Q: You recently wrote about pizza farms. Are there more than the ones you listed?
A: Glad you asked, because, yes. The Women’s Environmental Institute is holding its last Artisan Pizza at the Orchard of the 2017 season on Aug. 23 from 4 to 9 p.m. at WEI’s Amador Hill Farm and Orchard (15715 River Road, North Branch, Minn.). Cost is $18 for prepaid tickets (find them at w-e-i.org), $22 in person. Nick Schneider of Thrive Chef Works (thrivechefworks.com), a personal chef service, prepares his pizza dough using local flour from Sunrise Flour Mill and tops his pizzas using seasonal ingredients from the farm. Sawmill Pizza & Brew Shed (805 30th Av., Clear Lake, Wis., facebook.com/sawmillpizzabrewshed/) convenes Sunday from noon to 7 p.m., offering a handful of varieties at $24 a pop. Beer, too. Oh, and if you missed it, here's my original pizza farm story.
Q: The Minnesota State Fair opens next Thursday. Is there anything in particular that you’re excited to try?
A: Yeah, there’s the usual long list of new foods that I’ll check out, including the S’more Fun ice cream — that’s toasted-marshmallow ice cream blended with chocolate chunks, graham cracker swirl and graham cracker pieces — that Izzy’s Ice Cream is fashioning for 120-year-old Hamline Church Dining Hall. I’m also happy to see an expansion of certified kosher fare at the fair, because the Great Minnesota Get-Together should be as inclusive as possible. Last year, it was chocolate chip cookies at Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar; this year, it’s the big bucket of fries — made with Minnesota-grown potatoes — at Fresh French Fries.
Q: Is there anything new going on in the Minneapolis skyway?
A: Kind of. I add the qualifier because the new Elevate Food Hall (100 Washington Av. S., Mpls., elevatefoodhall.com) is located on the fourth floor, not the second, but it’s accessible via skyway. This stylish breakfast-and-lunch food court includes stalls of a few favorites (One Two Three Sushi, Sonora Grill) with a branch of Chicago-based (and barbecue-focused) Pork & Mindy’s, a pizza counter, a sandwich spot and a serve-yourself salad and hot bar. Order via touch-screen kiosks and pay with plastic; prices rarely go over $10. Most food items arrive with the speed comparable to that of a food truck, and the colorful, comfortable dining room offers plenty of seating (along with a pool table and pingpong) and skyline views.
Q: I’m looking for a good pork tenderloin sandwich. Any suggestions?
A: Drop in on the Original on 42nd (1839 E. 42nd St., Mpls., 612-729-2377, theoriginal42nd.com), where co-owners Andy Lilja and Stephanie Kochlin channel their fine-dining backgrounds — both cooked at the former Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar, among other spots — into producing thoughtfully composed, first-rate sandwiches. The couple affectionately recall a road trip discovery in their fantastic version of this Iowa classic, which is served on a top-notch sesame seed-sprinkled bun. “It’s also not as ridiculously huge as the versions you see in Iowa, so it’s easier to eat,” said Lilja. “And we don’t have a deep fryer, so we can’t over-fry it. It also helps that it’s Berkshire pork, and not commodity pork. That’s our Heartland background. When we’re buying ingredients, we try to buy as sustainably and responsibly as possible, while still keeping an eye on the price point.” Price? $11, a great value.
Q: Can you give me a reason to visit the Mall of America?
A: I can, particularly since we’re on the subject of sandwiches. Shake Shack (332 North Garden, 952-466-6056, shakeshack.com) is running, for a limited time only, what it’s calling the Hot Chick’n, a revved-up version of the Chick’n Shack, its crispy chicken sandwich. It’s a buttermilk-marinated chicken breast that’s dusted with a cayenne-guajillo peppers blend, battered, fried and topped with a hot sauce-laced coleslaw. It’s crisp, juicy and not-so-quietly spicy, and it’s $6.69.
Order it with a frozen custard “Concrete” (think DQ’s Blizzard, only richer) blended with blueberry pie from St. Paul’s Cafe Latte, and 5 percent of the purchase price ($4.65 or $6.85) will be donated to Open Arms of Minnesota, a nonprofit that provides nutritious meals to Twin Citians with life-threatening illnesses.
Q: How about an idea to change up my late-night routine?
A: If by “late-night” you mean “until midnight” six days a week (and to 10 p.m. Sunday) consider dropping in on 510 Lounge (510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-315-5841, 510mpls.com). The former La Belle Vie is under new ownership — he’s Don Saunders of the nearby Kenwood — and the place is as gorgeous as ever, with a menu that swings from caviar to lamb burgers to swank desserts.
Q: Do you have an ice cream recommendation?
A: Right now I find myself slightly obsessed by the sweet basil-vanilla ice cream that Jennifer Lisburg expertly cranks out at her La La Homemade Ice Cream (3146 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-5252, lalahomemadeicecream.com). It’s simple — just a delicate basil sorbet that Lisburg oh-so-carefully blends into her rich, ultra-creamy vanilla ice cream — and it’s an air conditioner in a cone.
Q: Loud restaurants are making me crazy. Where can we go for good food and good conversation?
A: “Sane” is how I would describe, audio-wise, three charming, small-scale Minneapolis restaurants: Grand Cafe (3804 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-8260, grandcafemn.com), Xavi (5607 Chicago Av. S., Mpls., 612-825-6900, xavirestaurant.com) and Town Talk Diner & Gastropub (2707 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-353-5398, towntalkmpls.com).
Q: We have friends visiting from out of town, soon. Where should we take them to dine out?
A: Where to start? Show off the city’s good looks with a patio seat at Esker Grove at the Walker Art Center (723 Vineland Place, Mpls., 612-375-7542, eskergrove.com), which overlooks the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the downtown skyline. Or take them to one of the city’s fabled lakes for an easygoing meal. At Lake Harriet, that’s Bread & Pickle (4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls., 612-767-9009, breadandpickle.com), and at Lake Nokomis it’s Sandcastle (4955 W. Lake Nokomis Pkwy., Mpls., 612-722-5550, sandcastlempls.com).
Treat them to Vietnamese deliciousness at Quang Restaurant (2719 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-870-4739, quang-restaurant.com) or Ngon Vietnamese Bistro (799 W. University Av., St. Paul, 651-222-3301, ngonbistro.com).
How about introducing your pals to the work of some of the city’s James Beard award-winning chefs? That fraternity includes Restaurant Alma (528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909, almampls.com), the Bachelor Farmer (50 2nd Av. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com), 112 Eatery (112 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-343-7696, 112eatery.com) and Spoon and Stable (211 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-224-9850, spoonandstable.com).
The massive beer hall at Surly Brewing Co. (520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com) always impresses, not only for its sheer size but also for food (and beer) quality.
Since it’s the height of the growing season, think about taking them to a farm-to-table operation for a true taste of Minnesota, maybe the Wise Acre Eatery (5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577, wiseacreeatery.com), Heirloom (2186 Marshall Av., St. Paul, 651-493-7267, heirloomstpaul.com) or the Birchwood Cafe (3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474, birchwoodcafe.com).
Oh, and I’d add tiny Al’s Breakfast (413 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331-9991, alsbreakfastmpls.com) to the itinerary, following the advice of the late Wendell Anderson. “When big shots come to town, I always take them to Al’s,” the former governor once told me. “It’s a Minnesota icon.”