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.

Dinner for 2,000 in St. Paul

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean under Farmers and foraging, Healthy eating, Locally-produced food, Minnesota newsmakers Updated: September 15, 2014 - 1:18 PM
Locally grown produce was featured at a meal for 2,000 in St. Paul. Photos by Richard Tsong-Taatarii/ Star Tribune

Locally grown produce was featured at a meal for 2,000 in St. Paul. Photos by Richard Tsong-Taatarii/ Star Tribune

The dinner table was the gathering place Sunday on Victoria Street in St. Paul. A half-mile dinner table, at that, which ran down the middle of the street between University and Minnehaha avenues as part of a project called "Create: The Community Meal."

The meal was intended to be both a piece of art -- "a big piece of social sculpture," as artist and organizer Seitu Jones described it -- and a reminder that mealtime should be about healthy food, with an emphasis on local fare.

"Everyone has a story written in proteins and carbohydrates and culture and family traditions," said Jones, who was inspired to create this "artwork" after watching people walk by his St. Paul studio in Frogtown with bags of groceries from the local convenience store. "At the heart of the project, it's really about food access, food justice and healthy eating," Jones told staff writer Rick Nelson in an interview.

A majority of the food came from within 50 miles of the Twin Cities, and the event itself brought farmers to the table to meet with those who ate their food.


Eric Avery and Martha Kaemmer await the bell to signal the start of the event.

Eric Avery and Martha Kaemmer await the bell to signal the start of the event.

A parade of hosts brought out the food to the guests.

A parade of hosts brought out the food to the guests.




Rick Nelson interviewed Seitu Jones in advance about the event. Jones spoke with photographer Richard Tsong-Taatarii in this video.




Recipe: Peach cobbler

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Baking, Farmers markets, Recipes Updated: September 15, 2014 - 11:05 AM



Peach season is in full swing (I spied this beauties -- direct from Coloma, Mich. -- on Saturday, at the East Town Market in Milwaukee). Take advantage with this can't-miss cobbler recipe. I've never made a better one.



Serves 6 to 8.

Note: From Williams-Sonoma.

For dough:

1 1/4 c. flour

1/3 c. sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

7 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. very cold water

For cobbler:

3 lb. peaches, peeled, pitted and each cut into 8

1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar, divided

1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. firmly packed light brown

2 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 egg, lightly beaten

Vanilla ice cream for serving


To prepare dough: In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flour, sugar and salt and pulse just to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter pieces no larger than small peas.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk, vanilla and cold water. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and pulse just until dough pulls together; do not overmix.

Transfer dough to a work surface, pat into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To prepare cobbler: When ready to bake, preheat an oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir together peaches, 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. granulated sugar, the brown sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and nutmeg. Transfer to a 2-quart rectangular baking dish and scatter butter pieces on top.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out cobbler dough to a ¼-inch thickness. Tear dough into 3-inch pieces and place on top of peach filling. Brush dough with beaten egg and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake cobbler for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and bake until topping is browned, 50 to 60 minutes more. 

Burger Friday: Crema Cafe

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: September 12, 2014 - 7:57 AM

The burger: There’s no question that Crema Cafe, the home of Sonny's Ice Cream, serves a fine burger. But in a step-away-from-the-script moment here at Burger Friday, let’s pay homage to the menu’s Sloppy Ron.

The name is a nod to chef/co-owner Ron Siron. His version of the Sloppy Joe is a joy to behold, a 50/50 mix of premium ground beef (hailing, as so many top-notch burgers do, from Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis.) and pork (from that shining star of all things pork, Fischer Family Farms Pork in Waseca, Minn.), a rich composition held together by a thickly simmered tomato sauce that Siron seasons with a secret spice combination.

Unlike the Sloppy Joe of your high school cafeteria, the Sloppy Ron boasts a nuanced bit of heat at the back of each bite, and that robust tomato-based sauce hits just the right consistency: not so thick that it isn’t sloppy, but not so runny that it doesn’t keep all that delicious ground beef and pork together.

Siron liberally spoons that meaty goodness over a toasted brioche bun that's so expertly made that it could have only come from Rustica. “It’s the same bun we use with our burgers,” said Siron. “It’s kind of weird, because if you get a regular white bun – which I like – they tend to fall apart. But the brioche bun holds the Sloppy Ron and the burgers better. It’s nice and buttery, and they toast really well.”

Yes, they do. As for garnishes, there’s a garden-fresh lettuce leaf and a few nicely vinegar-ey pickles, and that’s it. Not that this meal-in-a-bun needs anything else.

Price: $7.95, a bargain.

Fries: None. Splurge and order the side salad, a thoughtful pile of just-picked organic greens, expertly dressed in a basic and utterly satisfying vinaigrette. It’s well worth the $2.95 investment.

More than ice cream: Siren started serving food at his ice cream shop nearly a decade ago. “We want to make it like a European cafe, with wine and beer and good local food,” he said. “That’s a big buzz word, local, but that’s the way we eat. And when you come in, that’s the way you’ll eat. It’s just good, honest, wholesome food. I’m not Thomas Keller. I’m all about comfort food. Carrie [Gustafson, Siron’s business and life partner] calls me an Italian grandma, because I want to feed everybody and get them fat.”

Coming soon: Siron is going to introduce a vegetarian version of the Sloppy Ron. “We’ll probably start it this fall,” he said.

Meanwhile, at the scoop case: Siron recently began producing gelato: chocolate-hazelnut, brown butter-cashew, vanilla bean and other, gotta-try excursions into frozen creaminess. “The techniques are very different from making ice cream,” he said. “Our old ice cream machines are like bulldozers, really heavy duty. Our gelato machine is like a Ferrari. It doesn’t even sound like a machine. It hums and whistles. It’s fun, and the freshness of the milk and the cream reminds me of the old days, when Sonny [Siron’s late father, and the Sonny of Sonny’s Ice Cream] and I used to make our own bases. I’m turning 60 on Sunday – I thought I’d die before I got old – but I have literally been making ice cream for 50 years.”

One last thought: The cafe's alley-like patio is the epitome of romantic. Take advantage while the weather still cooperates.

Address book: 3403 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. The Sloppy Ron is available 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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

Parka closing, becoming a Dogwood Coffee bar

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: September 11, 2014 - 3:02 PM

Just as the weather is starting to turn cool, Parka is going away.

The not-quite-two-years-old E. Lake Street restaurant, which shares space with Forage Modern Workshop, is a collaboration between Dogwood Coffee Co. and Rustica.

I'm bummed (selfishly, the restaurant isn't far from my house, and its under-the-radar breakfast menu is one of the Twin Cities' loveliest) by the news. "I am, too," said co-owner Greg Hoyt. “But not enough people are rewarding us for what we do."

The space isn't going dark. Hoyt & Co. are rebranding it as a Dogwood Coffee bar, and it will feature a full line of the company's trademark carefully-prepared brewed beverages, along with Rustica pastries, sweets and sandwiches.

Parka’s last meals will be served on Sept. 21, and the space will close for a week for renovations.

“We want to give it more of a coffeehouse feel,” said Hoyt. One major change will be placing a wall to cover the now-open kitchen. Hoyt said the facility will probably be repurposed as a Rustica baking site. "They're just bursting at the seams," he said.

Burger Friday: The Third Bird

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: September 5, 2014 - 3:19 PM

The burger: What a pleasure to find chef Lucas Almendinger at the helm of the Third Bird, the Loring Park newcomer that opened in late August in the former (and more enchanting than ever) home of Cafe Maude at Loring (and, before that, Nick and Eddie). He’s a huge talent who made the short-lived Union Fish Market a notable new-in-2013 endeavor.

For the burger on his lunch, dinner and brunch menus, Almendinger is skipping beef in favor of grass-fed bison. “The focus of what I want to do here is be a Midwestern restaurant,” he said. "Bison is a little healthier than beef, and it’s unique. I’m from South Dakota, and I sort of love bison. There are bison burgers all over South Dakota, and they’re not good, so I wanted to do a good one."

Mission accomplished. Almendinger wisely exercises restraint, allowing the meat's gentle, pristine flavor to speak for itself. The only (well-calibrated) seasoning is salt and pepper, and then the thick, hand-formed patties are fried on a flattop. In butter, a welcome fat injection for the naturally lean meat.

"How do you like it cooked?" asked my gracious and well-schooled server, music to my ears. When I told her I'd prefer it the way the kitchen prefers to prepare it, she came back with "medium-rare," and that's precisely the way it arrived. (And thoughtfully cut in half; my friend and I were sharing courses).

Composition-wise, Almendinger is offering a kind-of tribute to fast-food burgers, and the muted, scrupulously attended-to details bear that out.

A Thousand Island-style dressing serves as a shout-out to the Big Mac, but Almendinger’s far more flavorful aioli-based version isn’t exactly Golden Arches territory, what with its Sriracha (for subtle heat) and cornichons (for brief acidic flashes) touches.

White onions are sliced thin and coaxed on the griddle to sweet, near-black caramelization, then finished with a splash of mustard oil. A stack of pale, crisp iceberg adds just-right crunch.

As for the bun, it's a soft, milk-laced beauty, its golden top studded with sesame seeds and its interior toasted on the grill. They're baked on the premises, and they're terrific. 

There’s a story behind the choice of cheese, a Wisconsin white Cheddar. “Cheddars have the best flavor for a burger,” said Almendinger. “But a lot of the sharp Cheddars don’t melt well, so we went through this long process to find a good white Cheddar that would melt appropriately.”

Its Wisconsin roots are also a shout-out to owner Kim Bartmann’s heritage. “And we want to keep it in the Midwestern ballpark,” said Almendinger.

Would I return for a second? Absolutely, and as soon as possible. I can hear the voice of Mr. Gerlach, my high school English teacher, ringing through my brain. "A for the day," he would say.

Price: $11, and so very worth it.

Fries: None. Instead, excellent house-made potato chips that adhere to the simple-is-best mantra, just thin-sliced russets, hit with smoked sea salt and malt vinegar powder. I wanted to ask for an extra helping.

Busted: When Bill Summerville gave the contents of our table a sharp-eyed once-over, my diner's intuition guessed his question before he asked it. "Why aren't you having a glass of wine?" he teased. And really, why wasn't I? For Third Bird, Summerville has composed a dream of a list, at prices that support constant if not enthusiastic exploration. My tragic response: There was work to be done back at the office, post-lunch, and I was being a prudent, nose-to-the-grindstone Midwesterner, ergo my (delicious) non-alcoholic cocktail. But if I needed a reason to return to the restaurant -- beyond that burger, of course -- Summerville's list is definitely that. 

Friendly shout-out: When tapped for a burger recommendation – one that’s not on his own menu, anyway -- Almendinger had an immediate response. “Landon’s burger is my favorite,” he said, referring to North Loop-er Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish. “It presents simply but every element is done super-well. It’s a great burger.” I agree.

Address book: 1612 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-767-9495. Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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


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