Heavy Table Hot Five: April 17-23

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Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

1-new - oneHog Frites at Surly Brewing
These fries are like poutine on crack: giardiniera, magically light cheese sauce, and perfectly pulled pork. There were audible gasps from the dude bros on either side of us at the bar.

[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Kate NG Sommers]

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

2-new - twoNoodles at Macy’s Skyroom
Macy’s Skyroom noodles are good in a fast-food ramen sort of way: The chewy noodles are a great contrast to the fresh veggies and thinly sliced meat. The broth was remarkably good … not too salty, yet with a lot of flavor.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Brenda Johnson]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3-new - threeHot Fried Chicken at Revival
Texture: boldly crispy skin over tender, flavorful meat. Flavor: about as much heat as you can handle — right on the border of too much, without crossing over. The seasoning spices of the chicken’s breading are still discernible beneath the gentle but assertive waves of heat. This stuff is dangerous. The newly opened Revival (read our roundtable review) is going to change the way fried chicken is eaten around here.

[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by James Norton]

Trica Cornell / Heavy Table

Trica Cornell / Heavy Table

4-new fourLoukaniko from Clancey’s Meats and Fish
Clancey’s usually makes this classic Greek sausage in links, but they made the last batch in patties wrapped in a layer of lacy caul fat. The caul fat kept the meat moist as it cooked, bringing out the floral, citrusy notes. We ate them with a fork and knife (and a side of asparagus), but I could totally imagining turning the loukaniko burger with tzatziki into a summer thing.

[Last Week on the Hot Five: #3 | Submitted by Tricia Cornell]

James Norton /  Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveChicken Fajitas at El Nuevo Rodeo
Chicken fajitas have acquired a bad name, having been dragged through the dirt of just about every mainstream sit-down restaurant concept in recent history, from Perkins to TGI Friday’s. But there’s no reason that they can’t be executed elegantly and deliciously, with plenty of sizzle and char, as they are at El Nuevo Rodeo.

[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]



Cafe Racer Kitchen in Seward, Minneapolis

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

It’s generally known that New York City has a killer dining scene, but the reason for that reputation is often misunderstood. It’s fine to have Le Bernardin and its ilk weaving gossamer tapestries of haute cuisine for the one percent, but the real beauty of the city is all the small places that focus on tiny corners of the food world. The confidence to do a few things well — or one thing well, for that matter — inspires love, and it generally means that diners get impeccable value and a consistent experience.

A willingness to serve fewer things — and do a much better job of it — has been blossoming in the Twin Cities, and we’re all eating better for it. Focused restaurants like Revival, Sassy Spoon, Brasa, World Street Kitchen, and Hello Pizza are pointing their firepower at where we have the most room to move forward as a food culture, and it’s a glorious thing.

Add to the list Cafe Racer Kitchen, now open the in former Donut Cooperative / Cliquot Cafe space in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. This food-truck turned bricks-and-mortar operation is slinging a remarkably short and simple menu. As a diner, you choose from pulled chicken breast, pulled pork, or roasted vegetables, and then choose a serving style (salad, arepa, or naked) and sides. Or you choose from among a braised chicken, a marinated skirt steak, or a Colombian street hot dog. That’s it. When you see a menu this short and unpretentious, you know that someone’s confident that flavor and execution will bring diners back, and Cafe Racer’s got flavor and execution in spades.

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

This confidence is echoed in the spot’s interior. There’s no Latin American kitsch here, just a clean, chic style that you might see at a modern neighborhood spot just about anywhere from Buenos Aires to St. Paul. Cafe Racer Kitchen lets its modern Latin soundtrack and food do the talking. On that front, the overall message sent by the food is “clean.” There was no grease, little fat, and gentle-but-competent seasoning in all the dishes and sides we tasted.

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

Our braised pulled pork ($9) came garnished with crisp bits of sweet potato, sriracha and cilantro aiolis, and pickled red onions. We’ve had spins on this dish all over the place, plenty of which were louder, or fattier, or spicier. This one tasted mild, mellow, harmonious, and ultimately pleasing, even more so for the crisp arepa that it was served upon.

On the side, our carrot souffle burst with natural sweetness and a mild splash of melted queso blanco and queso fresco. On a second visit, the souffle was less appealing — dry and one dimensional. But when it works, it works.



The Toast: Spring Beer Taste-off 2015

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

What is a spring beer, anyway? Spring is a strange time of year for beer. We’re done with the barrel-aged monsters of winter but not quite ready for the paper-thin ales of summer. Spring means a hodgepodge of styles: Maibocks, hoppy IPAs, Belgian-inspired wheats, fresh Pilsners, floral session beers, and everything in between.

Every quarter, our good friends at the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild ask their members for samples of their most recent brews. This time around, they gathered 28 current releases from 21 Minnesota breweries.

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We needed an all-star panel of tasters to sort it all out: Andrew Schmitt, co-host of MN Beer Cast and the director of MN Beer Activists; Jeremy Zoss of Zoss Media; Sean Cooke, certified Cicerone and bartender at Tamarack Taproom; and Tom Boland, vice president at Elevated Beer Wine and Spirits.

Reminder: tickets for the insanely popular All Pints North are on sale now. Reserve them now to join the festivities in Duluth’s Bayfront Park on Saturday, July 25.

Here now, our picks for the best in Minnesota spring beer:

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Gold Medal, Best In Show: Town Hall Brewery One Simple Pale

If ever there was a name that fit a beer, our grand champion is just that. Brewer Mike Hoops and company win our tasting with a paragon of a pale ale. Aromas of tropical melon and fresh pine, followed with rich, balanced malt and a clean finish. Aroma-forward, very little bitterness lingering. So drinkable. So simple. A impressive background player — like the world’s best bass guitarist, only this one deserves the spotlight.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Gold Medal, 1st Runner-Up: Freehouse German Bock No. 9

We at Toast HQ love seeing improvement and having our expectations confounded. We’ve been sour on beers from the Freehouse so far, but it looks like the revolution begins with Number 9. It’s Oktoberfest flavor in skinnier Lederhosen. It’s Aprilfest. Not sugary like a Märzen, with layered malt, herbal hops, and raisin, caramel, and coffee notes at the end. It’s nice to have these robust autumn flavors in a mellow spring beer. Astonishing.

Gold Medal, 2nd Runner-Up: Badger Hill High Road Everyday Ale

We hereby crown High Road the king of local session ales. Passion fruit, honeydew, pineapple — a whole tropical fruit basket on the nose from the Southern Hemisphere hops. Absurd amount of flavor for such a light body. Bright and direct, while balanced, at a thin 5 percent ABV.



Central Avenue Checklist: Paradise Biryani Pointe to Flameburger

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

One of us lost an ID, another got a black eye, and at one point, we were all staring down the barrel of a cop’s gun. It was our first day out, and already we knew we were onto something. But let’s go back to the beginning.

There’s something special going on along Central Avenue. From the moment it bends north near Broadway until it passes under 694 (about 5 miles later), Central Avenue travels through a mind-boggling hodgepodge of cultures: Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, African, Thai, German, Chinese, Colombian, Vietnamese, Ecuadorean. Ethnic restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and markets dot the entire stretch — six or seven to a block in some spots. Hand-lettered signs in windows advertise exotic foods whose names we couldn’t pronounce. And even if we could, we’d have no idea what we were asking for.

Many of the establishments on Central are known quantities. We’re comfortable visiting them because we’re familiar with them. They’ve been vetted by food critics and trusted friends alike. But that’s the trouble. On Central, you could easily pass ten places you’ve never been, on your way to the one you know. Sure some of these places would be a stretch to try out even for the most adventurous eater, but still, what might we be missing?

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Then it came to us. What if we mapped out every place between Broadway and 694 that offered some kind of prepared food and challenged ourselves to hit them all, documenting our experience along the way? And what if we invited anyone else adventurous enough to join in? After all, isn’t that what WACSO is all about — Walkin’ Around Checkin’ Stuff Out? Noticing places that too easily go unnoticed. Recognizing not just the bricks but the unsung mortar in the city’s bricks-and-mortar. Because that’s the stuff that holds everything together.

So the Central Avenue Checklist was born.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

That first day out was meant to be a simple scouting mission to compile our checklist and get a sense of just what we were getting ourselves into. And Central Avenue made an impression right away. To be clear, none of our initial mishaps were Central Avenue’s fault. The lost ID simply slipped out of a back pocket. The black eye was the result of a klutz deciding to test the pliability of a car door with his face. And that peace officer seemed pretty certain the guy casually strolling down the street had stolen the bag of Funyuns he was munching on; so really, who could blame him for drawing his gun, with us innocent bystanders in the line of fire?

Regardless, these events did somehow feel like omens. And rather than deterring us, they actually got us more intrigued. So strap in, Central Avenue here we come.

How it Will Work

Our approach is simple: we’ll take a group of four to eight people out to Central Avenue every couple of weeks. We’ll eat at five different spots, working our way from 694 down to Broadway, eventually covering the 52 or so spots that we scouted on our first day out. Our team will include writers, photographers and assorted guests, and we’ll approach every spot with an open mind.

Join In

We invite you to follow along on our Central Avenue Checklist journey and start checking off places yourself. Post about your experiences on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or here in the comments, and tag them #CentralAvenueChecklist.

We’ll link out to some of our favorites as we go, so please keep us in the loop as you explore along with us.

Now, to Central Avenue.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Central Avenue Checklist, Part 1: From Paradise Biryani to Flameburger

We started at I-694 and headed south. Overall, this part of Central Avenue feels like a no-man’s land between the suburbs and the city. Chains like Super Target, Menards, Sonic, White Castle, and Tires Plus share the landscape with places like Jerusalem Halal Market, Hooka Kingdom and the Starlite Motel.

Each restaurant we visited was influenced in some way by this suburban-urban identity crisis, whether it occupied a former fast-food chain space (Asia Chow Mein), or was itself a small chain (La Casita, Paradise Biryani Pointe), or had been a chain at some point in its past (Flameburger), or was trying to give the impression that it could be a chain (Basha).

We knew when we started this that it was going to be a challenge. And we were right. We consciously held back, taking only small bites of the dishes we ordered. But after five restaurants, at least one of us had seriously contemplated a visit to the ER.

 This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, James Norton, Becca Dilley, Sarah McGee.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Paradise Biryani Pointe
765 53rd Ave NE, Minneapolis | 4.6 miles from Broadway Street

We were seated at a large, round table in the back of the room. Empty maroon-and-cream vinyl booths loomed around us. Crystal chandeliers dangled from the drop ceiling above. It was early for dinner, and we felt awkward about being the only people in the restaurant. So we hid behind the menu.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

The Special Chicken 65 Biryani immediately caught our eye. We asked our server, “why ‘65?’” She had trouble explaining it. Or we had trouble understanding her. Either way it was clear from her expression that we had to order it. And we were glad we did. (More about the dish and its name below.) We also tried the dosa, which was enormous — Flintstones T-rex ribeye enormous.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

It’s as though the restaurant was playing some kind of joke on us. But it didn’t taste like a joke. It tasted seriously good.

The side sauces for our samosas arrived in Dixie cups, which could have been seen as alarming. But in this case, the sauces were so good, they could’ve been served in a cupped hand, and we’d have eaten them. The point is, the food was fantastic. And judging by the diverse crowd that had started to gather by the time we left, others agree. — M.C. Cronin

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Food: Things got off to an auspicious start with Gobi Manchurian ($9.50). This breaded, fried, and lightly sauced cauliflower dish had a lovely depth of flavor and a crispy-chewy texture evocative of first-rate American Chinese food. Its level of heat was gentle — present, but not insistent. The restaurant’s samosas ($4) were a bit heavy on the cinnamon, but otherwise respectable and mellow representatives of their genre.

When it came to beverages, the yogurt-based Salt Lassi stuck to its guns. It dropped a pound of salt flavor on us as we started to sip it, but ended with a mysterious and pleasing wash of tanginess and cilantro.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Special Chicken 65 Boneless Biryani ($14) is so named because the chicken in question has, purportedly, lived for 65 days before meeting its maker — something said to guarantee a perfect texture. And while there was a lot to like about this hot-but-balanced rice and chicken comfort dish, some of our crew bit into rather tough bits of poultry, scientific timing notwithstanding.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our Masala Dosa ($9) was a treat for both the eye and the palate. It clocked in at a solid two-plus feet in length and boasted a creamy, mellow potato-y filling that played wonderfully with the accompanying sauces and soup. While it looked huge, it was actually quite a manageable portion for one and would make for a delightful dinner. — James Norton

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

La Casita
5085 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 4.4 miles from Broadway Street

There were the standard Mexican touches: tiled arches, terra cotta, and old black and white photos of famous Mexicans. Sadly it was hard to imagine that any of the people depicted in the portraits would relate in any way to the food being served here. When describing her favorite menu item, the server said: “It has a lot of zip, but not really a lot of zip.” That just about sums this place up.

La Casita is part of a regional chain that started in 1982 and has survived by catering to a particular crowd: people who like their tortilla chips free, their salsa mild, and their margaritas cheap. Make no mistake, this is a Mexican restaurant for people who don’t really want Mexican food. — M.C.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Food: La Casita is the portrait hidden in the attic of an eternally young Chi Chi’s. It offers a hyper-Anglo take on Mexican food that has otherwise gone extinct outside of small towns. Its menu consists of loosely Mexican-inspired dishes that have been shorn of spice, freshness, and depth of flavor. Across the board, we got a sense that the kitchen had surrendered to the lowest cost, easiest prep answer for every possible problem.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The best thing that we tried, a blanco chicken chimichanga ($12), could most generously be described as a tortilla hotdish. Lacking any crunch, depth of spice, heat, or other relief from the sea of congealing, low-grade, cream-of-mushroom-like cheese sauce covering pieces of shredded chicken, it could still be considered comforting to those who grew up eating similar casseroles during their vulnerable childhood years.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The tamale ($3.75) was dry, riddled with off flavors, and covered in a salty sauce that did little to conceal its wretchedness.

WACSO / Heavy Table / "Chimichanga digestif?"

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Chimichanga digestif?”

And a carnitas plate ($12, above) was little better, with runny, overly salty refried beans and underflavored chunks of meat. The accompanying watery avocado sauce added insult to injury.

The most uncannily remarkable thing that we ate was the carnitas plate’s avocado slices. They looked ripe. Their texture was soft. They tasted, absolutely and 100 percent, totally not ready for consumption.

And our group universally detested the gritty, “sawdusty” fried ice cream, down to the bizarrely gamy maraschino cherry that ended up spat out into a napkin. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Basha Mediterranean Wood Grill
4920 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis | 4.5 miles from Broadway Street

WACSO / Heavy Table / "Jet fuel (Arabic coffee)"

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Jet fuel (Arabic coffee)”

It was clear from the moment we walked in that the owner has a vision. He wants Basha to go big. There’s a stone waterfall surrounding an electric fireplace along the back wall. Recessed purple and red lighting accents the bar. The brick oven is encrusted with iridescent tiles. Unprompted, the owner invited us back to see the seven-foot-long charcoal grill in the kitchen. Skewers filled with meats and vegetables criss-crossed over coals glowing orange. The char smell permeated the restaurant.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

As the owner talked about the place, he exuded a quiet pride. And while it has translated into decor that’s a bit of a Vegas nightmare, his passion shines through in the food. At his suggestion, we got the quail kabobs and didn’t regret it. Fresh baked bread arrived from the wood oven still puffed with hot air. Our server was charming and oddly exuberant. We suspected he was amped up on the Arabic coffee that we promptly ordered, as well, hoping it would provide us with the energy we needed for the last two restaurants of the night.

WACSO / Heavy Table / "Empty jets lined up on the runway"

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Empty jets lined up on the runway”

On an earlier tour, we spotted an interesting looking dessert and asked the owner about it. He told us it translated loosely as “Lebanese Night.” With a name like that, we figured “what the heck, it’s worth a try.” That turned out to be an understatement. — M.C.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Food: You can smell Basha’s wood grill as you walk through the parking lot, and the restaurant’s menu of kebabs and pizza-like dishes take full advantage of the charring power of wood and charcoal.

The rice-and-garlic-stuffed grape leaves ($6, above) that we started with were transportive. Dolmades are a dish that can often taste bitter or rubbery due to over-preservation of the grape leaves, but these dolmades tasted fresh and tender, and rank among the best we’ve had in the Cities.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

All of the skewers and roasted meats we sampled were simply prepared, earnest, and delicious, complemented by charred onions, grilled tomatoes, and spiced rice. The lamb, ground lamb, and chicken skewers from our mixed grill ($16) all boasted a bit of char and deep flavor, and were cooked thoroughly without being overcooked; the quail ($17, above) may have been the savory highlight of our entire evening: crisp on the outside, and tender and luscious on the inside.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We never quite got the actual name of our dessert, but the restaurant’s owner told us that it translates to “Lebanese Night.” It’s a sort of Mediterranean trifle: sweet bread married with a milk pudding and herbally infused syrup, sprinkled with pistachios. The texture was divinely creamy, the flavor surprisingly light and fresh, kissed with rosewater. Something about the sweetness and syrup gave the dish a pecan-pie-like sense of indulgence, but there was also a lightness and balance to it that no pecan pie will ever possess. We will dream of this dessert often, and happily. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Asia Chow Mein
4905 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 4.1 miles from Broadway Street

This place seems to occupy a former fast-food restaurant. Our bets were on either Arby’s or Arthur Treacher’s. The decor could loosely be described as “Fifty Shades of Beige.” But ambience is not really the point of Asia Chow Mein. This place is all about the carry-out. They specialize in serving large quantities of Americanized Chinese food favorites.

WACSO / Heavy Table / "James, not so sure about trying egg foo young for the first time"

WACSO / Heavy Table / “James, not so sure about trying egg foo young for the first time”

And that’s what the patrons come in for. No one comes here looking for Fine Asian Fusion Cuisine. They want piles of brown stuff served with white rice, and fried egg rolls on the side. They want to shuffle in, grab their plastic bag full of takeout boxes, and go home to eat dinner in front of prime-time TV. Not to suggest that’s a bad thing. Comfort food is comfort food. And sometimes you just need to eat Chinese food out of a white takeout container. It’s an unwritten law. — M.C.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Food: The blast of disinfectant that assaulted our nostrils as we walked into Asia Chow Mein would normally have been enough to have caused us to reverse direction and drive away, but the Central Avenue Checklist is all about cultivating a fearless sense of focus.

High point: Vegetable Egg Foo Young ($6.75, above). Serviceable industrial gravy covering a veggie-studded omelet doesn’t exactly qualify as fine cuisine, but it offered a certain amount of comfort.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Low point: The egg rolls ($4.65). Fried, salty, and little else. They did come in an adorable egg roll rowboat with a sauce well in the prow, however.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The titular chow mein (we tried the Chicken Subgum, $7.25) was undistinguished, tasting largely of salty celery. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

WACSO / Heavy Table

Flameburger
4800 Central Ave NE, Columbia Heights | 4.2 miles from Broadway Street

It’s the offspring of a greasy spoon diner and a fast-food hamburger chain. There’s a counter with stools and a few laminate tables. As promised by the name, there are burgers on the menu and flames dancing on the grill in the corner. There’s a deep sense of history here. Not just from the yellowing Norman Rockwell posters on the wall and the layers of grease build up on the grill hood.

WACSO / Heavy Table / "Putting the flame in Flameburger" / "Served in the glass bottle as it should be" / "Greasy spoon table setup" / "Next time: breakfast at Flameburger"

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Putting the flame in Flameburger” / “Served in the glass bottle as it should be” / “Greasy spoon table setup” / “Next time: breakfast at Flameburger”

The place was founded in 1955, around the same time McDonald’s was starting to spread its arches, and according to our server, there were at least a few Flameburgers around town at one point. But the masses favored McDonald’s, and now there’s just this one location. It’s open 24 hours, and something told us this place would get even more interesting after bar close. They probably sell a lot of Flameburger hoodies around 3 in the morning. — M.C.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Food: Flameburger is proud of its old-school roots. Founded in 1955, and open 24 hours a day, it promises a hamburger joint in the oldest sense of the phrase — rough around the edges and honest, illuminated by licks of flame dancing on the grill. That is largely what we encountered. The menu is simple, short, and comforting (other than the $40 “Ultimate Mega,” with three pounds of beef and 12 slices of cheese, plus 12 slices of bacon).

Our burgers ($6-$7) weren’t great. And they weren’t terrible. They had a real char to them, and the grilling process was entertaining to watch. There wasn’t a great deal of flavor in the patty, however, and the buns were standard-issue.

Our fries ($2) weren’t great. And they weren’t terrible. They’re classic, honest, low-rent crinkle cut fries.

Despite the adorable metal cup, we should’ve skipped the milkshake — low-quality ice cream doomed it. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table / "Some of the Central Avenue Checklist crew ending with a nightcap at Flameburger"

WACSO / Heavy Table / “Some of the Central Avenue Checklist crew ending with a nightcap at Flameburger”



Valhalla, Co-op Creamery Cafe, and More

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: a Kickstarter designed to encourage organic grazing, a new Nordic-themed brewpub called Valhalla, the Co-op Creamery Cafe on Franklin Avenue, and more.

shepherd-song-tap-logo-final-keylineThe Tap is a biweekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm. “We raise 100 percent grass-fed lambs & goats traditionally, humanely, and sustainably.”

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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.

Screenshot from seward.coop

Screenshot from seward.coop

Co-op Creamery Neighborhood Cafe (opens in July)
2601 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis

Seward Co-op’s booming business has made for a crowded parking lot, busy aisles, and a small, overtaxed bakery (Production Manager Chad Snelson describes it as a “little closet.”)

The Co-op’s closet days will soon come to an end; renovation is well underway at the old Franklin Creamery location on Franklin Avenue, and the new space will house Seward’s offices as well as a production kitchen turning out baked goods and meat products including smoked sausages. The location will also serve the co-op’s second location, which is being built at 317 E 38th St in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis.

And, oh yes — there’ll be a restaurant, too. The three-meals-a-day Co-op Creamery arrives on Franklin at a time when Seward and Longfellow are booming, and both neighborhoods are waking up with a growing interest in hot breakfast. (The arrival of Mon Petit Chéri Bakery on Franklin, the upcoming Hi-Lo Diner project on Lake Street, and the addition of daily breakfasts at the Rail Station all point in this direction.)

“The vision is to create a way to highlight all the good things we do at the Seward, but in a different way,” says Snelson. “We’re going to create a restaurant where the food is really phenomenal, and then — ‘comma’ — it’s also local, and also ethically sourced, and also, we pay well …”

The co-op hasn’t yet snagged a chef, but the plan is for a menu that will rotate frequently, taking advantage of seasonal ingredients and long-standing relationships with local producers.

“It’s the producers people have become familiar with over the past 20 years at the co-op, but prepared in a different setting,” says Seward Co-op marketing manager Tom Vogel. “You’ll have a lot of the same ranchers and poultry and produce farmers, but it’ll be prepared in a more sit-down, chef-driven way. The ingredients are going to be the stars.”

The emphasis on purveyors — common among newly founded restaurants — is no gimmick at the Creamery, say Snelson and Vogel. “A lot of people are using the term now: ‘locally sourced,’” says Vogel. “It’s become kind of a catch phrase, but with us, it’s part of our foundation. We were local before everyone started talking about local.”

The history of the Franklin Creamery runs deep at the location, something the restaurant will tap into by incorporating old photos and uniforms into the decor.

“It started as a milk and dairy delivery cooperative, founded by union milk drivers in 1919,” says Vogel. “They were very successful. They had a couple locations, including one in North Minneapolis, up until delivered milk became kind of passe after World War II. In the 1920s and through the Depression and World War II, they were a thriving cooperative creamery. They had a whole range of products including milk, ice cream, and eggs.”

The Seward Co-op team is targeting July for the Creamery Cafe’s soft opening, with a grand opening planned for September.

Becca Dilley / Minnesota Lunch

Becca Dilley / Minnesota Lunch

Valhalla Nordic Smoke & Ale House (Opens in May)
310 Stillwater Rd, Willernie, Minnesota

Brent and Brian Pilrain (the brothers behind the reliably good Roman Market and Patriots Tavern; Brent is pictured above) are unveiling their latest project this May: Valhalla Nordic Smoke & Ale House, located in the former Hanger Room in Willernie.

The brewpub’s menu will feature house-brewed beers, Scandinavian-inflected comfort food (including gravad lox, Swedish meatballs, and a smoked fish plate), and some more ambitious dishes (including smoked beef bone marrow (“Butter of the Gods”), a venison filet, and a cold beer dessert soup featuring dark ale, cream, rye bread, and gingerbread.)

The Valhalla team includes the Pilrain brothers, their father Dave, executive chef and brewer Guy Juran, and chef de cuisine (and brewer) Steve Rinker, one of the founders of Lift Bridge Brewing.

If history is any indicator, the Pilrains will do well with the concept. Hammerheart’s Nordic-inflected smoke-and-brew combo is booming along nicely in Lino Lakes, and there’s ample proof that the brothers can forge into new territory and conquer it. (We went into the New-England-themed Patriots Tavern skeptical and emerged believers.)

Screenshot from Kickstarter.com

Screenshot from Kickstarter.com

Kalona SuperNatural (launched Kickstarter campaign)

An Iowa creamery is heading to Kickstarter for assistance in creating an organic grazing pasture for local farmers. From the press release:

Farmers Creamery, the makers of Kalona SuperNatural organic dairy products, Marilyn Farms, and the Kalona Iowa Amish and Mennonite dairy farmers have partnered to launch an online fundraising project through Kickstarter.com called Fencing Fields. Their goal is increase the supply of certified organic, grass-fed milk by offering a custom grazing program to the local farmers. This will allow the farmers to increase the size of their herds by providing access to fenced, organic grazing pasture at Marilyn Farms. The increased availability of organic milk will allow Farmers Creamery to produce more, delicious Kalona SuperNatural products!

The campaign has 24 days to go and has raised nearly $3,000 of its $20,000 goal.

NOW OPEN

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table