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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biscuits and Gravy at The Buttered Tin
For my money, Buttered Tin has the best breakfast in St. Paul, and the biscuits and gravy are a standout. Remarkable biscuits cradle a pair of expertly poached eggs covered in a sage-sausage gravy that adds a whole other level of Thanksgivinglike comfort. They’re the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had in the Cities, and — it pains me to say it — they’re even better than Sun Street Breads’.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by John Garland]
Beers from Eastlake Craft Brewery and Tacos from Sonora Grill at Midtown Global Market
Tapas my way: Sonora Grill tacos and Eastlake beer inside the Midtown Global Market. The best way to start your Friday evening.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Isabel Subtil]
The Kenwood Burger at The Kenwood
The Kenwood Burger proves that pork belly might just beat bacon as a burger topping. Add some gooey Gruyere and a softly fried egg, and you’ve got an ideal mix of fat and flavor. You have the option of getting mixed greens with it instead of fries, but if you’re already in for a big burger, a slab of pork belly, and a fried egg, why bother?
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by Amy Rea]
Jeweled Rice at the Saffron Launch Party for The New Mediterranean Table
This Persian-inspired dish is so much more than a mere side of rice. It’s bedecked with herbs, spice, and dried fruit. It was a perfect pairing with an Arabic-spice-rubbed roasted lamb shoulder served last Monday at a Saffron dinner celebrating the launch of Chef Sameh Wadi’s new cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. Jeweled rice isn’t currently available on Saffron’s menu, but you can make it yourself with a little help from the book.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Instagrammed by James Norton]
Mieng Kham at Royal Orchid
This dish is like no lettuce wrap we’ve ever tried. Royal Orchid’s wraps are composed from a palette of incredibly bold flavor boosters including chunks of ginger, atomic-hot pepper bits, dried shrimp, small pieces of lime (with skin left on to amp up the kick still further), coconut chips, and chopped onions. Dressed with sweet palm syrup, the result is something like a flavor brawl taking place in your mouth — first bright citrus, then withering heat, then sharp onion, and so forth.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #2 | Contributed by James Norton from a future Central Avenue Checklist]
The first cider released by Number 12 Ciderhouse is light, fresh, and so tart it’s almost sour — but in a good way. Made from more than 10 varieties of locally grown apples, it is in the style of a British cider: lacking sweetness, but making up for it in bite, like a bodacious champagne with an apple finish and a high ABV (7.4 percent). The heavy carbonation adds to the overall brightness of the beverage, providing a delightful textural element that is often missing from ciders due to their lack of maltiness.
The Number 12 name comes from the Buffalo Minnesota cidermakers’ long history of experimentation — it’s the 12th recipe they attempted in 2011, and the first to win an award. And despite the cider house’s online claims of balance, the recipe’s ultra-sharp flavor is refreshingly imbalanced.
While other locally available ciders are nothing to scoff at — Sociable Cider Werks‘s graffs offer a wide range of flavor profiles, and Four Daughters Winery has the drinkable, semisweet Loon Juice — a third solid cidery means that ciders have officially taken off in Minnesota. We are eager to see what is to come from Number 12 Ciderhouse.
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.
Sue Wika (top) and Tom Prieve moved to Paradox Farm in Ashby, Minnesota in 2000. Sue and Tom have made the land into a forage-based permaculture farm and have a year-round goat population.
Prieve (pictured above) and Wika are both instructors at Minnesota State Community and Technical College at Fergus Falls as well as owners of the farm. At the time of our visit, they were also hosting a workshop for the Sustainable Farming Association called “ Farm Skills 101,” for beginning farmers.
When Wika and Prieve moved to the farm, much of the land was covered in thistles and other problematic plants.
This story was underwritten by Atomic Data, the Minneapolis-based technology solutions company dedicated to making IT serve the needs of business — and to delicious barbecue.
If you step into the world of barbecue, you enter a place of high passions. From brining to bark to cook-time to perfect texture to saucing, barbecue is a delicious but divisive food. We were curious what would happen if we tried, through the application of much eating and much arguing, to determine the best of barbecue in the area.
In an effort to get our collective heads around Minneapolis-St. Paul barbecue, we went out and pitted wings from eight places against each other in a bracket contest, and did the same for pork ribs.
We were generously supported in this mission by Atomic Data, the company that hosts Heavy Table and keeps our magazine online. Atomic Data has a serious barbecue culture — its monthly get-togethers with friends, neighbors and clients are catered by the company’s in-house experts, who turn out barbecue that (as you’ll see) can hold its head high with anything else being served in the state.
We often like to spice up our blind taste-offs with a homemade ringer or two (see also: pumpkin pie), so we invited Atomic Data to throw some of its ribs and wings into the fracas.
ON METHODOLOGY: We tasted eight different wings and eight different ribs in a bracket format. All were tasted blind, and the initial bracket match-ups were randomly determined. Whenever possible, we got wings that were properly smoked, but at least one of the entries was from a well-regarded wing joint but not strictly barbecued.
ON JUDGES: Our judges included two Heavy Table contributors (John Garland and Becca Dilley), two barbecue-proficient, passionate amateurs (Douglas Niemela and Chris Bjork), and two folks from the Atomic Data team (Mark Abbott and Carleton Hitchcock.) Neither of the Atomic Data folks cooked the company’s entries — Dwayne Sapp (bottom photo, on right) did the ribs, and Chris Becker (above) made the wings.
ON RESTAURANT SELECTION: Our brackets (necessarily) contain an incomplete collection of barbecue and / or wing joints from throughout the Twin Cities metro area. We went to our readers (on Twitter), our friends, Heavy Table contributors, and the Atomic Data team to pick out a range of places that would reflect many different approaches to wings and ribs and highlight some of the best-known contenders.
Are there enough places that we missed to populate another bracket competition? Absolutely.
ON HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: As you’re about to discover, the Atomic Data barbecue fared well (with all of our judges). Two points: First, the Atomic folks had the advantages of cooking on site and not having to worry about any of the factors (economic scalability, massive quantity demand, a changing roster of chefs, etc.) that make running a restaurant the hellishly challenging affair that it is. Second, they put out some damn fine BBQ.
ON LOGISTICS, SAUCE, AND WARMERS: All of our ribs and wings were kept warm in Sterno-heated aluminum pans. Anything that arrived pre-sauced, we tasted sauced; we didn’t apply sauce to anything else, preferring to let the smoke, cooking technique, and meat speak for themselves. The high performance of the unsauced Q Fanatic entries suggests that being tasted unsauced probably helped as much as it hurt. All of our food arrived between 6 and 6:30 p.m., and we got through initial tastings for both brackets within an hour of our 6:30 start.
THE WINGS BRACKET
Hickory Hut vs. Monte Carlo
Judges praised wings from Hickory Hut (above) for having “complete flavor throughout,” and a “nice dry rub with mesquite.” This “well-cooked, full wing” could have “been a little more tender,” and one judge thought the spice was “a little aggressive.”
One taster thought the meat of Monte Carlo’s famous wings was “just right,” with a “nice heat”; another praised the salt level and “deep pepper aroma.” But the naysayers carried the day, saying that the wings’ flavor faded, was “bland,” that the skin “lacked texture,” and, overall, there was “smoke flavor and that’s all.”
WINNER: Hickory Hut
The sign out front says it all: “22 Pool Tables – 22 Burgers – 22 Beers.” But when you walk into Jimmy’s Pro Billiards, all you see is an ocean of pool tables. Where exactly does one go to eat?
… To the back corner, by the bar, where there are a few tables and chairs set out. This could lead some people to believe that the “22 Burgers” is just hype, that Jimmy’s is really only about the billiards. But that’s not the case at all. Beyond the rows of pool tables, behind a movable wall that shields the grill from the diners, Jimmy’s is frying up far-better-than-average burgers — burgers worthy of a stop, even if you’re not a billiards fan, as a recent installment of the Central Avenue Checklist explained.
There are indeed 22 burgers on the menu: everything from classic burgers (plain, bacon and cheese) to novelties like Taco, Reuben, and Italian. There are also rumors of a burger number 23, an off-menu concoction involving mozzarella sticks. Sadly, it was unknown at our recent daytime visit, but the staff said that it might be a creation offered by the night crew. “And anyway, we’ll make any kind of a burger anyone asks for, as long as we have the ingredients,” the day cook told us.
That willingness to please is another reason to visit Jimmy’s. Can we get some mayo? “No problem!” How’s the seasoned sour cream ($1.50)? “Excellent — I used to work at Champps, and I use their recipe.” The day we visited, our server was also our cook, and he honestly seemed to care whether we were pleased with our meal.
And boy, were we. We tried the Bleu Burger ($10), a burger slathered with blue cheese dressing, Cheddar cheese and bacon. The freshly made burger (or, as the sign out front says, “Hand Patted”) was thick and juicy. The blue cheese dressing didn’t overwhelm the burger, but added a nice tang to the gooey Cheddar, and the bacon added both a welcome salty-smoky flavor and some crunch.