Booya at St. Paul Brewing
Like other St. Paul transplants, I'd never heard of booya until I moved here. The first one I attended, I marveled at the long lines of people carrying containers waiting to take home tubs of this soup. The recipes, as far as I could tell, are imprecise at best. A stone soup sort of harvest, hearty ingredients — fresh or canned — are brought together in a deep kettle, along with a little bit of this and that, and cooked for hours. The result is a community feast where kids tumble around and adults nurse a beer and a cup of this stewy treasure.
The only drawback is that each one is thrown on a single day, by one organization. That's where St. Paul Brewing comes in. Every Thursday for the month of October the brewery is hosting a booya day, where heaping bowls ($6) of it, made with vegetables that haven't seen the inside of a can, are served. And fans can still order larger amounts to take home ($10 a quart).
The soup has a distinctive rich brothiness, with a tomato tang and shreds of chicken and hunks of beef lolling inside. The vegetable mix includes potatoes, rutabaga, cabbage and peas, with a result that's warming, soothing and even better when enjoyed on the eclectic brewery patio along with a cold Oktoberfest brew. (Joy Summers)
688 E. Minnehaha Av., St. Paul, 651-698-1945, stpaulbrewing.com
Spicy chicken sandwich from Khue's Kitchen
With his new kitchen-only restaurant (it's just takeout), Eric Pham has managed to merge flavors and techniques he learned at two vastly different restaurant jobs.
Pham is the grandson of the founding family behind Quang, Eat Street's iconic shrine to pho. The 22-year-old has as much experience as he does years, having grown up at Quang, where his mother, Khue, still works. "It never clicked about how important this restaurant was to people," Pham said. "To me it was like, I just go here because it's day care."
Already adept at the kind of fast-paced cooking that Quang required, Pham applied for a mentorship at Spoon and Stable and learned French technique and hospitality under Gavin Kaysen for two years.
Now, with Khue's Kitchen, Pham is experimenting with what it means to bring those worlds together, which, it turns out, is his "niche." That means Asian, Southern, French and more. Just don't expect Quang 2. "I wouldn't say it's authentic at all," he said. "It's authentic to who I am."
Take the spicy chicken sandwich ($13). Pham does a buttermilk and five-spice marinade, then dredges the juicy thigh in cornstarch and potato starch for ultra-crispy breading. The heat comes from his housemade chile crisp, which is built from Mexican chiles. And it all comes together with pickles and an herb-packed aioli he learned how to make at Spoon.
Pham ultimately wants to open a full-scale restaurant, but he's taking it slow. "I need to stay young," he said. "I'm just sort of figuring out where do I fit between these two restaurants. Who am I? This concept is allowing me to really focus on the food and see what people like and what I like to make." (Sharyn Jackson)
Pickup or delivery only, 1517 Central Av. NE., Mpls., 612-237-4393, khueskitchen.com
Hausplatte at Black Forest Inn
It's easy to get caught up in Oktoberfest — peak fall weather, limited-edition beer and German heritage all on full display. So in the spirit of celebration, we went straight to a German source and revisited this Eat Street mainstay.
The unseasonably warm weather made patio seating a must, a strolling accordion player adding to the charm. The Oktoberfest specials were tempting — so many dumplings! — but we split the hausplatte ($34.50) to get a bit of everything. Or a lot of everything: red cabbage (just like my grandma used to make), fresh sauerkraut (very mild), German potato salad (rivals my mom's recipe), a fresh-baked pretzel (my weakness) and meat. So much meat. A housemade brat and Polish sausage were accompanied by rippchen, a cured bone-in pork chop boiled in a briny broth until it's at its tender best.
While that and a stein were more than enough to fill up these two Germans, I would have been happy to keep it to myself so I could take it home and revisit it for a few more days. One regret: I should have left room for an apple dumpling. (Nicole Hvidsten)
1 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-872-0812, blackforestinnmpls.com.
Walleye Po'boy at Pillbox Tavern
Now is the season for the hearty optimists, those who wear the purple and gold and yell Skol! at the TV screen. Those are the people who embrace the cold, follow the stats and continue to believe that this might be the year for our local team. For me, it's an excellent excuse to find some incredible bar food and watch other people watch the game.
And Pillbox Tavern in downtown St. Paul is churning out some incredible bar food. The room is filled with TV screens perfect for catching every play and replay, but the food is worth the trip alone. There are gooey Juicy Lucys, hefty Bavarian pretzels, beefy French dips and a triumphant walleye sandwich ($18). Served in a Po'boy bun, several fish fillets are battered thick and fried crispy and then drizzled with a spicy, creamy rémoulade. The skinny fries on the side do well when dredged through that sauce. (J.S.)
400 N. Wabasha St., St. Paul, 651-756-7566, pillboxtav.com
Cannon Valley Stroganoff at Forager Brewery
On a road trip to Decorah, Iowa, last weekend, I made a dinner stop in Rochester, which has a good number of restaurants on my "must-try" list. At the top was Forager Brewery, a seven-year-old brewpub with a scratch kitchen and unbelievably charming flower-filled patio.
I could talk about the beer, but I was really there for the food, which is as farm-to-table as it gets. Nearly every ingredient comes from an independently operated farm or maker in southeast Minnesota. Like the braised beef in this comforting Stroganoff ($18), which originates at Cannon Valley Ranch, a Cannon Falls family farm with links to one of Forager's bartenders. In a neat give-and-take, Forager sends its spent grains to the farm to be used as fertilizer and in soil rebuilding. The dish hits all the comfort food marks, with sturdy housemade fettuccine, chunks of mushrooms and fragrant dill sprinkled on top like confetti. The crisp evening practically begged me to order it.
The place is known for its wood-fired pizzas, but I'd suggest ordering anything in a bowl to truly get a taste of the region's bounty. There's a curry packed with seasonal veggies from Pine Creek Farms, about 20 minutes away. And the daily soup was a chunky tomato bisque served alongside hunks of toasty bread from a Hammond, Minn., bakery.
Warming up with dinner on the patio while music spilled outside (there's live music six nights a week) and sitting under a trellis surrounded by flowers from Decorah's Seed Savers (another must-stop on this drive) made this a beyond-perfect pit stop. Next trip, I'll make it my final destination. (S.J.)
1005 NW. 6th St., Rochester, 507-258-7490, foragerbrewery.com