The American dream

Immigrants make our nation great. Witness the women from around the globe (pictured here at the Sheridan Veterans Memorial in northeast Minneapolis) who, through their talent and determination, are continually invigorating the Twin Cities dining scene.

Bea Karngar felt compelled to say goodbye to her job as a nursing assistant and create City Afrique Restaurant. The reason was simple: "I love to cook," she said. The Liberian native is known for her greens: collards, spinach; all superb.

Emilie Cellai traded France for Minnesota in 2002, for a job at the former Hotel Sofitel. "I was going to stay a year," she said. "And that's turned into 13." Last year, she revived the long-dormant Town Talk Diner, rebranding the landmark space as Le Town Talk French Diner & Drinkery but adhering to its working-class roots, serving the appealing and easygoing fare that Cellai grew up eating in Marseille.

At Marla's Caribbean Cuisine, Marla Jadoonanan peppers her feisty menu with the African, Indian and Latin American melting-pot touches common to her native Trinidad and Tobago. The former nurse switched careers a decade ago as she marked a milestone birthday. "Most people buy a Jaguar when they're 40," she said with a laugh. "I opened a restaurant."

Nearly 30 years ago, Frewoini Haile left Eritrea as a war refugee. A degree in hospitality management steered her into the hotel business. "Then I decided, 'Why not work for myself?' " she said. She partnered with Ethiopian native Shegitu Kebede, and the two opened their Flamingo Restaurant, re-creating the alluring smørgasbørd-like traditions of their East African homelands.

After growing up in Japan, a teenage Koshiki Yonemura, dual citizenship in hand, came to Minnesota and never left. After cooking for others, she opened her Tanpopo Noodle Shop, dazzling diners with her fluency in soba and udon. Insiders know to visit on Monday evenings, when Yonemura dabbles in ramen.

Rashmi Bhattachan and Sarala Kattel opened Gorkha Palace five years ago. "But it feels like yesterday," said Bhattachan. The restaurant, which focuses on the fragrant, colorful dishes of Nepal, Tibet and northern India, grew out of a dumpling stand that Bhattachan launched at the Mill City Farmers Market. That start is reflected in the kitchen's emphasis on locally raised ingredients.

Publishing force

With six cookbooks to her credit, author Robin Asbell is altering the vegetarian, vegan, whole-grain and gluten-free cooking landscape. Her first, "The New Whole Grains Cookbook," debuted in 2007, and five have followed in quick succession. Asbell's next effort, "The Whole Grain Promise," is due to hit shelves in October, and she's immersed in the production of her eighth title, which will explore the trend of meals-in-a-bowl from a grain- and vegetable-based perspective. As she develops one colorful, flavor-saturated recipe after another in her south Minneapolis kitchen, Asbell targets not just readers with specific dietary concerns, but all cooks. "There are certain people who just shut off when they see things labeled 'vegan,' 'gluten-free' or 'whole grain,' " she said. "But people will always try things that look delicious and sound delicious. That's how I reach out to the omnivore. It's winning hearts and minds, one mouthful at a time."

Cold comfort

Pumphouse Creamery owner Barb Zapzalka takes a locavore's approach to ice cream. For starters, she calls upon gold-standard organic milk and cream from central Wisconsin, and just-picked ingredients (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, rhubarb) from southeastern Minnesota, a delicious strategy this former systems analyst has adhered to since she opened her sunny south Minneapolis shop in 2003. Heck, even the crispy waffle cones are crafted from Gopher State-grown whole grains and seeds. And yes, Zapzalka makes every diet-busting batch herself. "I can really feel 12 years of ice cream making in my arms and my back," she said with a laugh. "I'm 47, and I think, 'Can I do this another 12 years?' But I'm still energized by it. I'd give up the bookkeeping, but I'll have a hard time giving up making the ice cream. That's the fun part of my job. What I really love is that I love it even more than when I first opened."

Can't put it down

Sure, Wise Acre Eatery has the whole farm-to-table movement thing down to an art form. But another reason to visit is the helpful, affordable and infectiously enthusiastic wine list. Working in a conversational style that's blessedly free of clichéd wine-speak, general manager Caroline Glawe weaves a veritable tapestry of entertaining historical details, biographical tidbits and spot-on flavor notes into one highly readable package. "I'm having the time of my life," she said. It shows.

Minneapolis mixmasters

Julia Brosz and Kari Madore, the entrepreneurial duo behind Blue Henn, are showing the world how to build a better summertime gin and tonic. Here's how: Add a splash of their tonic-boosting syrup, which relies upon cane sugar's rounded tones — along with fragrant hints of lavender, lemongrass and citrus — to balance against the bitter zing of natural quinine. Ahhhh.

Retail therapy

With its exclusive-to-Minnesota assortment of dinnerware, flatware, glassware and table linens, the browsing magnet that is Ampersand has been improving the lives — and beautifying the homes — of tabletop-obsessed Twin Citians for 20 years. A definite don't-miss is the Galleria emporium's collection of exquisite handblown glass bowls, platters, pitchers, glasses and other items from Vermont-based Simon Pearce. "They're useful objects, but they can also stand on their own as works of art," said Ampersand vice president Carly Winslow, who partnered with founder Barbara Armajani nearly a decade ago. "We love to offer beautiful things that people can't access every day."

Fairgrounds royalty

While a different Princess Kay of the Milky Way technically reigns over the Minnesota State Fair each summer, the Great Minnesota Get-Together's true enduring monarch is Martha Rossini Olson. As in, the Martha of Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar. Let the numbers do the talking: This purveyor of warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies is the top-grossing food vendor at the nation's largest temporary food court. Last year's sales averaged $242,000 per day. For those doing the math, that's $2.9 million, a crowning achievement. And yes, ask anyone: This former St. Paul elementary school art teacher embodies her "sweet" label.

The family that bakes together

Here's a shocker: The Bundt pan, with tens of millions sold since its Eisenhower-era introduction, isn't the top-selling item at Nordic Ware, although it's close. For the past half-dozen years that honor goes to a two-burner cast aluminum griddle. With 350 employees and a manufactured-in-Minnesota business plan, the kitchenware giant remains a family-owned and -operated concern. Founders Dotty and the late Dave Dalquist started the company in their basement in the 1940s and passed the president/CEO baton to their son David Dalquist in the early 1980s. A third-generation Dalquist — David's daughter Jennifer Dalquist — is playing a key role in the company's future, as director of sales and marketing. "When you grow up in a family business, you're involved whether you want to be or not," she said with a laugh, noting that her 89-year-old grandmother still drops in once or twice a week to the company's St. Louis Park headquarters, offering her assessment of the 50 products the company introduces each year. "We're constantly innovating," Dalquist said. "That's how we've earned our niche in the marketplace."

Shake it up

When it comes to her innovative, food-friendly libations, Heyday bar manager and bartender Britt Tracy draws inspiration from a nearby source: chef Jim Christiansen's pantry. "We're using the same stuff that the kitchen is using," she said. "If you're going to be a restaurant with a cocktail program, that's the best way to do it." Rhubarb and sumac, sure, but nothing captured her curiosity quite like bergamot. "It's just so fragrant and beautiful," she said. "It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're around it, because the aromatherapy of it is just so energizing. It's got to be my favorite ingredient for the rest of my life."

Lions and tigers and bears

"It was always my dream to make them, and now, four years after we opened, we are," said Sun Street Breads baker/co-owner Solveig Tofte, referring to the (adorable) animal crackers that tempt customers of all ages at her full-of-surprises bakery. Where did she find the cookie cutters? On eBay, of course.

Stretching the season

Just picked pea shoots in February? Farm-fresh organic spinach in December? Believe it. Hallie Talbott and Lisa Talbott, the mother-daughter team behind 10th St. Farm & Market, think big on their small Afton farm, utilizing an ingenious system of unheated movable plastic-covered hoop structures designed to harness the sun's heat and create a beneficial growing environment.

A splendid quintet

Devoted listeners to "The Splendid Table" — and there are more than 800,000 of them each week, tuning into 416 public radio stations — undoubtedly associate the food-centric show with the spellbinding voice of host Lynne Rossetto Kasper. "She's so sultry," said managing producer Sally Swift with a laugh. "Isaac Mizrahi always calls her 'kitten.' She has a bit of a growl, but she's also very mischievous, and you can really feel that joy, that ease, because radio has this lovely level of intimacy." The Voice aside, this public radio juggernaut, which comes to vivid life in a studio in downtown St. Paul, is built on the brains of five longtime collaborators. Kasper, Swift and producer Jennifer Russell have been with the show since its inaugural broadcast in 1995, and producer Jennifer Luebke signed on nine months later. Production assistant Laura Kaliebe joined the team in 2013. Together they've steered the national conversation on food via an astounding 700 hours of illuminating, entertaining and award- winning programming. Now in their 20th year, the brainy quintet remains in full-steam-ahead mode, adding more voices — and new perspectives — to the mix. "Lynne is still so unbelievably curious, and that's infectious," Swift said. "She's very big about not making cooking a big deal. There's no right; there's no wrong. What's wrong is not sitting down at the table with people you love."

Friendly face

Like many other food product start-ups, Patti Heimbold relies upon farmers markets to sell her granola, a recipe she packages under the Patti's label, using Minnesota-raised organic oats. "You spend all this time working hard in the kitchen and you're thinking, 'Now why am I doing this?' " she said with a laugh. "But then you get to meet so many interesting people. It's the face-to-face interaction and the feedback. You get to hear people say, 'I love this granola.' That's the fun part for me."

Sidewalk superintendent

Fresh air- and sunshine-loving diners are forever indebted to Barbara Flanagan. Using her perch in the Variety section of the Minneapolis Star — and later, the Star Tribune — as a newsprint-lined bully pulpit, Flanagan championed the case for sidewalk cafes, which, unbelievably, were illegal in Minneapolis until 1972. That's the year Minneapolis City Council Member John Derus penned the city's first pro- sidewalk cafe ordinance. "Barbara Flanagan kept saying it was a good idea, and that we should do it," recalled Derus. "And I agreed with her. So I introduced the resolution that passed, and the rest is history." Flanagan recalls another detail. "The city discovered that it could charge a license fee," she said. "Suddenly, after years of opposition, sidewalk cafes were the best thing in town." For Flanagan, that bureaucratic milepost was just the beginning, and al fresco dining remained an evergreen subject in her influential column until the iced-tea-loving journalist retired in 1988. Her colleagues paid tribute to her tireless advocacy by transforming a lounge in the Star Tribune newsroom to resemble (well, barely) a sidewalk cafe. Affectionately christened Chez Barbara, it made the move when the newspaper relocated to new quarters this year. Flanagan, now living in Wayzata, remains a sidewalk cafe enthusiast. A visit to Copenhagen 66 years ago started it all, she said. "It was the middle of winter, but we ate at a sidewalk cafe several times, and it was crowded," she recalled. "They put warm bricks under your feet. We could do that here. We should do that here. It was splendid."

A ringing endorsement

Where do restaurant industry types hang out for after-work food and drink? Nightingale, of course, drawn by the late hours (the kitchen cooks to 1 a.m. daily), the welcoming surroundings, a splashy cocktail roster and, most especially, the eclectic menu of scrupulously prepared shared plates, large and small (including a cheeseburger that can be described only as epic), from chef/co-owner Carrie McCabe-Johnston.

Gonzo for garbanzos

Deena Kvasnik has great timing. Recalling instructions she gleaned from a Food Network show, she threw together an impromptu roasted red pepper hummus for a pool party. "I didn't have any tahini, so I put in some feta instead," she said. It was an instant hit, the kind of recipe that comes to define a person. "I got sick of making it," she said with a laugh. Kvasnik, pregnant with her first child, was also ready for a career change. Her first thought was, "What about that hummus?" She applied for a berth at the St. Paul Farmers Market, and a week later, her employer announced a huge layoff. "Everyone was crying, but I was thinking that I couldn't have planned it better," she said. She arrived at the market a few weeks later with a folding table, a jar of peonies from her garden and 100 containers of her hummus; she sold out in a half-hour. The next day she returned with twice the previous day's inventory, and that disappeared in 45 minutes. "Before we knew it, we had a business," she said. Seven years and untold tons of chickpeas later, Deena's Gourmet has outgrown three kitchens, picked up 15 employees, added four lively hummus varieties and is getting ready to debut a handful of feta-based spreads.

Market maven

What was intended as a workspace for caterer Molly Herrmann has, over the past 4 1/2 years, evolved into the most fascinating corner of the ever-fascinating Midtown Global Market. Her Kitchen in the Market serves diverse tenants. It's a watch-them-work home base for caterers and food trucks. It's a factory floor for artisan food producers. It's a classroom for cooks looking to learn. It's a retail store. And, for Herrmann, it's a little slice of heaven. "I have a blast here, every day," she said. "What's really fun is watching everyone's progression, knowing that as they become more successful, they're going to grow out of this space and move on to bigger and better things. That's exciting, and that's the way it should be."

Cheese whiz

Here's the twofold plan for summertime picnic nirvana. Part 1: Purchase some sheep's milk farmstead cheeses — the wondrous, small-batch handiwork of cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read — from Shepherd's Way Farms. Part 2: Enjoy.

Sign of summer

For the past 64 years, summer on St. Paul's East Side has been synonymous with the Dari-ette Drive-In. That's certainly the case for owner Angela Fida, who has spent her life at the corner of Minnehaha and Birmingham (it helps that the Fida residence was next door). Her first job? She was a kindergartner, taking orders on the switchboard. Fida's parents, John and Lois, met and fell in love while working at the venerable Italian-American hangout — John's folks built the place — and they handed control to their daughter in 1998. "Dad is 85, and Mom is 79, and she'll still come in and give me a couple of hours a day," Fida said. "I'm really fortunate." Never been? The meatball sub is a must. Ditto the towering third-pound Burger-ette, and the nostalgia-inducing crème de menthe shakes. "We're still here because we don't change things," Fida said. "I keep it as it is. People like that."

Tea time

Iced tea's high season is finally upon us, thank goodness, so let's turn to the expert for advice. Mindy Kelly has been the self-proclaimed "head tea blender" at Mrs. Kelly's Tea for 22 years. Preparation is easy, she said, suggesting an iced tea maker ("you can get them for $20 at Target") or going old-school with this method: Add 1 ounce loose-leaf tea to 1½ cups boiling water and steep for seven minutes. Then strain into a gallon of water and add ice. "Use any tea that tastes good to you," said Kelly, who is partial to her classic Market Mint, a refreshing, slightly sweet, caffeine-free mash-up of peppermint, spearmint and stevia. Here's a tip: Kelly opens her highly aromatic northeast Minneapolis facility to the general public on the first Saturday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Drop in and she'll act as a tour guide among her 300-plus options, or go for a custom-blended mode.

Deep-fried divas

A gifted handful of women obsessed with deep-fried dough are responsible for the doughnut renaissance that has taken the Twin Cities by storm (don't forget to celebrate on June 5, which is National Doughnut Day).

After lifelong pals Teresa Fox and Arwyn Birch stumbled across Voodoo Donuts in Portland, Ore. ("We were wowed by the doughnuts, and the line around the block on a Wednesday night," said Birch), they were inspired to open their own late-night sugar shop, Glam Doll Donuts, back home in Minneapolis. "We saw doughnuts as our medium to translate all the passions we felt strongly about, including music and fashion and vintage," Birch said. The case always features two dozen or so glorious boundary pushers, including a beer-glaze/bacon-crumble combo. Top sellers? Calendar Girl, of course, with its chocolate-salted caramel finish, and the Chart Topper, which artfully combines peanut butter and Sriracha.

Just over a year ago, real estate broker Kelly Olsen brought back a beloved Anoka institution when she restored the long-dormant Hans' Bakery to its rightful place in the city's collective heart. She wasn't content to simply turn on the lights, either; Olsen embraced authenticity, carefully researching and triumphantly reproducing founder Hans Birkner's original recipes, including his classic Beehive, as well as the maple-glazed Long John to end all maple-glazed Long Johns. And the public responded in kind. Sales are so good that Olsen has added a second outlet, in Navarre.

Attorney-turned-baker Anne Rucker parlayed an instantly popular Kingfield Farmers Market stand into Bogart's Doughnut Co., her morning-only Mecca for variations on her trademark (and addictive) brioche doughnuts, some slathered in brown butter icing, others filled with decadent vanilla pastry cream. Drop by on Tuesday for a Pershing, Rucker's cardamom-tickled version of a deep-fried cinnamon roll, or revel in Thursday's divine blueberry-lemon hand pies. Look for more goodness this summer, when the cheery orange-and-white Bogart's boxes will start flying out of a new outpost in the IDS Crystal Court in downtown Minneapolis.

When she opened Mojo Monkey Donuts in 2011, Lisa Clark was armed with two key assets: years of invaluable bread-baking experience, and a steadfast belief that good doughnuts are born from good ingredients. That powerful combination plays out most notably in a raised doughnut gleaming with a mango-honey glaze and a snowstorm of dried coconut, although the nutmeg-scented cake doughnuts and the dainty crullers are something of a revelation, too. Don't overlook weekends, when Clark calls upon her 11 years as a New Orleanian and makes beignets. Two words of advice: Arrive early.

A (new) career, in beer

Trading her corporate job for the life of a brewer was not an easy decision for Urban Growler Brewing Co. co-owner Deb Loch. "But then a friend asked, 'Will you have any regrets if you don't do this?' " she recalled. "And once my mind got around that, it wasn't a decision. It was just what it was supposed to be. From there, it was full-steam ahead." Indeed. Loch and partner Jill Pavlak opened the state's first women-owned microbrewery in 2013, and their amiable taproom is an ideal venture for getting acquainted with Loch's thirst-quenching golden cream ale (tapped under the CowBell label) or exploring her occasional Plow-to-Pint series, where she channels the bounty from local farmers into limited-series brews: lemon grass, cranberries, pumpkin and, coming soon, rhubarb.

Boil-and-bake brilliance

Siblings (and self-described "bread heads") Kate Lloyd and Jen Lloyd are doing their part to improve the Twin Cities' sorry bagel landscape. The self-taught bakers went on a cross-country bagel-tasting odyssey, then spent a year tinkering with recipes in the cramped kitchen of Jen's Loring Park condominium until they nailed the formula. The hands-on boil-and-bake routine at their Rise Bagel Co. takes place in a Minneapolis commercial kitchen, and then the sisters greet their adoring public at the Fulton Farmers Market on an every-other-Saturday basis. Crusty, chewy, tantalizingly golden and liberally topped with all the right finishes (coarse salt, poppy seeds, Asiago cheese), these are bagels you'll want to buy by the bagful. Grab one schmeared with cream cheese (or locally made peanut butter) for the road.

Teamwork in Highland

After years of absorbing the ins and outs of the steakhouse genre, Susan Dunlop and Joan Schmitt became their own bosses and opened their kind of steakhouse. Thanks to the alchemy of Schmitt's hospitality and Dunlop's cooking, their Joan's in the Park is a neighborhood rarity, one that's half come-on-in coziness and half first-rate dining destination. By all means, order the lobster salad.

Midway in Northeast

When restaurateur Leslie Bock wants to make a statement, she doesn't go in for half-measures (just look at her highly memorable Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge and Donny Dirk's Zombie Den). For her Betty Danger's Country Club, Bock conjured up an instant Mill City landmark. Officially, it's known as the Danger, a "vertically rotating patio." Ninety-nine percent of the population will happily shorthand that to "Ferris wheel with cocktails" as they line up for a spin.

Dynamic duo

Years from now, when the history of the Twin Cities' burgeoning street food scene is written, Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer will undoubtedly command center stage. Not only did the two visionary chefs crack open a previously untapped dining-out segment when they launched their Chef Shack in a cramped trailer in 2008, but the couple have also served as example-setting trailblazers, inspiring high standards of excellence and innovation for the region's 70-plus food trucks and their ever-growing numbers of diners. With Chef Shack Ranch and Chef Shack Bay City, the duo also inspires those in the meals-on-wheels business who want to matriculate into brick-and-mortar setups.

Pop-up perfection

Black Walnut Bakery owner Sarah Botcher pulls an all-nighter every Friday so her fiercely devoted customers can fill up at the Saturday morning-only bakery she sets up at her brother's downtown Minneapolis bike shop. She follows a simple format, with a dozen or so items to ogle. Some come and go with the seasons; others reappear week after week. There are always croissants. "I'm obsessed with laminated dough," she said, and to anyone who has ever gazed upon Botcher's handiwork, this may qualify as the understatement of the year. Each buttery, beyond-flaky croissant is a thing of heart-stopping beauty (do not, under any circumstances, miss the conch-shaped versions filled with ham and Gruyère), as is her signature item, the beautifully caramelized Kouign Amann. If that sublime dough is baked in a Pullman loaf, by all means, buy it. Oh, and her gifts with focaccia — or anything involving earthy black walnuts — know no bounds. Business starts at 11 a.m., and it's brisk. "I go until I sell out," said Botcher. "That could be 11:15." (A word to the wise: Pre-order through the Black Walnut Facebook page; Botcher posts the menu on Thursday). Her fans, and there are many, want to know: Is a full-time shop on the horizon? "That's the goal, and people ask me about it all the time," she said. "I'd love to be downtown somewhere. We'll see how the cards play out."

Beloved Betty

Her name has graced hundreds of familiar supermarket products and millions of cookbooks. Her likeness, captured over the course of seven instantly recognizable portraits, now hangs royal gallery-like in General Mills' Golden Valley headquarters. At the peak of her fame, this radio and TV star was deluged with 4,000 letters a day and in 1945 was bested only by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in Fortune magazine's most-popular-woman-in-the-nation survey. Not bad for a fictitious corporate spokeswoman. She is, of course, Betty Crocker, Minnesota's most enduring ambassador to the world and a friendly — and trusted — face to America's home cooks for 94 years. "She's a legend," said Twin Cities native Susan Marks, author of "Finding Betty Crocker" (2005). "Nothing compares to her. There are some similarities between Betty and Martha Stewart, but the big differences are that there's probably not a jury that would convict Betty of anything."

Four-star all stars

The accolades usually fall upon their chef spouses. Still, three cheers for restaurateurs Desta Klein (Meritage, Brasserie Zentral, Foreign Legion), Mega Hoehn (Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar) and Nancy St. Pierre (112 Eatery, Bar La Grassa, Burch Steak and Pizza Bar), who expertly contribute front-of-house leadership and back-office expertise that are essential for achieving four-star success.