Wild rice soup from the Kenwood Restaurant

In January, Joel DeBilzan purchased this admirable neighborhood restaurant from mentor Don Saunders. The transition has been fast, because the menu already reflects the Italian fare that DeBilzan grew to adore during his tenure at several top Seattle restaurants.

While tackling the exceptional ricotta-fortified chicken meatballs or exploring DeBilzan's sure-handed way with pasta, be sure to also venture into his Minnesota roots with this fabulous soup.

For me, winter isn't winter without wild rice soup, although this year I've been too lazy to make it, despite having a recipe that couldn't be easier to prepare (find it at http://strib.mn/3twJHO4). Fortunately, DeBilzan has come to the rescue, armed with a doozy of a rendition.

His secret weapon? Duck. Roasted duck bones become the building block for a deeply flavorful broth, and the tender meat from confit duck legs is a welcome variation on the chicken that usually lands in this classic. (It's also an example of practicality: DeBilzan has a duck breast on the menu, and this soup is a vehicle for the rest of the bird.) Carrots contribute color and a touch of sweetness, and a splash of cream lends body but doesn't overwhelm the wild rice's gentle nuttiness.

A single serving is $8, but consider ordering the handy large size ($12) so you've got a quart on hand. And for a touch of Italy, pair it with the first-rate house-baked focaccia ($5). (Rick Nelson)

2115 W. 21st St., Mpls., 612-377-3695, thekenwoodrestaurant.com. Open for curbside pickup noon-8 p.m. Tue.-Fri. and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat. Dining open 5-8 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Cheese pizza from Woodfire at Eastside

Here's another romantic suggestion for Valentine's Day. Share the cheese pizza from Woodfire at Eastside. Trust me: if only one person in a relationship takes a bite of this pie, which is daringly heavy on garlic, the other will surely notice.

Chef/owner Jamie Malone designed it that way. "For me, garlic is my favorite part of pizza," she said.

Right before it goes into the oven, she shaves a cascade of raw garlic on top. "It's so fresh and bright," she said. And pungent. In the best way.

And the pizza ($14) marries so well to parsley: "such a simple thing and almost an afterthought," Malone said. "You have this rich, indulgent pizza and put parsley on it, and it's like an elegant lift. Parsley and garlic are magical together." (Sharyn Jackson)

305 S. Washington Av., Mpls., 612-208-1638, woodfireateastside.com. Open for takeout 4-9 p.m. Thu.-Sat.

Smoked trout spread from the Bungalow Club

Speaking of pizza, I could wax on about Bungalow Club's terrific Sicilian-style pie, which has been a Sunday-night mainstay under the name Lil' Chovi throughout the pandemic. Sadly, that pizza has gone on hiatus at least until sometime this spring. Beginning Sundays in March, chef/owner Andrew Kraft is shifting his focus to a weekly pasta special, and giving some of the profits to rotating south Minneapolis charities. Sign me up.

But there are more reasons to stop in to the charming East Lake Street restaurant. Like this smoked trout spread, one of the prepared items available from a petite market set up just inside the front door. Kraft wanted to have a few grab-and-go foods that customers could easily pick up, take home and make fancy little restaurant-style noshes. Focaccia, crackers, deviled ham spread, housemade pasta and sauces are all on display.

I grabbed the trout ($10), which harks to Kraft's time as a chef in New York City.

"That's one thing I really miss about the East Coast is the Jewish delis, so I thought it was a nod to that," he said. In New York, you'll more likely find whitefish salad, and except for flecks of pink from the smoked steelhead trout, this mimics the deli classic. The trout is combined with capers, pickled onions, mayo and mustard and would be great on those house sea salt crackers, but I scooped it right onto Ritz crackers, an entirely underrated canvas for aperitivi and a decision I firmly stand by. (Maybe I'm defensive, but I got reamed out for putting cream cheese and lox on white bread — baked fresh by a Jewish delicatessen! — last week.)

The other crackers are shmeared with chicken liver pâté, also delicious. While it also reminded me of East Coast delis, it's actually a gift to Kraft's dad. "That was one of his requests," Kraft said, "that we always have the pâté around." (S.J.)

4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-866-3334, thebungalowclubmpls.com. Open for dine in and takeout 4-9 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Croissant loaf from Black Walnut Bakery

"Bakers are frugal by nature," said owner Sarah Botcher. "You have to find a way to repurpose every scrap. It all adds up, and that's how you pay your rent."

This glorious pan loaf is the result of that careful economic conservation: what to do with the prized scraps of the butter-laden laminated dough that become Botcher's glorious croissants?

Enter the Pullman loaf pan. The deeply aromatic results — golden and delicately flaky on the outside, a web of soft, milky white layers on the inside — were originally enlisted for the kitchen's habit-forming egg sandwich. Then Botcher started making the bread available as its own menu item, selling the rectangular loaves in full ($12) and convenient half-loaf ($6) sizes.

It makes for a dreamy French toast. My go-to recipe (from the former Rye Deli in Minneapolis) calls for challah, but it's even more decadent with Black Walnut's croissant loaf.

The six-slice formula is easy to make. In a large bowl, whisk together 6 eggs and 4 egg yolks. Add 2 tablespoons sugar, 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, ¾ cup heavy cream and ¾ cup whole milk and whisk to combine. Place 1-inch thick bread slices, one at a time, into the custard mixture, turning them until they are thoroughly saturated but not falling apart, about 30 seconds per side.

In a griddle or skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Add as many custard-soaked bread slices as the pan will allow without crowding, and cook until the underside is golden brown. Turn the bread and cook until the second side is golden brown. Repeat with remaining bread, melting additional butter, as needed, before cooking remaining slices. Serve immediately, or keep warm in a 200-degree oven.

Yeah, I know what I'll be making for Valentine's Day breakfast. For Feb. 14, Botcher and her crew are turning out lychee-raspberry mousse cakes ("It's like a Jell-O salad on steroids," said Botcher), lemon tarts with rose petals, heart-shaped shortbread sandwich cookies filled with caramel ganache and all kinds of chocolate delights.

"We have to be fun and festive, especially with COVID," she said. "I want to create warmth, and a sense of normalcy. People still have love during COVID." (R.N.)

3157 S. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-353-6552, blackwalnutbakery.com. Open for takeout 8 a.m.-1 p.m. daily.

Brioche sandwich from Savory Bake House

When co-owner and intrepid counter guy Max Okray opens the door at 9 a.m., he is often greeted by a line — socially distanced, of course — of customers that can meander for almost two blocks.

"We're doing more business than ever," said co-owner and baker Sandra Sherva.

When I arrived at 10:30, the queue had dwindled to maybe five people. The short wait became tense as I pondered the inevitable sellouts. Here's hoping that my "please don't run out of brioche" mutterings weren't audible.

Sherva, a one-woman baking operation, uses "shoe box" to describe her workspace. Her labor and space constraints leave no room for complicated laminated dough, but she can manage a brioche. And how. That egg- and butter-enriched formula (sweetened with a pop of honey) is the basis for these uncomplicated beauties, which more than live up to the Savory Bake House name.

They're basically an oblong-shaped roll, filled with something irresistible. Sherva has about a half-dozen variations and often reaches for ham, but I lucked into tender pulled chicken doused in a vividly garlicky cream sauce and laced with spinach and roasted tomatoes. All that obvious craftsmanship goes for $6.50, a tremendous value.

"That's intentional," said Sherva. "We strive to make things affordable because I've worked in a lot of places where I couldn't afford to eat."

But back to the bakery's devoted following. Sherva and Okray spent last summer cooking for homeless encampments in the city's parks, and their efforts were funded by donations from their clientele.

"That generosity really speaks to our customer base," said Sherva. "And to our community."(R.N.)

3008 36th Av. S., Mpls., savorybakehouse.com. Open for takeout 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Thu.-Sun.