Izzy’s is hiring poets (or using haikus in their hiring process, at least. More on Izzy’s here; more on gastronomic haikus here.) City Pages takes a series of strange food adventures in the Twin Cities including camel milk, sea urchin, and guinea pigs. The O’Cheeze food truck has launched. A taste of the foie gras-stuffed Juicy Goosey at the Lynn on Bryant. A Chowhound raves up the newly opened Brasserie Zentral. Staff and patrons say farewell to Gary Bougie, the chef/owner of Pizzeria Pezzo in White Bear Lake, after his death from complications after surgery. And local gardeners are starting to switch pesticides in the name of bees.
Weekends are for pancakes. Or waffles. Or lining up warm loaves of bread on the counter, bulwarks of comfort against a difficult week. Any kind of putzing around in the kitchen, really. Big, project cooking. Meditative, repetitive cooking. Dishes that cook from breakfast until dinnertime.
Weekends in the kitchen might start at loose ends, but gradually they lead you through to purpose (those dishes to do) and satisfaction (provisions for the week).
So it was that we found ourselves glancing around the weekend kitchen looking for something that needed doing. But nothing too taxing, given the state of the weekend brain. And there — perfect — a big metal bowl in the fridge, full of bubbly, flat-topped dough, the result of an overly ambitious plan to make Friday’s challah at home. Folks, I know what we’re going to do today.
The Rookery, the newest venture of the Travail trio (Mike Brown, Bob Gerken, and James Winberg), evokes a suburban gastronomic Disney World: over-stimulating, exciting, and unapologetic. It exudes personality while keeping you on your toes, dishing up one micro-plate at a time, either a la carte or via the $30, 11-micro plate “Bite Flight.”
Sharing a space with nationally recognized (tasting-menu only) Travail, the 54-seat Rookery and its counterpart are distinguishing themselves from their more “reserved” competitors in town by making their restaurant a theme park, with the food as the main entertainment: Gratuitous hair band music blaring from overhead. Non-stop commotion.
An open space with quirky embellishments: peculiar teddy bears stuck in the rafters and a toy car in the back; it’s aggressively quirky without a cohesive theme throughout. Gimmicky, perhaps? Not really. Delivering something other than food and having people pay for it is a business model – and seems to be a smart one at that.
So, with an open mind, we sat back and enjoyed the ride.
The Violette Pilot ($10, pictured at top), a bright, candied, floral-note combination, made for an inventive, complex gin creation. The presentation alone was quite whimsical; we didn’t know whether to drink it or pot it. However, the smooth operator of the night belonged to Pisco the Night Away ($11). Consisting of four ingredients — Pisco (a South American grape brandy) and egg with an apricot and black pepper fruit leather garnish — this soothing, well-balanced, sweet-sour libation packed a mean punch. Don’t let its modesty fool you. (Downfall: Thanks to the name, the infamous Chumbawamba song was stuck in our heads. And now it’s in yours.)
Let us preface this by saying that our edible adventure started out on a pretty good note. Enter the oysters ($2). Much to our chagrin, they didn’t serve your typical oysters — not by a long shot. Silly us for thinking otherwise. Instead, in a petite porcelain cup, was oyster pot de crème with compressed cantaloupe. Despite its richness, it still had a lift to it, and the cantaloupe garnish was a nice texture contrast to the custard’s silkiness. However, the cantaloupe itself tasted out of place. The combination of the two flavors resembled an arranged marriage: forced. We didn’t like it. We didn’t despise it. We respected its intentions.
Our next bites were meticulous. Immersed in a seaweed and mushroom broth lay a mini oxtail hamburger ($4, above) surrounded by togarashi, carrots, and peppers. The cutting technique and precision of the vegetables left us almost speechless. The rich flavor held on even with the raw beef texture, with the perfect amount of salt.
It probably goes without saying, but we love breakfast sandwiches. Really, who doesn’t? When done right, they’re like a supergroup — outstanding individual ingredients that produce an even better whole. And they’re portable!
And Colossal Cafe is one of our all-time favorite spots to nab some breakfast sandwiches. We fell for them back before there were two Colossal locations. On weekends (and even some weekdays), the wait for a table in the tiny Minneapolis spot was (and is) incredibly long — the patience of diners a testament to the quality of the food. So we’d grab a couple sandwiches and cups of coffee, find some wall to sit against, and chow down. (In the winter, we’d hustle back to a heated car for grubbing and glugging.) Before long, we’d order one of the half-dozen or so sandwiches even when we lucked into a table.
We recently headed across the river to check out Colossal’s newer, significantly larger and shinier, location in St. Paul. We’re happy to report that the sandwiches we’d come to love taste great in both of the Twin Cities.
Egg and Cheese on Biscuit ($4.50)
One of our diners described this filling and delicious treat as “the most satisfying meal you can get for five bucks.” The main components — scrambled eggs, thick cheddar cheese, and a crumbly homemade biscuit — are all first class. Together, they’re top gun. After a couple bites it’s difficult to imagine eating them separately.
This post is sponsored by the University of Minnesota Press.
Incomplete information, thematic differences, plain old lack of space: These are just a few of the reasons good stories don’t make the pages of the books that unearthed them. Here are a few of our favorite outtakes from Lake Superior Flavors: A Field Guide to Food and Drink Along the Circle Tour, which launched this week.
Join authors Becca Dilley and James Norton at Kitchen Window tomorrow night for a special “Behind the Pages” presentation and food sampling. And the authors will also appear Monday, April 21 at 7pm at Common Good Books in St. Paul.
The Copper Harbor Can-Can
NORTON: “The Harbor Haus in Copper Harbor, at the tip of the Keweenaw, has an absurd but charming ritual: Whenever a ferry from Isle Royale cruises past the restaurant, the servers all drop what they’re doing and run outside to wave and dance a can-can for the passengers. It slows down service a bit, but it’s worth it for the sheer silly spectacle of the thing.”
Teatime on St. Joseph Island
DILLEY: “We enjoyed this quiet traditional high tea on an island outside of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The setting was beautiful, the food was tasty, the experience was cozy and comfortable. “
Superior’s Icy Cold Hand of Watery Death
NORTON: “Our dawn trip out past Knife Island with herring fisherman Steve Dahl was, hands down, one of the most beautiful experiences of my life — the interplay between birds and sky, fish and net, and boat and waves was constantly engaging. It was also, for a weak swimmer like myself, totally terrifying. Dahl’s skiff sat low enough in the water that it felt as though there were just a couple old centimeters of wood between myself and certain death in Lake Superior’s icy grip. But, yeah. Very beautiful, too. Above, you can see me trying on one of the numerous shades of green I modeled that morning.”