Rick Nelson is here to field all dining-related questions. Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What’s new at the Mall of America?
A: There’s Margaritaville (344 East Broadway, 952-800-4422, margaritaville.com), the tepid Jimmy Buffett-inspired chain, and the mall’s first Panera Bread (316 South Avenue, 612-656-0528, panerabread.com). A Naf Naf Grill (326 Central Parkway, nafnafgrill.com) is coming soon.
The megamall is also hosting its first Culinary Fest. Through Nov. 11, enjoy dining deals, special sampling events, prizes, classes, a progressive dining event with the Junior League of Minneapolis and a Veterans Day chef challenge. Find details at mallofamerica.com/dining/ culinary-fest.
What I’m most excited about is the upcoming Cookies & Cream by Rustica. The tiny (500 square feet) shop will combine the cookie-baking expertise of Rustica Bakery (3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-822-1119 and 8107 Eden Prairie Road, Eden Prairie, 952-479-7631, rusticabakery.com), one of the region’s top-performing sugar-and-flour alchemists, with the ice cream-making (or, in this case, soft-serve ice cream-making) skills of pastry chef Ben Spangler, the flavor whiz who had a guiding hand in launching the exceptional Milkjam Creamery (2743 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-424-4668, milkjamcreamery.com).
Cookies will include Rustica legacy recipes, and yes, that includes the bakery’s irresistible Bittersweet Chocolate Cookie, “otherwise known as ‘crack,’ ” said owner Greg Hoyt. They’ll be supplemented by a roster of Spangler’s new flavor combinations.
“We’re opening this one as a test,” said Hoyt. “Our plan is to hopefully roll out a few of them.” The target opening date is Dec. 4, which is, yes, National Cookie Day.
Q: We are dying for some apple cider doughnuts. Any ideas where we can pick some up?
A: Why not go directly to the source? At the picturesque Pine Tree Apple Orchard (450 Orchard Road, White Bear Lake, 651-429-7202, pinetreeappleorchard.com), the Jacobson family has been funneling their cider and applesauce into cake doughnuts since 1978. They’re made fresh all day, every day, and sold by the dozen ($4.99), the half-dozen ($2.79) or in singles (50 cents).
Q: How about a suggestion for something that’s off the menu?
A: Consider the Saturday night ramen ritual at Spoon and Stable (211 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-224-9850, spoonandstable.com). Starting at 10:30 p.m., chef Gavin Kaysen makes about 20 to 25 orders of the steaming stuff available for guests in the restaurant’s bar and lounge.
The formula changes weekly — it could be a brothless version, with snow crab, ham hock dashi and lobster roe, or it might include smoked pork jowl, eggplant and fermented black beans in a duck/pork broth — and Kaysen always provides a helpful preview early in the evening on his Instagram account (@gavinkaysen).
The price? Expect it to hover near $15. Insiders know to arrive around 9:30 for one (or more) of bartender Robb Jones’ cocktails, and to pre-order their ramen, because it’s usually a sellout.
“Especially now with this cooler weather coming on,” said Kaysen. “It’s when the thought of having a hot bowl of ramen is really appealing.”
Q: Where can I host a business breakfast in the southwestern suburbs?
A: I’ll give you two options, and both involve exalted members of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs fraternity.
At great-looking Lela (5601 W. 78th St., Bloomington, 952-656-5980, lelarestaurant.com), chef Stewart Woodman (formerly of Heidi’s, and a 2006 F&W Best New Chef) sticks to elegant classics: brioche French toast topped with a blueberry compote, a hanger steak with eggs and hash browns, a crabcake Benedict and bacon-brie omelets.
Meanwhile, at the Minneapolis Marriott Southwest, chef Seth Bixby Daugherty (formerly of Cosmos, and a 2005 F&W BNC) is remaking the hotel’s Blue Birch (5801 Opus Pkwy., Minnetonka, 952-352-0239, bluebirchrestaurant.com), with made-from-scratch crowd pleasers along the lines of three-egg omelets, lemon-ricotta pancakes, spinach-carrot-apple smoothies, and more.
Q: I’m starting to think about Christmas. Do you have a local restaurant cookbook that you’d recommend for gifts?
A: Do I ever. Lenny Russo’s “Heartland: Farm-Forward Dishes From the Great Midwest” (Burgess Lea Press, $35) is destined to become a classic after the restaurant closes its doors on Dec. 31.
This 20-year B’wood diner finds “The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook” (University of Minnesota Press, $29.95) to be enormously user-friendly, and not just because authors Marshall Paulsen and Tracy Singleton included the restaurant’s savory waffle recipe.
And I’ve always enjoyed Brenda Langton’s “The Spoonriver Cookbook” (University of Minnesota Press, $34). “I tried not to make it too complicated,” said Langton. “Lots of people come up to me and tell me that they use it all the time, so I must have succeeded.” She did, indeed.
Q: Where do you dine when you’re not working?
A: All over. I live in St. Paul, and when I don’t feel like cooking, I’m often at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro (799 W. University Av., St. Paul, 651-222-3301, ngonbistro.com), where the on-the-ball service staff pretty much knows that I’m going to order the com tam (broken rice) with chicken and pickled vegetables.
Or I’ll dash to Foxy Falafel (791 Raymond Av., St. Paul, 651-888-2255, foxyfalafel.com) for a quick and inexpensive shot of chicken shawarma with a side of chef/owner Erica Strait’s fantastic hummus.
When I’m hankering for a first-rate burger — and in the mood to be surrounded by hundreds of my closest friends — I’ll brave the inevitable crowds at Surly Brewing Co. (520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com) and dive into the kitchen’s double-patty wonder. And a beer, naturally.
Lately I’ve been enjoying the transformation of the Eastside (305 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-208-1638, eastsidempls.com) lunch menu under new chef Dennis Leaf-Smith. But when I need to slash my noon-hour budget, I have two favorite fallbacks.
The first the foccacia-style veggie pizza at Isles Bun & Coffee (1424 W. 28th St., Mpls., 612-870-4466, islesbun.com). It’s available weekdays only. Toppings change daily, and it comes out of the oven around noon.
The second is Solveig Tofte’s delicious pulled turkey sandwich on toasted oatmeal bread — it’s called “Linnea’s Choice,” after her daughter — at Sun Street Breads (4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3414, sunstreetbreads.com); go early on Wednesday to get a crack at Tofte’s once-a-week excursion into glazed doughnut territory.