A cheerful voice from behind the counter at the cafe at the Bachelor Farmer sliced through the room’s low-key buzz, invoking the five words my appetite was longing to hear.
“Rick, your lunch is ready.”
Not that the wait was long. Five minutes, tops.
First up: an open-face sandwich. OK, two, each an embodiment of the ascetic beauty of Nordic cuisine. On this particular afternoon, one featured luscious, ricotta-style cheese (made on the premises, daily) that was topped with crunchy almonds and shards of crisp, pink-streaked Paula Red apples, the cheese’s tang contrasting against the apple’s tart bite.
The other? It was all about gooey Camembert, its pungent qualities emphasized by equally aromatic (and gingerly fried) Brussels sprouts, a combination sweetened with a jam of onions that had been carefully nurtured on the stove.
Sure, count me a fan of the cafe’s smoked salmon and slow-braised pork shoulder sandwiches (more on the latter in a moment). But on this day, I was marveling at the rarity of being completely engrossed in a pair of vegetarian sandwiches. In meat-crazy Minneapolis. Hallelujah.
When Bachelor Farmer owners and brothers Eric and Andrew Dayton relocated their Askov Finlayson retail shop next door, the vacancy created an opportunity to snare a daytime audience that the nighttime restaurant (and its lower-level Marvel Bar) weren’t capturing.
Chef Paul Berglund and his team — chefs Brett Weber and Ian Heieie and pastry chef Emily Marks — have created a role-model quick-service operation, one that adheres to the restaurant’s principles of ingenuity, seasonality and technical acumen, but does so at an approachable format and everyday price point.
They’ve got a flair for soups. The current headliner demonstrates the worth-the-wait appeal of butternut squash’s late-fall arrival. Right now their chili, with its sneaks-up-on-you heat and pork-fueled heft (and elegant cornmeal tuille), just might be the best way to hand-hold our transition into winter.
The salads are similarly impressive. It could be something so basic as spectacularly fresh, bracingly bitter greens tossed with a sharp cider vinaigrette. Or it could be what, in other, lesser hands might be seen as a dreaded prepared salad — usually the very definition of “muddled” — but here becomes a flurry of wild rice, toasted pumpkin seeds, broccoli and sharp feta, each nuanced flavor and texture distinct and appealing.
I almost forgot: pork. My obsessive hunt for the ideal pork sandwich may have found its final resting place. The meat — cut from the animal’s shoulder and cooked to fall-apart status — is coated in a ruddy sauce that soaks into and slightly tempers that chewy baguette, and also lingers, happily, on the tongue. A butternut squash relish slips in a cooling touch, but it’s a fleeting respite, thanks to biting vinegar and mustard accents. Truly, I could consume it on a daily basis.
Marks is showing herself to be one of the Twin Cities’ most gifted flour-and-sugar virtuosos.
She has a master’s touch with croissants, conquering the tightrope between the outer shell’s flagrant flakiness and the interior’s feathery, buttery honeycomb. The unadulterated versions are a study in the confluence of skill, tradition and superior ingredients — in other words, they’re superb — but the chocolate and ham-Gruyère versions are no slouches, either.
Even Marks’ coffeehouse staples exist in a more rarefied airspace.
There are palmiers, delicate as parchment and glazed to a lacquer-like sheen. Crackle-topped chocolate chip cookies, heavy with butter, are flecked with the yin and yang of toffee and sea salt. Spiraled sticky rolls, redolent of cinnamon and blanketed in thick icing, make for an ideal wake-up call.
The golden corn muffins, enriched with a Wisconsin-made, Gouda-style goat’s milk cheese, are in a class of their own. Humble, sugar-dusted amaretti cookies, so tender and surprisingly rich, could almost make me freely adopt a gluten-free diet.
But then I’d miss Marks’ extraordinary brownie, a disk-shaped wonder of bittersweet badness/goodness, its fudge-like interior dotted with chunks of creamy milk chocolate. I will die a happy man when the version I bake at home comes close to Marks’ grasp of brownie supremacy.
The breads are similarly admirable, from a prodigiously crusty baguette to the sturdy wheat-rye sourdough that’s the foundation of the open-face sandwiches.
Head barista Casey Underkofler’s painstaking approach to coffee pays off in myriad ways, and there are well-edited beer, wine and cocktail options.
Prices? Not inexpensive. Open-face sandwiches start at $6, and soups, salads and closed sandwiches can run up to $12. But you’re paying for the North Loop address, the adorable/chic surroundings (the patterned tile walls have surely sent legions of new customers to Mercury Mosaics in northeast Minneapolis), the on-their-toes staff (led by general manager Nicholas Hoolihan) and of course the kitchen’s collective talents. It’s a worthy investment, and then some.
50 2nd Av. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com. Open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (lunch served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (brunch served 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).