As we wrap up 2017, we’re celebrating 24 of the most memorable and delicious things we tasted during the past 12 months via the Hot Five. We’ll run this feature over the course of three days, counting down eight fantastic bites at a time. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
#24: Chicken Pot Pie at Savory Bakehouse
There’s a reason that Savory Bakehouse makes our Hot Five almost every time we visit — the food is made by hand with love and skill, and that always comes through in the flavor. The Savory Bakehouse Pot Pie has a lovely rich gravy that plays beautifully with its flaky crust, which manages the heroic task of being both delicious and durable. Peas, potatoes, and pulled chicken make this a formidable match for our current bout of cold weather. [James Norton] Also read: Our profile of Savory Bakehouse.
#23: Coconut Cake at Delicata
Coconut, much like Brussels sprouts or durian, is one of those ingredients that has two faces to it. Cheap dried coconut flakes impart little flavor beyond mustiness, and they get caught in your teeth, ruining whatever dish they’re in. But when coconut is executed well, it’s toasty, nutty, sweet, and cheerful, and it can elevate a simple, moist vanilla cake from ordinary to divine. Delicata has its coconut cake completely dialed in, down to the light-as-a-feather frosting that complements the soft-spoken coconut character of the dessert. Dishes like these — at neighborhood spots like Delicata — were constant favorites for our team this year. [James Norton] Also read: Our review of Delicata.
#22: Oatmeal IPA by Bent Paddle
Prompt a hundred beer drinkers to finish a two-word thought starting with the word “oatmeal,” and 99 of them will say “stout.” (We don’t know what the other person would go with, but you have to assume at least one out of 100 people are habitual goofballs.) Bent Paddle’s new Valve Jockey brewer-showcase series kicked off with an Oatmeal IPA, and it’s easily one of the best beers to come out this year. As you’d think, the body of the beer is clean, classic, hoppy, and bold, but its finish is surprising — it’s mellow, sweet, and a bit buttery, nothing like the astringent snap you’re trained to expect. This makes Oatmeal IPA a lot less palate fatiguing than many of its brethren, and a lot of fun to drink. Even as Bent Paddle expands into a new taproom in Duluth and continues to grow its reach, it seems able to maintain quality and a passion for brewing new styles. [James Norton]
#21: Fried Catfish at A & J Fish and Chicken
File this one under “we didn’t see it coming.” One of our best bites from our ongoing crawl down East Lake Street hails from the utterly unassuming A & J Fish and Chicken, which, as it turns out, does some of the best fried fish we’ve tried in the city. The catfish at A & J has the perfect level of crispy cornmeal crunch to the exterior, a moist and tender fish on the interior, and a classic presentation. “Catfish served with two slices of white bread in styrofoam the way nature intended,” as M.C. Cronin wrote in his recent Instagram post. [James Norton] Also read: Our East Lake Checklist featuring A&J Fish and Chicken.
#20: Tattersall Grapefruit Crema Boilermaker
Combine a can of robust but not insanely hoppy IPA with ¾ ounce Tattersall Grapefruit Crema, and you get a refreshing, sessionable, surprisingly elevated summer cocktail. The Crema and the hops echo one another, but in a mellow way — this isn’t pucker fuel. You can scale it up, too, with 24 cans of IPA and a full bottle of Crema. (This is one of 12 recipes from Tattersall’s PDF of Cabin Cocktail Recipes; we tasted our way through it with the Tattersall team, and the drinks varied from good to stellar.) [James Norton] Also read: Our review of Tattersall’s Cabin Cocktail Recipes.
#19: Porchetta Sandwich at Smoqehouse
Easily one of the best sandwiches we’ve had in months — tender, full-flavored barbecued pork belly slathered in a bright, garlic-forward salsa verde that perfectly cuts the richness and fat, all balanced on a delicate but structurally sound ciabatta bun that ties the package together. Is it worth the drive to Faribault? Maybe. Is it a must-eat if you’re passing through? For sure. [James Norton] Also read: Our review of Smoqehouse.
#18: Culture Project One From Fulton Beer
The debut Culture Project beer from Fulton is a tart red ale — aged in oak wine barrels — that is notably dry with some lovely cherry notes and plenty of acid bite. Complex, and part of the “beer is the Upper Midwest’s wine” story we’ve been telling for the past eight years. [James Norton]
#17: Sour Soup at Kolap
The sour soup at the increasingly and rightfully celebrated Cambodian hole-in-the-wall Kolap may be one of the best soups in the state. It’s got lovely sour kick, but that note is supported by deep, layered herbal flavor, crisp veggies, and properly cooked shrimp. Stellar! [James Norton] Also read: Our review of Kolap.
TOMORROW: We count down from 16 through 9, including tastes from Cafe Alma, Revival, and Fair State Brewing Cooperative!