Cinnamon bread from Nelson's Meats

Cinnamon bread is not what I went into Nelson's Meats for, as you might guess. But this Minnetonka Boulevard strip-mall shop, half of which is taken up by a butcher case, is also a bakery and has been since it was founded in 1965 (it moved to St. Louis Park from Hopkins in 2014). And the cinnamon bread I added at the last minute turned out to be one of their signature baked goods.

It doesn't have a cinnamon swirl so much as meandering cinnamon ribbons that wind around little nuggets of dense bread. It's a little like monkey bread: a cinnamon roll type of dough is chopped up before proofing, and the bits sit together in the pan until they meld into one loaf.

"It's more of a chunkier bread," said owner Keith Page, who ramped up the bakery side of the business after he bought it from its last Nelson family owner, Rick (no, not our Rick Nelson). "It holds up really well making French toast out of it, or in the toaster with just a little butter on it."

That's how I like to eat it. For the past year, I've been keeping a loaf in the freezer and taking out a slice when the craving hits. In the toaster, big crunchy crystals of sugar caramelize on the crust. A pat of salty butter is the only thing I top it with.

Of course, Nelson's does meat. There are fun finds in the freezer, and that butcher case is a sight. During the pandemic, Page also launched a barbecue business, with daily hot meals and sandwiches called PaPa Q's. The buns and rolls for those sandwiches? They're made in house, too. (Sharyn Jackson)

6318 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-935-9092. Open for shopping and takeout 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sat.

Chicken dinner from Pollo Pollo al Carbon at Petite León

Chef Jorge Guzmán initially launched Pollo Pollo al Carbon as a pop-up with plans for its own brick and mortar, but when his Mexican-inspired restaurant Petite León opened mid-pandemic, a ghost kitchen setup made the most sense at the time. (The online ordering system gives access to both restaurants' menus, so we really get the best of both worlds.)

The whole adobo-rubbed chicken feeds about four with a bunch of sides, including creamy guacamole, rice, slaw, frijoles charros (pinto beans stewed with bacon and onions), and two kinds of salsa. You typically get a bag of Nixta's heirloom tortillas, although mine came with a bag of some of the best fried tortilla chips I've had in a while.

That chicken though. "It's a lot of steps," Guzmán said. "If we had a charcoal grill, we would skip some of those steps. But we don't have one, so we have to figure out how to get that same flavor." Here's how they do it: The chicken is dry-brined in a housemade spice rub for up to five days, then cold-smoked over mesquite and hickory till it starts to taste almost like a really good smoked Gouda. After it's charred on the grill, the chicken gets basted in a wet rub and is slow-roasted and kept hot until you come get your takeout boxes. The whole deal is $55.

Petite León's dining room isn't open yet, and Guzmán says Pollo Pollo will keep running while the pandemic keeps the main restaurant from fully executing its plans. At the same time, he's looking for investors to take the chicken business to the next level. "If I find a silver lining in all of this, it's that we've been able to test a concept that before was just a pop-up, and now we know a little more of what we need to do."

(P.S., if you order a chicken, you might as well add something from Petite León's wider menu. Say, the Mexican chocolate ice cream, which is the handiwork of chef Rhett Roberts. It's a deep, dark chocolate with a hit of guajillo, vanilla and cinnamon, and currently the VIP in my freezer.) (S.J.)

3800 Nicollet Av., Mpls., 612-208-1247. Open for takeout 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Wed.-Sun.


Last on this tour of my Fiestaware is homemade cured salmon. I was inspired after coming across a Facebook conversation about some of New York's great Novas (Zabar's, H & H). I'd always wanted to try making it, but curing salmon seemed intimidating. Well, it's not. About a half-hour total of kitchen time spread out over two days is all it took for buttery (and impressive, if I do say so) homemade lox.

I started with a piece of fish from Coastal Seafoods — ask the fishmonger for a recommendation — then slathered it with kosher salt and brown sugar (the exact ratio is up for debate, but I wound up following Dorie Greenspan's method with ½ cup sugar and ⅓ cup salt. I also sprinkled on some cracked black pepper and a handful of juniper berries. Then, per Mark Bittman, I splashed ¼ cup of vodka all over before covering both sides of the skin-on salmon with fresh dill. I put that in a small dish, covered it with plastic wrap, weighed the fish down with a bag of water (you can use cans), and let the fridge do the work.

Every 8 hours or so, I drained the liquid in the dish and flipped the salmon over. Almost two days later, it was Sunday brunch and the lox was ready.

Here it is, sliced thin against the grain on a piece of toasted white bread from Cecil's in St. Paul, cream cheese, toasted onion flakes, and a few shakes of everything bagel seasoning from Rise Bagel Co. in Minneapolis. Who needs Zabar's? (S.J.)

Dough-Not from Patisserie 46 and Rose Street Patisserie

"Is this too much? This is too much, isn't it?"

A friend of mine will occasionally invoke this phrase on Instagram, accompanied by a pile of white truffle shavings, a mountain of Beluga caviar or some other outrageously over-the-top image. He realizes that such excess pushes the boundaries of culinary decorum, yet he is powerless to refuse.

This shameless chocolate pile-on would definitely qualify for the Too Much canon. By design.

"You've got to give people chocolate," said chef/co-owner John Kraus. "That's what they want, especially around Valentine's Day."

Although this craggy confection ($8) may resemble a chocolate doughnut, there's nothing fried about it, a fact that led a quick-thinking staffer to quip that it's a "dough, not."

"Naming is sometimes the hardest part of the process," Kraus said with a laugh.

It's quite a labor-intensive procedure. The molded dark chocolate exterior — firm enough to hold its shape — is dipped in a chocolate-toasted nut glaze and then dropped in a powdery hazelnut-praline crunch. Inside, the bottom is lined with a chocolate shortbread cookie and filled with a bittersweet chocolate mousse and a chocolate egg custard.

"It's all textures you could possibly want," said Kraus.

Yeah, no kidding. It's also all the chocolate you could possibly want. Forget about "less is more." More is more, right? Especially in the making-people-happy bakery business.

Here's a tip: order in advance via the bakery's website, and hurry: the Dough-Not, which hasn't been on the menu in several years, won't be around forever ("At least through the month of February," said Kraus), because it's part of an initiative to temporarily resurrect past menu items from cold storage.

"We've had such an outpouring from guests requesting their favorites that we are going to launch a campaign in the coming weeks, asking the public to name their favorite past-time item," said co-owner Elizabeth Rose. "It's been so fun to see how excited people are to bring back some of the golden oldies." (Rick Nelson)

Patisserie 46, 4552 S. Grand Av., Mpls., 612-354-3257, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Sun.; Rose Street Patisserie, 171 N. Snelling Av., St. Paul, 651-556-4488, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Pulled pork sandwich from Adam's Soul to Go

A few years ago, Rosedale tried a novel experiment, replacing its tired, chain-filled food court with Revolution Hall, a diverse collection of vendors all operating out of the same kitchen.

Great idea, but the vacuous execution was a flop with the public, for all kinds of reasons. The mall's ownership could have gone the safe route and returned to Panda Express and Sbarro. Instead, it doubled down on the food hall concept, this time showcasing an all-local lineup. Bingo.

All malls should have quick-service dining that's this impressive and appealing. Potluck's most recent entry is Adam Randall's homage to American and Mexican soul food. This enormous, marvelously sloppy sandwich ($14) is representative of Randall's cooking: generous, well-detailed, delicious.

The star of the show is pork shoulder that's marinated in achiote paste, cloves, allspice, garlic, lime juice and orange juice, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted for three hours. The succulent meat is pulled, doused in a rich, slightly sweet (and locally bottled) barbecue sauce and piled high into a buttered and toasted brioche bun. The crowning touch is a crunchy cabbage slaw that's finished with coconut milk, chunks of fresh pineapple and a dash of cayenne.

Try finding that at Qdoba.

Randall opened his 450-square foot operation in November, and he's delighted to be a part of the Potluck family.

"I really couldn't say no to this opportunity," he said. "Cooking and sharing my food, and the gifts that I'm blessed with, is all that I know how to do."

1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, 651-528-6945. Open for takeout and dine-in, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. (R.N.)