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.

A 'pioneer' in St. Paul

Posted by: Bill Ward under Beer, Food, beer, wine events, Openings + closings, Wine Updated: April 23, 2014 - 9:25 AM



It seems fitting that a booze mart will be opening in a newspaper building, given the indelible image of hard-drinking journalists with a pint in their desk drawers in such films as “His Girl Friday.”

Except that when Revival Wine Beer and Spirits opens in the classic St. Paul edifice known to many as the Pioneer Building, there will be no journos in the house (the Pioneer Press offices moved a block or so away years ago), and this store will cater to a more upscale crowd than us ink-stained wretches.

The man behind the store, slated to open in mid-May (with a public tasting slated for May 20), is Jeffrey Huff, who started the charming Little Wine Shoppe in St. Anthony Park a few years back. This “shoppe” will not be “little”: 2,200 square feet compared to 300 for his former store. “My walk-in cooler’s almost bigger than the Little Wine Shoppe,” he said with a chuckle.

But it should be just as personal. Huff has been building cabinets to protect his inventory from getting too much light in a space with “massive windows.”

“The space is just amazing,” said Huff. It’s on the second floor of the Pioneer Endicott Building, which dates to 1889 and had been empty for a few years when Richard Pakonen of Pak Properties bought it, largely for residential usage.

Some of the 230 new luxury apartments are already occupied, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art will be taking up the entire first floor. Huff, who will be the first commercial tenant to open, named the store after the building’s architectural style, Romanesque Revival.

Huff said his store will be heavy on craft beers and the emerging artisan distillery world, and that the wine selection will be focused on quality and value. “I know the demographics of who’s down there,” he said. “But I knew the demographic in St. Anthony Park, and that didn’t quantify into selling high-end wines.”

Regardless, he’s excited to be in “an absolutely beautiful space” and has gotten comfortable with its size. “I guess you start small and get bigger. That’s the goal, right?” Huff said. “This is all the bigger I want to be.”

Burger Friday: The Lynn on Bryant

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: April 18, 2014 - 11:26 AM

The burger: The notion of stuffing foie gras inside a hamburger patty didn’t just materialize out of nowhere. New York City star chef Daniel Boulud has been catering to Burger Nation's 1 Percent-ers for more than a decade with a ground sirloin patty stuffed with short ribs, foie gras and truffles.

Still, that particular brand of extravagance hasn’t enjoyed much of a foothold here in the birthplace of the Juicy Lucy.

Until now, thanks to the advent of the Juicy Goosey, the witty, semi-preposterous (and, yes, delicious) foie gras-stuffed burger at the Lynn on Bryant.

(Side note No. 1: Chef/owner Peter Ireland is taking poetic liberties with the name, since the Juicy Goosey calls upon duck liver rather than goose liver, but that’s a minor technicality, since the vast majority of American-made foie gras comes from ducks.)

This is one labor- and time-intensive burger -- from start to finish, it follows a four-day process -- and a marvel of ingenuity. The foie gras is prepared as a torchon, painstakingly marinated and poached before being parsed into 1-ounce pieces. Through much research and development, Ireland discovered the best way to preserve the foie gras’ silky texture and flavor was by freezing it.

Next step: Beef. As it happens, each burger requires a substantial amount of ground chuck (a grass-fed and exceedingly flavor product from Grass Run Farms), and here’s why: cooking the foie gras any further than medium rare causes it to melt like so much Velveeta. Preserving the liver’s firm-but-silky texture requires a thick buffer of insulating ground beef, which explains the patty’s less-than-dainty proportions.

(Side note No. 2: That beef is delicious. "People ask us what we marinate our hamburger beef in," said Ireland. "We don't. It's just tasty beef. We only add salt and pepper.")

Instead of grilling – again, exposure to that level of prolonged heat is a foie gras no-no – it’s sous vide to the rescue, a gentle, low-temperature cooking process. Then that softball of a patty heads to the freezer. 

Just prior to serving, the frozen patties get a 60-second spin in the deep-fryer (using lard!), which burnishes the outer shell with a marvelously crispy crust, yet leaves the beef’s firm interior pink and juicy and preserves the foie gras’ essence. In case you're wondering if duck liver and ground beef make for a happy marriage, the answer is most definitely yes.

Not content to leave well enough alone on the coronary health front (see lard, above) Ireland piles on more fat-laden touches. Crumbles of smoky bacon started as strips, but they proved difficult to eat. As for the Big Mac-esque “secret sauce,” it’s the classic French sauce Americaine, brimming with tarragon, shallots and cornichons. 

There’s no bun. “We started with a buttermilk poppy seed bun, but you couldn’t get your mouth around it,” said Ireland with a laugh. Instead, there's a crisp, tender and blessedly skinny waffle, its shallow wells tailored to capture that creamy sauce.

The overall effect is spectacular, and spectacularly rich. My appetite cried "uncle" about a third of the way in. My suggestion: Share it, a notion I suspect Ireland encourages, since it arrives, conveniently, cut in half. “We should serve it with a side of Lipitor, and partner with Big Pharma,” he said with a laugh. No kidding.

Price: $24. You were expecting less with a 1-ounce foie gras torchon?

Fries: None. Instead, Ireland mirror’s the burger’s waffle with a generous handful of crisp, wafer-like gaufrettes. They’re fried in rice oil, a lighter touch than the lard the kitchen uses for its fries.

Inside information: While Ireland has had a burger – a terrific burger, actually – on his menu since opening the restaurant in October 2012, the Juicy Lucy is unchartered territory. “We toyed with doing one when we first opened,” he said. “But to be honest it felt a little gimmicky. We’ve sort-of been defined by the doughnut [no surprise, since the kitchen’s buttermilk-apple cider cake doughnuts border on life-changing], and you’ve got to be careful with what you’re defined by. We don’t want to be defined by a hamburger, although people love hamburgers.”

Funny story: “The first person to eat it was an 11-year-old kid,” said Ireland. “He said, ‘this is the best foie gras I’ve ever had, There’s no vein, it’s well-seasoned, and it’s not just a piece of fat.’ And I said, ‘Man, you’re 11!’”

Say cheese: Don’t forget to snap a picture of your Juicy Goosey, and then post it to Instagram (adding #juicygoosey and #thelynnonbryant). The restaurant’s staff selects the best image of the month, and the winner receives a free Juicy Goosey.

Address book: 5003 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., 612-767-7797. Open for dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and open for brunch 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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

Minnesota wine worth savoring

Posted by: Bill Ward under Food, beer, wine events, Wine Updated: April 18, 2014 - 9:18 AM

Savor Minnesota isn't for everyone, I guess. But here's who it is for: those who figure Minnesota-made wine is not so good, but have an open mind about it. Or those who preach "local, local, local" when it comes to food but not wine.

The fifth annual event, slated for April 26 at Canterbury Park, will find 20 Minnesota wineries pouring their wares from 1 to 5 p.m. I can vouch from experience that the stuff from Cannon River, Chankaska Creek, Saint Croix, Carlos Creek, Sovereign and Woodland Hill is absolutely worth checking out, and I'm looking forward to sampling fermented grape juice from Buffalo Rock, Forestedge Winery, Garvin Heights, Goose Lake, Indian Island and others.

At the very least, those who still pooh-pooh the state's wines should check out the Marquette from whoever is serving it. And they also can quaff some beer from August Schell, Summit and Mankato Brewing, not to mention bites from a score or more food purveyors. And if nothing else, you'll come away with a free wine glass.

Tickets are $45 at the door, $40 in advance at Northern Vineyards in Stillwater or at SavorMN.com.

Attendees can buy up to six bottles of wine before departing — the better to change the minds of friends who are blasé, or worse, about the rapidly evolving local wine biz.

Thoma, Riebel to buy the Lexington in St. Paul

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: April 14, 2014 - 3:33 PM

The plan was to make the announcement at a press conference on Thursday, but the news slipped out: Smack Shack business partners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald are buying the venerable Lexington restaurant in St. Paul.

“I’m super-excited about it,” said Thoma. “When it came up we knew that we had to do it. Any time that you’re given the opportunity to update and revitalize a historic landmark, well, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The restaurant’s current owners, John Hickey and Ed Ryan, shuttered the Grand Avenue institution on May 31, 2013. A previous sale fell through in July.

Thoma and Fitzgerald opened the Smack Shack in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood last year, an ambitious and instantly packed bricks-and-mortar iteration of their equally popular food truck of the same name.

Thoma and Fitzgerald are partnering with former Butcher & the Boar chef Jack Riebel. Thoma and Riebel worked together when Riebel was running the Stillwater incarnation of La Belle Vie (Thoma was a previous co-owner). Riebel, also known for his long stint at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, opened B&TB in 2012 to great acclaim; it was the Star Tribune's 2012 Restaurant of the Year, and Riebel earned a 2013 Best Chef: Midwest nomination from the James Beard Foundation. He departed the downtown Minneapolis restaurant a few months ago.

“We’re very excited to have Jack as our business partner,” said Thoma. “I think he’s one of the most talented chefs in town. I very much enjoyed working with him in the past, and look forward to a long-lasting partnership.”

Thoma, Fitzgerald and Riebel all have connections to the Lex, if only tangentially. Fitzgerald currently resides about three blocks from the 76-year-old restaurant. When Thoma was a kid in St. Paul, his family spent 13 years in a house two blocks from the Lex. And Riebel grew up on Lexington Avenue. “His mother still lives there,” said Thoma.

Specifics will have to wait until Thursday. “But we plan on doing updates, revitalizing the existing dining rooms and bar programs,” said Thoma. “But that’s all we’re talking about for now.”

Burger Friday: Mona Restaurant

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: April 11, 2014 - 8:53 AM

The burger: “I hate the term ‘slider,’” said Lisa Hanson, chef/owner of Mona Restaurant. That nomenclature-driven aversion may play a role in the demise of the pair of diminutive burgers that once graced the small plates-focused lunch menu at her downtown Minneapolis restaurant. I don’t have a memory of those burgers, but having had a crack at their replacement, I’m not missing them.

What a burger. Its vast appeal is rooted in Hanson’s daily bread-making ritual. “It’s just a basic brioche dough, very simple, with lots of butter,” she said. Butter, the miracle worker, right? It's a hamburger bun for the ages. Not that they need it, but after they're split, Hanson hits them with a little extra butter before giving them a faint flavor-enhancing toast.

The patty is similarly impressive. The grass-fed beef hails from Thousand Hills Cattle Co., and Hanson enriches it with egg and several judiciously applied goodness-boosters, including onion, garlic “and a couple of other mysterious things,” said Hanson with a laugh but not revealing her secrets. From there, the meat is loosely pressed into thick patties that are wide enough to meet the bun’s edges, and grilled to a just-above medium rare.

Toppings are restrained, just a fragrant pile of caramelized onions, their natural sugars coaxed out into the open after a low-and-slow stint on the stove, and a silky, barely melted slice of smoked Gouda. Hanson also includes a side of chile mayonnaise that tiptoes around spiciness, although the beef’s rich bite doesn’t need the extra heft. Instead, save it for the fries.  

As burgers go, it may not sound like a lot, but it all adds up. “I wish that there was something more exciting to tell you about,” said Hanson. “But if you do all of the components correctly, that’s what will really make a burger stand out.” How right she is.

Price: $12, and served only at lunch.

Fries: Included, a huge portion of generously garnished skin-on spuds.

Ticking clock: Hanson changes her menu every few months, and this iteration isn’t long for this world; a few weeks, tops. Next up? “I’m thinking about a turkey burger,” she said. “A lighter meat, for spring. With basil. I’m not sure about the cheese, but maybe a slab of Canadian bacon, and a fried egg on top. We haven’t done a turkey burger yet, so I’m excited about it.”

Hurry, summer: The 2-year-old restaurant doesn't have much of a street presence (Ok, it has zilch street presence), which ushers it into a semi-permanent berth in the out-of-sight-out-of-mind file. That's a shame, because Hanson's place is both an excellent (and skyway-connected) business lunch venue and a serene, conversation-friendly dinner destination. While burgers aren't a part of the dinner menu -- a shame for anyone with a post-work burger-and-beer hankering -- Hanson does kick in free parking after 4 p.m. in the building's underground ramp (which is accessed from 8th Street). Another perk: When it opens for the season, the restaurant's patio has the advantage of being located away from busy downtown streets.

Address book: 333 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-259-8636. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 10 pm. Saturday.

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



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