From a talked-about apple to a chipotle-fueled cheeseburger, here’s a rundown of my dining diary from the past seven days. What were your top eats of the week? Share the details in the comments section.
Front Burger at Marna’s Eatery and Lounge
The back story behind this beauty is priceless. About 11 years ago, Rolando Diaz was doing the chef’s version of an audition at the Front Cafe in Minneapolis, preparing a flurry of dishes for a tasting with the restaurant’s ownership. A last-minute request for a burger led to some serious improvisation. After finding someone to make a run to a nearby supermarket for ground beef and buns, Diaz reached for grilled pineapple and a curry sauce from a Hawaiian-style pizza, pulled extra bacon from a pasta carbonara, borrowed Swiss cheese from a chicken-mango salad sandwich and used chipotle peppers reserved for an adobo sauce. He didn’t get a chance to taste-test results, but his quick thinking obviously worked, because a job offer materialized the next day. “They called and said it was the best burger they’d ever had, so it was an easy decision,” said Diaz. A decade later, he’s still following the recipe, although a few tweaks have occurred along the way, including subbing out the original onion bun for brioche. It’s an ingenious blend of hot (the chipotles are puréed, then blended into the ground beef), cool (that tangy, juiced-up pineapple) and decadent (hello, thick-cut bacon), all in a bun, and a memorable diversion from the double-patty, diner-style cheeseburger formula that remains all the rage. Diaz continues to have fans from his Front days follow him — and that burger — to his great-looking restaurant in downtown Robbinsdale. Much of the rest of the menu reflects Diaz’s Costa Rican heritage, and it’s terrific. Go. 4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 612-272-1370
Napoli pizza at Giulia
Although I will admit to an affection for the inexpensive New York-style slices at Andrea Pizza (part of that is convenience, since there’s an outlet within a few steps of the Strib’s elevator banks, which means I can grab lunch in a flash), chefs Josh Hedquist and Steven Brown are making my favorite pizza in downtown Minneapolis. Much of the appeal is in the meticulously prepared crust, which begins with a 72-hour fermentation and ends in a thousand-degree oven. It’s the kind of crispy crust — there’s a saltine-like crackle when you bite into it — that retains its shape. The edges rise to a dense chewiness, but they rarely blister. It’s divine, and Hedquist and Brown treat it with the respect it merits by reaching for toppings that don’t overwhelm its appeal. While it’s easy to rave over the version made with clams, Pecorino and rapini, I tend to favor the eternal combination of crushed tomatoes, milky burrata, garden-fresh basil and fruity olive oil ($15). And, yes, the leftovers are fantastic. Coming later this month: the restaurant’s version of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which will feature a different seafood special (octopus risotto, roasted cod with fingerling potatoes, scallops with a celery root purée) each night for the week between Dec. 23 and Dec. 29. 215 S. 4th St., Mpls., 612-215-5450
Grilled gem salad at Saint Dinette
The reason why chef Adam Eaton has a grilled lettuce salad on his menu is simple. “We got a grill over the summer, and we’re obsessing over it,” he said. “I really like charred greens, because they give a nice bitter note to things.” On a culinary reconnaissance to Montreal, Eaton encountered a salad of radicchio, endive and anchovies, “And I liked that combination,” he said. Back in St. Paul, he turned to gem lettuce for a few reasons: it has a consistent availability, no small feat in winter-bound Minnesota, and it offered a slightly different flavor profile. “I love that deep, smoky flavor,” said Eaton. “That’s what surprises me about this salad. It’s bright, but it also has an earthy quality.” Agreed. The finishing touches are perfection: silvery, vinegar-laced Spanish anchovies. Creamy burrata. Instead of croutons or breadcrumbs, there’s tons of crisp fried garlic (“That helps maintain its gluten-free status, but it also brings out the flavors that we want to emphasize,” he said). And a sherry vinaigrette built on the classic bagna cauda foundation of anchovies and garlic. Hurry in, Eaton won’t be serving this beauty ($14) forever. In about two weeks, it’ll be replaced by a salt cod Caesar. 261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-800-1415
Hash with soft scrambled eggs at Chef Shack Bay City
Admittedly, this is cheating, slightly, because the northern shores of Lake Pepin are in no way part of the Twin Cities. But it’s close — less than an hour’s drive from downtown St. Paul — and the two forces behind the restaurant, chefs Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer, have roots that reach deep into the Twin Cities’ food culture, starting with their food trucking pioneer status. At brunch, Carlson offers many temptations, but my post-gym appetite zeroed in on the menu’s most substantial rib-sticker. I love how Carlson funnels all the inventory in her cold-weather larder to create such a colorful yet surprisingly light hash — cauliflower, winter squash, potatoes, onions, spinach — crowning it with the creamiest of scrambled eggs ($12). No wonder: local chickens feast on the kitchen’s food scraps, and Wisconsin’s best-fed birds yield superior-quality eggs. I have one regret, and that’s that I didn’t spring an additional $3 for a side of pulled pork. If you’re making a plan to visit this ultra-charming destination — the schedule is Friday and Saturday dinner, Sunday brunch — act quickly; the restaurant closes for the season on New Year’s Eve. 6379 Main St., Bay City, Wis., 612-354-2575
Cosmic Crisp apple
Who would have thought that the everyday apple would develop a whole Next Big Thing movement? But there it is: witness the frenzy over the debuts of First Kiss and SweeTango, two recent varieties developed by the University of Minnesota. This season’s talker is out of Washington State, and it bears an awesomely marketable name, one that instantly reminded me of Seattle’s space-age Space Needle. A cross between the beloved Honeycrisp (or, what orchard owners refer to as the “Moneycrisp”) and the late-ripening Enterprise, the Cosmic Crisp has the fire engine-like color of a Red Delicious, but that’s where the comparisons end. This beauty wins in every other attribute: it’s heftier, crisper, sweeter and juicier than the blandly ubiquitous Red Delicious, and totally worth the $3.99 per pound price tag. I found it at Cub, and the store that I visited — the company’s new smaller-format emporium at 46th and Hiawatha in south Minneapolis — was something of an apple treasure trove, as it included two more lovely Washington State members of the extended Honeycrisp family: Lucy Glo (a crisp, gold-skinned, pink-fleshed beauty with a mildly tart bite; $3.99 per pound) and SugarBee (round and crisp, with yellow-streaked red skin and a notably sweet bite; $3.49 per pound).