Crispy rice tots from Bap and Chicken
The Korean dish bibimbap is traditionally served in a hot stone bowl. When the rice comes into contact with the heated stone, it forms a crispy rice crust. But the kitchen at Bap and Chicken isn't set up to make hot bowls, so chef/owner John Gleason had to come up with a different way to deliver that crunchy rice goodness.
"I wanted to pay homage to the crispy bits that people love," he said.
So, he created crispy rice tots. Bigger than a Tater Tot, smaller than arancini, these cylinders of seasoned rice are formed into a tot shape and deep fried for ultimate crunch. The $5 side dish, which is gluten-free, comes with zippy kimchi crema for dipping.
Snowbirds, take note: A Bap and Chicken outpost opened in Chandler, Ariz., last fall. And Gleason's brilliant invention is on the menu there, too. (Sharyn Jackson)
1328 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-333-0929, bapandchicken.com. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Egg and Cheese Croissant at Black Walnut Bakery
For years before opening Black Walnut Bakery in 2019, pastry chef Sarah Botcher sold her terrific cookies, breads and danishes at pop-ups. They were a marvel then — Botcher's textbook pastries bear resemblance to those from San Francisco's storied Tartine Bakery, where she once worked — and they mostly are now. The kouign-amann, in recent memory, was buttery and had an armor of caramelized gloss.
Like Tartine, Black Walnut's opening hours are odd. They're open until 2 p.m., five days a week. And like Tartine, not all pastries are a hit.
But frustration disappears every time I order Botcher's Egg and Cheese Croissant ($8). Two flaky pieces of croissant bread, pressed together like a panini, sandwich a block of soufflé-like egg custard. Mild Gruyère, and a goat-cheese/herbed spread add more complexity than mayo. It is hefty, for certain, but not cloyingly rich. Don't forget to add ham. (Jon Cheng)
3157 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-353-6552, blackwalnutbakery.com. Open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Blueberry mojito from Juicebox
Don't let the names fool you — the refreshers served at this Mall of America newcomer don't taste anything like what's inside those tiny cartons. They don't have alcohol, either.
What they do have is flavor, and plenty of it. The lime-based blueberry mojito ($5.79) is mixed with slices of limes, blueberries and mint leaves. It's the perfect amount of sweetness that screams summer but doesn't taste out of season. There are eight classic flavors ranging from piña colada to lychee limeade and more coming (the "dragon-ita" just launched). Not to worry if you have a hard time deciding — tastes are free.
But the coolest thing about Juicebox is that it was started by two Woodbury families. Sisters-in-law May Yang and Ann Vang, who each have four kids, had always made juices at home. When six of the eight kids were in college, they were lamenting that seasonal jobs were hard to come by. They wondered: Could they sell their juices during the summer? They sure could.
"They were the labor, brains and workers behind it," said Yang. "They just took it and ran with it."
For four years, Juicebox sold its fruity beverages at summer events, its first at St. Paul's Freedom Festival, perfecting the recipes along the way. They started to get a following — "we didn't think it would be as popular as it was," Yang said — but the ultimate goal was to have a storefront, and the Mall of America is its first. (Go big or stay home, right?)
Yang said she and her sister-in-law were nervous about making the leap to year-round business owners, and their move to the mall made for some sleepless nights. "But we always told the kids it's better to try and fail then to not try at all and always wonder," she said.
Find Juicebox in the mall's north food court in the space previously occupied by Starbucks. The generous servings provide a nice change-of-pace respite after a day of shopping or a morning of mall walking. And those kids who started it all? You'll still find them helping out as time and schedules allow.
"It really is a family business," Yang said. A tasty one at that. (Nicole Hvidsten)
Mall of America, 310 Central Pkwy., 651-792-5721, juiceboxmn.com. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.
Cookie box from Laune Bread
Anyone who thinks cookie plates are just for December is sorely mistaken.
Deep in the throes of winter, there is nothing more delightful than a buttery-rich spread from Laune Bread, which just opened a storefront in Minneapolis after years of operating as a subscription-based bakery, similar to a CSA, with dropoffs across the city.
The bakery is open only on Fridays for now, but in it you'll find all manner of gorgeous naturally leavened breads that Laune is known for, plus an array of sweets. Take your pick from deeply chocolaty rye cocoa coins, lovely shortbreads with flower petals pressed into them, spicy ginger snaps and aniseed biscuits, and a craggy-crunchy rye chocolate chip.
Or, don't pick. A whole box with 18 assorted cookies is $22.
Even with the new digs, the bakery still exists in the virtual space, too. Plan a week ahead to pick up one-time or recurring online orders at several outposts across the city. (S.J.)
3605 E. Lake St., Mpls., launebread.com. Open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (or until sold out) Fridays.
Lo bak go from Keefer Court
The Year of the Tiger was officially rung in Feb. 1, and a number of restaurants around the Twin Cities were celebrating with Lunar New Year specials.
I opted for lo bak go ($12) from Keefer Court, the oldest Chinese bakery in the Twin Cities. The turnip cake, which is dense like a steamed pudding, can be found on some dim sum menus, and is commonly eaten at Chinese New Year celebrations. Shredded turnip and rice flour form the base, and the whole thing is dotted with jewels of Chinese sausage and briny dried shrimp, mushrooms and scallions. Pan-frying gives the slices an irresistible caramelized edge.
Lo bak go is staying on the menu another week or so. If you get one, consider adding a quart of Keefer Court's congee ($11 and up). The sesame- and scallion-seasoned rice porridge, with barbecue pork or roast duck and topped with pork floss and peanuts, is one of my favorite warm-me-up soups for winter. Don't skip the fried dough sticks ($3) for dipping. (S.J.)
326 Cedar Av. S., Mpls., 612-340-0937, keefercourt.com. Open 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wed.-Sun.