soup, almost Japanese in feel, mild but with a depth of richness. The thinly sliced pork practically melted in our mouths, and the fish and pork balls were soft and gentle. The soup came with a large plate of bean sprouts, jalapeño slices, and Thai basil, all of which added flavor and texture to this subtle soup.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The true surprise came with the Hu Tieu Bo Kho ($9.45), a beef stew with carrots, onions, noodles (choice of egg or rice noodles — we went with our server’s recommendation of egg), five-spice powder, and lemongrass. This was unlike any beef stew ever tasted by anyone at the table. The broth was more souplike than stewlike (by our American definition, of course) — complex, rich and intense, full of lemongrass flavor. Large chunks of tender beef had just a light taste of anise. It occurred to us to try adding a little sriracha (available at the table, along with several other Asian condiments), and to our surprise, a dollop of sriracha didn’t ratchet up the heat; instead, it almost disappeared into the broth and kicked up the lemongrass element instead — an entirely welcome development.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Having been more than happy with most of our choices at Thanh Vi, we knew that our next destination was starting at a bit of a disadvantage. Fortunately for Hip Sing BBQ, we were able to disengage from the previous stop by the sheer difference in environments and menus. Hip Sing is housed in what appears to be a former drive-in, with customer parking in the former drive-in slots. Inside, it’s a cheery, bright place, with several large round tables that have rotating glass plates on them, the better to eat family-style with a crowd. (And, in fact, Hip Sing offers fixed-price family-style dinners ranging from $128-$218, for 8-10 people.) Hip Sing has an extensive menu, with plenty of basics, but it also offers a large variety of deli and barbecue items, and that’s what attracted our attention — not to mention the vivid display of bright-red roasted ducks hanging behind the counter.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

So the first thing we asked for was Roast Duck ($13.95 half, $21.50 whole for red or plain). Our half red duck arrived glistening, and it proved to be wonderfully tender, tasting like well-cooked dark chicken meat with a rich, earthy sauce that had traces of hoisin and soy. It was fatty, there were little bones, but who cares? This is pick-it-up-with-your-fingers-and-gnaw-to-your-heart’s-content meat.

Tiffany Tripp and Andy Olson of Graise Farm

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our paths seem to keep crossing with the farmers of Graise Farm in Faribault, Minn. This February, we talked with farmer Tiffany Tripp about underwriting Chef Camp with the donation of a whole pig, a partnership that came to be and resulted in two of the most splendid pig roasts we’ve ever experienced (pictured below).

Becca Dilley Photography

But Tripp also took us to lunch at Smoqehouse, which has turned out to be one of our favorite restaurant discoveries outside of the metro in quite some time, and she recommended that we visit Tanzenwald Brewing Company in Northfield, whose bratwurst was the best we’ve tasted in years. (It can withstand comparison to Waldmann’s superb bratwurst, which is no small feat.)

Since then we’ve visited Tripp and her partner, Andy Olson, at their charmingly rough-around-the-edges farm, interviewed them at Lakewinds Co-op, and tasted their duck eggs at Gray Duck Tavern in St. Paul. We’ve seen their products pop up at co-ops and markets, and crop up on menus and at specialty stores.

In short, they straddle a lot of lines, raising animals, working directly with chefs and consumers, and plotting a course for their little pig, duck, and chicken farm through the complex world of small-scale agriculture.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

THE MISSION

TIFFANY TRIPP: The mission is to have all of our animals raised humanely and work with the community, and invite the community to have a farm experience and see how animals can interact with nature. And it’s to offer a high-quality product at a fair price.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

ON DUCK EGGS

TRIPP: There’s a lot of curiosity about them. The internet information [about them] helps.

ANDY OLSON: They’re known to have a little more of an earthy, savory flavor. They’re kind of like the super egg. They’re heavier in good fats and [have] more nutrients than you’ll find in a chicken egg.

Becca Dilley Photography

TRIPP: We talk to a lot of people [at] farmers markets, and we like to get feedback. We did a side-by-side comparison when we first started raising the ducks, and we felt like there was a little more flavor to them.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

ON THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE LAND AND ANIMALS

OLSON: There’s a good spring-water source on both sides of the property. It’s hilly, wooded, creeks. It’s under 10 acres of tillable and about 11 acres of woods, so it has some topography. It works well for livestock. Even when [Tiffany’s] family used [the farm] as a dairy, [the land] was used for dry cows to go out and pasture. And birthing cows were outside.

TIFFANY: Our goal is always to have our animals outside and have access to grass and forage.

Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse in Hudson, Wis.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

It’s been a 20-year on-again-off-again affair for Dave Anderson and Famous Dave’s, the national chain of barbecue restaurants that bears his name. But the man must have barbecue sauce running in his veins, because he just can’t stay away from the barbecue business. In 2015, he opened the first branch of Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse in Hayward, Wis. (the same town in which he opened his first Famous Dave’s), and just one year later, there are additional Old Southern BBQ locations in Rice Lake and Hudson, Wis.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

We visited the Hudson location, tucked inconspicuously into a strip mall a short jaunt off Interstate 94. Friday lunch found the restaurant busy, with every table occupied and a line from the register to the door. It’s a light and airy room, with an indoor pergola, unfinished pine paneling, lots of windows, and a faux farmers market stand, complete with real fruit and vegetables (probably the restaurant’s stock). All of the signage is in the style of chalk drawings — cartoonish and colorful.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

We had a Southern Sampler ($22), which includes a little of each meat, and we found it all to surpass the quality of Famous Dave’s. In ranking order from fair to outstanding, we tried the Texas hot link, beef brisket, pork, ribs, and chicken. The Texas hot link was mediocre, a little too much like a plain hot dog. There was nothing particularly “Texas” or “hot” about it. The brisket split the table. It had a mild smokiness, it was tender and juicy like properly slow-cooked brisket, and the beefy flavor really came through. The pulled pork had a great fall-apart texture and a whiff of real wood smoke, but it could have benefited from more aromatics. The ribs had a great crusty exterior and were likewise tender. The definite highlight was the chicken. It had a deeply infused smoky flavor and was well-spiced and juicy as can be.

None of the meats really wanted for barbecue sauce, but the full line of colorfully branded bottles on each table called out for meat. So we obliged. Again in order from meh to yeh: the Southern Sun was a disappointment, too mustardy and Heinzy, ironic for a Carolina-style sauce. The Southern Gal’s was too sweet. Chicago Blue was a little peppery, so just use the Dixie Red, which was more peppery. We liked the Diablo’s Batch, which falls short of satanically hot but has a tricky heat that sticks with you and multiplies, even after you stop eating it.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

We found the sides ($2 for a single portion) to be a little spottier than the meat. The mac and cheese, normally a pretty low bar to clear, was a disappointment: dry and more cheese-colored than cheesy. We were divided on the potato salad. The tubers themselves were bland, and one diner suggested that the potatoes would have benefited from being boiled in saltier water. The dressing was creamy with a dill flavor, and the salad had a nice celery crunch. It rose to the level of a solid grocery store version. The tangy slaw might have oversold its tang, but with all the meat, a lightly dressed vinegar slaw hit the spot. It was crunchy and refreshing.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

You can order meat and sides or sandwiches as at any barbecue joint. But where Old Southern has broken the mold is by applying the “Chipotle effect” to barbecue and offering bowls ($8). It’s basically meat and sides served right on top of one another and drizzled with barbecue sour cream. There are three pre-made options, but you can create your own with a choice of one meat and two bases (generally starches and beans), and with as many toppers (pickled onion, pickled cukes, corn etc.) as you’d like. The Dixie Bowl (rice and barbecue beans, tangy slaw, pork topped with tomatoes, jalapeños, and corn) was a harmonious balance of flavor and texture that we’d definitely order again. For the price, it’s an enormous value. On a later visit to the Hayward branch, we tried the Soul Bowl (mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, chicken, and creamy coleslaw), which we found to be a mess of starch and cream. Creamy coleslaw, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes can live on a plate together, but all in one bite they do not create a symphony.

It’s impossible not to compare Old Southern with Famous Dave’s. One could easily imagine that Old Southern is what Dave Anderson would have done with Famous Dave’s if he had his druthers. The concept appeals to the modern fast-casual diner’s taste and DIY preference. Most importantly, the food is well made and consistently enjoyable. This feels like a readily scalable concept, so if you live in the Twin Cities, and Hudson is too far for you to travel, give it time: We wouldn’t be surprised to see an Old Southern BBQ pop up in the cities sooner or later.

Old Southern BBQ
Fast casual barbecue and smokehouse in Wisconsin

2421 Hanley Rd
Hudson, Wis 54016
715.245.8900
Hours:
Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Vegetarian / Vegan: Very limited
Entree range: $5-$22
Sound level: Noisy, but no need to shout
Parking: Lot

Slow-Roasted Jerk Pork Bowl at Pimento Kitchen in Minneapolis

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

When we reviewed Pimento Kitchen in 2013, we were skeptical. Even though it had won Food Network’s “Food Court Wars,” we didn’t expect much from the mall stall. We were happy to report that our doubts were unfounded: The flavorful, soulful food tempted us to return to Burnsville Center, but we never made it back.

Now that Pimento has opened on Eat Street in Minneapolis, we don’t have to head for the ’burbs for damn good Jamaican fare. Unlike the mall’s cavernous shared dining area, Pimento’s new space is well lit, spacious, and comfortable, and it turns into an open-air patio during warm weather. Diners who dig reggae and dance-hall music will find the place especially welcoming, and if there’s a wait, you can spend your time learning Jamaican slang from the artwork.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Like the original spot, the new Pimento has a brief, focused menu. We like the jerk chicken (but would like some dark meat mixed in with the light) and really like the curried veggies, but the slow-roasted jerk pork bowl ($10) is our go-to. Its juicy, tender meat is infused with jerk flavorings and comes off like a Caribbean cousin to carnitas and barbecued pulled pork. Pimento’s jerk pork is a tad spicy, a little sweet, and a whole lot delicious.

Bright Holiday Bites and Pottery to Match from Northern Clay Center

This post is sponsored by Northern Clay Center.

While the holiday season brings with it the hustle and bustle of shopping, gift wrapping, party planning, and hosting, the foodies and lovers of all things handmade delight in this time of year, for what better time to celebrate our favorite recipes and serving dishes? From the kitchens and cupboards of Northern Clay Center staff to the community of food worshipers and pottery collectors in cyberspace, we offer you a sampling of our favorite holiday food and pots. For recipes and other staff favorites, visit Northern Clay Center’s website at www.northernclaycenter.org.

Cranberry Salsa

Courtesy of the Northern Clay Center
Courtesy of Northern Clay Center

Tippy’s fresh Cranberry Salsa looking like a bowl of spicy winter in a dish by David Swenson on tiles by Forrest Lesch-Middelton.

Exactly 13 years ago, I found this recipe for cranberry salsa in the corner of a magazine ad. I wish I’d kept that page, rather than writing it down at the time, so you would believe me when I say it looked as if it wasn’t supposed to be found. The cracker ad was already overloaded with cracker ideas, and I often wonder if they stuck this misfit recipe in at the last moment to fill a tiny empty space. Truly, who eats salsa on crackers? (If you do, you should stop that right now.)

I make the salsa every year. If I forget about the salsa, someone strongly reminds me I had better make it. A friend apologized while requesting “my” recipe, treating it as if it were a temple secret available only to my inducted offspring. I didn’t have the heart to admit it came from a cracker ad circa 2002.

Pork and Kraut

Courtesy of the Northern Clay Center
Courtesy of Northern Clay Center

Amanda’s rendition of Grandma’s slow-cooker pork and sauerkraut, all cuddled up in a bowl by Andrew Avakian.

What does your family eat for a special holiday meal? Turkey? Sure. Ham? Yep. Turducken? If you’re feeling ambitious, go for it. My holiday meal always — ALWAYS — included pork and Grandma’s homemade sauerkraut. Jars of Grandma’s kraut are hoarded and guarded by the older members of my family like Gollum and his Precious, and the dish itself is pretty hard to come by outside of sanctioned celebrations.

I finally learned to make my own version and grow my own cabbage, but sadly, I don’t have the antique mandoline to slice it on; I just make do with my newfangled Benriner model.

German Chocolate Cake

Courtesy of the Northern Clay Center
Courtesy of Northern Clay Center

Sarah’s take on a single-serving German chocolate cake … perfectly sized in a 6-inch cake pan … shown here on a Jeff Oestreich dessert plate.

My favorite holiday recipe is for German chocolate cake, adapted from my Grandma Betty Jo’s old recipe card, which my father has refused to give to me … so I rely on an old photocopy.

Betty Jo is with me every time I bake. She passed away more than 15 years ago, but her spirit lives on every time I preheat my oven and reach for my measuring spoons. I like to think that if she were alive today, she’d enjoy selecting the perfect ceramic plate from the cabinet as much as she enjoyed baking.

My husband and I made the now famed cake the first New Year’s Eve we spent together. Now, it’s an annual tradition and a sweet little date night treat during the holiday season. When I think of German chocolate cake, I recall watching my grandma bake, eating this delicious cake made for me by my father, and now, I have fun memories of Mike + me + a little wine in the kitchen baking our way into the New Year.

For help choosing the perfect pot for your favorite holiday recipes, visit our gallery, shop online at www.northernclaycenter.org, or call us at 612.339.8007.

Q&A With a Pig Farmer

Minnesota Pork Board
Minnesota Pork Board

This story is sponsored by the Minnesota Pork Board.

This is the last piece in a three part series from the Minnesota Pork Board. We want to answer your questions. Leave a comment, tweet us @MinnesotaPork, post a question on the Minnesota Pork Facebook page or send us an inquiry via www.Pig3D.com if you have any questions.

By Laurie Kesteloot

1. Are there general guidelines/audits for farmers and ranchers to ensure they are doing right?

The National Pork Board and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians offer guidelines on how pigs should be raised. They address issues such as animal housing, health and nutrition, and animal well-being. They also have developed an education and certification program for farmers that is designed to ensure that pigs are raised in a humane way and that the highest quality meat is provided to consumers.

2. Is corporate farming sustainable farming?

The term corporate farming is always a bit confusing because there is no true definition of a corporate farm. Our family — and many families like us — has incorporated our farm as more family members have become involved. Does this make us a corporate farm? Maybe. Are we still a family farm? Definitely. One thing that is for certain is that modern farming is sustainable. The techniques farmers use today allow us to produce more food much more efficiently and with fewer resources than in the past. A study done by the National Pork Board found that each pound of pork produced in 2009 used 41 percent less water and 78 percent less land, and had a 36 percent lower carbon footprint when compared with pork production in 1959.

Minnesota Pork Board
Minnesota Pork Board

3. Is it required that meat sold at the store identify if animals have been given hormones or other drugs/chemicals?

It is illegal to give pigs hormones. The “no added hormones” labeling was developed as a marketing strategy to give consumers the impression that these products are safer and healthier than those of the competition. It is nothing more than a ploy to get customers to choose one product over another. There is no requirement to label meat that has been treated with medications; however, withdrawal periods are followed to ensure there is no residual medication in the meat when it is processed.

ZZest Dinner at Pork & Plants Farm in Altura, MN

Denise Logeland / Heavy Table

If you’re a chef, you want red wattle hogs for their rich meat; some say it’s almost beef-like. If you’re a farmer who wants to raise pastured pigs, you want red wattles, a heritage breed that’s making a comeback, because they’re good foragers.

But if you’ve come to the farm for dinner, you want red wattle hogs because there they are, heaped on platters of seared, caramelized loin cuts and bratwurst still popping with juices as they come off the grill.

Pork & Plants Farm, 100 miles southeast of the Twin Cities, joined with ZZest Market & Cafe in Rochester to host a farm dinner on September 16 that was a first-time effort for both parties.

Eric and Ann Kreidermacher’s farm is a beauty, rolling up from the trout streams and bluffs near Altura, MN, and Whitewater State Park. Along with hogs, they’re raising chickens, geese, Muscovy ducks, American Milking Devon cattle, and six or more field crops in any given year. Red wattle hogs “actually will eat alfalfa, almost like a cow,” Eric Kreidermacher says, but he also feeds them a mix of the organic field peas, oats, barley, and other grains he grows.

Denise Logeland / Heavy Table

ZZest Executive Chef John Flicek boiled all of that down to its essence, making a pork stock and using it to braise heirloom beans spiked with red wattle pancetta. On top, he placed the pork loin and bratwurst and a maple-and-mustard-dressed salad of vegetables from nearby Whitewater Gardens Farm: kale, chard, paper-thin fennel bulb, roasted potatoes, string beans, and tiny sweet pea cherry tomatoes. On what may have been our last day in the 80s this year, the tomatoes seemed like essence, too, a bright burst of sugars that were the concentrated summer sun.

A Pig in a Fur Coat in Madison, WI

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

First take Tilia, Butcher & The Boar, and Corner Table, and intersplice their DNA with liberal abandon. Then put the resulting creation on Madison, WI’s increasingly hip East Side. The result would look a lot like the newly opened “pasture-to-plate” bistro A Pig in a Fur Coat, named for a Kazakh dish of smoked fish that struck the owner as amusing. Crowded cheek-to-jowl on a recent Thursday night, this pig has buzz on its side: Google employees recently reserved it for a private beer-and-food dinner.

Much like Tilia, the restaurant doesn’t take reservations and the small space manages to feel chic, busy, and comfortable. Long communal tables in the center of the restaurant facilitate envious looks at newly arrived dishes, and thoughtful inquiries, too: A neighbor at our table during a recent visit asked if we’d ever traveled and eaten in Italy (one of us had) before then soliciting our comment on the porchetta.

Southern Wisconsin’s brewing scene is blowing up at a rate that keeps pace with the Twin Cities boom, and there’s therefore a rich array of Madison, Milwaukee, and greater Wisconsin beers to choose from on the Pig’s menu. We drank a Madtown Nutbrown ale (by Ale Asylum of Madison, $4.25) and found it light, gently malty, and refreshing without lacking conviction. The restaurant’s wine list is brief but well suited to its food, leaning heavily on Italian and South American varieties with bright, full flavors.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Arancini ($7) were a strong opening salvo, this trio of fried risotto balls providing an indulgent flavor / texture explosion. Each delicately crispy fried ball of creamy rice was accented internally by a spicy dab of Underground Food Collective ‘nduja and externally by a basil-Parmesan sauce that provided a felicitous kiss of salt, herb, and dairy. (According to the restaurant owner Bonnie Arent, the ‘nduja may be subbed out in future versions of the arancini, so enjoy them while you can.)

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

House-made burrata (fresh mozzarella with a cream and mozzarella core, $11) was rich and delicate, the intoxicating cloud of dairy brightly counterpointed by an accompaniment of good olive oil and heirloom and tiny currant tomatoes. The only (minor) misstep among the starters was lovely-looking lamb carpaccio with egg yolk ($14) marred by long strips of lamb that, while flavorful, were bubble-gum chewy.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our table of four, already well-fed by the wave of rich appetizers, took our waiter’s advice and split a single porchetta as a main ($22). This was a move of unimaginable brilliance, and not just from a calorie-management perspective — the porchetta combined an ethereal tenderness with a gentle, almost ghostly kiss of fennel flavor that lingered long after the pork had been swallowed. That the dish floated on a cloud of truffled mashed potatoes was merely an afterthought, albeit a damned sweet one.

Factory-Farmed Pork and Morning Roundup

A disturbing trend in local cheese pricing (we’ve noticed this too…), an eye-opening trip to a Minnesota factory pork farm, results from the American Cheese Society show from Cheese Underground and Cheese and Champagne, our own Becca Dilley has two Minneapolis photos in this month’s Food & Wine, tasting notes for Indeed’s Day Tripper Pale Ale and Schell’s Emerald Rye, Icehouse and Chef Shack offer foie gras burgers, a WACSO illustration from Pizza Biga, and our own Jill Lewis reps her Cheese and Champagne blog on the Fresh & Local podcast.

Soft Ginger Cookies With Spring Rhubarb and Recipe Roundup

Soft ginger cookies with spring rhubarb, strawberry-rhubarb no-bake cheesecake, yogurt-spiced chicken, butter-sauteed swai, and smokey pork tacos.

Puerco Pibil and Recipe Roundup

Puerco pibil, red cabbage and squash gratin, bananas Foster, and hasselback potatoes.

Perfect Hot Chocolate and Recipe Roundup

Perfect hot chocolate; granola; braised halibut with leeks, mushrooms, and clams; and sweet and spicy pork roast.