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

Where are all the women?

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean under Chefs, Minnesota newsmakers, On the national scene, Restaurant news Updated: March 4, 2015 - 5:11 PM

The photograph of 15 male chefs featured on the cover of this month's Mpls.St. Paul magazine (above) has local female chefs and restaurateurs angry. Food-and-dining senior editor Stephanie March offered the reasoning in a subsequent blog post

The public response from 22 women, crafted in reaction to this month's cover of MSP magazine, is as follows:  

“Where are all the women?” We Are All Right Here!

As a group of female chefs and restaurateurs, we’re moved to respond collectively.

We’re outraged at the viewpoint taken by the cover and subsequent editorial comments on the March issue of Mpls St. Paul Magazine depicting the best chefs of the Twin Cities as all male. It’s a false and embarrassing representation of our diverse food community.

Did anybody notice that your mothers, wives and sisters weren’t in the room?

As a young female grocery store clerk remarked when handing one of us the issue—“Where are all the women?”

The media, as our society’s most influential institution, has a duty to advocate against gender and racial inequalities. As Alice Waters pointed out in 2013, “I think it’s a matter of how we go about the reviewing of our restaurants. Is it really about 3-star places and expensive eccentric cuisine? The restaurants that are most celebrated are never the ones that are the simple places.”

We take this opportunity to have a lasting impact by engaging in ongoing conversation on this topic in our community.

We pledge to hold the media accountable.

We’re committed to fostering the development of our diverse and talented young food industry workers for the next generation. It takes a village.

These, and many other women and men contributed to this conversation and the ideas expressed in this letter:

Lisa Carlson

Brenda Langton

Kim Bartmann

Nettie Colon

Hannah Benti

Nan Bailly

Heather Kim

Carrie L. Summer

Maren Mattson

Taya Kaufenberg

Heather Kim

Sue Zelickson

Beth Fisher

Tracy Singleton

Liz Benser 

Dana Kevlahan

Stephanie Worums 

Sarah Masters

Sylvia Izabella

Linda Quinn

Tamara Brown

Soile Anderson

Tammy Wong

Baker Steve Horton leaving Rustica

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: March 3, 2015 - 4:14 PM

Change is coming to Rustica.

After nearly 11 years of non-stop baking (more on that in a moment), owner Steve Horton is selling his interest in the Minneapolis bakery to his business partner, Dogwood Coffee Co. owner Greg Hoyt.

“I’m a little fried,” said Horton. “I feel like I need to step away and spend time with my kids, but I can’t leave Rustica without being completely gone.”

Anyone wondering about the all-consuming nature of running a top-flight bakery need only ask Horton about his longstanding 12-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week schedule and hands-on, quality-obsessed work practices.

He said that it has only been in the past two years that he’s been able to take a regularly scheduled day off each week. During the past decade, Horton has found the time to leave Minnesota just once, an overnight trip to Madison, Wis.

His hard work has certainly paid off, earning Rustica an enviable customer base and a shower of accolades. In late February, Horton was one of 20 bakers across the country who were named semifinalists by the James Beard Foundation for its first-ever Outstanding Baker award (finalists will be announced March 24th). Horton is a two-time previous semifinalist in the foundation’s Outstanding Pastry Chef award. 

Hoyt and Horton have been pals for nearly 20 years, and Hoyt is no stranger to Rustica. In 2009, when Rustica relocated from its original south Minneapolis home to its current location, “Greg was instrumental in the move,” said Horton. Dogwood grew out of the coffee bar — it was called Bull Run — that Hoyt installed in the bakery’s then-new location. Dogwood now operates coffee bars in three Minneapolis locations, all stocked with Rustica baked goods, naturally. 

What changes will Rustica customers encounter as a result of the sale? “Not much, because there’s not much that needs to be done,” said Hoyt. “I just want to be a steward of the brand. I’m just excited that Steve is going to get some rest, because he’s my friend.”

Burnout is a known phenomenon among entrepreneurs, said John Stavig, director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

“It can be an all-consuming life,” he said. “People who are successful at getting things done often have a hard time letting go. Finding a work-life balance is a conversation that everyone needs to have.”

The sale marks the end of Stock & Badge, the holding company that once included Rustica, Dogwood and the former Parka and Grain Stack restaurants. Hoyt added that Rustica will continue to supply retail stores, restaurants and coffee shops, but he’s not ready to think about expansion plans.

“There’s room in the market for Rustica’s products, that’s for sure,” he said. “People have such a love affair with this brand, and that’s something that none of us want to take for granted. We’re not going to grow just for growth’s sake. I don’t really know what I’m going to do, but I’ve seen dozens of examples of what not to do.”

Both see Horton’s departure as an opportunity for Rustica’s 14 bakers. “It’s going to give people here room to grow,” said Horton. “I feel really comfortable walking way, because we have such top-notch people working here.”

One sure bet is that Hoyt won’t be baking. “That’s not where my effectiveness lies,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know how to roast coffee, either. But I do know how to get people in the right places, and how to develop standards. I’m excited to see what happens when we put our staff to the test.”

Horton plans to act as a consultant to Rustica for a year. “I can’t be out of work for too long,” he said. “I have some ideas, but there’s no imminent project in the works, and I’m not leaving Minneapolis.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and if all goes as planned the sale will be finalized later this month.

From the archives: A blemished past at Charlie's

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: February 27, 2015 - 5:20 PM

When digging through the Star Tribune’s dusty basement archive, what I least expected to uncover was the ugly racist past of a fabled Minneapolis restaurant.

Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale enjoys a reputation so sterling that the folks behind the Charlie Awards, which honor excellence in the Twin Cities dining and drinking scene, adopted the name for their program when they started out four years ago.

But a disturbing 1953 clip from the Minneapolis Spokesman newspaper tells a different story.

The frail, yellowed newsprint appears to have never left its archival envelope since it was filed away more than six decades ago. The further I read, the greater my shock and dismay. Even the story’s somewhat bright-sided ending, featuring Hubert Humphrey, failed to keep my blood below the boiling point (the anecdote dates to Humphrey’s tenure as mayor of Minneapolis, an office he held from 1945 to 1948). It's painful to read.

Still, context: The terrible events outlined in the Spokesman's story took place more than six decades ago, when the city – and the nation – were much different places.

“This article from the Minneapolis Spokesman is a vivid reminder of the kind of overt racism that existed in the Twin Cities when this article was written 62 years ago,” said Scott Mayer, co-founder of the Charlie Awards. “We will exert due diligence to garner the facts when and after this article was written and before any conclusions are reached about the restaurant, its employees and/or its guests.”

My guess is that most living Minnesotans remember the Charlie’s Cafe of the 1960s and 1970s, long after its namesake was involved in its operation.  

Based upon other archival clips, it appears that founder Charlie Saunders pretty much stepped back from the restaurant's day-to-day operations in 1961 after suffering a heart attack; he died three years later. Saunders' wife Louise (the couple married in 1959), an attorney, took over the restaurant’s ownership and management. In 1982, when Charlie's was in its 49th year, Louise Saunders retired and closed the restaurant, selling the property to a developer. The site is now occupied by the 701 Building. Louise Saunders died in 2003.

Unfortunately, the Spokesman's story hits a dead end, at least in the Strib's archives. A microfilm search through June 1953 issues of the Minneapolis Tribune (the morning paper) and the Minneapolis Star (the evening paper) yielded nothing, other than reports of a sweltering heat wave, a Jaycees convention and a Minneapolis visit by President Eisenhower. There's no mention of the incident described in the Spokesman story, or of a subsequent press conference with county attorney Michael Dillon.

Here’s the Minneapolis Spokesman story (the typos reflect the original text) which the newspaper tagged under the subhead “Wrong Color”:

Charley’s Cafe Exceptionale Evicts Fager, Refuses to Honor Reservations

Charley’s Cafe Exceptionale, Fourth Ave. and 7th St. So., the last restaurant in Minneapolis which practices a policy of race discrimination, Wednesday evicted Frank W. Fager, executive secretary of the Minneapolis Mayor’s Council on Human Relations bodily when he objected to being refused a reservation service because he was in the company of Clifford Rucker, a Negro and executive secretary of the Governor’s Interracial Commission.

Fager, accompanied by Rucker and Rev. George Siudy, pastor of the First Congregational church went to the restaurant for lunch. Rev. Siudy had previously phoned the cafe and requested and received a reservation.

When the three men approached the main dining room the man apparently in charge as host, observing Rucker in the party immediately told Siudy that he could not find the reservation for his party.

Fager was familiar with the fact that no reservations are necessary at the cafe for noon luncheons, but this is used as a subterfuge to keep Negro patrons or parties with Negroes in them from the main dining room. Knowing this he questioned two other patrons. He learned from them that they had no reservations and were being seated.

When the man in charge of the dining room saw Fager talking to the other patrons he called two bouncers and Fager was forcibly removed from the cafe via the kitchen entrance.

Rucker and Siudy walked from the cafe. Parked near the corner was a police car in which Jake Sullivan, police morals squad was seated.

When Sullivan was told of the incident he went into the restaurant where Fager identified the two men who had evicted him from the premises. Sullivan questioned the manager who said he did not know anything about the affair.

Sullivan then drove the three men to police headquarters where they made statements on the discrimination and Fager’s eviction.

The three men visited County Attorney Michael Dillon who has scheduled a conference on the case for 10 a.m. Thursday. Whether the refusal to honor the Siudy reservation is a violation of the state civil rights law will probably be discussed.

Charlie’s is the only top-flight restaurant which continues to practice discrimination against Negro patrons in Minneapolis.

Carl Rowan, the Minneapolis Tribune staffer and author and president of the Minneapolis Urban League, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Wilfred Leland were subjected to discriminatory practices several years ago.

Wednesday night the Minneapolis NAACP board discussed the matter and decided on action to force the famous Minneapolis restaurant to obey the law.

A reporter for this paper called Harold Ahlman, secretary and treasurer of the cafe and manager. Ahlman refused to make a statement. He referred the reporter to Charles W. “Chuck” Saunders, owner of the restaurant.

The only Negro ever known to be served in the main dining room of Charlie’s was William Seabron, Urban League industrial secretary, now of Detroit.

Seabron had gone to the restaurant in company with a National Urban League official and Mrs. Genevieve Steefel, civic leader. The party was shunted to an upstairs room, despite protests.

Later when Mrs. Steefel protested to then Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey, the cafe’s violation of the law, the mayor decided to take Seabron to lunch at Charlie’s.

Making no reservation, Mayor Humphrey met Seabron at the cafe and walked smilingly in and was, of course, seated with Seabron in the center of the main dining room.

It was reported that Saunders from that day was anti-Humphrey. A mayor has the power to revoke the licenses of bars, restaurants or taverns who violate either city ordnances or state laws.

Burger Friday: Brothers Deli serves up a side of Mpls. history

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: February 28, 2015 - 7:16 AM

The burger: Jeff Burstein has always had a burger on his menu at his 22-year-old Brothers Deli, but lately he has been (no pun intended) beefing up the burger selection. “We’re selling more burgers than ever,” he said. “I guess everything comes around.”

Last month, he and his crew started a burger-of-the-month special, and their first outing has been such a success that they’ve kept it on the menu. (Be on the lookout for the next iteration, what Burstein is labeling his “steakhouse” burger. Translation: A patty seasoned with a house-made steak sauce.)

All Brothers burgers start the same way: 51/2 oz. of loosely formed ground chuck that dashed with that lifelong friend of the backyard grill, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. The patties are cooked on flattop, retaining a fairly soft, pink interior and a barely charred exterior surface and plenty of juice. It’s one of those patties that kind of melts in your mouth.

The bun is a soft, eggy thing from Main Street Bakery, buttered and slightly toasted.

Where this month’s special – dubbed the Shack Burger – diverges from its plain-Jane compatriots is in its toppings.  

The combination is basically a heart attack waiting to happen, and utterly irresistible to a junk-food fanatic like yours truly. Nothing is skimped upon, either: sautéed mushrooms, thick-cut (and teasingly smoky) bacon and a crispy flurry of battered and fried onions, a blanket of Cheddar cheese, they all get the pile-on treatment. What’s not to love, right? (True confessions: While I was eating it, with a knife and fork because it was beyond sloppy, I made myself stop at the halfway point, as I could hear the voice of every doctor on every TV show saying, everything, in moderation).

The sauce hits all the proper sweet-salty-tangy notes. Like everything at the Brothers, it’s steeped in history, dating to a mid-1960s visit that Burstein’s father Leonard made to southern California, and a sauce he encountered at the famous Hamburger Hamlet chain. Burstein calls it “Shack Sauce,” and it’s a tasty blend of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, garlic powder and coarsely chopped pickles.

Oh, I almost forgot. When it comes to the noon hour, Burstein & Co. understand that time is of the essence. My burger arrived in four minutes flat, and piping hot. Perfect.

Price: $8.99. That includes a trip to the first-rate salad bar, heaped with potato salad, coleslaw, pickled herring, bread pudding and more. Truly, a deal.

Fries: Included. They’re thick, skin-on, house-cut things, and my only complaint is that they landed just this side of greasy.

Dessert: As in, save room for. Nothing comes even close to fancy, but for skyway denizens bored senseless by the drab sweets sold in second-story fast-food establishments, the homey, butter-drenched cookies and bars at the Brothers are a revelation. Of particular note are the brownies, a marvel of dense, cakey, chocolaty goodness topped with a generous swipe of creamy cocoa frosting (Burstein said that the recipe hails from a long-ago Sears catalog). Oh, and the popovers are not to be missed.

Love thy neighbor: In the you’ve-gotta-love-this department, what’s great about the Brothers is its caution-to-the-wind (and highly un-Minnesotan) sense of personal space. During the busy lunch rush, diners – and these are people who, shock of shocks, may not know one another -- are crowded together, elbow to elbow. And they live to tell the tale. It’s the original community table, and in this cramped, animated setting, it works.

A taste of Minneapolis: It may not be readily apparent – the restaurant’s current location opened in 2000 – but grabbing a quick-service breakfast or lunch at the Brothers Deli is also indulging in a big, flaky kolache of Minneapolis history.

I’m old enough (and, frankly, peculiar enough) to remember not one but two jingles from old Brothers Deli commercials, or a reasonable facsimile of them, anyway: “Kibitz means talk, nosh means eat, nosh at the Brothers, a true deli treat." And, “The Brothers’ coffee and pie. The Brothers’ pastrami on rye. When you’re downtown or you’re in the Dales a Brothers dinner never fails to brighten up your day. The Brothers brighten your day.”

The Star Tribune is moving from its 95-year-old building next month, and the thought of leaving this sprawling, inefficient and beloved dump is making me very nostalgic. One of my favorite rooms in this crazy old structure is the clip morgue. You practically need a Sherpa guide to find it, tucked into a barely-trafficked chunk of the gloomy basement (where the presses were once housed), a dusty and little-used haven piled high with shelf after shelf of little green and gold envelopes, each one containing carefully snipped, labeled, dated and archived newspaper clippings, filed under thousands and thousands of subject headings. The earliest seem to date from the 1950s, and they all pretty much end in the mid-1980s, when the process went digital.  

Grabbing a burger at the Brothers sent me straight to the morgue. It took a while – the filing system is something of a mystery to me – but I persevered, and discovered clips. Many fragile clips, all neatly folded into 3x5 paper envelopes. I’m guessing they haven’t been opened since the clips were filed, decades ago.

Here’s what I found:

The Burstein family – starting with Mike and Dora -- got into the restaurant business in 1939. Dora Sudit and Mike Burstein met in 1914, onboard a ship from Russia bound for the United States. A friendship grew into love, and they married in Minneapolis.

“‘Mike shoveled coal first,’ recalled Dora Burstein, explaining how her young husband earned his living while he learned English,” wrote Minneapolis Star staff writer Ann Burckhardt in a July 5, 1978 story.

Mike’s Cafe specialized in Jewish home cooking and catered to the theater crowd. Mike had also been a chef at the Minneapolis Athletic Club when he opened his first place at 21 N. 6th St. (now Mayo Clinic Square, formerly known as Block E) in 1938. The restaurant moved a block away -- 11 N. 7th St. -- in 1939, and it catered to the garment workers in the surrounding buildings, as well as the area’s theatrical crowd.

“It was across the street from the old Alvin Theater, a strip joint, and I can remember people like Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand coming in for meals,” said Leonard Burstein in a Minneapolis Star story from the 1970s. “It was a very simple place with a counter, a few booths and some tables.

Mike served in World War II in France, and after the war, the two continued a partnership that lasted until Mike died in 1953. “‘He cooked, I baked,’ Dora Burstein told Burkhardt. He cooked meats and vegetables and sauces; she baked breads and fancy European pastries. The rich knishes and the hefty soups of their Russian Jewish past were daily fare.

“Dora Burstein maintains that it was she who decided they should open their own restaurant,” wrote Burkhardt. “She was counting on the experience they had gained working together at the Standard Club, a private club atop the then Nicollet Hotel. Though Burstein was reluctant to give up a regular paycheck, his wife was persuasive.”

Burckhardt wrote that downtown’s only deli was a hit with visitors and celebrities, but locals were hesitant to try Jewish specialties. “Corned beef sandwiches? Sure. But borscht? Cabbage soup?” she wrote.

Dora’s response: “I educated them with borscht. I talked them into it. Now they love it.”

Dora’s favorite meal? “A good hamburger with a little mustard,” wrote Burkhardt. How fitting for Burger Friday.

Like most (if not all) restaurant-owning families, Mike and Dora’s sons Sam and Leonard – the brothers of the Brothers – got their start early.

“Sam and I started out working there when were about 7 or 8,” recalled Leonard in a 1979 Minneapolis Star profile. “First we did dishes and kitchen prep like washing vegetables. Later on we waited on tables. I was a wonderful waiter. And we learned to cook from our dad and bake from our mother.”

In 1959, six years after Sam and Leonard took over the business, they moved the restaurant a block away, into the arcade in then-new Dayton-Radisson parking ramp. Dayton’s management wasn’t keen on the Mike’s Cafe name, so the Bursteins renamed the business the Brothers. The new 80-seat place was smaller than the old Mike’s, but it did more business on its first day than Mike’s averaged in a week.

"The menu included potted oxtails and cold, pickeled mackerel, items 'that are lost these days,' said Sam, recalling the old days in a 1979 Minneapolis Star story. "'People don't even know what they are anymore.'"

Will Jones, the Tribune’s man about town, made the restaurant the subject of his Nov. 9, 1959 column, and so much of what he has to say still rings true today.

“The chances of finding something imaginative in the way of breakfast downtown have improved with the opening of the Brothers new delicatessen and restaurant in the Dayton Radisson arcade,” he wrote.

“I stopped in there the other morning for my favorite delicatessen breakfast, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and toasted bagels. Visitors from the east have asked for and got – although it isn’t on the breakfast menu – smoked whitefish and soft-boiled eggs, and schmalz herring.

“Just having a place that will toast a bagel for breakfast in downtown Minneapolis is a real step forward. Working girls in the area have discovered the toasted bagel at coffee-break time, too.

“The Brothers – Leonard and Sam Burstein – are overwhelmed at what has happened to them in the few weeks they have been open.

“‘We used to serve a barrel and half of corned beef a week,’ said Leonard. “Now we’re serving a barrel a day. People come in and say, ‘I’m glad somebody finally has opened a place like this downtown.’ I tell them, ‘But we’ve downtown for 20 years – just a block away.’ It’s amazing what a difference one block makes.”

Jones was all over the desserts: Whipped-cream cakes, chocolate cream pies – “real cream pies, not custard,” he wrote – banana cream pies (“with real whipped cream”), seven-layer cakes.

“‘I’m flabbergasted the way some of these women put away desserts, and I’m flabbergasted that they’ll pay 40 cents for them,’ Leonard said.”

Business boomed. A second restaurant (and bakery), the Brothers Too, opened on the first floor of the Northwestern National Bank building in 1965. A spectacular fire on Thanksgiving Day 1982 closed that restaurant for good.

By 1968, long before Jimmy John’s and Au Bon Pan ruled the downtown skyways, the two Brothers outlets were serving about 4,000 diners a day. A Southdale outlet opened that year. Rosedale soon followed, and a third downtown outlet, in the Midwest Plaza building, appeared in 1971.

Fast-forward to 1979. Sam Leonard and brother Fred were presiding over 11 full-service restaurants, a quick-service counter, four carryout bakery-delis and a commissary kitchen. Annual revenues were roughly $10 million, according to an April 24, 1979 story in the Minneapolis Star. That’s about $33 million in 2015 dollars.

By the late 1970s, the family had opened restaurants in Maplewood Mall and Burnsville Center (a restaurant I recall with great affection; this Burnsville native and his mother and I dined there with some frequency), and was expanding into the West Acres shopping center in Fargo, N.D.

The family sold the business in the early 1980s, and it sputtered to a close under new ownership.

In 1993, with the restaurant business DNA swirling in his bloodstream, Leonard’s son Mike Burstein revived the family business’ name, but tweaked the business into a different format: a counter-service spot on the downtown skyway. It has occupied the same lively Nicollet-and-6th location for the past 15 years.

Address book: 50 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-341-8007. Open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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

New chef coming to La Belle Vie

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Chefs, Restaurant news Updated: February 25, 2015 - 11:51 AM

There’s going to be a new chef running the kitchen at La Belle Vie.

Chef/owner Tim McKee has named Shane Oporto as the new chef de cuisine at restaurant, located in the  historic and swank 510 Groveland building.

Oporto (pictured, above, in a provided photo) is currently cooking at another McKee-run property, Libertine. His resume includes stints at Union, Tilia and the former Porter & Frye. Before that, he was a private chef to a high-profile (and unnamed, thanks to non-disclosure agreements) family with a home in the Bahamas, cooking for a long list of bold-face names from the worlds of politics and entertainment.

“Four-star-caliber dining on a yacht, a beach or a helicopter -- whatever the location, or the request, the answer was always ‘yes’— then figure out how to make it happen,” said Oporto in a statement. “That’s possibly the best training for stepping into La Belle Vie.”

Oporto’s first day at LBV is March 19. He’s replacing longtime LBV chef de cuisine Mike DeCamp, who is opening a new Italian restaurant in the Hotel Ivy (the space formerly known as Porter & Frye) with the team behind Borough, Parlour and Coup d’etat.


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters