About a year after the section’s debut, a new column appeared in Taste, one designed to tap into readers’ burgeoning interest in the local dining scene.
“This week Taste begins a monthly feature in which readers write in requesting recipes for their favorite restaurant dishes,” wrote Beverly Kees, the section’s first editor. “If the restaurants are willing to part with them, Taste will print them.”
And publish them it did, by the thousands.
First called “Menus,” then “From the Chef,” then “Requests,” and finally “Restaurant Requests,” the conversational column proved to be an instant hit with readers, who loved its insider glimpse into the restaurant industry’s exotic world. It quickly expanded from a one-recipe-a-month schedule into a several-recipes-a-week format.
The entries from the early 1970s hit every marquee name Twin Cities restaurant: beef tartare at the Rosewood Room, tomato soup at Camelot, beef stroganoff at Eddie Webster’s, fettuccine Alfredo at the Blue Horse, yakitori sauce at Fuji Ya, au gratin potatoes at the Parker House, lobster Newberg at the Hopkins House, beer-cheese soup at the Leamington Hotel’s Norse Room and pressed Mandarin duck at David Fong’s.
Some inquiries were politely declined. The clam chowder and French dressing recipes at Jax Cafe were “closely guarded secrets,” the garlic toast at Murray’s was “a house secret” and the hot fudge sauce at Bridgeman’s was “something we had for many, many years and we don’t give out the formula.”
Fortunately for Taste editors and readers, most restaurants happily obliged. When a reader asked for the particulars behind the sour cream-raisin meringue pie at the North Shore Grill at Donaldson’s, Amy Herman, director of the department store’s restaurant division, said that she was pleased to share the details. “We consider it a compliment from our customers,” she said.
Many entries revealed that restaurants weren’t exactly cooking from scratch. Witness the hamburger sauce at Embers restaurants, a mix of ketchup, Open Pit brand barbecue sauce and water. Or “Fondue à la Greager” at Diamond Jim’s, which relied upon a Velveeta/Cheez Whiz combination.
Others didn’t bother with home-cooking mathematics. A French dressing recipe from Elsie’s in northeast Minneapolis called for 1 gallon plus 1 quart salad oil, 10 pounds of sugar and about 5 gallons of ketchup. The yield? Eight-and-a-half gallons of dressing.
Readers quickly began to request recipes from out-of-town restaurants: a lemon chess pie encountered at the Harvest House cafeteria at the Woolworth Co. store in Columbus, Ga.; cannelloni at Mario’s in Denver; “Steak Bora Bora” at Don the Beachcomber’s in San Diego.
“Over time it developed into an interesting status thing,” recalled Kees in a 2004 interview. “We’d start getting letters like, ‘When I was recently in Indonesia and was shopping in an outdoor market,’ that kind of thing. And honest to God, we tried to track them all down. It was fun detective work for us.”
The column grew into the longest-running feature in Taste history, publishing for 30 years. The end came for several reasons.
“More and more restaurants were unwilling to share their recipes,” said editor Lee Svitak Dean. “And as restaurant menus became more sophisticated, the recipes were often difficult to make practical for home cooks.”
Shrimp Bonaparte Crêpe
- 1 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen spinach, chopped
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 1/3 c. flour
- 1 1/2 c. milk
- 1/2 c. dry sherry
- 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 tsp. snipped chives
- 1 tsp. seasoned salt
- 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 12 oz. small shrimp, cooked and shelled
- 6 baked crêpes (see recipe)
- 1/2 c. sliced and toasted almonds
Magic Pan Basic Crêpes
- 1 c. flour
- Pinch of salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 c. milk
- 1/2 c. melted butter or oil, for pan
- 1/2 c. finely chopped celery
- 1/2 c. finely chopped carrots
- 1/4 c. finely chopped onions
- 4 c. chicken broth
- 1/2 c. flour
- 1/2 c. (1 stick) melted butter
- 1/2 c. beer or ale
- 1/2 lb. shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1/2 tsp. white pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
Minnesota Alumni Cracker Pie
- Butter for pie pan
- 1 1/2 c. egg whites (about 10 eggs)
- 2 c. sugar
- 1 c. Ritz-style cracker crumbs
- 1 c. chopped walnuts
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Freshly whipped cream for garnish
Fitger’s Black Bean Vegetarian Chili
- 1/3 c. olive oil
- 1 c. finely chopped onion
- 3/4 c. chopped celery
- 1 c. chopped green pepper
- 1 c. chopped carrots
- 1 tbsp. minced garlic
- 2 c. sliced mushrooms
- 1 tbsp. ground cumin
- 3/4 tsp. dried basil
- 1 to 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 3/4 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 1/8 tsp. salt
- 3/4 tsp. pepper
- 1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes, with juice
- 3 c. cooked black beans (or canned, with liquid)
- 3/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
- 1/2 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
- 1/4 c. red wine
- 2 c. water