Arroz caldo at Kalsada
Some mornings break bright and full of promise. This was not one of those mornings. We woke with a jolt realizing the alarm hadn't gone off. It was the 200th day of winter, still gray and cold. Coaxing a 6-year-old to move quickly is a Sisyphean effort on a good day, which wasn't today. Everything was given an extra edge from jangly nerves and a pulsating headache that probably had nothing to do with the wine from the night before.
Despite a task list a mile long, I ducked into the just-opened Kalsada after depositing the tardy kids at their respective schools. All I wanted was broth and rice.
Every culture has a grandmother lurking with a bowl of soothing comfort when the ills hit. From matzo ball and chicken noodle to congee and juk, there are bowls beloved for their healing powers and warm hugs of mild flavor.
At Kalsada, this dish is a take on Filipino arroz caldo ($13). A downright hot bowl brims with soft-cooked rice porridge the color of the sun we've been missing for so long. Garnished with crispy bits of fried garlic, the dish also comes with a plate of mixing buddies. Nubs of fried chicken add texture and a little saltiness, Fresno chilies amp up the spice and pea shoots add a lovely green crunch. However, it's the egg that really takes this dish over the top into the new favorite breakfast category. Expertly soft boiled, it opens to ooze just a little bit into the golden mixture.
Because I was hungry — again, unlikely linked to the previous night's wine consumption, but more in relation to the expulsion of big ideas that poured from my brain — I also ordered the lumpia ($10). Crispy little fingers of fried goodness, they're stuffed with ground meat and plump raisins that burst with salty sweetness.
The entire experience was the perfect counterpoint to a morning that started so rough. Kalsada is open for coffee, pastries and brunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and also serves dinner. (Joy Summers)
1668 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-340-0496, kalsada-stpaul.com
Tico Tai cocktail at Marna's Eatery and Lounge
The delightful Costa Rican food at Marna's Eatery and Lounge, which opened in fall 2019, was a pandemic takeout favorite for my family, a tropical respite when we couldn't leave home. But I hadn't dined inside until this week, and there was so much I was missing out on. Lush plants hanging from the ceiling, gorgeous plating you don't see in a takeout container and fruity, vibrant cocktails.
This Robbinsdale oasis recently updated its drinks menu for the season, and I opted for the Tico Tai ($13), a concoction of white and dark rums, Cointreau, orgeat and mango purée, served over crushed ice for a beach-ready libation. It calls up some of the flavors found in the cooking of chef/owner Rolando Diaz and executive chef Pablo Aguilera, such as the pineapple-mango salsa on two of my favorites, the Arroz con Camarones (shrimp with coconut rice and ham) and the El Dorado (blackened mahi-mahi). (Sharyn Jackson)
4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 612-272-1370, marnaseatery.com
Lamb steak at Bullvino's Churrascaria
Confession: I had never understood the appeal of a Brazilian steakhouse. It all seems like ... a lot. A lot of food, a lot of fuss and, depending on where you go, a lot of money. What I wasn't expecting? It's a lot of fun, too.
Nearly everything about our visit to the year-old restaurant was enjoyable. Locally owned by Nathan Uherka and chef Marcio Demorais, the building (the former Octo Fish Bar) was beautiful, the service was first rate, the drinks packed a punch — try the caipirinha, Brazil's national drink — and the salad bar was fresh and plentiful. But when you're at a Brazilian steakhouse, it's all about the meat. And the meat did not disappoint.
Gauchos were at the ready with more than a dozen options, from sausage and chicken to steak and lamb. While they were all delicious, I preferred the simply seasoned cuts so all the attention was on the meat and its crispy edges. The lamb steak was hands-down my favorite — so pink, tender and flavorful. And while it may seem counterintuitive, the pineapple, roasted with a cinnamon-sweet glaze, was a close second. Both were mouthwateringly impeccable. (Cost is $44.95-$54.95, which includes the bottomless salad bar and the meat and sides served tableside.)
On busy nights I imagine the room is buzzing with excitement. But there was one big benefit of being there on a quiet night as the Saints played next door: the conversation. One of the gauchos, who is from Brazil, was explaining how he's been cooking this way for years — he was charged with getting the fires going on weekends back home, where they would roast everything from goat and beef to fruits and vegetables. His passion for food and his culture was mesmerizing.
Yes, this was my first rodeo, but it won't be my last. (Nicole Hvidsten)
289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-493-3397, bullvinos.com
Treats from Honey and Rye at Le Café
Having lived in Minneapolis' Harrison neighborhood, I love what's going on along Glenwood Avenue and the surrounding business district. La Doña Cervecería and Royal Foundry Craft Spirits opened a couple of years ago and kick-started a hospitality mini-renaissance. There's Henry & Son, one of the more exciting wine shops in town. Wendy's House of Soul recently joined the party. And now, there's Le Café.
A bright coffee shop inside Alliance Française's fairly new headquarters is bringing much needed coffee and pastries to the district, courtesy of St. Louis Park's Honey and Rye Bakehouse. In addition to the bakery's expert croissant and pain au chocolat, you can pick up savory scones and even a baguette to bring home.
I selected a crackly-crusted baguette ($3.75), along with a cold press ($4.50) and a chocolate croissant ($4.25), and then browsed the adorable library and gift shop with all manner of French trinkets. Grab a seat inside or at one of the handful of tables on the sidewalk for a view of the doggy day care across the street and the French flag billowing above. Très chic. (S.J.)
227 Colfax Av. N., Mpls., 612-332-0436, afmsp.org
Jersey pork roll breakfast sandwich at Jellybean & Julia's
The menu at this barbecue restaurant in Anoka is heavily influenced by the food that owner Cory Swap has tasted during his travels. That's mostly apparent in the central Texas barbecue offerings, such as smoked brisket, making this place a popular spot for barbecue lovers.
But there's also some New Jersey on the menu in the form of a new breakfast sandwich that's served all day.
It consists of a housemade bun with everything bagel seasoning, a jammy egg, melty yellow American cheese, and thinly sliced and crispy griddled pork roll, aka Taylor Ham. The Trenton-made processed meat isn't widely available out this way, although you can find it at some Lund's & Byerly's. That's where Swap spotted it, and it reminded him of time spent in New Jersey two decades ago, when his band was invited to record a demo. He bought a pound of the bologna-like product, sliced it and fried it up for breakfast. An East Coaster on his staff had the idea to make it a new special for the restaurant ($9).
There's been a lot of interest from New Jersey expats, but Swap suspects many customers don't know what pork roll is. "I tell people it's like if Spam had a cousin on the East Coast," he said.
Sad side note: If you follow Jellybean & Julia's on social media, you may have noticed a lot of inventive and highly photogenic specials since late last year. Many of them were the brainchild of head chef Patrick Macy, who joined the team last November. Macy died unexpectedly last weekend. "We finally met someone that matched our love for food and ingenuity and mixing things up, and we lost the guy," Swap said. "He lifted us up at a time when we really needed help." (S.J.)
530 W. Main St., Anoka, 763-421-6119, jellybeanandjulias.com