Animalz at the Opera from A to Z Creamery

Last week, I won the pie lottery. This week, it was ice cream. The inventive small-batch ice cream from A to Z Creamery is available in extremely limited quantities, and sales of the coveted pints ($13) can be unpredictable. Usually, they sell out in moments. Occasionally, there's a lottery with a random one-hour time frame to enter. For once, I was watching my e-mail at the right time and entered under the wire. Minutes later, I was notified that I'd won the chance to purchase the flavor of the week — a spin on a classic opera cake in ice cream form.

Behind A to Z is Zach Vraa, an ice cream hobbyist who turned his pandemic experimentations into a sizzling side business. For this flavor, he steeped Spyhouse coffee beans into the ultra-creamy ice cream base for one to five days (pints packed later in the process had a bolder coffee flavor). Then he baked an almond sponge cake that he crumbled up and mixed in, along with a thick, gooey swirl of chocolate ganache.

"Each and every pint is hand-packed layer by layer in multiple stages so there's never a shortage of goodies," Vraa said. Indeed, the ice cream-ganache-cake crumb ratio was practically 1:1:1. And so good, I could have eaten the whole pint in one sitting. But I didn't. This flavor, like all of Vraa's creations, is a one-off. The next one is already out and it's pretzel-inspired. Congratulations to the lucky winners. (Sharyn Jackson)

Online only,, with pickup in Hopkins. Weekly sales are announced on Instagram, but not with any regularity. Follow @atozcreamery to find out about the next batch.

Macha Chicken Bowl at MB Foodhouse

I thought I knew what I was in for when I popped into the North Loop Galley food hall to grab a bite from a newer vendor.

MB Foodhouse relocated there last fall after launching as a pop-up in 2020 and then as a residency in Uptown last year. It, too, began as a pandemic side project, this one from Kristen Martinez and Sean Lindahl, also known as the noise rap band Moodie Black, which missed out on a scheduled album release and European tour thanks to COVID.

"We were depressed for a couple months, and then we decided to leap into the Foodhouse idea," said Martinez. The musician-turned-chef had worked in restaurants for years, but didn't think she'd start her own. "But the pandemic gave us a reason to dip our toes into that," she said. "All the energy just took on a life of its own."

Which brings me to the chicken bowl ($12). The straightforward name does not do justice to the beautifully plated dish or the deep flavors found within. The rice and beans alone — so comforting. But the chicken? Utterly delicious. It's coated in an original barbecue sauce that begins with a base of nutty salsa macha, a housemade chile oil made with guajillos and anchos, and then gets sauce-ified with vinegar and spices. The chicken is marinated in it, and caramelizes as it cooks. The flavors hit every note — sweet, sour, smoky, spicy — and it's a perfect personal fusion of Martinez's background.

"I'm Mexican and Black, so I'm taking Black culture, barbecue, and putting that sauce on the chicken," said Martinez, who was born in El Paso, Texas, and is "trying to focus on new-era Tex-Mex dishes" at MB Foodhouse.

That macha sauce is found on a few other dishes of the constantly shifting menu, and a current special of El Paso beef stew. Eventually, Martinez hopes to bottle it. But first, there's her music career to attend to. Word about MB Foodhouse has spread in the music world, and after an agent stopped in for some Tex-Mex, the band snagged a high-profile gig this summer.

"To me, the food place is just another music project," Martinez said. "I know that's bizarre, but it's part of our ethos. It makes sense." (S.J.)

729 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-217-0735, Open 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun., Tue.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Sinful Bone Marrow at Stepchld

Every bone marrow order at a restaurant is bound to come with uncertainty. I liken it to Russian roulette — when the bones are split open, you may either find it brimming with the gelatinous meat, or an amount enough for only one bite, maybe two. Such is life.

That is precisely why you should order it. Roulette notwithstanding, the payoffs are too great to ignore, especially when chefs understand how to coax the richness out of the marrow while counterbalancing it with an acid of some kind. Kamal Mohamed knows his marrow well. At Stepchld, the restaurant he opened last year, a large beef bone, split into two hulking pieces that resemble prehistoric num-chuks (happily), came with a generous amount of marrow — so rich and buttery and salty that it could probably induce a coronary bypass ($15). But the black vinegar on top tempers it appealingly, and the basil olive oil, on the side, lent the type of nuance that turned the marrow — and oil — into a perfect spread on perfectly grilled bread. (Jon Cheng)

24 University Av. NE., Suite 100, Mpls., 612-354-7409, Open 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun.

Saffron paella at PLate on Main

Walking into this Prior Lake charmer, my first thought was "I can't wait to come back here this summer." The large, open space — with loads of windows and a patio off to the side — calls out for sunshine and relaxation.

Winters aren't so bad, either, as the well designed room can also exude coziness. Plus, there's seafood — good seafood. In landlocked Minnesota, ordering seafood can be a gamble, in both quality and how it's prepared. As seafood lovers, we were willing to take that chance and started with fresh calamari ($17). Lightly breaded and quickly fried, it was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Served with cherry peppers (a nice pairing) and a chipotle aioli, it was a win. So far, so good.

Now, let's talk paella. The traditional Spanish dish has as many variations as there are people who make it. PLate on Main's version is filled with seafood, of course — primarily shrimp and mussels, with a glorious scallop on top — and the surprising twist of a spicy, locally made bison sausage ($31), the perfect foil for the rich seafood, all cooked with precision. With the rice, tomatoes, herbs, onions and saffrony broth, it was large enough to share, but it's also just fine to keep the leftovers for yourself. The one thing missing? A piece of crusty bread to soak up some of the delicious juices.

This time, the seafood gamble definitely paid off. (Nicole Hvidsten)

16323 Main Av. SE., Prior Lake, 952-440-5500, Open 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 3-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3-8 p.m. Sun.

Borough's Pork Chop

Borough has always been the sophisticated upstairs sibling to the downstairs cocktail realm of Parlour. The subterranean bar took up a lot of air with its drinks and burgers when the two opened in 2013, but in the years since Borough has continued to evolve.

Chef de cuisine Ben Moenster's menu continues to be confidently elegant. Flavors are borrowed from around the globe and distilled into comforting dishes that are dressed up for a special night out.

The pork chop ($40) alone is worth building an evening around. Smoked until gloriously tender, it's dressed in a salty, savory, sweet Korean barbecue sauce that pumps up the porky goodness. On top are teardrop-shaped biquinho peppers that pop with each bite, rendering a sweet, tart kick. Beneath the pork chop, making it a robust meal, is sautéed bok choy and black forbidden rice. (Joy Summers)

730 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-354-3135,, Open 4-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 4-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.