Taste 50 2009

1. -- 14. Wonder women

We could have filled every square foot of Spoonriver restaurant with influential Twin Cities women in food, but we stopped at 14 Minneapolis tastemakers. Their impact on the local food scene is immeasurable. So is our admiration and gratitude.

1. With her Birchwood Cafe, Tracy Singleton has created the template for the successful neighborhood gathering place.


2. Through her Cafe Brenda and Spoonriver restaurants, Brenda Langton has been championing the virtues of healthy eating and sustainable agriculture for nearly 30 years.

www.spoonriver.com. 2010 update: Cafe Brenda closed in 2009.

3. -- 4. In just two years, Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer have turned their ingenious Chef Shack into a street-foods phenomenon.


5. Dessert becomes an art form in the gifted hands and fertile imagination of Cosmos pastry chef Khanh Tran.


6. -- 7. Working together like clockwork, Tanya Siebenaler (she's the chef) and Julie Steenerson (she's the gracious welcome at the door) make their Sapor Cafe and Bar the city's most underrated dining gem.


8. Eat Street wouldn't be Eat Street without Tammy Wong, as her Rainbow Chinese Restaurant & Bar rules Nicollet Avenue's restaurant row.


9. Brioche queen Michelle Gayer makes every visit to her superb Salty Tart bakery an event.


10. Barbette, Bryant-Lake Bowl and the Red Stag Supperclub all bear the energetic touch of Kim Bartmann, leaving diners wondering what the enterprising restaurateur will do next.

www.barbette.com, www.bryantlakebowl.com, www.redstagsupperclub.com

11. Delicious health-conscious breads are not an oxymoron, thanks to the lifelong efforts of Lynn Gordon of the French Meadow Bakery & Cafe.


12. For almost a quarter-century, Lucia's Restaurant (and its younger siblings, an adjoining wine bar and bakery) has personified Midwestern goodness, thanks to namesake (and three-time James Beard nominee) Lucia Watson.


13. At Clancey's Meats & Fish, Kristin Tombers showcases, like no one else, the best animal proteins coming off local family farms.


14. Minnesotans get a little closer to Italy through the work of Molly Broder and her Broder's Cucina Italiana and Broders' Pasta Bar.


15. Museum without walls

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts takes window shopping to a whole new level. The museum's "Modernism 20: Past/Present/Future," displayed in cases plugged into the vast, marble-clad lobbies of the Wells Fargo Center, spotlights how taken-for-granted kitchen objects - a teapot, a punch bowl, an espresso machine - can, in the hands of 20th-century artisans, be transformed into unforgettable works of art.

www.artsmia.org. 2010 update: The "Modernism 20" show closes July 11, 2010.

16. Beauty in a box

Pastry chef Brian Conn turned his fascination with chocolate into a vocation. His Ruby Moon chocolates merge clever shapes, premium ingredients and good old-fashioned ingenuity (love his vegan version, which subs in olive oil for butter and cream) to make a notably exquisite made-in-Minneapolis product. The name? Borrowed from his daughter, born around the same time Conn started making chocolates. "It's a beautiful name, and what little girl wouldn't want a chocolate company named after her?" he said. Indeed.


17. Healthy babies

Baby food doesn't have to come in a jar. Local nanny Lori Karis has been making her own for nearly 20 years. Now her all-organic formula, prepared weekly in small batches using Minnesota-grown grains, is available to Twin Cities parents and their happy offspring under the Sweet Cheeks label.


18. Career change

When chef Bill Baskin left his time-consuming job at the Red Stag Supperclub to become a 9-to-5-er making charcuterie - pancetta, salami, bratwurst, lardo and more - at the Seward Co-op, his nights and weekends suddenly opened up. "I have hobbies again," he said with a laugh. "I see my wife." Not that he's not keeping busy. Baskin routinely offers his fortunate customers 20 varieties of idiosyncratic (haggis, anyone?), beautifully crafted sausages. "They sell as fast as I can make them," he said, noting that shoppers routinely snap up 300 pounds of his destined-to-be-famous cheese-curd bratwurst over the course of a week. When Baskin and butcher Jim Czeck launched their operation in January as a part of the store's move to roomier digs, they weren't sure how a meat counter would go over in the natural foods co-op. "We do get some vegetarians who politely walk past us," said Baskin. "But we're selling more meat than anyone ever would have guessed."


19. Morning must-have

Drop that Egg McMuffin habit and jump-start the day at Surdyk's, where the breakfast sandwich gets the respect it deserves. Don't miss the "Green Eggs and Ham," a winning marriage of scrambled eggs, thin shears of Italian ham and sauteed spinach stuffed between thick slices of focaccia.


20. Best of Taste

Roughly 400 cookbooks cross our desk every year, and not many stick around. One exception: "Come One, Come All: Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus." And no, it's not just because its 150-plus recipes are culled from the very best of Taste by editor Lee Svitak Dean; it's because we love to cook with it, all year long. Case in point: Maple Mousse, a characteristically easy-to-make dessert that also embodies the very essence of Minnesota spring.


21. Farm in the city

As the growing season progresses, Common Roots Cafe will be featuring a diverse selection of herbs, vegetables and fruits harvested from its new garden, which was, up until a few weeks ago, a pair of asphalt parking lots across the alley from the restaurant. "I wanted a way to get people thinking about where food comes from," said owner Danny Schwartzman, who is managing the garden with Delano, Minn., farmer Cathy Rose. "Maybe it will inspire more people to plant things and eat local foods."


22. Cleaning up

Standing at the kitchen sink has become a lot more pleasant since fresh-scented Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day dishwashing liquid - and other cleaning products - came along eight years ago. It's produced by Minneapolis-based Caldrea (now owned by SC Johnson) and named for Thelma Meyer, mother of company founder Monica Nassif.


23. Summer lovin'

Here's what we want to eat all summer (well, all year): Isaac Becker's light and cool crab salad at 112 Eatery.


24. Candy classic

Midafternoon munchies? We have one word for you: Candyland (OK, two more: caramel corn), which has been satisfying Twin Cities sweet tooths since 1932.


25. Raise your glass

Not only does Jacquie Berglund brew a great beer, but her Finnegans Irish Amber does good; 100 percent of the company's profits go to supporting poverty relief programs. Last year's donations added up to $30,000. "This year the goal is $45,000," said Berglund. "I think of us as the little beer company that could."


26. Tea time

Finally, a Twin Cities hotel is offering a daily afternoon tea. And the Hotel Ivy really does it right, with a swell selection of loose-leaf teas and a chic array of elegant one-bite sweet and savory repasts. Even better, this pampering midday getaway, graciously served in the hotel's serene beige-on-cream lobby, is a relative bargain at $15.


27. Reader's haven

New, used, overstock, out of print, pocket size-small to coffee table-huge, the cookbook selection at Magers and Quinn Booksellers - supplemented by a fine array of wine and food titles - can keep browsers occupied for hours.


28. Super scooper

Pumphouse Creamery owner Barb Zapzalka takes her locavore mission seriously. Not only does she rely upon a Wisconsin organic, family-owned dairy farm for her cream - and then blends it with locally raised berries, fruits and other premium goodies - now she is fashioning her own delicious low-sugar cones out of grains raised and milled by farmers Lin and Doug Hilgendorf in Welcome, Minn.


29. Chief asset

Ask 20 Wedge Co-op shoppers why they shop at the store, and you're likely to elicit 20 different answers. Here's ours: The cookies. Baker Gary Robertson and his crew turn out more than two dozen splendid varieties every day (two thumbs up on the good and good-for-you Trail Mix cookies, pictured here), including plenty of vegan and gluten-free options.


30. Bookmarked

Web newbie heavytable.com vacuums up and aggregates local online food and dining chatter better than a fully powered Dyson upright, but its real strength is in founder James Norton's sharply observed and frequently posted commentary.

31. -- 33. Rising stars

Right now, promising young culinary talent is running in threes: Jason Engelhart's Japanese-inspired small plates upstage the house-brewed sake at moto-i, Adam Vickerman's Italian cooking at the newly opened Trattoria Tosca is off to an impressive start, and Sameh Wadi puts a contemporary spin on Moroccan and Lebanese flavors at his elegant Saffron Restaurant & Lounge.

www.moti-i.com, www.saffronmpls.com. 2010 update: Adam Vickerman has left Trattoria Tosca.

34. On tap

Make that graduation party come alive with a keg of crisp, honey-kissed River City Root Beer made by the Vine Park Brewing Co. Can't consume the whole 15.5-gallon keg? Vine Park will re-carbonate and bottle the rest so you can enjoy it all summer long.


35. Elvis would have loved it

The ingredients in super-rich, super-creamy Parkers Farm peanut butter? "Peanuts, and a pinch of salt," said Rick Etrheim, owner of the Coon Rapids-based company. "It's just like eating fresh-roasted peanuts." That's not a sales pitch; it's the truth. It's great on bananas, better on toast and it's the essential building block for a spectacular peanut butter cookie.


36. Towering kitsch

Run down to Rochester some Saturday morning this summer to shop at the city's excellent farmers market, and while driving through town don't miss what's surely the world's tallest ear of corn, a 60-footer that doubles as a water tower for Seneca Foods; it's a real standout in a state chock-a-block full of kitschy food-related civic landmarks. Runner-up: Lindstrom's water tower, done up to resemble a Swedish-style coffeepot.

1217 3rd St., Rochester, Minn.

37. Low-profile, high impact

St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff might not have the real estate cachet of a downtown or Uptown address, but that hasn't stopped Strip Club Meat & Fish chef J.D. Fratzke from making the neighborhood a dining destination by demonstrating exactly how a modern gastropub should work.


38. They were robbed

If we ran the James Beard Foundation awards, we would have handed a nomination - at least - to a pair of Minnesota-written cookbooks from 2008: "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper" by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift, and "660 Curries" by Raghavan Iyer. The so-called "Oscars of the food world" did have the good sense to nominate as a finalist "The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever" by Beatrice Ojakangas of Duluth.

www.splendidtable.org, www.raghavaniyer.com, www.beatrice-ojakangas.com

39. They pave paradise...

Savvy real estate entrepreneur Daisy Haung is a lover of outdoor flea markets. She took one look at an underperforming warehouse and converted it into the Golden Globe Mall, an indoor Asian flea market notable not only for its sights but its tastes. Memo to the city of St. Paul: Is it really necessary to put a road through these bustling shopping and eating spots?

630 Pierce Butler Route, St. Paul

40. Get happy

Don't expect to find Taco Tuesdays at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant. Instead, chef Jack Riebel takes a refreshing approach to Happy Hour on Thursdays and Fridays - in other words, he doesn't treat it as a throwaway - offering a tempting assortment of elaborate bites, served dim-sum style, at just $1 a pop.


41. Seal of approval

For many local chefs, the signal that they've arrived doesn't come in the form of a multi-starred review, it's seeing uber-diners Bob and Sue Macdonald walk in the door. When the discerning Minneapolis couple (here at Heidi's Minneapolis with chef Stewart Woodman) aren't checking out Michelin two- and three-star destinations or palling around with Burgundian winemakers, they're dining out four nights a week in the Twin Cities, passionately supporting an active list of two dozen area restaurants. How great is that?

42. Historic hall of fame

The Minnesota Historical Society marked the state's sesquicentennial with "MN150," an exhibition spotlighting 150 placemakers in Gopher State history. Our favorite? The affectionate homage to restaurateurs (and University of Minnesota home economics professors) Lenore Richards and Nola Treat, proprietors of the not-to-be-forgotten Richards Treat cafeteria. In its heyday, the busy restaurant, at 114 S. 6th St., routinely fed 3,000 downtown Minneapolitans daily and lasted from 1924 to 1957.

www.mnhs.org. 2010 update: "MN150" has closed.

43. Super sandwich

Lean brisket, a five-day brine, plenty of peppercorns, apple and cherry wood smoke. Now that you know Mike Ryan and Matt Bickford's secret to swoon-worthy pastrami, why aren't you making a beeline for their Be'wiched Deli?


44. Drinks for dogs

If Uptown Minneapolis airedales and shih tzus are looking refreshed during summer's dog days, it could be due to the artful canine drinking fountain on the sidewalk outside Lucia's Restaurant. "It was my grand expansion in 2008," said owner Lucia Watson with a laugh. "It gets lots of use, even in this slow economy. It's the only bar I've opened where I haven't had to get a license."


45. City hall smarts

Here's a government initiative worth watching: Homegrown Minneapolis, a public-private collaboration working to develop ways to improve the development, distribution and consumption of locally produced foods in the city of Minneapolis through farmers markets, community gardens, small-enterprise urban agriculture and restaurants.


46. No-frills shopping

Kudos to Traditional Foods Minnesota for doing what local farmers markets can't quite seem to accomplish, and that's bringing local farmers and consumers together, year-round. The bare-bones setting keeps prices in check (co-op-style memberships are required), and the selection grows each month.


47. Cookbook fame rising

When a cookbook has sold 200,000 copies and counting, its title cemented into the summit of Amazon.com's bestseller list, its authors had better get into sequel mode. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, co-authors of "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," did just that; their follow-up effort, "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables and Gluten-Free Ingredients," hits bookstores in October. "After the first book came out, the most requests were for healthier breads, using whole grains or gluten-free ingredients," said Francois. "So we began developing recipes, and they turned into this book."


48. Drive-by smirking

One reason behind the instantaneous crowds at Burger Jones might be its attention-luring retro-chic sign, designed by Tim Sauer of Intercom Agency, a Minneapolis marketing firm. Its visual appeal didn't exactly happen overnight. "It's pathetic for grown adults to sit around the table the way we did, but we messed around a lot with his haircut and his glasses and his smirk," said Phil Roberts, the restaurant's co-owner. "We wanted to have just the right amount of nerdiness and snarkiness." Mission accomplished.


49. Super season

Nothing can quite match the allure of a fragrant and lusciously juicy Minnesota-grown strawberry. We love them over shortcake and crowned with a dollop of freshly whipped cream from Dave and Florence Minar's Cedar Summit Farm.

50. Ham it up

Ingebretsen's, the 88-year-old Scandinavian meat market in Minneapolis, is all about tradition. Butcher Gary Coleman has worked behind the counter at the E. Lake Street landmark for 40 years, "And I'm the low man on the totem pole," he said with a laugh. Lutefisk, blood sausage and lefse draw crowds during the Christmas holidays, but what we love best are the shop's exceptional hams. They're popular at Easter, but we think they make a perfect summertime picnic staple, packed in the cooler alongside potato salad and Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss. The juicy bone-in hams are rubbed with salt and dry-cured for a week - no water-pumped pork here - before spending a night in the shop's smokehouse. Nothing complicated, proof that simple often takes the prize. "I take it home to my mother," said Coleman. "That's how good it is."