Hot Five Throwdown: Cinnamon Vs. Cardamom


In keeping with the season, Heavy Table is proud to present a husband-vs.-wife curation battle between two of the best fall spices: Emmet Kowler representing team cinnamon with five hand-picked culinary treats, with Cecilia Johnson fighting for team cardamom with a similarly sized squad. Let the spice wars commence!


Cinnamon has a place in rolls, cookies, breads, pancakes, and, my personal favorite, French toast (I love carbs). I believe in the excellence of this classic, compatible, flexible spice. Here are five things that I plan on indulging in again before the season is up. – Emmet Kowler

#5 Downtowner at Sun Street Breads | Minneapolis

Now that 35W is fully reopened, take a trip down to the southern reach of Nicollet Avenue. There, you’ll find one of the best pastry cases in town. And inside that case, you’ll find the Downtowners ($4), piled adorably atop one another. Their name comes from the pastry’s inspiration: the historic Downtown Creamery in Healdsburg, Calif., not too far from the former Bay Area stomping grounds of co-owner Martin Ouimet. The dessert, itself the creation of co-owner and head baker Solveig Tofte, will be familiar if you’ve ever had a cinnamon roll or a croissant — because it’s both. And inside the perfectly pull-apart-able, sugar-coated swirl is the good stuff: cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Oh, and they’ll put the spices in a latte for you, too.

#4 The Beekeeper at Young Joni’s back bar | Minneapolis

“I like to play a balancing act,” says the bartender as he finishes preparing my cocktail. He places a slice of dehydrated pineapple, with a teaspoon of actual pollen on top, delicately on the rim of the coupe glass. The fruit rivals the glass in diameter. The Beekeeper ($11) is honey-forward but still herbal, with enough cinnamon and rum to give you a good bite — par for the course at the innovative cocktails-and-pizza auxiliary room at the now-codified Northeast staple.

#3 Goat Dum Biryani at Hyderabad Indian Grill | Fridley

On a list that began as an excuse to try cinnamon rolls and donuts (winner to follow), I’m glad to present a savory option. The Indian subcontinent and neighboring regions produce food with incredible spice blends, many of which feature both cinnamon and cardamom. Popular throughout the entire Indian diaspora, biryani combines cooked meat with spiced rice, baked and served as a main course. Somehow, without the assistance of sauce, Hyderabad’s South Indian approach makes their biryani ($19 for a filled-to-bursting container) as satisfying as anything on a Thanksgiving table.

#2 Hot Cinnamon Spice tea at Caribou | Any of them

Ted Lasso and his “hot brown water” can make like a tree. Tea rules, especially this one: an excellent autumn companion of surprising depth. The front of every sip is ripe with orange and clove, with the three different cinnamons coming in to warm your palate long after you’ve swallowed. A great seasonal, non-pumpkin-spiced hot drink doesn’t come much more accessible than this ($2.50).

#1 Cinnamon Roll at Hot Hands Pie & Biscuit | St. Paul

This almost made me want to go back to college, just so I could grab such a wholesome, gooey treat when I’m late for Economics of Whatever 1201 at Macalester. It really is a treat. These rolls ($4) fulfill every expectation you could ever have of the classic breakfast sugar bomb. Egregiously buttery, not too sweet, and best of all: you can spread the icing yourself!


I love cardamom for its scent. The pre-ground dust in the spice aisle is one thing, but if you buy whole pods and blitz the seeds at home, you’ll smell a bloom of invigorating, almost piney aroma. If you’re looking for green cardamom pods, head to Seward Coop. But if you’d rather have someone else make your food, try these: my favorite cardamom foodstuffs in town. (Honorable mention: Somali tea at Hufan on Lake Street!) – Cecilia Johnson

#5 Gazoz at Cardamom | Minneapolis

The Walker Art Center’s new restaurant is called Cardamom, so we had to give it a shot. It does live up to its branding; not only do several of Shawn McKenzie’s pastries have cardamom, so does the refreshing gazoz ($7 plus a 5% health and wellness surcharge). It’s an Israeli-style soda loaded with berries and mint, and although the typical gazoz is non-alcoholic, you can add a shot of booze at Cardamom for a few bucks. Is this drink the most stunning value proposition in the world? No, it’s a classed-up Italian soda. Is it the most stunning classed-up Italian soda? I vote “yes.”

#4 Deep Dish Lamb at Namaste Cafe | Minneapolis

When I worked at Namaste, I ate a lot of simple food: chole, fried dal, garlic paratha. Now that I visit less frequently, I can’t pass up the marquee items: Tangy Mango Curry, Chili Namaste, and Deep Dish Lamb ($19.50 for a large portion), which features cinnamon as well as cardamom. Namaste is a Nepalese spot in an old Victorian house on Hennepin, and between the restaurant’s long tenure and reputation for slow service, it can slip off the radar. But where else can you get free wifi, free off-street parking in Uptown (through the alley!), luscious lamb curry, and ginger cardamom chai?

#3 Strawberry cardamom jam from Riffraff Jams & Jellies | Minneapolis

I can’t say cardamom jam was on my shopping list when I visited the Midtown Farmers Market a few weeks ago, but you know how one thing leads to another. I stopped at the Riffraff table to chat jam, and then I decided to buy an eight-ounce raspberry jar, and why not throw in a half-jar of the vendor’s seasonal recommendation? Weeks later, I am rationing this jam, afraid I’ll have to try making it myself once I run out. The strawberries’ juiciness pairs that well with the herbal cardamom. The fruit pieces are super small, and the consistency is neither wobbly nor soupy.

#2 Firni at Khyber Pass | St. Paul

If you’re used to bananas foster or croquembouche, firni ($5) may not look like much. But this cardamom-rosewater custard, topped with crushed pistachios, is a sweet, creamy, and totally worthwhile dessert after lamb kebab or Daal Korma. Khyber Pass is only open for takeout right now, and this gentle custard melts easily, but fear not. The Afghan restaurant’s cardamom-rosewater rice pudding (daygcha, $6) fills the same purpose just as well.

#1 Cardamom spinners at Brake Bread | St. Paul

Meet the number-one seller at Brake Bread on West 7th: the fragrant, drive-across-town-worthy cardamom spinner (a bargain at $3). This “spin” on the Swedish kardemummabulle starts with a sweet dough, reinforced by wheat flour, whole wheat flour, and milk. Then, the bakers add a scant layer of cardamom filling. The rolls are baked to a slight crisp, somehow maintaining their soft interior, then sprinkled with cardamom sugar.