The following illustrated story is a preview of the Secret Atlas of North Coast Food, a book project being developed by the team at the Heavy Table. If you enjoy this – and might like to see another 19 or so similar stories and illustrations assembled in print form – please consider supporting this project on Kickstarter.
For nearly five years, we at the Heavy Table have done our best to document and support the growing culinary scene in the Upper Midwest. If you can help fund this project, it’ll go a long way to realizing our vision and helping us scale.
East Lake Street
Written by Susan Pagani
Illustrated by Andy DuCett
“We all have hometown appetites. Every other person is a bundle of longing for the simplicities of good taste once enjoyed on the farm or in the hometown left behind.”
— Clementine Paddleford
There are only a few, flat miles of city street between the Marshall Avenue Bridge and Highway 35 West. To the casual observer passing through it, this stretch of East Lake Street may seem like an unexceptional collection of small businesses. Yet those of us who live and work here know it to be full of gems, hardworking local shops that keep the surrounding neighborhoods vibrant, livable, and well stocked with car parts, furniture, art supplies, printing materials, tools, groceries, gas — and, yes, great meals. Contained in this short distance are myriad restaurants and the cuisines of no less than 12 countries and four continents.
When we mention that fact, people will always ask, “Where can I get the most authentic such and such dish?” To which we reply, “Who are we to say?”
In talking to chefs, bakers and producers, it seems as though recipe creation is all about food memories. There may be the classic interpretation, but when it comes to flavor and texture, chefs are forever trying to recreate the full, sensual experience of their best meals. Manny Gonzalez once told us that he had vivid memories of going out to the movies with his father as a kid in Mexico City. More often than not, they punctuated their dates with a sandwich. Manny based his famous tortas on those meals, and people who have lived or traveled in Mexico City may recognize them as authentic — others may not.
For the diner, a meal can be like coming home or it can be a brief adventure. The awesome thing about living on the East Lake Street corridor is that we have the best of both.
The Craftsman Restaurant
What to expect: The dining room at Craftsman is likely the most elegant spot on East Lake. Here you’ll find the eponymous tables and high-backed chairs arranged around shelves of glimmering mason jars packed with house-made pickles and boozy fruits. This spare yet comfortable aesthetic suits the menu, which features all that is good about recent trends with an emphasis on regional game meats, charcuterie, lake fish and seasonal vegetables. The food is rich, no doubt, but it is also seasoned simply to let the flavors of the ingredients shine, which gives every dish a pleasing freshness.
The drink menu deserves a note, too. Seasonal offerings feature the aforementioned infused fruits and house-made bitters and liqueurs layered in classic and original cocktails that run the gamut from dry to sparkling to sweetly dangerous.
What to eat: At brunch, we like poached eggs with a side of thick cut bacon and creamy, creamy grits and a Bloody Mary. If you favor sweets in the morning, try the brioche french toast, which is custardy on the inside without being soppy and light enough that it won’t kill the rest of your day — unless you combine it with the Summer Thyme, a refreshing, herby citrus vodka concoction that goes down like juice but packs a punch.
Now, about dinner: The Craftsman’s charcuterie absolutely sings, so meat eaters should start the cocktail hour or meal with a plate, sampling such delights as rabbit rillettes, duck prosciutto, pickled ramp and lardo on toast. For entrees, we think the pork chop is the best in town — tender, succulent meat served with a satisfying side of mashed potatoes and greens — and it’s a staple of the menu. That said, if it’s being offered as the special, we’ll always take the lake herring, a delicate but meaty fish prepared with only a modicum of fuss to preserve its clean flavor and earthy sweetness. Vegetarians might want to start with the hummus plate — which features house-made crackers and a nice selection of pickles — and then, move on to any of the housemade noodles.
What to pack: Bring along a light throw or jacket: The Craftsman has a pleasant patio with very pretty, vine-covered pergolas that keep the sun out of your eyes during the cocktail hours, but also make it a wee bit cool on spring and fall evenings.
4300 E. Lake Street
What to expect: You may find yourself wandering through a haven of Mid-Century lamps, low-slung couches and laminated nut dishes and into white space. You may find yourself, seated at a glowing neon bar. You may find yourself ordering pot roast off a limited yet abundant hot pink menu. And you may find yourself presented with ribbons of sweet gel and savory foam under a great chalk drawing of an Inuit family. And you may tell yourself: this is not my beautiful dinner. Oh, but it is.
At Parka, molecular gastronomy is used wondrously, separating out the basic tastes of a dish, and then bringing them back together in a way that is surprisingly harmonious. Mild wasabi foam, carrots candied like sweet tarts and potpourri, and a cube of succulent beef can actually equal pot roast. Same as it ever was.
What to order: Parka is a partnership between Rustica Bakery, Dogwood Coffee and Victory 44 restaurant. If you are looking for a beautiful pastry, a loaf of bread, or a sublime cup of coffee, you’ll find them here.
Despite its otherworldly presentation, the menu is a fair representation of Minnesota’s farms, fields and streams — with fish, rabbit, cow, pig, chicken and plenty of seasonal veggies — and its cooking. For starters, we have enjoyed a luscious smoked white fish, playfully delivered in a pop-top tin can and served on twists of house-made cracker so thin we could see through them. We liked that crunch in the mix with the dish’s pickle-y condiments, sweet yuzu gel, spicy jalapeño foam, and briny roe. For entrees, we recall an elegant cube of beer-can chicken nested in a bed of popcorn-flavored polenta, fresh greens and sweet piquillo, and surrounded by speckles of hot sauce gel. Oh yes, and a little chicharron, which served as a delightfully crunchy companion to the incomparably moist chicken.
At dessert, there was a banana cream pie, deconstructed but with all the flavors present and accounted for: imagine the rich creaminess of chèvre mousse amongst tangy-sweet gelatinous cranberry, offset by the gentle vegetal flavor of celery and the crunch of apples and pecan. And then wafers of chèvre meringue, hard and flat like little river stones.
What to pack: Bring your allowance because Forage Modern Workshop, the store next door, is filled with beautiful furniture and gently used retro items you will immediately recognize — this is your beautiful home.
4021 East Lake Street
British Isles Pub
What to expect: Here is everything you might hope for in a pub with the name Merlin attached to it. The walls are lined with county shields from England, Ireland, and Scotland, hunkering gargoyles, and commodious booths — which face out, so you can watch locals of every age wander in, grab their beer steins from over the bar, and enjoy their neighbors for an evening.
In an age where local is king, Merlin’s Rest offers the best of the British Isles import taps, single malt scotches, and Irish whiskeys. The pub is often host to musicians, but the sound is kept to a dull roar, making it one of the few spots in town where you can hear yourself and the merry chatter of the locals as they enjoy a wee tipple or a pint or two. Best of all, there is no television!
What to eat: In addition to the above, the pub offers a few specialty drinks. We found the Merlin’s Ginger, a ginger-infused Jamison’s whiskey layered with ginger ale and bitters infinitely quaffable — well-balanced with a ginger kick and a nice herbal twist from the Angustara.
The menu is pure English pub food. With beer, we like the Scotch egg: a hearty meatball encased in a hard-boiled egg, then fried and dunked in wasabi. Huzzah! The pies are surprisingly light, with tender pastry and a fair amount of gravy, which is lovely over the side of mashed potatoes. A standout is the speyside, which combines herbed white beans and mushrooms in a rich béchamel sauce. That said, we will always order the fish and chips — the fish light, flaky and tender, the fries crisp on the outside, light and potato-y on the inside.
What to pack: Bring your encyclopedic knowledge of everything: Merlin’s Rest hosts highly competitive yet very convivial trivia nights. Mind like a sieve? Bring your wool and needles: there’s also a knitters night.
3601 East Lake Street
What to expect: The dining room of Gandhi Mahal is so warm and aromatic it is as if you have climbed into the tandoor. Great loops of pink and green silk hang from the gold tin ceiling, skimming richly painted orange and yellow walls festooned with mirrored elephants, whose trunks are frozen in slow time yet seem to sway.
If you are there on a weekend evening, there may be a sitar player and drummer tucked into the restaurant’s front window. Their repertory of ragas is so peaceful, so energizing, so perfectly expressive of the depth and richness of the Mughal-style sauces and the fiery complexity of the chutneys, you may feel more than content to settle into your basket of warm, housemade naan and stay a while.
What to eat: At lunch, there is a buffet we like very much. There you’ll find fragrant rice pilaf — peas, onion, and a light yogurt — over which you can layer channa chat masala, a miraculously tender chickpea curry that will set your nose running. We are also fond of the crisp potato pancakes, which are sweet and soft on the inside, and the ideal vehicle for the spicy cilantro chutney.
In the evening, the menu is bespoke, and you may specify the protein — fish, fowl, hoof, or soybean — and spice index of any sauce. The Bombay korahi featured chunks of tender goat tossed with green peppers and onions in a luxurious red curry, faintly sweet and redolent with ginger and chilies. Also intoxicating, the moghal saagwalla, a dish in which relatively simple ingredients, spinach and mint, are combined with spices to create a light, rich sauce with a gorgeous mouth feel. Buy a basket of garlic naan so you can sop up every last bit of it.
What to pack: Be forewarned: The gifted saucier at Gandhi Mahal will not condescend to your Minnesota palate. Hot is hot. Bring your arthritis, fever, common cold, vertigo, and congestion; all will be healed by the mighty capsicum pepper.
3009 27th Avenue South
What to expect: From the outside, Harriet Brewing looks like nondescript warehouse, but roll up the loading dock door, and inside you’ll find a mash-up of man cave, psychedelic art fair, and tasting room.
Although the brewery has earned a reputation for its beer, people also just like to hang out there — not like you do at a bar, but like you do at a friend’s house. It’s a very sweet, community-minded kind of place. Resident artist Jesse Brödd has filled the space with the same sort of art he created for the Harriet labels: vibrant, colorful pieces that seem to swirl in space.
Most evenings, there’s a woman making glass beads in the corner and a band playing some bluesy, funk, jazz folk. And sometimes, there’s just a bunch of people hanging out on the couch, listening to vinyl records and sharing a pint. It’s all good.
What to eat: In the summer, various and sundry food trucks park in the lot next to the warehouse, and dish out everything from pulled-pork tacos to spiced donuts. Otherwise, there are no bar snacks.
For beer, we once fell hard for the seasonal Sol Bock, a beer as sweet and bright as the sun itself, with plenty of malt. Of the regular offerings, we like the West Side for its citrus and cinnamon notes. Much like the heavier herbal ice teas, it’s tasty but refreshing. On the flip side, we go for the Elevator Doppelbock, which comes off bitter at first, but then melts into cocoa, toast and bananas — it’s like dessert.
What to pack: In winter, bring an admirably long beard or an awesome knit cap. You’ll fit in like a native and you’ll be warm — not a lot of heat at the warehouse. In summer, take it all off and bring an umbrella; by 4 p.m., the sun hits that loading dock door like a laser beam.
3036 Minnehaha Avenue
Teppanyaki Grill & Supreme Buffet
What to expect: Suspend your disbelief or this will never work out. You must believe that there is a grotto paradise, where triceratops, black adders, and miniature monkeys live in peace, cavorting among waterfalls and miniature Dutch windmills. They eat plentifully from an arbor of green grapes and crimson chili peppers, and do not think to explore beyond their own bamboo forest.
But you will venture out of the restaurant’s waiting area and beyond the grotto because you are not afraid to face the Supreme Buffet. You know that General Tso’s chicken, wakame salad, and kielbasa can also live in timeless harmony. You trust that in nearly 100 feet of warming tray, there is something you want to eat. It may have traveled a million frozen miles to get here, but you are determined to find it fresh, steaming hot, and delicious. And, despite all of the humanity — the hundreds of tiny, snot-fingered kids — who have peered into it, sampled it, and slopped it onto their plates, you know it will safe to eat. You will inhale ten dollars worth of it, and you will feel contented.
What to eat: Eat whatever calls to you. In keeping with a buffet that defies all order and logic, our list is rather random. A cold cucumber salad dressed with Szechuan peppers was fresh, bright, and lip-burningly hot. It was lovely with a donut hole rolled in sugar. The sushi rolls were all palatable, and a five-spice teriyaki chicken kabob was moist and tasty. The prime rib and mashed potatoes recalled TV dinners we have thoroughly enjoyed.
Our advice: Though their glowing red sauces beckon from across the dim dining room, do not eat the crawfish or the glazed bananas. If you must eat seafood, focus instead on the fourteen (14!) shrimp dishes available.
For dessert, there is ice cream. Although they are next to the sprinkles, don’t be fooled into putting a crouton on your mint chocolate chip — the garlic undermines anything you gain in crunch. Do try the mocha torte: t is deeply satisfying to slip your fork through the layers of cake and cream, and the whole is melt-in-your mouth, box-cake delicious.
What to pack: Bring a helmet, kneepads and your motion sickness bracelet — the parking lot is completely gonzo, and you will be lucky to find and exit your space without incident.
2216 E Lake Street
La Alborada Market
What to expect: At midday, La Alborada is bustling. Staff are already restocking displays — glass bottles of coke, cactus paddles, piles of bananas and bolillo rolls — and there’s a line out the door for Antijitos Mexicanos. If you ask the owner, Orlando Cruz, he’ll tell you that the folks here are coming for more than their groceries: they are coming for tradition, to get a little bit of home. Accordingly, along with the fresh produce and baked goods, he stocks a fair amount of imported goods, candy, spices, horchata and the like.
The market has an old world ambiance: murals depict women in rustic kitchens, embroidered blouses slipping from their shoulders as they roll tortillas, and arched transitions, wooden display boxes and wagon wheels suggest an outdoor market. In the tiny Antojitos Mexicanos, you’ll find just a few tables, but look up: above the door is a full-size buggy hitched to a fiberglass cow.
What to eat: There are plenty of good sweets in the panaderia, but we’re here to talk about Antojitos Mexicanos and snacks. The barbacoa taco offers a sweet, mildly hot, very tender shredded beef. Add a dollop of green salsa and a few slices of radish, and it’s possible to polish off three in a matter of seconds. The carne asada taco delivers a rich mouth feel and char flavors, just right with a heap of bright, sweet cilantro and grilled onions.
Of the classic corn-husked tamales, we like the jalepeno-cheese, filled with a deceptively hot, smoky red salsa, slices of pepper, and, surprise, a squeaky chunk of curd-like anejo cheese. The pork oaxaquenos tamale is heaven in a banana leaf, featuring a mildly spicy pulled pork and unbelievably creamy white polenta. It goes down like a savory pudding, the ultimate comfort food.
What to pack: Bring your Spanish speaking skills, as there are few English speakers working at the market. Otherwise, bring your patience. The folks at La Alborada are warm and helpful; you will get your snacks.
1855 East Lake Street
What to expect: The quintessential hole-in-the-wall, La Poblanita will never draw you in with its ambiance. The charm of its wall mural — where a fellow gazes out from beneath his hat, ever hopeful of the pretty lass sitting on his flower-laden raft — is overwhelmed by the proximity of the galley kitchen, where fluorescent lights illuminate a laminated menu of plated botanas Mexicanas and a radio announcer’s lightning fast trill introduces a blast of musica, musica, musica.
But close your eyes: In the steam wafting out of the kitchen is corn, toasty and sweet. Here the chefs make each tortilla to order. Cooked on the grill, they are thick, imperfect circles that add a tender, less chewy, texture and a robust flavor to everything. Who needs white tablecloths and moody lighting? Lets eat.
What to eat: Every taco has its pleasures, but here we especially like the chorizo, which has a wonderful heat, smoky paprika and cumin flavors, and a rich, unctuous mouth feel – yet is not as oily and salty as is typical of the sausage.
We’d like to live in a pupusa. Essentially a handmade tortilla pouch filled with refried beans and mozzarella cheese, it is deeply satisfying with a generous heap of salsa (we like to mix the mild tomatillo with the smoky, mouth-searing red stuff). It comes with a warm coleslaw of carrots and cabbage, which adds a piquant note to the meal and cuts some of the pupusa’s fried goodness.
What to pack: Bring your most woeful day. Fresh corn tortillas are comfort food extraordinaire; a wonderful if fleeting cure for heartbreak and enmity.
1617 East Lake Street
What to expect: Surely, Ingebretsen’s is the most cheerful sight on East Lake Street. With its pale blue and yellow facade, it resembles a giant Scandinavian hope chest decorated with folksy rosemaling flowers and scrolling hindeloopen — it’s so inviting, you want to take a peak.
Inside, it’s cozier than a Danish pancake. Here is everything you love about Scandinavian homes, from the understated Danish candlesticks to wonderfully complex, brilliantly colorful textiles. Looking for a critter? Here are round-nosed and admirably bearded Swedish nissar and Finish Moomintrolls — plus some really fabulous felted cats. Viking helmet? Yes. Whittling kit? Yes. Stieg Larsson? You betcha.
There’s something for everyone: How better to express your Scandihoovian dog’s snowbound lament than a “Wuf Dah!” water bowl?
What to eat: Ingrebretsen’s deli is piled high with canned fish balls, boxes of Korni flat bread, and blankets of lefse. In the refrigerator, you’ll find a fine assortment of prepared foods, such as baked beans, Swedish meatballs and pickled herring. We like the fruit soup, a stew of prunes, peaches, apricots, and raisins that tastes like pie filling and gives our oatmeal and yogurt a renewed sense of life.
The fellows behind the meat counter are rather famous, having dedicated nearly 100 combined years to butchering, smoking, and curing meats. While many will avow their hams are the best in town, we favor the Danish wieners. 25-percent pork, 75-percent beef, they are linked in long strands and produce a deeply satisfying snap when you bite into them. Also commendable: the lamb loaf, which bakes up juicy, with a nice caramelized mustard crust across the top. It has a savory, sausage-like flavor that holds its own at dinner – but is especially good in sandwiches the next day.
What to pack: Bring a snack: there’s no dining in at Ingebretsen’s, and to shop there on an empty stomach would be a mistake. If you do arrive hungry, bring a commodious bag.
1601 East Lake Street
What to expect: Were it not for the friendly fellows behind the counter and a pastry case filled with sambusa, one might think the dimly lit restaurant had long been closed. It’s booths and tables hold nary a napkin, table tent or condiment, and the walls are simply adorned with a shadow box papered in tropical fish.
Don’t let this spare aesthetic or the lack of menus turn you away. Approach the counter, and one of the staff will ask you to choose a protein: goat, chicken, or beef. He’ll tell you that it comes over rice and is served with soup, a fresh banana and your choice of drink, sodas or mango juice.
You may not be offered sambusa — delectable, fried triangles of ground meat and chili peppers — so speak up if you want some. And then find a table: you’re in for a treat.
What to eat: We were served a very simple beef stew. It had a spicy kick, but was otherwise reminiscent of the stuff we grew up with here in Minnesota. It came with a wedge of lime, which helped to cut the salty richness of the broth — as did the giant pitcher of mango juice that arrived with our meal.
The meats came on large platters, heaped with well-nigh addictive rice that was turmeric yellow and wonderfully aromatic with cumin, cardamom, and sage. Slivers of dried apricot and whole peas added texture and sweetness. The waiter announced with a sly smile that the chicken was better than chicken because it was chicken steak — and so it was! Beautifully charred, it was millimeters thick and yet still juicy and flavorful. We also enjoyed chunks of bone-in goat. Basted in a spicy, coriander-tomato sauce, it was fork-tender and delicious.
The banana was a surprisingly nice addition to these savory delights, providing another starch, slightly sweet and perfectly ripened.
What to pack: An open mind. No menus means no prices; however, our generous meal came to a very reasonable twenty dollars. If you are female, Somali or otherwise, you may be asked to eat in a separate space. Non-Somali couples may also be sequestered. And, it is quite possible that if you dine at dusk, one or two Muslims might roll out mats and perform the evening prayer. Feel free to set your fork down — the prayer ends in mere moments, and your food will still be warm.
1201 East Lake Street
Dur Dur Bakery & Market
What to expect: The aisles of Dur Dur market feel something like an East African Costco, stripped down and utilitarian – and filled with the staples of home cooking that are useful to have in bulk.
Explore rows and rows of safflower oil, ghee, mango pulp, French lentils, East African spices and milk powder in family-size containers. There is honey, so much honey, for your tea and your health — restore mirth, increase hemoglobin, prevent osteoporosis! At the back of the store is a butcher, offering a variety of halal meat; though, perhaps not for consumers because the display case is empty and there is no signage.
You might like to take home a burlap sack of basmati rice, imprinted with lions or flowers. They have handles and zippers and are the perfect size for carrying a pocket novel and sandwich to the park. Etsy will be mad with envy.
What to eat: Everyday, various and sundry East African bakers deliver fresh bread and pastry to Dur Dur. We tasted the influence of Italian East Africa, a briefly existing colony that included Ethiopia and Somali in the late 1930s, in some of the pastries. Tender, crumbly shushumow cookies are deep fried and coated in sugar syrup. They taste like fried Italian shortbread and go down easy with a cup of coffee. We also enjoyed korsanyo, a super soft egg bread that is folded like a croissant and filled with vanilla pudding.
Dur Dur also sells locally made hombasha — a slightly sweet Ethiopian flat bread, which is lovely at breakfast — and injera, a gluten-free, sourdough bread that resembles a porous crepe and is delicious wrapped around salads and saucy stews.
What to pack: A notepad: If you are looking for a specific spice or ingredient and don’t speak Somali or Ethiopian, it can be enormously helpful to write down what you need.
1552 East Lake Street
What to expect: Created as a place for Latino entrepreneurs to make their start — such as the popular Manny’s Tortas — Mercado Central has transformed what was once a row of dilapidated buildings into three floors of successful businesses, including folk art, fashion, candy and some of the city’s best Mexican food.
Along the way, the Mercado has become a cultural center for the community. Most weekends, it is packed with milling shoppers. Around meal times, folks line up to buy tacos, tortas, tamales and other assorted goodies, winding through the tables and into the corridors. In the dining room, every wall is painted a different color. On a sunny day, it fills with light, and there’s a celebratory din about the place as families visit and sit down to a meal together.
What to eat: We like to start with a bowl of pozole from La Perla. Here the hominy is submerged in a sublime chicken soup, which much like pho, can be doctored up with sides of fresh onion, jalapeños, lime, radish and cilantro. While you are there, buy some corn and flour tortillas to take home (if they are warm, eat a few before sticking them in the refrigerator).
Next, we’ll wander over to La Hacienda for alambre carnitas, which is a plate of mini corn tortillas smothered with a concoction of smoky pulled pork and bacon, sautéed onions and green peppers, and cheese. It is glorious, but huge: one serving will feed two people.
What to pack: Bring some of that green, folding money as many of the vendors do not accept plastic or checks.
1515 East Lake Street
Midtown Global Market
What to expect: Walking through Midtown Global Market, it’s possible to get very turned around. Even a person with a reasonable sense of direction can spend a fair amount of time looking for a booth they visited once before and end up never finding it.
You could ask someone, but where’s the fun in that? Wander a bit, and you will stumble upon all kinds of good eats, tucked in amongst the perfumeries and mirrored pashminas.
An egg the color of a latte, plucked from the nest of a happy Minnesota chicken. Beef tongue lovingly marinated in peppers and then tucked into a corn tortilla. A beady-eyed lobster, madly waving his red limbs and rubber bands. Here a plate of fried sambusa; there a cardamom-laden krumkake cone.
You may get lost, but you won’t go hungry.
What to eat: Such is the wealth of good food that you must develop your own progressive approach. From Manny’s Tortas, we fancy the special: a French roll spread with chipotle mayo and refried beans, and then layered with ham, steak, cheese, chile peppers and grilled veggies. It sounds unwieldy, but it’s actually remarkably balanced.
At the Left Handed, we love the orange-y overtones of the brussel sprouts, which are braised with garlic and bacon. The poutine looks a mess, but is in fact amazing. In a small, checkered to-go boat, curried gravy, poached egg and cheese are combined to create a pungent, creamy sauce that, when combined with crispy pork and French fries, is as delicious as it is weird.
For dessert, we go to the Salty Tart. If we are stuffed, a wee coconut macaroon — toasty, chewy, dense, and tender — is just right. If we have space, the bakery’s chocolate brownie is best in class, with a crisp crust that gives way to a moist, cocoa interior. And of course, the cream-filled brioche is a magic trick: a slightly salty, very light bread, filled with custard cream and coated in sugar.
What to pack: Bring your kids! In the center of the market is a stage that, at any given time, may be occupied by highly entertaining bands, mimes, or poets. And a bib for yourself: the torta’s juices are guaranteed to roll down your chin and wrists.
Midtown Global Market
2929 Chicago Avenue South
Please consider learning more about this project on Kickstarter. Thank you in advance for your support.