A weekend in St. Louis: Great food, memorable sights, freezing rain that turned sidewalks into ice rinks and so many nice people that I thought I was in Minnesota, not Missouri.
First, the food: A spectacular dinner at chef Gerard Craft’s Niche, a remarkable experience for its creative muscle and technical prowess. “People come here for our pork,” said my server, and she was right, along with a deconstructed lobster roll that I’ll be daydreaming about for a long time.
It was a toss-up whether the smoked prime rib or the melt-in-your-mouth pastrami was the meat of the moment at Bogart’s Smokehouse, but one thing was for certain: the molasses-laced, brisket-dripped baked beans were well worth the 20-minute wait. I loved chef Kevin Nashan’s endlessly imaginative tasting menu at Sidney Street Café, and my brunch at the elegant Salt – fennel-studded pork meatballs glazed in a blackberry jam, a coral-tinted pan-seared trout, crisp shoestring potatoes fried in duck fat -- could not have been better.
Ten bucks bought a fantastic lunch (tender fried fluke with red beans and rice and a big plate of garden-fresh spinach tossed with mustard and an onion jam) at farm-to-table-focused Farmhaus. And it was fun to dive into Monarch chef Josh Galliano’s clever and contemporary Louisiana cooking, right down to the zesty root beer that he should be bottling on the side.
Oh, and the sights. There was the thrilling swoosh of stainless steel, a towering symbol of American’s can-do post-war optimism, that is the Gateway Arch (pictured, above), and the exercise in claustrophobia that is the elevator journey to its summit. I’ll never forget the transfixing, took-my-breath-away beauty of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis’ mosaic-covered interior, or the eye-grabbing collection of Max Beckmann and other German Expressionist canvasses at the Saint Louis Art Museum, housed in a stately building designed by Minnesota architect Cass Gilbert.
But my secret favorite St. Louis souvenir?
This photgraph. I stumbled across it inside the Soulard Farmers Market, the city’s 150-year old melting-pot collection of greengrocers, butchers, florists, lunch counters, bakeries and specialty food vendors. Most of the inventory among the produce vendors wasn’t locally raised – St. Louis is south, but it’s not that far south – although I did manage to run across knobbly black walnuts and purple-streaked pecans, both harvested in nearby Perry County,
Still, the cases inside the busy Frandeka Meat n Fish was packed with a fascinating collection of cuts that pretty much define the opposite of mass-market, including pork brains, beef tongues, ham hocks and smoked jowls. The topper was clearly the sign that read, “Yes! We have ‘coon.”
Holy locavore, Batman! I don’t know that I’ve ever stumbled across raccoon in a butcher shop, but after I thought about it, the delicacy made perfect sense given where I was (and no, I didn't find it on a single menu). After all, 2010 Ozarks thriller “Winter’s Bone” (if it's not on your Netflix queue, it should be) was filmed in the Show-Me State.
Stay indoors (well, almost), grab your holiday shopping list -- or your grocery list -- and head to a farmers market on Saturday.
The Mill City Farmers Market is getting together for the holidays, but not at its warm-weather location (pictured, above), outside the Mill City Museum. Instead, 19 of the market's vendors are meeting inside the museum, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. items include cheeses from Prairie Hollow Farm, Singing Hills Goat Dairy and Shepherd's Way Farms; honey from Ames Farm; jams and jellies from Lucille's Kitchen Garden; pantry items from Very Prairie, Bliss Granola, Martha's Joy, Birchberry Native Arts & Foods and Northern Lakes Wild Rice; and more. I know I'll be hoping to score some eggs from Braucher's Sunshine Harvest Farm and salmon from Wild Run Salmon.
Expect to find all kinds of goodies at the Bloomington Farmers Market, where baked goods, honey, maple syrup, nuts, strudels, jams, breads, chocolates, wild rice, cheeses, salsa and other products will be available from 9 a.m. to noon, inside the warm confines of Bloomington Civic Plaza.
The St. Paul Farmers Market continues its year-round outdoor gathering (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), with vendors selling eggs, baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, salsa, jams and jellies, pickles, popcorn, honey, mushrooms, pasta, poultry, meats, fish and more.
The Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market is taking its show on the road, and indoors, moving to the Eastside Food Co-op, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Look for honey, jams and jellies, kombucha, nut cheeses, gluten-free baking mixes, apples and more.
Take your Thanskgiving shopping list to a local farmers market this weekend.
Saturday: Bundle up and head down to the Minneapolis Farmers Market, which is featuring meats, poultry, cheese, eggs, storage crops and more, open 9:30 a.m. to noon. Also, don't miss the 8 a.m. broadcast of the weekly "Fresh & Local" show (8 a.m., AM950), featuring Star Tribune food editor Lee Svitak Dean and her suggestions for preparing a perfect Thanksgiving.
Saturday and Sunday: The St. Paul Farmers Market is also braving the unpredictable mid-November weather with an outdoor market, featuring cool-weather produce, meat, poultry, cheese and more. Open 6 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday.
Sunday: The Kingfield Farmers Market moves indoors for one final 2011 fling, with nearly three dozen vendors. Rather than its normal 43rd-and-Nicollet location, this market is being held up the street in the King Park Center at Nicollet Av. S. and 41st St., from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will feature familiar produce, meat, poulty, bakery and dairy vendors, plus a handful of street food purveyors, from both the Kingfield and Fulton farmers markets.
Wednesday: Last-minute Thanksgiving shoppers should plan on dropping in on a special pre-holiday edition of the St. Paul Farmers Market, open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This weekend marks the last of the 2011 season for a number of Twin Cities metro-area farmers market, including:
Mill City Farmers Market: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Chicago Av. S. and S. 2nd St., Minneapolis
Bloomington Farmers Market: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1800 W. Old Shakopee Rd. (Bloomington Civic Plaza), Bloomington
Lakeville Farmers Market: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 210 St. and Holyoke Av., Lakeville
Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., University Av. NE. and 7th Av. NE., Minneapolis
Two more markets have their final installments next week.
Brooklyn Park Farmers Market: 3 to 7 p.m., 8717 Zane Av. N. (Zane Sports Park), Brooklyn Park
Maple Grove Farmers Market, 3 to 6 p.m., 12951 Weaver Lake Rd. (Maple Grove Community Center), Maple Grove
In this week’s Market Watch, Salty Tart baker/owner Michelle Gayer laments the end of burgers-on-the-grill season, although we do point out that her fantastic brioche-like sandwich bun also shines as a component in sloppy Joes.
I’ve been making this recipe since 2003, after interviewing comfort food cookbook author Marian Burros. I’ve tweaked it slightly over the years – I like more ground beef, celery and green pepper – and the results always garner many enthusiastic thumbs-up at our annual Halloween party.
It’s one recipe that actually tastes better the next day. I like to prepare an emergency batch that I can stick into the freezer (it freezes well for up to a month) and reheat when I need it.
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: From "Cooking for Comfort" by Marian Burros (Simon & Schuster, $15.99).
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3/4 c. finely chopped celery
3/4 large green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 large garlic cloved, peeled and minced
2 lb. ground beef
1 c. beer
1/4 c. Worchestershire sauce
1/2 c. ketchup
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 tsp. white vinegar
1/4 to 1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Toasted rolls, such as hamburger buns
In a large skillet on medium-high heat, heat olive oil and sauté onion for about 3 minutes. Add celery and green pepper, and continuing sauteing until vegetables are soft and taking on color. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Push vegetables to side of pan and add beef, breaking it up with a fork until meat is crumbled. Cook until meat is cooked through and no pink remains. Add beer, Worchestershire sauce, ketchup, mustard, vinegar and hot pepper sauce. Stir, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes until flavors are blended and liquid is slightly reduced. Season with salt and pepper and serve on rolls as open or closed sandwiches.
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