Let's talk food, from restaurants and recipes to farmers markets, food issues and wine. Lee Svitak Dean, Rick Nelson, Kim Ode and Bill Ward will start the conversation.

Hits and misses: Rating the new food at Target Field

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: April 8, 2014 - 3:57 PM

A new baseball season means a handful of food debuts at Target Field. Here’s a rundown.

Although Andrew Zimmern has dropped the sensational goat burger out of the rotation at his ballpark AZ Canteen stand (section 119), he makes up for the loss with a trio of gotta-try newcomers. Why fool around with a mere hot dog when a ridiculously outsized slab of pork belly ($10) awaits? (Seriously, on the portions front, it probably exceeds the Surgeon General’s monthly bacon-consumption guideline).

As it hits the grill, the celery juice-cured meat (from Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, Minn.) bastes in its own shimmering fat until it reaches a optimum crispy-chewy stature. The bun gets a swipe of boisterous jalapeño jelly, and the crowning touch is a vinegar-ey cabbage-carrot slaw, its bright acidity elbowing a dent in the pork’s richness. It is, in a word, phenomenal.

Another winner is the Canteen’s smoked beef sandwich ($12). Think tender, slightly pink brisket and shoulder (twin cuts, get it?) that’s cured for 10 days, smoked and then shaved thin and generously piled on a buttered, toasted bun. There’s more of that excellent coleslaw, and a sauce of garlic and mellow dried Hatch chiles sweetened with maple syrup. Really nice, as are the crispy, super-seasoned cottage fries.

The stand — overseen with a watchful eye by chef Asher Miller — is also serving up what’s easily Target Field’s most refreshing nonalcoholic beverage, a not-too-sweet lemonade ($5) splashed with cool juice from muddled cucumbers and brimming with freshly chopped mint (vodka is available for an additional $3), a concoction that will no doubt prove its thirst-quenching bonafides when temperatures start to soar.

The smoked barbecued beef sandwich ($12.50) at the Carvery (section 126) is no match for the AZ Canteen version. Still, the super-juicy (and super-fatty) meat has a pleasantly smoky aura. It’s sliced to order and stacked to near-absurd heights on what turns out to be an unfortunately forgettable bun.

Meanwhile, the State Fair Classics stand (section 133) continues its novelty noshes theme with a pair of Iron Range delicacies inspired by Valentini’s Supper Club in Chisholm, Minn. The first stuffs peppery shredded porketta into a pair of crispy and, yes, oversized egg rolls ($8), serving them with a decent marinara sauce. The second flattens a generously seasoned meatball, sears it to a deep char, slips it into a drab potato bun and tops it, pizza burger-style ($10), with pepperoni, provolone and that same marinara.

It’s difficult to muster much enthusiasm for either (or for the $9 basket of so-so meatballs at the various Frankie V's stands), particularly when your nose gets a tickle of the tantalizing smoke that heralds the proximity of the Butcher & the Boar stand (section 140).

On Monday’s home opener, chef Peter Botcher — enveloped by that fragrant nimbus and the sounds of juices spattering against the grill’s hot coals — was painting hefty slabs of beef ribs ($12.50) with broad strokes from a wide, sauce-clogged brush. Talk about showmanship: Botcher totally upstaged the action down on the field, although the Twins’ 8-3 takedown by the Oakland A’s wasn’t much competition.

The meat, glazed in a sticky-sweet-spicy barbecue sauce and chopped into manageable pieces, barely hangs on the bone, and nearly each bite offers a bit of blackened crispiness chased by next-to mouth-melting tenderness. A few sweet pickle chips are tossed in to act as a kind of palate cleanser. A fork is provided, but this is definitely an eat-with-your-fingers delicacy. And a Target Field don’t-miss experience.

After several seasons of enduring dreadful ice cream, Target Field ticket holders will be thrilled to encounter a modest Izzy’s Ice Cream scoop stand (section 114), stocked with eight made-in-the-Twin Cities flavors of lusciously chilly goodness.

The good news is that co-owners Jeff Sommers and Lara Hammel are featuring their sublime salted caramel and divine (literally) “Church Elder Berry,” a rose-colored, five-berry (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and elderberry) treat, originally formulated for Methodist dining hall at the Minnesota State Fair.

The not-so-great news is the price. A single scoop — capped with the shop’s signature “Izzy scoop,” a second, more diminutive dollop — goes for $7, served in a cone or a cup. Then again, sticker shock has been an integral part of the beer-buying economics at the House of Joe Mauer from the get-go, so paying a premium for premium ice cream is a relatively easy justification.

Memo to the Twins executive suite: More vendors along the lines of AZ Canteen, Butcher & the Boar and Izzy’s, please.

Weekend baking: Blueberry buckle

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Baking, Recipes Updated: April 7, 2014 - 11:09 AM

Monday is National Coffee Cake Day. Go figure.

When I hear coffee cake, my automatic word-association reflexes fly to one of my late grandmother’s recipes, one that is forever linked to my grandparents’ lake cabin.

Sugar Lake was a magical place in my childhood. It’s practically a far-ring suburb today – it’s about 10 miles south of Annandale, Minn. -- but in the pre-I-94 era the journey felt like a never-ending drive from my family's suburban Minneapolis home.

Grandma Gay had a Sugar Lake ritual, at least during blueberry season. She would alleviate her guests’ car weariness by greeting them with a slice or two of what I later discovered was an easy-to-prepare buckle, still warm from the oven.

Although it came off as an extra-special treat, her blueberry buckle was cloaked in practicality, using ingredients that were always on hand at the lake; no running into town for the sour cream or other coffee-cake staples that, inevitably, end up as a shopping list afterthought.

My guess is that, after countless summers, Grandma pulled her blueberry buckle together from memory. Fortunately, in the late 1970s, my sister Cheri thought to ask Grandma for the recipe. Treasure, right? I still have the card, written using a thick Flair pen, in Cheri’s tidy high-school cursive.

In honor of this momentous national holiday, I baked Grandma’s buckle this morning (using frozen berries discovered in the back of my freezer, picked last summer at Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wis., pictured above), and our kitchen is perfumed with the loveliest scent.

If only I could open the windows and catch the breeze off the lake.

SUGAR LAKE BLUEBERRY BUCKLE

Serves 9.

Note: I suggest adding a teaspoon vanilla extract to the batter when incorporating the milk, and maybe include a 3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans to the topping, two ingredients that probably weren't regulars in the Olsens' 1960s cabin pantry. 

For cake:

2 c. flour, plus extra for pan

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan

3/4 c. sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. whole milk, at room temperature

2 c. blueberries

For topping:

1/2 c. sugar

1/3 c. flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. (1 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x9-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low and alternately add flour mixture and milk in thirds, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until just combined. Carefully fold blueberries into batter and pour batter into prepared baking pan.

To prepare topping: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter and, using your fingers, press together until combined (dough will be lumpy). Spoon mixture evenly on top of batter. Bake 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and cool pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Burger Friday: BoneYard Kitchen & Bar

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: April 4, 2014 - 7:46 AM

The burger: So this is how my mind operates. One bite into the burger at BoneYard Kitchen & Bar, and my brain immediately went flying to the 1966 novelty pop hit, “I Love Onions,” kazoos and all. Yeah, I know. Anyway. My point is that onion lovers will flip over this bruiser of a burger.

“It’s my grandmother’s hamburger secret,” said chef Jason Bush. “Growing up, she was the one who taught me how to make the hamburger meat. She'd finely mince the onions until they were really mushy. She’d squeeze the juice out of them, then add that onion pulp to the burger meat, ending with a splash of Worcestershire sauce.”

The flavor of those carefully chopped onions really comes to life under the grill’s heat. The patty is taken to a straight-up medium, bordering on medium-well, without sacrificing juiciness.

“My grandmother was old school,” said Bush with a laugh. “She came from the generation that cooked their burgers to well done, and if they were thick, they’d turn out like hockey pucks.”

Which explains why, under close examination, you’ll see that the single, noticeably thick patty is actually two quarter-pound patties, stacked together, with a slice of white Cheddar draped over the top of each. That format turns the cheese between the two patties into a kind of stroll down Juicy Lucy Lane.

More onions come in the form of a garnish, a cap of thick-cut red onions that Bush rubs in olive oil and dresses with his fried chicken's spice blend, grilling them until they take on a smoky goodness. The final touch, onion-wise, is channeled via a sturdy, lightly toasted onion bun, baked at Breadsmith. Add crunchy iceberg lettuce and a few generous dollops of housemade mayonnaise, and you've got yourself one terrific burger. 

Price: $10.95 at lunch and late-night, $11.95 at dinner.

Fries: Included. They're cottage fries, and I can’t endorse the greasy, overtly garlicky and over-fried results.

On the side: The impressive baked beans are fortified with smoky brisket, sweetened with molasses and punched with garlic and vinegar. Even better is the potato salad. Here’s my theory on potato salad: the one you grew up eating is the one that becomes your lifelong standard. The BoneYard version bears a remarkable similarity to my mother’s, which means that I was tempted to order a second helping.

Ok, Mom’s preparation swerves off into a few slight deviations. Judy prefers peeled russets vs. skin-ons, and she’s prone to reaching for the Miracle Whip – yes, I was raised Lutheran – rather than the mayonnaise jar. Still, the uncomplicated BoneYard version is remarkable similar and equally delicious, just lots of firm, bite-sized potato chunks dressed in a mustard-blended mayonnaise and tossed with plenty of celery and hard-cooked egg. 

Other sides include grits, mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens with bacon and other Southern comfort foods, all priced at $3.95 for a single serving and $6.95 for a shareable portion. 

“I’m not trying to be the avant-garde, award-winning guy,” said Bush, who was born in Albany, Ga., and was raised in Punta Gorda, Fla. “I want to be the guy who cooks like you’re coming to Sunday supper at grandma’s house. I’m grateful for this opportunity to bring authentic Southern cooking to Minnesota. A lot of these recipes are my family’s recipes, and they’re older than me."

A question: Politely approaching this gigantic burger from a handheld perspective is a bit of a stretch, which makes me wonder why restaurants insist of serving such challenging-to-handle food items in cramped baskets. Could someone please hand me a plate?

Address book: 2841 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-455-6688. Open 11 a.m. through midnight Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

New York City chef heading to the North Loop

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Chefs, Restaurant news Updated: March 31, 2014 - 2:10 PM

The news lit up the Twittersphere on Friday: Bloomington native Gavin Kaysen announced that he’s leaving his perch at Café Boulud in New York City -- the restaurant he shorthands to Café -- and returning to Minneapolis to open a North Loop restaurant he’s calling Merchant.

He was in Yountville, Calif., when the news broke, immersed in guiding the training process for the next Bocuse d’Or, the international culinary competition, and the response has been volcanic. “It has been an emotional storm,” he said. “Totally overwhelming.”

After cooking in Switzerland and London, Kaysen’s rise to fame began at El Bizcocho in San Diego. In 2007, Kaysen was recruited by superstar chef Daniel Boulud to run Café Boulud on New York City's Upper East Side. A year later, Kaysen was named the nation's Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and earned a star in the Michelin Guide. I spoke to him from his kitchen at Café Boulud.

Q: Why Minneapolis?

For me, the biggest thing was opportunity. Not that I don’t have opportunity in New York City, or elsewhere. But I like the sense of having a connection to the people dining in the restaurant. Over the years at the Café, we’ve had more and more people coming in to eat who are from Minnesota.

Minneapolis is such a great place to raise a family [Kaysen and his wife Linda have two sons, ages 4 ½ and 2], and that’s ultimately one of the most important things in my life.

I grew up there. I went to Holy Angels. My folks still live in the Twin Cities, except my brother, he lives in Los Angeles. Really my whole family – my cousins, aunts and uncles – they’re all there. They’re going to be putting in a lot of sweat equity [laughs]. It takes a village, right?

I left when I was 19. The past 15 years have been an amazing journey for me. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve been given as I’ve gone through the stages of my career and developed as a cook, as a chef. I’ve learned so much.

I was at home last summer – I go home a few times a year – and I was with my parents, and a bunch of friends. We were having this big barbecue. It was a fulcrum kind of moment, you know what I mean? I thought, ‘This is where I need to open a restaurant.’ I’d never felt that way before. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

So I started to come back more often, and eat in more restaurants. By seeing what people like Tim [McKee, of La Belle Vie] and Isaac [Becker, of 112 Eatery] and Alex [Roberts, of Restaurant Alma] have accomplished, it really inspired me. It gave me a real understanding of the opportunity that is there in Minneapolis. Not that it hasn’t been there, I just wasn’t looking for it. And the community there supports the people who come back. It’s a thriving and exciting time to be in Minneapolis. And these guys -- Isaac and Tim and Alex and so many others -- they inspire me. I want us all to be successful.

I’m a hometown kid. I’m humble to the bone. I love the roots that I have from growing up there. But I’m also conscious of where I’m coming from: New York City and Café Boulud. That’s going to make people think that the restaurant will be formal, with white tablecloths and fancy silverware and 50 wine glasses on the table. But that’s not my intention. That’s Café Boulud, but at its core, Café is also a neighborhood restaurant. We have a core group of customers who eat here one or two or three times a week. That’s my goal. I want to create a restaurant in Minneapolis where people will come in two or three times a week. I’m also excited because, for the first time in my career, I’m choosing where I want to live. In the past it has always been people telling me where to live.

I also feel like my generation of chefs needs to build something to make the next generation of chefs more successful. I was talking to Daniel and Thomas [Keller, of the French Laundry] about this. Their generation built such an incredible platform for all of us to jump off of, and now we have the responsibility to do the same for the next generation. All of the chefs that have trained with these global superstars can go home to Minneapolis or Portland or St. Louis and spread their knowledge.That camaraderie of the chef community will make the next generation stronger, and they won’t have to go and work in big cities but stay where they are, and learn.  

Q: What’s the timeline?

My last date at Café is June 1, and we’ll be moving home as quickly as possible after that. We don’t necessarily have an opening date, but I told David [Shea, of Shea Inc., the Minneapolis design firm handling Kaysen's project] that we’d like to push for something before the holidays, sometime in late 2014.

We’re still going through the submissions process. The kitchen is probably 90 percent sketched, and the restaurant is maybe 80 percent sketched. I’m very excited and motivated to make this happen, but as I say that, I know that some things are going to change. That’s what happens when you’re opening a restaurant. Some of it is out of your control.

But there’s going to be a large bar in the front entrance. The dining room will be split into smaller sections. There’s going to be an open aspect to the kitchen, I’m not quite sure how much yet. And there will be two private dining rooms in the back. I feel that that’s very important.  

Q: Where’s the location?

It’s in the North Loop. I can’t say the exact location because I want to be sensitive to the permit process. I worked hard and looked at a lot of spaces, and when I saw this space I just fell head over heels. It’s 6,000 square feet. It’s over a hundred years old, and it has an incredible amount of character. It has a story, and I have a story. I didn’t want to be in a brand-new building. There’s nothing wrong with that, but from my perspective -- and from where I’ve cooked in my life, all around the world -- I’m used to being affiliated with a story.

Q: Are you working with any partners?

I have business partners who are backing me up. They’re all locals, and they’re excited to be part of this process.

Q: What are you thinking about in terms of the menu?

We’ll start out as dinner only, with the idea of developing weekend lunch. There will be cold composed appetizers and hot appetizers. We’ll have grains, pastas, things from the sea, things from the land. We’re going to have a rotisserie, and not just for meats but for vegetables, too. A fully vegetarian section is such an exciting way to eat. I want the food to be hearty and delicious, a little refined in how it’s plated. But I want the flavors to be familiar. I just want to cook great food.

The intention is to keep the prices reasonable. I’m not going in with the misconception that the average check will be $90 per person. That’s not something that interests me.

I’m super-excited about this: My grandmother Dorothy [Ann Kaysen] inspired me to cook, starting at age 7. I still have the rolling pin that we would use together. She passed away four years ago, and when she died, I received all of her recipes. All those old index cards, they’re ratted up, they’re stained with fat; it’s fantastic. One of the concepts that I have for the menu is to create a 'Dorothy’s Dinner' and change it every day. You know, tonight it might be a rotisserie of roasted beets with horseradish and dill, and pot roast, or fried chicken or a whole grilled fish. You come in and gather around a communal table and break bread the way my grandmother would have fed you.Then you’ll get a parting gift, maybe the cookies or brownies that she was known for.  

Q: What’s the story behind the name?

I was in L.A. a week and a half ago, and I sat down and looked up and saw this beautiful building. It had this great architecture and I thought, ‘I wonder what that is?’ I looked up and saw the name carved above the door and it was the Farmers and Merchant Bank, and I thought, ‘That’s the name.' A merchant is by definition a purveyor of goods, the seller of a craft, and that really spoke to me. My intention is to continue my craft of cooking.

Q: You were in California when the news broke on Friday. What’s going on there?

There couldn’t have been a better place for that announcement. Up until Friday this was a silent dream that only I knew about. Well, it was only Daniel and I.

I’m head coach for the Bocuse d’Or team this year, I’m so incredibly honored. Thomas Keller is president, Daniel is chairman and Jerome Bocuse, the son of Paul Bocuse, is vice-chairman. The candidate is Philip Tessier, the executive sous chef at the French Laundry, and his commis is Skylar Strover, also of the French Laundry. We train in an R&D kitchen next door to the French Laundry. This was one of many trips. We’ll go to Stockholm from May 6th through the 9th for the European finals. The competition is in January 2015.

I competed in 2007, and it helped create a friendship with Daniel. It’s how I got this job. We became friends through Bocuse d’Or. I’d do press lunches and he would be my sponsor. In 2007 he called me on my cell in San Diego and said, ‘What if I offer you chef at Café?’ I said, ‘I’ll be there in a month.’ I got off the phone and said, ‘Hey babe, how do you feel about moving to New York?’

Q: I’m assuming you gave your wife a little more time with this decision. Yes?

[Laughs] Yes. She’s thrilled. She’s from Sweden originally, so the landscape in Minnesota is familiar to her.

Q: Looking back, 2007 was a big year for you, wasn't it?

I’d just won Food & Wine [magazine’s] Best New Chef. I was on “Next Iron Chef” on the Food Network. I competed in the Bocuse d’Or. My first day at Café was in November. So, yeah. That was seven years ago, so I guess something big happens every seven years.

Q: How does it feel to be moving on from Café Boulud?

It’s been so amazing to be a part of this place. When I sat down to tell Daniel, I said, ‘Chef, you have to understand that it’s not about the grass being greener. There is no grass here. I have to plant it.' He’s like a father to me. I love him with all of my heart. I will do anything for the man. He is such a successful person because the relationships that he develops are genuine.That’s why people go out of their way to help him. I hope that I can only be a smidgen of how successful he is.

My chef de cuisine Aaron Bludorn is taking over for me here. He’s worked for me for five years. I love to see that evolution. It’s going to be a proud moment when I leave and look back in the rear-view mirror and see all the people who have come through this kitchen and have gone on to do great things.

Burger Friday: Lunds & Byerly's Kitchen

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: March 28, 2014 - 2:14 PM

The burger: Diners have two options for engaging in the ordering process at Lunds & Byerly’s Kitchen, the new dining-supermarket prototype in downtown Wayzata. The high-tech alternative involves tapping the selection into one of the seemingly zillions of iPads affixed to the dining room’s tabletops (mirroring the same setup at the restaurants up and down the G Concourse at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport). It’s quick and relatively intuitive, but every time I resort to the self-checkout setups at Home Depot or Target, I can’t help but think that I’m contributing to the loss of someone’s job. Also, I prefer to deal with an actual human being. An iPad is efficient but not terribly hospitable.

Which explains why I was standing at the counter. The employee taking my order was brimming over with such a prodigious amount of I’m-so-happy-to-here attitude that I couldn’t help but make a mental note: Try to find this kind of enthusiasm in your own work. And straight off, she asked one of my favorite burger-related questions: “Pink, or no pink?” she said.

I chose the latter, she swiped my credit card and I took a seat. As a frequent solo diner, I’m always on the lookout for favorable counter seating. This place has it, to burn, in the form of a handsome, horseshoe-shaped bar, which is curved to maximize conversation and roomy enough to order a slew of plates and spread them out in front of you.

Anyway. The burger arrived in just under eight minutes, and I’m not sure if it’s because I was crazy-hungry or because of the burger, but the aroma that floated up off that plate was intoxicating. The thick third-pound patty had a char that bordered on crusted. One tantalizingly charbroiled bite in and it was obvious – in such a good way -- that the kitchen favors the rare end of the pink spectrum. This was a burger that just ran juices, and that velvety rare beef was imbued with a subtle mineral-ey quality.

It gets better. The toppings were spot-on. The patty was draped in a thin, melty layer of smoky Gouda. What a smart choice, as it totally complements the featured attraction, a chopped onion compote that’s simmered to sweetness in beer and teased with smoky bacon. There’s a generous pool of tangy mustard aioli, served on the side, and it’s also first-rate.

As for the bun, it’s ok: Nicely soft smf gently toasted. Its best attribute is that it’s content to remain in the background rather than compete with that expertly grilled patty, or those clever garnishes. I consumed the whole thing, a rare Burger Friday occurrence. I’ll definitely be back.

Price: $9.

Fries: None. There’s a side of potato chips. They’re fine.

Keeping it local: How great is it that the bar taps into so many Twin Cities-brewed beers? There’s Surly, Excelsior, 612, Summit, Lift Bridge, Harriet, Badger Hill and Fulton, and probably one or two that I'm overlooking. It speaks volumes when a mass-market grocer – even one as savvy as Lunds and Byerly’s – embraces the local craft beer phenomenon. Hurrah.

A copy desk-esque query: Is it Lunds & Byerly’s Kitchen? Lunds and Byerlys Kitchen? Lunds & Byerlys Kitchen? I’ve seen all three, a surprising incongruity from such a brand-conscious company. Here’s my executive decision: I’m going with the first one.

Address book: 250 Superior Blvd., Wayzata, 952-476-1122. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

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