From pork dumplings to cheese soufflés, here’s a rundown of our food writers’ dining diaries over the past seven days. What were your top eats of the week? Share the details in the comments section.
Pork gyoza from PinKU Japanese Street Food
The week’s political drama no doubt ratcheted up the nation’s collective hunger for comfort foods.
My anxiety took refuge in what chef/owner John Sugimura describes as his “go-to family meal,” a serving of his pork-filled dumplings paired with his exceptional way with shrimp.
“My love affair with my grandmother chef that I never met,” is how he described the combination.
Oh, that shrimp. It’s a delectable balancing act that’s all light crispiness on the outside and juicy springiness on the inside, bolstered by the tease of spiced-up mayonnaise. No wonder it’s the menu’s No. 1 seller.
But neck-and-neck in the sales race, with good reason, are those dazzling gyoza. A testament to this kitchen’s prowess, they’re filled with a blend of ground pork and shredded cabbage boosted by jolts of ginger, garlic chives and sesame oil. Once they’ve been steamed, the thin, pleated wrappers are caramelized in a hot pan, transforming them into an irresistible bite-size snack. I nearly inhaled them, and by the second or third (they sold five to a serving) I could feel my jittery nerves taking the equivalent of a deep cleansing breath.
As it happens, both items make for ideal takeout fare; actually, the entire PinKU menu — affordable, highly appealing — travels well. Which explains why Sugimura recently told the Star Tribune that the restaurant’s sales are up 2 % over last year, a rare bright spot in an industry knocked flat by the coronavirus pandemic. (Rick Nelson)
20 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-584-3167. Open for takeout 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. daily.
Fried Chicken Sandwich from Lake & Irving
I didn’t think I could eat another fried chicken sandwich.
After assembling this week’s Taste cover story, on 14 of the Twin Cities’ best chicken sandwiches, I was taking a much-needed break from deep-fried poultry on buttery buns. But then the e-mails and the comments started pouring in. The nicer ones told me I’d “missed” or “forgotten” their personal favorite. Others were a little harsher than that.
One thing was clear: I’d upset a whole lot of passionate devotees to Lake & Irving’s chicken sandwich. So, I placed an order, and called up general manager Brian Elder to apologize for the omission.
“It’s far and away the number-one seller on the menu,” he said. And it’s unlike any of the others on our list.
Chef/owner Chris Ikeda, who comes from a family of Perkins owners, developed the sandwich an homage to diner-style fried chicken, but with an Asian flavor profile. It’s a huge, flat chicken breast, marinated in buttermilk and Frank’s hot sauce, and breaded with a super-crunchy, almost-flaky crust. It’s amped up with Sriracha aioli, Duroc bacon, and Cady Creek Farms pepperjack cheese. The biggest surprise: it’s served on slices of La Brea sourdough. For $16, it comes with salad or fries.
“It’s kind of become what we’re known for,” Elder said. And that applies to Lake & Irving’s pop-up in Savage, where the sandwich is also cultivating a following. The pop-up launched in May in — get this — one of the Ikeda family’s Perkins. It’ll stick around only a little while longer.
In spring, look for the new Pau Hana, which leans into “the blend of cultures that shaped Hawaii,” Elder said. Those would be Portuguese, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and islander food. Pau means “after,” and Hana means “work,” so think of it as a place for an after-work beer that just happens to fly in fresh seafood and fire up some pizzas in a woodfire oven.
But will they have the beloved chicken sandwich?
“One of the hardest parts of pivoting to the new concept is the chicken sandwich won’t be on the menu,” Elder said. “We might face some backlash.” If the e-mails I got are any indication, they can count on it. (Sharyn Jackson)
Uptown: 1513 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-354-2453. Open for dine-in and takeout 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Mon.- Tue.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wed.- Thu.; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. Savage pop-up: 14435 Hwy. 13, Savage, 952-447-1322. Open for takeout 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
House Special Noodle Soup from Keefer Court Bakery & Cafe
Continuing on reader feedback, we got an e-mail suggesting we try the soup at Keefer Court. So, on the last cold night before this delightful warm spell, that was the first bowl I thought of. Good call.
“Our house special is what I call our trifecta,” said Michelle Kwan, whose parents Paulina and Sunny Kwan opened the Cedar-Riverside bakery, then restaurant, and then fortune cookie factory, in the early ‘80s.
Those three integral elements are roast duck, barbecue pork, and shrimp wontons, all made in house. Kwan is proudest of the duck, which is marinated then practically blow-dried with a fan to remove moisture from the skin so it cooks extra crispy. The pork is marinated in a wet brine, roasted and topped with a honey glaze. “It’s a very simple recipe,” she said. “We don’t dare change it.”
For almost 40 years, the kitchen has been defying expectations of customers looking for another plate of chow mein and egg foo young, Kwan said. “We don’t make any of those things.” Instead, Keefer Court offers Cantonese cooking, mainly dishes originating from Hong Kong.
One example: The soup’s intensely rich broth, which is an ever-changing magic potion made by steeping Chinese herbs, shrimp shells, pork bones, charred dried fish, and, for sweetness, monkfruit.
“Mom always says, ‘The broth is the most expensive part of the dish,’ ” Kwan said.
The oldest Chinese bakery in the Twin Cities has more house specialties: barbecue pork buns, curried beef puffs and sticky rice dumplings. But when it gets cold again — which it will — the soup ($17.50, enough for two) is a must-have. So is the congee, a comforting porridge made of long-cooked rice, which you can get topped with the same meats as the soup ($16.25, enough for many).
“Growing up, for me, congee was my chicken noodle soup,” Kwan said, “anytime I was sick or needed something to warm my soul.” (S.J.)
326 Cedar Av., Mpls., 612-340-0937. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Ready-to-bake croissants from Vikings & Goddesses Pie Co.
Picture this: the decadent convenience of freshly baked croissants, minus the laborious three-day process to make them. No trip to the bakery, either.
Instead, the bakery comes to you, delivering pale, rolled-up, ready-to-bake croissants. Well, almost ready; the dough requires an overnight rest on the counter for its final proof. About 20 aroma-inducing minutes in the oven produces a crescent-shaped slice of heaven, as the browned and delicately crinkly outer shells give way to layer upon layer of tender, airy, slightly yeasty and extravagantly buttery goodness. They’re superb.
This is another story of a pandemic-related business-plan pivot.
“It started when we closed for COVID,” said baker/owner Rachel Anderson. “We had a whole freezer full of croissants and we had no idea when we would be back, so we thought, ‘Should we sell them, and see what happens?’ ”
She did, and the feedback was positive. How could it be anything but? They’re sold in six-packs, for the bargain price of $8. A half-dozen pain au chocolat go for $9.
“It’s one of those things where you can bake one in the morning, or a whole batch for a party,” said Anderson.
Or how about a whole batch for yourself? I’m asking for a friend.
Other frozen oven-ready items include buttermilk biscuits made with freshly milled pastry flour from Baker’s Field in Minneapolis and streaked with plush Hope Creamery butter. They’re a reflection of Anderson’s tenure at Revival (“It’s what I did, six days a week, for two years,” she said with a laugh), priced six for $5, another steal. Oh, and gorgeous, pre-rolled, all-butter pie crust ($4), which lands way higher on flaky-tender continuum than this baker could ever hope to achieve.
Order online. The weekly cutoff for the once-a-week Tuesday delivery schedule is at 8 a.m. Monday; minimum order is $25.
Anderson is hoping to expand her frozen foods business into the local co-op circuit. Right now — and just in time for Thanksgiving pie season — find V & G pie crust at Eastside Food Coop in northeast Minneapolis. (R.N.)
Comté soufflé from Virtual Boozy Brunch
I miss brunch (here’s some news: venerable Jax Cafe in northeast Minneapolis has just relaunched its weekend brunch service). Which is one reason why I was so delighted to log into this online get-together ($75) and spend some quality Sunday time sharing inspiring conversation and tasty food and drink.
This weekly party is the work of Belinda Chang, an event planner and James Beard award-winning sommelier with a gold-plated resume (New York City’s the Modern and Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s and Maple & Ash) and crazy-good hosting skills; seriously, hand this woman a Netflix series, pronto.
It’s an informal but obviously well-orchestrated hour, with Chang tapping smart, engaging, fun-loving people to share their considerable food and beverage knowledge.
Last Sunday’s theme was comté, and we were handed a fascinating tutorial on this shining star of the French cheese universe from Bronwen Percival, the London-based author of “Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes and the Fight for Real Cheese.”
On the beverage side, Adam Vavrick of Do Right Distribution in Chicago guided us through the ins-and-outs of lambic, that sour, lightly carbonated beer and ideal comté drinking buddy (Chang sent participants portions of the cheese and beers being discussed, as well as an advance copy of the recipe being prepared).
Then Michelle Gayer, the pastry chef who made the former Salty Tart a leading Twin Cities baked-goods institution for more than a decade, took center stage and walked us through a recipe (find it here) that, at first glance, slightly unnerved me.
That’s because, for this wobbly baker, soufflés are often a gamble. I’m fearful that I’ll screw something up somewhere in the rigid process. As always, it was Gayer to the rescue. Her ingenious twice-baked version removes the worry and places the emphasis where it should be, on the flavor.
“I’m not looking for perfection, I’m looking for deliciousness,” she said, instantly creating my new shelter-in-place baking mantra.
The result? An airier, sexier version of a popover, considerably enriched with that slightly nutty-tasting comté and humming with a complementary hint of walnuts. Yeah, this make-ahead formula is definitely a keeper. As a bonus, Gayer and Chang shared a few entertaining tales from their days on the payroll at the legendary Charlie Trotter’s. Priceless.
I feel like I made new friends, I certainly ate and drank well, and I had a blast (it helped that my sweet husband washed the mountain of dishes). In other words, a picture-perfect brunch. The only missing element was the restaurant. (R.N.)