What do you serve when you've got a Vice President at the dinner table? The Bachelor Farmer delivered when Joe Biden stopped by Wednesday night for a fundraising event, after stopping earlier for a press moment at nearby Moose & Sadie's coffee shop.
TBF offered a three-course meal, starting with bibb lettuce and goat's cheese, offering a choice of a main course (roasted haddock or beef short ribs) and finishing with a brown butter lemon cake.
It was a heady day for the staff at TBF, which had received two James Beard Award semifinalist nominations in the morning, one for chef Paul Berglund in the category of Best Chef Midwest and the other for the Marvel Bar, TBF's downstairs lounge, which was nominated for Outstanding Bar Program.
See the full menu below, which was designed by local calligrapher Crystal Kluge, who also designed the Marvel Bar's logo.
The James Beard Foundation launched its 2014 awards on Wednesday by announcing semifinalists in chef and restaurant categories.
Six Twin Citians are included in the Best Chef: Midwest category, which honors chefs who “set new or consistent standards of excellence” in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. (The Beards divide the country into 10 regions and bestow a Best Chef award in each of them).
Local semifinalists are Paul Berglund of the Bachelor Farmer, Steven Brown of Tilia, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart and Jamie Malone of Sea Change, all in Minneapolis, and Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul.
Last year’s Best Chef: Midwest award went to Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo., and 2012’s award-winner was Tory Miller of L’Etoile in Madison, Wis. Minneapolis chefs won the award for three straight years: Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery in 2011, preceded by Alex Roberts of Restaurant Alma in 2010 and Tim McKee of La Belle Vie in 2009.
Minneapolis made a strong showing in the Beards' national categories, including:
Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery in Outstanding Chef, which honors “a working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals.”
Steve Horton of Rustica in Outstanding Pastry Chef, which honors “a chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries or breads and who serves as a national standard-bearer for excellence.”
Restaurant Alma in Outstanding Service, which honors restaurants demonstrating “high standards of hospitality and service.”
Marvel Bar in Outstanding Bar Program, which honors a restaurant or bar that demonstrates “excellence in cocktail, spirits and/or beer service.”
Finally, Eric Seed, owner of Haus Alpenz in Edina, is a semifinalist in the Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional category, which honors “a winemaker, brewer, or spirits professional who has had a significant impact on the wine and spirits industry nationwide.”
Find the complete list of semifinalists here.
The Beards began in 1990 and are frequently shorthanded to the “Oscars of the food world,” although while the Academy Awards adhere to a two-step nominee/winner process, the Beards' restaurant and chef categories follow a three-step system, recognizing semifinalists, nominees and winners.
Restaurant and chef nominees — the top five vote-getters among semifinalists in each category — will be announced on March 18 from Chicago, along with nominees in the Beards' cookbook, design and journalism categories (voters include past chef winners, along with critics and editors). Winners will take to the stage of the David H. Koch Theater in New York City’s Lincoln Center on May 5.
The burger: Fika, the exceptional cafe inside the American Swedish Institute (see my three-star review here), has ventured into Juicy Lucy territory, and the winning results will no doubt change hearts and minds up and down Stuffed Burger Nation.
The Juicy Lucia -- great name, right? -- began as a birthday wish. A few weeks ago, ASI curator Curt Pedersen shared his natal day hankering for a Juicy Lucy -- the iconic cheese-stuffed burger -- with chef Dustin Thompson, who had overseen, to that point anyway, a burger- and fries-free operation. "We had a little time in the kitchen, so we sort of threw it together, and everyone really liked it," said Thompson.
It's easy to see why. Thompson cleverly avails himself of every opportunity to translate basic Juicy Lucy components into Fika-speak. Naturally, the Juicy Lucia is served smorgas-style, an open-face sandwich that calls upon a sturdy slice of caraway rye bread. Those hoping for a crack at the kitchen's hearty Danish rye, look elsewhere, since that signature loaf "can mask flavors if you pair it with the wrong thing," explained Thompson.
The rough-hewn patty is composed of fatty brisket, and stuffed with Vasterbotten, the firm, teasingly salty cow's milk cheese that is the Swedish equivalent of Parmesan. It pairs beautifully with the rich, medium-rare beef.
From there, Thompson unfurls the Swedish culinary flags and lets them fly, including a creamy whole-grain mustard sauce and vinegar-ey pickles culled from the menu's meatballs. Along with sweetly caramelized onions, the finishing touch is a plucky flag of zesty red watercress, its deep green hues a tonic to winter-addled eyes. "I love that stuff," said Thompson. "When I can get it I tend to throw it on everything."
It's definitely a knife-and-fork burger -- a plus in Juicy Lucyland, since there's little danger of molten cheese dribbles wreaking havoc on diners' laps -- done up in Fika's modernist sensibilities. It's also ridiculously delicious.
Fries: Included, and a decent effort for a first-time French fry. To no one's surprise, they are served with a tangy lingonberry ketchup.
One night only: The one downside to the Juicy Lucia (pronouned Lou-see-ah, "She's a saint that the Swedes regard highly," said Thompson) is its limited availability. Thompson and his crew prepare it on Wednesday from 3 to 8 p.m., the one evening of the week when the museum is open. Another reason to visit: Papercut!, the fascinating psaligraphy exhibition by Danish-American artist Karen Bit Vejle, running through May 25th.
Sixty second profile: At age 25, Thompson is surely one of the Twin Cities' youngest chefs working in a leadership role. With his Norwegian and Swedish ancestry, Thompson's DNA fits his job description, although his family didn't steer too far from the meatballs-lutefisk side of their cultural heritage. He started cooking out of high school, working in the kitchen of a country club, "and it turned out that I loved it," he said.
The Apple Valley native joined the Fika team shortly after opening chef Michael Fitzgerald launched the restaurant in the summer of 2012, and succeeded his boss last August. The two became friends while cooking at Tilia, and when Fitzgerald played host to the king and queen of Sweden, he asked Thompson to pitch in. "I ended up staying after what was going to be a long weekend," said Thompson. Lucky us.
Address book: 2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-4907.
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The burger: The thousand-dollar bill bears the image of Grover Cleveland. But if you’re going to link a POTUS to an over-the-top burger – as the Freehouse sort-of does, with its “1,000 Dollar Burger” -- the brain’s knee-jerk response (well, mine, anyway) might naturally kick up our nation’s most corpulent leader, William Howard Taft.
Scratch that. My inner history major has just slid way off the rails in a majorly convoluted way. It doesn’t matter that Cleveland was the only White House occupant to serve non-consecutive terms, or that Taft, the only president to also be seated as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stood 5-foot 11-inches and tipped the scales at 340 pounds. What’s important to note is that the Freehouse, which opened in December in the North Loop neighborhood and is the work of the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. (purveyor of such establishments as the Highland Grill, the Lowry, Scusi and 3 Squares), is grilling up a burger that, if not quite worth a thousand bucks, at least lives up to its $15 asking price. And then some.
Like Taft, this burger is a big boy, probably landing in the third- to half-pound range. It's a thick, rough-hewn and supremely juicy patty that’s seared to a modest char on the outside and a near-velvety medium-rare on the inside.
Flavor-wise, it really packs a wallop, thanks to a grind of chuck, brisket and sirloin (sourced from the go-to place for premium burger beef: Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis). Beef this delicious needs little or no embellishment, although chef Elgin Harris, following a trend, goes one step further by boosting the patty’s already luxurious mouth-feel by adding creamy duck fat into the mix.
Forget about lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, whatever. This burger is arrives nearly naked, just a barely noticeable slice of white Cheddar that’s slipped in under the patty. Then, taking a clue from the steakhouse universe, where sizzling porterhouses and filets often receive a last-second finishing touch in the form of a pat of butter, Harris crafts a compound butter using a splash of the restaurant’s dark, malty, house-brewed stout. When the burger is delivered to the table, that flavorful dollop has already started to melt, spreading its goodness in tiny rivulets before disappearing entirely into the seared meat.
A patty this hefty needs a suitably sturdy wrapper, and the kitchen doesn’t disappoint, opting for a house-baked English muffin, notably thick, nicely chewy and beautifully crusted with golden corn meal. Truly, superb.
Fries: Included, and pleasant enough, with a barely crisp skin-on shell that covers a soft, semi-fluffy interior.
Add-on: The menu’s “handhelds” section features four other burgers beyond the “$1,000,” including a well-crafted and imaginatively seasoned turkey burger ($12), with warm but not super-spicy curry and pepper accents.
Added bonus: The great-looking restaurant is that rare downtown eat-and-drink establishment with its own (free) parking lot.
Address book: 701 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-339-7011. Open 6:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
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Change is coming to Corner Table. And how.
The restaurant, owned by spouses Nick and Chenny Rancone and chef Thomas Boemer, is moving is moving two blocks south to the former La Chaya Bistro (pictured, above).
Then Boemer and the Rancones are converting their 43rd-and-Nicollet restaurant (pictured, above) into a casual, affordable cafe specializing in fried chicken and other Southern fare. The Rancones purchased the restaurant from original chef/owner Scott Pampuch in 2012; Boemer is now a partner in the business.
First, the move. When I reviewed the restaurant last June, one of my (very few) complaints was the disconnect between Boemer’s exciting cooking and the generic and acoustically challenging surroundings.
“Well, we’ve solved that problem,” said Nick Rancone with a laugh.
Despite its roots as a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet (an irony, given the soon-to-come specialty of the house up the street), La Chaya, which closed in December, is a looker. It’s also a bit roomier than cramped Corner Table, and the square-footage increase benefits both the dining room and the kitchen.That extra space means Boemer is going to add a weekend brunch service, along with serving dinner Monday through Saturday.
The plan is to make the move in mid-March (“that’s a conservative estimate,” said Nick Rancone, pictured, above in a Star Tribune file photo, with spouse Chenny Rancone), following a slight rehab of the space. “We want to put our own touch on it,” said Nick Rancone. “It’s going to be clean and cool.”
Expect to see new custom wallpaper, light fixtures and woodwork. It helps that Boemer’s previous career was in cabinet making. “Not only can Thomas do the work – which can enable us to do things that we might not otherwise afford – but he also has a good aesthetic,” said Nick Rancone.
Once that project is up and running – the hope is that the Corner Table transition means that the restaurant will be closed for less than a week – the Rancones and Boemer can concentrate on their yet-unnamed second effort.
Along with fried chicken (Boemer, pictured above in a Star Tribune file photo, is also working on a gluten-free formula), the plan is to offer a short list of Southern comfort food classics at lunch and dinner, a reflection of Boemer’s North Carolina upbringing.
Expect to encounter a biscuit-dough chicken pot pie, hush puppies, a thin-patty burger, served on the premises and packaged to go. “We want to make it approachable, in terms of price, but keep the food to our standards,” said Nick Rancone.
The space is getting a makeover, although the details haven’t been worked out. “But it’ll be more than a coat of paint,” said Nick Rancone. Late May to early June is the target opening date.
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