Caramel apple at Abdallah Candies
Steve Hegedus, owner of this fifth-generation company, isn't sure how long the autumn calendar has been dominated by caramel apple production.
"But it's probably longer than I've been around, and I'm 55," he said. "I'd have to talk to the company's professional historians, which would be my mom and dad."
This much he does know: Caramel apples are a big deal. Hegedus estimates that, for the six-week period leading up to Halloween, the company's day shift staff of 140 devotes much of its energies into dunking nearly 1 million apples into caramel.
"It's not an understatement to say that it takes over our entire company," he said.
The apples — tart, green-skinned Granny Smiths, which nicely contrast against Abdallah's not-too-sweet caramel formula — hail from California and Washington.
"I love local apples, but we can't get that kind of supply," said Hegedus. "I'd dip Haralsons as the day is long, if we could get them in those numbers."
Abdallah caramel apples ($3.29) are notable for what they don't have. No nuts, chocolate, M & M's, crushed pretzels or other distractions.
"Just thick caramel — which is cooked in copper kettles — and apple, that's it," said Hegedus. "We're hard-core caramel apple purists. If we didn't have good caramel, we'd be throwing all kinds of stuff on it. But our caramel doesn't need anything else."
Buy these beauties at the company's retail store, although most are sold under private labels at Twin Cities supermarkets. Store at room temperature, for up to two weeks.
"Although we suggest not to store them," Hegedus said with a laugh. "We suggest eating them." (Rick Nelson)
6075 W. 147th St., Apple Valley, abdallahcandies.com. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.
Birria tacos at Homi
Since opening this unassuming University Avenue Mexican restaurant in 2009, Miguel Lopez has been cooking the classics he grew up with in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City. Empanadas, pozole and the dish that stirs up the most comforting memories of home — Barbacoa de Borrego (roasted lamb with consommé).
But Lopez's menu doesn't stay fixed in the past. In the last year or so, he's had so many customer requests for birria tacos that they're now a permanent fixture at Homi (pronounced OH-me) Restaurant Mexicano. The West Coast import is a reimagining of a classic goat dish, in taco form. "People have been asking for it, so I'm going with the flow," Lopez said.
To make it, he braises about 200 pounds of beef brisket every other week, slow-cooking it for hours until it falls apart. A griddled tortilla topped with melty cheese, another tortilla, chopped onions and cilantro, and that astoundingly tender meat are all that go into a dish that's simple yet painstaking to make. On the side are limes, green salsa and the flavor-packed drippings from the brisket, reddened by not-too-hot dried peppers. (It's $12.95 for three tacos.)
"For me, simplicity has always been a good thing," Lopez said. "Some people drench it with sauce and sour cream. You taste everything else, but you don't taste the flavor of the meat. My birria tacos don't need anything else." (Sharyn Jackson)
864 University Av. W., St. Paul, 651-222-0655, homirestaurant.com. Open 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.
Sassy Cheese Spread at The Naughty Greek
Yet another sign that things are sloooowly getting back to normal: The Naughty Greek has reopened its Minneapolis skyway location. And there may have been more people standing in line for gyros than there were in the entire skyway system all week.
While a gyro is never a bad idea — Naughty Greek's version has fries wrapped in the pita — you'd be cheating yourself if you didn't expand your horizons. Plus, sometimes the day calls for lighter fare. If that's your day, try the Original Greek Salad ($9); a simple combo of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, peppers and olives topped with a seasoned block of feta and a side of dressing. It was almost the perfect lunch.
What made lunch perfection was a last-minute addition of the housemade Sassy Cheese Spread ($5). Simplicity reigns again, with imported feta and spicy roasted chiles blended into a spread and served with warm, seasoned pita pieces. Fair warning: The "spicy" is pretty spicy, so mild-palated Minnesotans should proceed with caution. The serving is plenty big, so you can save some for the gyro you'll get tomorrow. (Nicole Hvidsten)
225 S. 6th St. (skyway level), Mpls., open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 2400 University Av. W., St. Paul, open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 181 Snelling Av. N., St. Paul, open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun., Mon., Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat. thenaughtygreek.com.
Doughnuts from Angel Food Bakery & Donut Bar
Katy Gerdes probably should have seen it coming. She knows that now.
Since Angel Food Bakery, formerly of downtown Minneapolis, reopened in St. Louis Park's Texa-Tonka shopping center last week, customers have been lining up for Gerdes' doughnuts and other treats, and leaving the shop pretty much sold out by midmorning.
After a year-and-a-half with no storefront, and doughnuts only available to order for a premium on the national shipping site Goldbelly.com, there is "pent-up energy" from local fans of her baked goods, Gerdes said. "I just figured if they can't get doughnuts from us, they'd go somewhere else. But they've been waiting for this. I did not know that."
This week, I got there by 8:30 a.m. and, despite about 10 people ahead of me, was lucky enough to snag one of each of the five doughnut flavors still in the case, including this raspberry chocolate chip doughnut. As always, these dough rings are light yet large — too substantial to inhale like some mass-market doughnuts, yet not a gut bomb, either. The frosting has an unexpected intensity — the chocolate tasting deeply of cocoa, the raspberry bright and juicy. (Doughnuts are $2.75 with hole, $3.50 without.)
With a large new space and even patio seating, the new Angel Food is a massive departure from the little nook above Hell's Kitchen. Despite the bigger digs, the menu has been pared down to the bestsellers. Every day, the kitchen cranks out as many of the dozen rotating doughnut flavors as it can. There are also scones, some savory "puffs" and, I'm told, cupcakes — though not by the time I got there.
Even if the baked goods are sold out, Angel Food has a coffee bar with locally roasted Folly Coffee. And if they don't have what you want when you get there, know that Gerdes is working to scale up. "Please be gentle on us," she said. (S.J.)
8100 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, open 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Thurs.-Mon., angelfoodmn.com.
Ham and Gruyère crêpe at Penny's Coffee
A friend is currently eating her way across Paris, and the parade of envy-inducing food photos that she's posting on social media have given me a major case of crêpes on the brain.
That craving drew me to this style-conscious coffee shop, which in less than four minutes pulls together an impressive quick-service meal ($12) that's suitable for breakfast or lunch.
The crêpes — eggy, tender, golden — are treated to a generous sprinkling of shredded Gruyère, and the cheese's slightly nutty flavor marries well with the quiet smokiness of the thinly shaved ham. Tons of fragrant black pepper, a swipe of Dijon-infused aioli and a flourish of flaky Maldon sea salt are the spot-on finishing touches.
It's as close to the 6th Arrondissement that I'm going to get for the foreseeable future. I'll take it. (R.N.)
750 E. Lake St., Wayzata, open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun.; and 100 Washington Av. S., Mpls., open 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.-Sun. pennyscoffee.com.