Farms in the Lens: Wild Acres

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

About the Farms in the Lens series: Much of what we write within these pages is focused on the restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But much of what we eat at those tables comes from farms around the state. With underwriting from Clancey’s Meats and Fish, we’ve set out to document a half dozen of these farms, focusing on the relationship between humans and animals. Check out our complete Farms in the Lens series, including: Wild Acres, Hidden Stream, Shepherd’s Way, Redhead Creamery, Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch, and Paradox Farm.

Pheasant hunting has an air of romance to it — the combination of hunters, dogs, and prairie evokes a Victorian novel made real right here in Minnesota. Beyond Brainerd, off the highway, then onto a gravel road, past the hunters and a log cabin, a complex series of barns, buildings, and enclosures houses Wild Acres Hunting Club and Shooting Preserve, and also thousands of the area’s most treasured poultry birds.

Wild Acres supplies turkeys, ducks, chickens, and pheasants to many Twin Cities restaurants and shops. They control the whole process: They supply their own eggs, hatch the birds, raise them, process them on site, and deliver them.

clanceys-shirt-bannerWhat began as a shooting preserve in 1978 became a pioneering farm that in the 1980s was among the first to sell free-range chickens. The farm has been a favorite of many food professionals, including Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter, and numerous Twin Cities chefs.

“Most of my chefs will say, ‘It’s not what we do with it; it’s a good product when it comes in,’” says Pat Ebnet, who owns and runs the bird-growing side of the business. (His mother, who is semiretired, runs the game preserve.) “Going to one of the restaurants and seeing the end preparation, that is the end benefit. That is the ‘wow,’ that these people really appreciate what I do,” says Ebnet.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

A single flock of geese roams around the property during the summer. Many are sold at Christmas time.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Wild Acres started as a shooting preserve and still has a shooting club. Since Ebnet took over, the poultry operation has vastly outpaced the shooting preserve. Pheasants are hatched twice a year and live outdoors. Ebnet processes about 4,000 pheasants each year for restaurants and markets including local coops and Clancey’s.

Six Observations on the Twins New Target Field Concession Menu

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

After two World Series victories and nearly three decades of playing indoors, Twins fans’ long wait for outdoor baseball officially ends at 3:10pm today, when the first pitch is thrown for the home opener against the Boston Red Sox at freshly constructed Target Field. Hometown hero Joe Mauer is locked in for the next eight years; LEED-certified Target Field, with its facade formed of native Mankato limestone, has been declared the greenest ballfield in Major League Baseball; and the Twins have made an exhaustive effort to provide “regional flavors” at the ballpark’s concession stands. That’s all well and good, but will fans forgive the Twins for giving up the much beloved, “must have” Dome Dog, an all-beef Hormel-brand hot dog paired with a bag of Old Dutch potato chips? We think so. Here’s a quick run down of the options available at Target Field.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

1. Hormel’s Dome Dog (with its trusty sidekick Old Dutch Potato Chips) is out. Schweigert‘s plumper, juicier quarter-pound all-beef  Twins Big Dog and its companion Barrel O’ Fun Potato Chips ($5.25) from Perham, MN are in. The soggy bun is gone, too, replaced by a bun that seems sturdier and doesn’t tear apart with your first bite. Hot dog aficionados have a dizzying array of options, including the Original Twins Dog — a pork and beef dog made from the same recipe as the hot dogs served in the Twins’ pre-Dome outdoor ball field, Met Stadium; the Dugout Dog, a pork and beef dog in a natural casing; and the Dinger Dog, an extra-long pork and beef hot dog. Old Dutch hasn’t been completely banished from the new ballpark: Old Dutch is the tortilla chip of choice for the nachos, both regular ($4.75) and grande ($8.50). If hot dogs are too pedestrian for your tastes, Northeast Minneapolis’ own Kramarczuk’s Sausage Company is grilling their bratwurst, Polish, and Hungarian (a paprika-spiced sausage made of pork) sausages ($6.50) on site.

March 12 Morning Roundup

The Journal-Sentinel covers a packed raw milk hearing in Eau Claire [via Chef Chris], a rumination on seeds, Glenn Beck, and the apocalypse, Dara reveals that Wild Acres turkey drumsticks will be served up at the new Twins Stadium, there’s a new pizza place opening near the excellent Cave Vin, MNBeer’s got the pretty new Surly Four (double espresso milk stout) label, Grain Belt commercial nostalgia from Nokohaha, and Rick’s top five fish fries.

Also, the mint in my garden is actually green and growing already. Crazy. And — hey — Fork the Fire. This Sunday.

Clancey’s Meats and Fish

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Heavy Table / Katie Cannon

“Connecting good, old fashioned service with quality product,” is how Kristin Tombers, owner of Clancey’s Meats and Fish, describes her small Linden Hills shop. She opened Clancey’s five and a half years ago, maintaining the location’s long history of butcher shops, and utilizing locally sourced products.

Most of the shop’s meat is locally sourced from Minnesota farms such as Hill and Vale, Hidden Streams, Wild Acres, and Au Bon Canard. Clancey’s also aims for environmental responsibility in their seafood sourcing, preferring suppliers such as Coastal Seafoods and The Fish Guys.

In addition to carrying steaks and chops, scallops, and mussels, Clancey’s also carries “rarer ingredients” and accommodates custom requests. Some of the stranger requests received were for pig pancreas, pig blood, and hog hearts. (Remind me not to accept an invite for dinner when pig pancreas is on the menu.)

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro in Frogtown

Lori Writer / Heavy Table
Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro (pronounced “Nong”) is charming and bright, with lacy curtains and blonde hardwood floors.  Offering contemporary and fusion Vietnamese cuisine, Ngon Vietnamese Bistro uses locally-produced ingredients wherever possible, including Thousand Hills Cattle Company’s grass-fed beef, Singer House Farms rabbit, and Fischer Farms pork.  They source seafood from Coastal Seafoods and (in season) produce from St. Paul Farmers’ Market vendors. Dinner entrees include contemporary takes on classic Vietnamese dishes from cơm tấm broken rice dishes to phở rice noodle soups, as well as fusion dishes, such as elk medallions or aniseed and fennel encrusted pheasant breast.

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro is more polished than the other Vietnamese restaurants along University Avenue, such as Saigon, or along Eat Street in Minneapolis, such as Pho Tau Bay, and emphasizes local sourcing and creating contemporary inspirations of classic dishes, over authenticity.

BEST BET: The duck confit appetizer, featuring Wild Acres duck breast with coconut curry sauce is always outstanding, and the phở tái ribeye, with tender slices of rare ribeye steak in a flavorful, fragrant broth is a lovely, though unique, rendition of the classic dish.  Save room for dessert, especially the ginger crème brulee or either the vanilla or chocolate mung bean cheesecake.

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro

Vietnamese Bistro in Frogtown, St. Paul
799 University Ave
St. Paul, MN 55104
OWNER/CHEF: Hai Trong and Jessica Ainsworth-Trong
Sun-Thu 11am-9pm
Fri-Sat 11am-10pm
Happy hour Mon-Fri 3-6pm and Sat-Sun 11am-5pm
BAR: Many beers on tap; exclusively Minnesotan.  Organic and sustainable wine by the glass and bottle.
RESERVATIONS/RECOMMENDED?: Yes and Yes for Weekend dinner.
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: Yes/No, but they do have vegan wines available
ENTREE RANGE: Lunch ($8-11); Dinner ($8-20)