They accumulate slowly, a marvelous sip here and a delectable bite there. But by the end of any given calendar, we’re shocked at the blizzard of flavor we’ve been buried in over the course of the year. Here, recalled by our writers and photographers via the pages of our weekly Hot Five feature, are 36 of the best tastes of 2015. Today: 18 highlights from January through June. Return tomorrow for the next 18, which bring us from July through December.
Chicken Pot Pie at Jax Cafe
If ever there was a time for warm, comforting chicken pot pie, it would be now. Jax Cafe puts together a lovely classic rendition of the dish, straight up, no twist. Its crust is delicate, buttery, and flaky; the pie itself is stuffed with generous portions of tender chicken; and the gravy is rich and simple. — James Norton
Duck Pho at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
Lovers of duck often have trouble locating it in forms other than “duck confit” or Peking duck with Mandarin pancakes. Ngon’s Duck Pho is to die for — the broth is complex and tasty. Nothing’s better than a big bowl of rice-noodle soup with all the fixings on a cold day. The dish features Wild Acres duck with thin sliced duck breast, sprouts, Thai basil, and jalapeño. — Isabel Subtil
Chef Ian Gray’s goat burger is one of the most accessible and comforting culinary wonders floating around the Twin Cities right now. We tasted this hearty patty topped with rich, delicious Singing Hills goat cheese curds and a mixture of kale and herbs and found it to be a thing of real beauty. Try it with Sociable’s Freewheeler cider or its pilsner. — James Norton
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of those dishes that we keep hearing about from other people — the Curious Goat burger seems to be legitimately working its way into Minnesota food folklore.
Apricot Soleil from Rustica Bakery
Rustica was smart to distance this treat from the gummy, canned-pie-filling connotations of a grocery store Danish. We love the balanced sweetness and visual effect of the sunny, tart half apricot perched atop the thick layer of wholesome, vanilla-flecked pastry cream and flaky pastry — all of which miraculously holds together without glopping on your clothes. We paired the pastry with a Verdant Laoshan black tea for a not-too-sweet midweek pick-me-up. — Maja Ingeman
Miso-Braised Pork and Ginger-Garlic Slaw from Sassy Spoon
The newly opened Sassy Spoon’s signature dish is a wonderful balance of rich, soulful pork and bright, fresh cabbage and greens. It’s very satisfying and surprisingly light — no carbs, no problem. — Joshua Page
EDITOR’S NOTE: As Sassy Spoon moved from truck to restaurant, so did a host of other mobile food companies. From 2014 on, this has been one of the most potent trends we’ve been tracking, largely because so many of the transitions have been successful. Doing a small menu for months (or years) on the streets means that the restaurant comes online with a clear focus and battle-tested eats.
Native Foods North Coast Nosh-inspired Dishes from Cafe Minnesota at the Minnesota History Center
In honor of the upcoming North Coast Nosh curated by Sean “The Sioux Chef” Sherman, Chef Christian Pieper and Sherman are collaborating on some American-Indian-inspired fare for the History Center’s Cafe Minnesota. This past week featured a profoundly comforting Dragsmith Farms Braised Rabbit Stew with Fry Bread and Wild Rice and Sunflower Sprouts (above); next week will feature an elk or bison dish to support the upcoming Nosh at the George Morrison “Modern Spirit” exhibit at the History Center. — James Norton
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the food trends that we’re most excited about is food made using pre-colonial ingredients. The search for the real taste of the Upper Midwest will always be incomplete until the flavor of Native American fare is brought to the table.
Buffalo Quail Wings by JD Fratzke of The Strip Club Meat and Fish
A recent shoot for Save the Boundary Waters brought us out to a frigid but beautiful campsite in the Boundary Waters where we enjoyed a five-course meal cooked over open coals (and a wood stove) by Chef JD Fratzke of The Strip Club. The whole tale is going to be one worth repeating when we finally tell it, but for now, a quick preview: Fratzke cooked up tiny, unbelievably rich and tender quail wings with a butter and pepper sauce that must rank among the most subtle and unctuous renditions of Buffalo poultry ever created. — James Norton
EDITOR’S NOTE: This was a peak life experience for a whole host of reasons. The food was amazing, the company was top-notch, and most of all, the experience of being in the Boundary Waters in winter was absolutely exhilarating. It was a reminder that we can’t take the natural beauty of our state for granted.
Semlor from Fika
A lenten treat with Scandinavian origins, Fika’s Semlor ($3) are little cardamom-spiced bread-bowls filled with whipped cream. A must have for seekers of seasonal European pastries, Semlor are an excellent accompaniment to coffee. Try it traditional-style, in a bowl of warm milk. They’ll be disappearing April 4. — Ted Held
Curds from The Lone Grazer
The newly opened Lone Grazer creamery sources grass-fed cow’s milk from two small Minnesota farms and produces cheese curds that are exactly the squeaky, salty little gobs of perfection you’d hope for. — John Garland
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to talk about measurable steps forward in the food scene, here’s one that can’t be missed: the opening of a high-quality creamery within the city limits of Minneapolis. The curds, string cheese, and aged cheeses of the Lone Grazer have been uniformly delicious.
Hot Fried Chicken from 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 is going to change the way fried chicken is eaten around here. — James Norton
EDITOR’S NOTE: At the forefront of the 2015 gourmet fried chicken boom, Revival has absolutely changed the scene for the better. It’s unadulterated good news that high-flying eateries are doing killer chef burgers and lovely fried chicken — there should always be room at the table for comfort food done well.
“Lebanese Night” at Basha Mediterranean Wood Grill
We never got the actual name of our dessert, but the owner of Basha Mediterranean Grill told us that it translates to “Lebanese Night.” It’s a sort of Middle Eastern trifle: sweet bread soaked in cream 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 — it’s one of the most intriguing and delicious things we’ve eaten this year. — James Norton
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dining at 54 restaurants on Central Avenue with the artist WACSO, the writer M.C. Cronin, and the photographer Becca Dilley was as eye-opening as it was delicious. The contributions made by recent immigrants to our food culture can’t be overstated — humble Central Avenue restaurants are serving up some of the most interesting and uncompromised plates of food in the state.
Rise bagels live up to the hype: They’re chewy but not tough, seasoned all the way around (not just one side), and well balanced in flavor and crust-to-bread ratio. Smeared with plain cream cheese and paired with a cappuccino from Dogwood, they’re the ideal light breakfast. Follow Rise Bagel on Twitter or go to their website to find out about upcoming pop-ups at Dogwood Coffee. You can also find rise bagels at the Fulton Farmers Market starting in May. — Joshua Page
Kolache at Sun Street Breads
I used to think Sun Street almost never made kolache. I was wrong: the kolache ($3) are made daily, but they sell out early. Their tender dough is fortified with egg yolks and butter, and just a touch of sugar. The filling this morning was a blend of lemon curd, pastry cream and sour cream. Piquant, not-too-sweet, ethereal. — Jane Rosemarin
Barbecued Pork Banh Mi at Ha Tien Market
The barbecued pork banh mi is worth a special trip to Ha Tien’s deli. With a ruby-red exterior, the moist meat is slightly salty and sweet. This sandwich (like its roast pork sibling) is a delightful combination of savory meat and bright vegetables and herbs. A drizzle of a jus-like concoction provides the finishing touch. When we inquired, the banh mi master only smiled and said, with mischief, “It’s special sauce that makes it taste better.” Touché. — Joshua Page
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 a Mideastern-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. — James Norton
Fried Turkey Gizzards at Nighthawks
The texture of the fried turkey gizzards at Nighthawks is creamy enough to melt like foie gras while remaining somewhat meaty and hearty under the batter. Bright dill ranch perfectly cuts the richness of the little bites. Though the portion is beyond fair for $5, you’ll want more when the bowl is empty. And again in the morning. — Paige Latham
Bacon Bratwurst at the Chef Shack Ranch
The craft of bratwurst has been elevated to an art at Chef Shack Ranch; the eatery’s bacon brats are savory and richly flavored without being greasy or heavy, and they snap pleasantly without being tough. These sausages are what we want summer to taste like. — James Norton
EDITOR’S NOTE: We like to keep busy here on the Heavy Table, so in addition to publishing daily content Monday through Friday, we hosted a biweekly podcast in partnership with Secrets of the City. Two of our favorite shows were taped at the Chef Shack Ranch, a charming place to grab supper.
Starkeller Peach Berliner Weissbier Style-beer from Schell’s
The latest Noble Star series Berliner Weissbier-style beer from Schell’s may also be the most challenging yet — although it’s fermented with peaches and looks like apricot nectar once poured into the glass, its fruit flavor is initially buried under a sharply sour yeasty blast of flavor. But when served on ice and mixed with a short shot of whiskey, it’s the base for a stellar play on a whiskey sour, and the mixers actually coax the peach notes to the forefront. — James Norton
TOMORROW: 18 more tastes of 2015, July through December.