Char Bar's Fried Chicken Sandwich inside Butcher & the Boar
There's something to love about Jester Concepts' inability to only do one task at a time. When the company first opened a restaurant, Borough, a forward-thinking neighborhood bar called Parlour just had to open up downstairs. When the company took over the storied restaurant location at 510 Groveland, the newly minted P.S. Steak was gifted a moody decorated back bar to complete the space. So, it makes sense that not long after opening their revival of Butcher & the Boar, the Char Bar would come quick on its heels.
Located at the back of the restaurant, the room is flanked by cubbies that will soon become private whiskey lockers and the bar itself has kind of a wooden art deco décor with several carved pigs protecting it.
On the menu are a few bar food snacks that are given a dose of smoke and creativity (vegetarians will be thrilled to find chef Ian Gray's delightful smoked carrot sandwich here). But the dish I highly recommend ordering first is the fried chicken sandwich ($16) — a fantastically tart, tangy, rich and smoky entry into the crispy chicken hall of fame. Alternately moist and crispy, zippy and tangy, it's topped with an oaky smoke whiskey honey, cabbage slaw, tomato chutney and a lemon aioli. It is a lot, but it's not something you're going to want to share with anybody. (Joy Summers)
901 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-886-1769, butcherandtheboarmpls.com
Chocolate chai tea at Indigo Tea Co.
As someone who loves coffee shops, but not coffee, my options can be limited when I want a caffeinated pick-me-up with a side of ambience. While many local shops have raised their non-coffee game, places like Indigo Tea Co. are nirvana to tea drinkers like me.
One chilly afternoon called for a mug of something warm and indulgent, and my eyes stopped at the chocolate chai latte. Indigo's Masala chai (black tea with cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and cardamom) with added cocoa tasted even better than it sounded — like a creamy, complex and caffeinated hot chocolate. The cinnamon-topped Masala chai was equally delicious (both $4.45).
Tucked away in a strip mall off Hwy. 13 in Burnsville, this bustling gem is filled with sunlight and plenty of seating, including a couple of traditional Japanese tea tables. Shelves are teeming with tea accessories and, of course, tea. There's a dizzying array available — many inventive flavors of black, herbal, green, white, oolong, pu-erh and rooibos — and even more online. Find samples of all the teas in rotation on lazy Susans to see and smell before buying. (If you're not in the area, the website is worth a look; they've been selling teas since 2005.)
You'll also find iced bubble milk teas, fruit teas, smoothies, matchas, hot chocolates and a small bakery case, making this one-stop shopping for when you need a treat or a change of scenery. (Nicole Hvidsten)
1501 Riverwood Drive, Burnsville, 952-736-7744, indigo-tea.com
Croffle-Beignet at the bar at Mara
There's a dish at Mara I have yet to try because I never can get my act together on weekend mornings to make it to brunch. (Kids, etc., etc.) It's a croissant and waffle hybrid that pastry chef Eddy Dhenin invented when he tried to do something with some overproofed croissant dough. I firmly believe any food can and should be waffled, so this has been on my want list for a while now.
Little known fact: Though you can't get the croffle any other time than Saturday and Sunday brunch, you can get a facsimile of it anytime at Mara's elegant bar. The "bar bites" menu now offers the Croffle-Beignet ($12), which is a bowl of flaky, buttery croffle pieces dusted with cinnamon- and cardamom-sugar and grated orange peel. On the side, a little pot of salted caramel sauce that you can dunk the croffle into, or, you know, just eat with a spoon. As far as bar snacks go, this beats corn nuts by a mile. (Sharyn Jackson)
245 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-895-5709, mararestaurantandbar.com
Jerk Chaiken at Skaalvenn Distillery
So much is unexpected about Skaalvenn Distillery's Brooklyn Park cocktail lounge, from the shockingly unassuming office park setting to the ultra-inventive drink menu.
Last weekend, I rode the wave of the bar team's creativity and ordered what sounded like the most outlandish drink yet to cross my lips: a cocktail not just inspired by, but made from the elements of jerk chicken ($18).
Heat-imparting jerk spices are utterly at home in what is essentially a rum daiquiri. But the clincher is chicken fat, which they use to "wash" the rum and impart some depth and an almost creamy sensation, like you're sipping a luscious bone broth. The drink is crowned with a shard of fried and jerk-seasoned chicken skin, a chip for the ages. Trust me, it works.
"I tell customers, don't let the name or the ingredients scare you, because it's delicious," said Skaalvenn co-owner Tyson Schnitker.
The creator of the drink is Nelson Cabrera, a chef who's put in time at Travail, Tenant and Tilia. "Like all chefs (and most sane people), he loves some crispy chicken skin," Schnitker said. "They always say 'follow your passion,' so why not follow that passion right into a cocktail?"
Schnitker was skeptical when Cabrera pitched the drink, but he had a working concept after only a few hours and the poultry-infused cocktail landed on the menu.
Still not convinced? There are plenty of selections for non-meat-eaters — er, drinkers? — including a radically spicy bell pepper-flavored cocktail, a gorgeous goblet of a gingery mule, and a sophisticated aquavit Manhattan that my friends and I all enjoyed in the moody-yet-quirky Japanese-inspired lounge.
Note: reservations are a must. (S.J.)
8601 73rd Av. N., Brooklyn Park, 763-762-7861, skaalvenn.com
Shrimp and Grits at Big Biscuit Bar
When I'm in South Carolina visiting relatives it's obvious to just about everyone that I'm not from around those parts. It's not because of my affection for a long "o" pronunciation when declaring my home state (although I do really let that sucker hang in there for a while.) It's because at every opportunity, I order shrimp and grits. Its heartiness and cozy mix of textures is just not something we have in the abundance Up North. While we've got shore lunch for days, they have briny little shrimp and creamy corn porridge at the ready.
It's a dish I've missed at home. That is, until today when I snuck into the just-opened Big Biscuit Bar on Mears Park in St. Paul. The former Handsome Hog is undergoing a transformation into neighborhood diner, and the service shows. She didn't call us, "hon," but it was implied in every moment of care and attention we received.
The place just opened, and the signage is minimal, but stop inside and order a giant mug of coffee (which is refilled twice) and a giant Fiestaware bowl filled with perfectly prepared shrimp and grits ($19). The grits are creamy with just a hint of salty/savory Tillamook cheddar tossed in at the end. The shrimp were plump curls of briny ocean sweetness in a rich tomato gravy. There's just enough heat to wake up the mouth, and the whole thing tasted like breakfast by the sea, where the air is perfumed by sweetgrass and the day doesn't require one bit of rush. Might as well order a little breakfast dessert of biscuits with berries and cream and sit a spell. (J.S.)
203 E. 6th St., St. Paul, bigbiscuitbar.com