Taste 50 2008
1. Mill city marvel
There are plenty of reasons to become a regular at the Mill City Farmers Market, and Susan Dietrich belongs at the top of that list. Her Very Prairie stand is stocked with her own exquisite flatbread crackers, crostinis, mustards and chutneys, as well as fresh and aged goat cheeses, "all the stuff that goes great on a cheese board," she said. There's street food, too, in the form of s'mores, built with her handmade graham crackers and marshmallows that are bruleed to order. "I don't know if I'm going to make any money on them," she said with a laugh. "But they sure taste good."
2. Lettuce that impresses
Fresh, year-round, locally raised lettuce just got huge, thanks to Bushel Boy, the Owatonna, Minn., greenhouse grower that has introduced leaf lettuce sold with its root system intact, a texture- and flavor-retaining bonus that also adds several days of refrigerated shelf life.
3. Think pink
Here's a guaranteed day brightener: Head to the Finnish Bistro and indulge in one (or four) of Soile Anderson's exquisitely buttery shortbread sandwiches, filled with raspberry preserves and topped with cute pink icing.
4. Done good
Dunn Bros. Coffee has an admirable gift for breathing new life into beloved old buildings. The long list includes the enchanting 131-year-old Smith Douglas More house in Eden Prairie (below), the 129-year-old yellow brick freight house at the Milwaukee Road Depot in downtown Minneapolis, a former grocery dating to 1901 in Minnetonka and, most brilliantly, the chain's newest location in the Education Sciences Building, the 1924 beauty on the University of Minnesota campus where the taconite refining process was born.
5. Mill city sadness
The imposing gray granite obelisk that dominates Lakewood Cemetery's northwest corner doesn't commemorate a city father or a captain of industry. This dignified memorial honors the 18 men who lost their lives when the world's then-largest flour mill, the Washburn A, exploded on May 2, 1878. Beneath carved representations of mill stones and shafts of wheat, an inscription reads, "Labor wide as the earth hath its summit in heaven."
6. Wake-up call
The cheapest breakfast in town -- just $2 -- also happens to be one of the most satisfying. It's two slices of whatever breads are on the cutting board (an embarrassment of riches) at Rustica, served with sweet butter and raspberry jam.
7. Picture perfect
"The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook" is just that, a lushly photographed travelogue that asks the creative minds behind several dozen restaurants to find inspiration in the glorious output of an equal number of family farms; 100 delicious recipes ensue.
8. Unsung star
Musical luminaries always seem to grab top billing at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, but the guy who really deserves to see his name in lights is its equally talented chef, Jack Riebel.
9. A corny solution
Don't face the upcoming sweet-corn season without Butter Boy and Butter Girl, the adorable yet utterly practical brainchild of Minneapolis mom Katherine Waymire.
10. Good fat
Summer means fruit pies, and lard is the one-way road to pie crust nirvana. Don't believe it? Listen to the experts. "We like lard," wrote Matt and Ted Lee in "The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook" (W.W. Norton). "We don't use it every day, but when we do, we use it without guilt and with great results. One claim about lard that is undisputed is that it gives biscuits and pie crusts an appealing flakiness." As for locally sourced lard, nothing beats the silky, pure-white, rendered-on-site stuff (made from hogs raised at Hidden Stream Farm in Elgin, Minn.) at Clancey's Meats & Fish.
11. Cool new name, literally
In the naming-their-apples department, University of Minnesota horticulturists have conjured up some doozies: Honeycrisp, SnowSweet, Regent. But when it came time to slap a supermarket-friendly moniker on the winter-hardy, super-sweet breed known as MN447, the U put out a call for ideas. After sorting through more than 7,000 suggestions, a clear (and totally Minnesotan) winner emerged: Frostbite. The diminutive apple is tailor-made for cider, but don't get too anxious for a taste; the first trees are at least six years away from bearing fruit.
12. Turkish delight
Before it lands in supermarket dairy cases in all 50 states, one of Minnesota's tastiest exports starts at a handful of small, family-owned dairy farms outside of Sauk Centre. Then, in a red brick creamery on the town's Main Street, Helios Nutrition converts that premium organic milk into the fizzy, drinkable yogurt known as kefir (keh-ferr), a Turkish word that accurately translates into "good feeling."
13. Canal park pleaser
Don't leave Duluth without breezing through the Northern Waters Smokehaus for a tasty souvenir -- make that a cooler's worth -- of owner Eric Goerdt's fabulous house-smoked Lake Superior trout and whitefish.
14. Click and dine
Who needs an administrative assistant when there's opentable.com, the convenient website where reservations at 159 Twin Cities restaurants are but a few keystrokes away? (The site also can be accessed via www.startribune.com/dining.)
15. Fizzy fun
When the restaurant is called Pop!, it had better have a fantastic soda list. And it does, with more than 40 choices, ranging from the familiar (Coke, Sprite, Orangina) to the arcane: Cheerwine, SunDrop and several wild flavors of Ramune, the super-fizzy Japanese import. Chef/owner Clark Knutson's favorite is Thomas Kemper Black Cherry. "It brings me back to when I was a kid, when a can of Tom Moore black cherry was a big treat," he said.
16. Labor of love
In his one-man workshop, Colin Gasko takes premium cacao beans and converts them into superpremium chocolate bars, no simple task. His Rogue Chocolatier bars are intensely flavored, and intensely local. Gasko travels the world in search of great beans, then back in Minneapolis he vividly demonstrates that cacao from Trinidad produces a flavor that is markedly different from that of Jamaican-grown beans.
17. The good guy
Ferris Shiffer of the private Minikahda Club in Minneapolis is "the best chef in town that no one has ever heard of," said Russell Klein, chef/co-owner of Meritage in St. Paul. Klein is speaking for a fraternity of Twin Cities chefs -- J.P. Samuelson, Vincent Francoual, Heidi Woodman and David Vlach, to name a few -- who have turned to the generous Shiffer for friendship and a paycheck when they're in between jobs. "He's such a great chef, and such a great supporter of local chefs," agreed Samuelson, chef/owner of jP American Bistro in Minneapolis. "If you're fired, or your restaurant closes, and you want to duck out of sight to lick your wounds, you go over to Ferris, you work and you quietly plan your next attack."
18. Hump day bliss
The address doesn't sound promising -- the Andrew Boss Laboratory of Meat Science -- but it's the place to be every Wednesday afternoon, when the University of Minnesota's Food Science & Nutrition Dairy Salesroom opens its doors and sells affordably priced ice cream, cheese and butter, all produced by students using milk from cows raised on campus.
19. Take a seat
Local diners may not know Jesus Rivera by name, but they are intimately familiar with his handiwork. "If you've sat in a booth or a banquette in the Twin Cities, chances are Jesus probably built it," said Minneapolis architect David Shea. "Leather, vinyl, fabric, anything upholstered, he's your guy."
20. The smile at the door
The gracious greeting that meets noon-hour diners at Macy's River Room is a patented Lydia Lunney trademark, molded over a remarkable 75-year restaurant career. Her secret is simple. "If you're kind to people, they're kind to you," she said. Lunney began working in Schuneman's Cherry Tree Room in 1933. When the store's River Room opened in 1947, she was there, and she followed her employer -- by then its name had changed to Dayton's -- across the street to its new (and current) home in 1963. She retired in 1983, but returned a few months later, "Because I love it," said the 92-year-old. "I love the people, I love my co-workers, I love the restaurant. There's never a dull moment. It makes me feel alive. It keeps me young."
2010 update: Lydia Lunney died on Nov. 27, 2008.
21. Crescent king
The funky May Day Cafe performs many tasks well, but one effort stands out above all others: truly outstanding croissants. No wonder they sell out fast.
3440 Bloomington Av. S., Mpls., 612-729-5627
22. Park place
City officials: Tot lots and soccer fields have their value, but what the Minneapolis parks system needs more of is summertime gems like Sea Salt Eatery, the casual seafood cafe tucked inside the Minnehaha Park pavilion.
23. Under the stars
The proliferation of place-making rooftop patios has been a happy Minneapolis dining trend, thanks to memorable warm-weather venues at Joe's Garage, Brit's Pub & Eating Establishment, Solera, Stella's Fish Cafe, the Chambers Hotel and, the latest addition, r.Norman's.
24. BLT season, here we come
Waseca, Minn., farmer Tim Fischer takes his time making his extraordinary bacon, and each thick slices relies upon slowly infused smoke -- not salt -- for its resonant campfire flavor.
25. Tasty tally
The mini-burger meter that hangs over the kitchen door at the Herkimer Pub & Brewery has a definite Golden Arches aura, although the number of mini burgers sold hasn't quite reached the "billions and billions" level just yet. The latest figure was 130,660. And counting.
www.theherkimer.com. 2010 update: As of May 25, the figure was 219,366.
26. Freezer finds
Summer vegetables will be flooding farmers markets soon enough, but until then, there's always the surprisingly fresh flavors and textures sealed inside each bag of Sno Pac frozen vegetables. Many are harvested on the Gengler family's 1,500-acre farm in southeastern Minnesota, and all of them are packed at the Genglers' plant in nearby Caledonia. "Maybe I'm biased, but I think that Midwestern-grown products taste better," said Pete Gengler. "It's all in the soil."
Another welcome trend: the rise of excellent local microbreweries, including Flat Earth, Brau Brothers, Surly and Wisconsin's Rush River.
Sweetbreads are making a comeback on local menus, but thrill-seeking diners can go a step further at Saffron, where chef/owner Sami Wadeh sells about two dozen servings a week of poached, lightly fried lamb brains. "It's the way my mother used to prepare it," he said.
29. Tall and cool
Big Bowl's house-made ginger ales are such effective summer swelter busters that the chain should bill them as Air Conditioners in a Glass.
www.bigbowl.com. 2010 update: The ginger ales are now available by the bottle -- under the Fresh Ginger Ginger Ale label -- at Cub Foods and at Lunds and Byerly's stores that feature a Big Bowl Express counter.
30. Happy chickens
Harmony Organics eggs boast all the right labels: free-range, antibiotic-free, certified organic, vegetarian-fed, handpicked. But the pride of Morristown, Minn., is noteworthy for an even better reason: The eggs taste great, with rich yolks and airy whites that whip up higher and fluffier than a cumulus cloud. Maybe it's the classical music all those New Hampshire Reds listen to all day long.
31. It's got the power
Reach out and nearly touch the power of St. Anthony Falls at the thrilling new Water Power Park. The Xcel Energy-owned platform gives viewers a so-close-you'll-get-wet glimpse of the Mississippi cataract that launched Betty Crocker, the Pillsbury Doughboy and many other Minnesota food giants.
32. Super work wear
When it comes to the fashion-don't world of food-service uniforms, a sense of humor is a valuable asset. It's got to be a job requirement for Galactic Pizza's fun-loving delivery crew.
33. -- 35. Triple threat
Eighteen months ago, three of Minneapolis' most gifted chefs were unemployed. Now look at them.
33. Steven Brown is wowing all at Porter & Frye, his lux new Hotel Ivy hot spot.
2010 update: Brown is no longer at Porter & Frye.
34. Stewart Woodman has funneled his outsized imagination and prowess into charming quarters at Heidi's Minneapolis, named for his wife and culinary cohort.
2010 update: Heidi's Minneapolis was destroyed in a February 2010 fire; to date, the restaurant has not reopened.
35. And Doug Flicker has made Mission American Kitchen a bustling dinner destination, matching its reputation as downtown's toughest lunch reservation.
2010 update: Flicker is now chef/co-owner of Piccolo (www.piccolompls.com).
36. Green is gold
Since Metro Transit isn't leaving Nicollet Mall any time soon, sidewalk diners can at least be grateful to the agency for replacing many of its stinky, noisy vehicles with clean, quiet, hybrid buses.
37. Wood-fired bliss
Forget about the Big Mac or the Chalupa Supreme. The fast food of the moment is the Margherita Extra at Punch Neapolitan Pizza, a superbly sloppy taste treat that fully embodies the less-is-more ethos: a charred, blistered crust topped by a dynamic tomato duo (crushed San Marzanos and sweetly preserved bite-sized grapes), fragrant basil and creamy mozzarella. Perfection.
38. Sharing the wealth
Three cheers to the innovative Cooks of Crocus Hill crop-share program, where treasures such as cherries, peaches, morel mushrooms, heritage turkeys and foie gras are rooted out with a forager's prowess and then reserved in food-lover's quantities.
39. Take a seat
Leave it to Blu Dot, the savvy northeast Minneapolis furnituremaker, to come up with a functional, affordable ($169) and eye-catching companion to kitchen counters.
40. The great pumpkin
Don't take our word for it: The deep autumnal flavor of Hay River pumpkin seed oil, produced from pumpkins raised in Prairie Farm, Wis., by first-time farmers Ken Seguine and Jay Gilbertson, improves everything it touches. Nathan Berg, chef/co-owner of Native Bay in Chippewa Falls, Wis., has used it in vinaigrettes and a pumpkin seed blini topped with wild rice-dusted bluegill. "I've been so impressed by it," he said.
41.-45. Five reasons to get out of bed this summer
41. "Flappers," the light, yeasty pancakes that rise on Bess Giannakakis' well-seasoned griddle at her Colossal Cafe.
42. A bracing, ginger-laced glass of carrot-beet-orange juice at the city's oldest juice bar (41 years young), Tao Natural Foods.
43. The Good Day Cafe's fried egg sandwich, a towering stack of avocado, ham and fried onions on toasted brioche.
5410 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley, 763-544-0205
44. Chef Bill Baskin's flax seed waffles (from grains raised at Dry Creek Farm in Milan, Minn.), the weekend brunch headliner at the Red Stag Supperclub.
www.redstagsupperclub.com. 2010 update: Baskin has left the restaurant (replaced by chef Brian Hauke), and the waffle is off the menu.
45. Mala Vujnovich's crepes, above, filled with fresh fruit, Vujnovich's expertly made preserves or locally produced meats and cheeses, at the Midtown Farmers Market.
46. On the grow
It's encouraging to see so many member-owned natural foods co-ops in the midst of a building boom. Valley Natural Foods and Hampton Park Co-op are both expanding their stores, Seward Co-op has a destination location under construction and Mississippi Market has just announced plans to replace its cramped Randolph-and-Fairview store with a roomy new facility.
47. Fabulous franks
Just in time for grilling season: the skinless, all-beef, nitrate-free, packs-a-punch hot dog from Thousand Hills Cattle Co.
48. A true craftsman
It's a packed Saturday night at the Craftsman, and chef Mike Phillips was beaming with pride. "This is what I've been up to all winter," he said, as he presented a charcuterie plate that would have glued Chardin to his easel, a beauty loaded with superb sopressata, coppa and ham. Yeah, that cured meats class at Iowa State University that Phillips recently enrolled in sure is paying delicious dividends.
49. Cutting edge
Every cook should know about Eversharp, where owner Joe Gamache sharpens knives in a flash and stocks an astonishing variety of kitchen implements, including an impressive array of half-price reconditioned (code word: store samples, never used) Wusthofs.
50. Really, really locally grown
Garlic mustard, a springtime invasive despised by woodland wildflowers but beloved by gourmands, is being plucked from the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis and appearing on menus at two locavorian standard-bearers: Heartland and Lucia's Restaurant.