As I look back on a year of eating in the 651 it has been a memorable year! Enclosed are some of the highlights.
El Burrito Mercado:
I had the distinct pleasure of participating in my first Tamalada. A Tamalada is a tamale making party. This party was led by the founder of El Burrito Mercado, Maria Silva and her daughter Milissa Diaz. Making tamales is a really fun activity. First we learned how to make the masa. Masa is corn flower that is mixed with lard and water making the dough that you use to line the corn husk. Then we talked about fillings, pork, chicken, beans or vegetables can all be used to make a great filling. We had Maria demonstrate how to make tight bite size tamale while we all fumbled with our corn husk packages that came out looking like under inflated footballs. Clearly there is an art to making tamales! While we rolled our tamales Maria walked through our tables giving us tips and pointers and talking to us about the food of her heritage. It was a special day that I would suggest to anyone looking to participate in something fun and we each left with a dozen tamales.
175 Cesar Chavez Street #2, Saint Paul, MN 55107
Black Sheep Pizza:
Time and time again I find myself drawn to the amazing pizza crust at Black Sheep Pizza. It is crispy and thin and has the perfect amount of heft to hold up to the amazing homemade fennel sausage that they make there. Another pizza favorite is the meatball pizza with sliced flavorful meatballs on a light fresh garlic tomato sauce with puffs of ricotta clouds. This is my go to St Paul pizza.
512 N Robert Street, St Paul, MN 55102
The Golden Fig in St Paul is one of my favorite specialty food shops. Owner Laurie McCann Crowell does an amazing job of curating food products for her shop. My recent favorite is an Indian Dal mix made and packaged by one of her employees, Tammy Shintre. Tammy was schooled in Indian cooking by her husband’s father who wanted his son to have some of his heritage cooking while he lived in the US – so he taught his daughter in law how to cook his favorite Indian dishes. Tammy’s dal mix is easy to make at home with each spice packet clearly labeled and very easy to follow instructions. The dal was so flavorful and a great meatless Monday meal. This was one of my favorite packaged food finds of the year. Tammy teaches Indian cooking class at Chefs Abode in St Paul. Taking a class from her is on my list of things to do in 2013.
790 Grand Avenue, St Paul, MN, 55105
The Colossal Café:
Sometimes the best food experiences are the simplest. I had what has become one of my favorite salads at Colossal Café on Como Ave in St Paul. The salad is simply spinach dressed with a light vinaigrette, sliced red onions and topped with crisp meaty bacon and a poached egg. When your fork breaks open the yolk it runs over the spinach and mixes with the dressing creating a rich, delicious way to dress up a simple spinach salad – add the saltiness of the pork and you are in heaven. Check out their very cool water station too. They have plain water or you can get your plain water carbonated by their soda stream which was a very simple idea I wish more restaurants would adopt.
2315 Como Avenue, St Paul, MN 55105.
Presentation is everything. Meritage presents their delicious pumpkin soup in such a way that you can’t decide what is better, the soup or the presentation. I will tell you as cute as the pumpkin serving dish is the soup is equally amazing. The soup is warm and fragrant with the smell of pumpkin and nutmeg with just enough cream to make it luscious. I have had many delicious meals at Meritage this season. Their pomme frittes dipped in béarnaise sauce are second to none and I have had the best oysters of the year here time and time again. Russell Klein handpicks his oysters from purveyors he has personally met and watched how they farm them and you can taste it in their briny goodness. Oysters at Meritage are a treat.
410 St Peter Street, St Paul, MN 55102
Joan’s has become my go to spot for dining out in St Paul on a Friday night. They have the best service of anywhere in the 651. They make you feel super welcome, remember your drink order from week to week, suggest delicious wines and make you feel like a part of their family. It is no surprise that the diners of Open Table recognized them as one of the 100 best service establishments around the country – they got it right. I love the scallops at Joan’s and I also love their hand cut meat including my favorite the rib eye cooked to perfection in a pizza oven and served alongside a lemony arugula salad. My favorite dish at Joan’s is the life changing brussel sprouts. If it has been a while since you found yourself ordering brussel sprouts, trust me and order them at Joan’s. These sprouts are roasted until a dark caramelized sweetness takes them over. They are then tossed with a honey drizzle, dried apricots and toasted walnuts. The bitter of the sprouts with the sweet of the apricot and honey mixed with the toasty crunch of the walnut is truly mind blowing – try them – you will see!
631 S Snelling Avenue, St Paul, MN 55116
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I love Thanksgiving! You don’t have the hassle of gift giving. Thanksgiving is a holiday that is completely about the food! As a foodie there is nothing better. You wake up, make a huge feast, eat, rest and repeat with the left overs.
Oven space can become an issue, when planning for a big meal. Planning for a crowd can also be an issue when trying to keep food hot in a buffet setting. Have you considered the Crock Pot as an essential Thanksgiving cooking tool? It’s weird, I know, but I have made the best squash soup of my life in a crock pot. An elegant bowl of soup as a starter is a great way to start the feast. You could serve the soup in your beautiful china you rarely use or you can serve it in hollowed out little pumpkins that you have rubbed with olive oil and salt and baked before ladling in the soup. Either way you serve it, this soup is a winner and fits perfectly on the buffet if you are feeding a crowd.
Have a Happy Hearty Thanksgiving:
Squash Soup in the Crock Pot
This soup tastes really rich and elegant and is actually very healthy. You would swear it has lots of cream or butter but it doesn’t! Good quality stock is key here. If you have extras freeze it – it reheats beautifully.
- 2 large butternut squash
- 3 small medium onions
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 3 medium apples peeled and cubed
- 3 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon coriander
Cut the squash and the onions and apples into chunks. Squash can be hard to cut so I peel it first with a vegetable peeler then break it down into chunks. Put the chunks into the crock pot and cover with the broth and stir in the spices.
Plug in your slow cooker and turn to high to cook that day (4 hours) or low if you are going to cook the night before (8-10). Cover to let heat.
Blend in small batches with a stand blender, or carefully blend with a hand-held stick blender.
My husband is the dough baker in our house. He has mastered pizza, French bread and pie crust. I was one of those people too intimidated to try pie-crust. All that pea size butter chunks versus lard in the dough had me confused before I even started. When you have an apple tree in your yard and you end up with buckets of apples, and you don’t make pie dough – you are left with a few choices of how to use up the apples. As such, I experimented with all kinds of crisps and cobblers. I have made applesauce from scratch, apple dutch baby puffed pancakes, baked apples in the crock pot and still I had apples left.
This is about the time of year where my cup runneth over from food. Between my garden, friends gardens and my farm share I am furiously trying to use up the last of the summer crops before the first freeze. My three drawer freezer is so full I cant fit another thing in it. Pesto, tomato sauce, ratatouille, lamb stew, chili and beans are all making my freezer so full that to put anything into the freezer it’s a massive undertaking to arrange all the items just so everything fits back in.
So let me set the stage. I have apples coming out the ears and I am trying to “eat down” the freezer when I came across a roll of phyllo dough. I know phyllo dough and apples could possibly make a wonderful dessert without having to make pie crust right? Yes! I scrambled to my cookbooks and here is what I came up with. I have made it 3 times since. It is easy, delicious, and it makes use of all the fresh farmers’ market apples you can get by the bag right now.
You can cheat your way to pastry super stardom with this recipe.
PHYLLO APPLE STRUDEL
4-5 apples cut into a medium dice
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. cranberries
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (I have also used Bitter cube Jamaican bitters here for a unique flavor profile)
Approximately 1/4 c. dried fine bread crumbs
1/2 lb. phyllo (1/2 box frozen phyllo pastry)
1/2 c. melted butter
Thaw frozen phyllo dough. On a large cookie sheet prepare a sheet of parchment paper for your work surface. Peel and cube apples. Toss apples in bowl with next 6 ingredients and 1/4 cup bread crumbs.
Keep phyllo dough covered with moist clean towel once it is opened and thawed. The paper thin dough dries out quickly. On wax paper, place each individual phyllo pastry sheet one on top of the other and brush each sheet with melted butter. Sprinkle scant amount of bread crumbs on every other sheet (you’ll use approximately 12 sheets of phyllo dough.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spoon apple mixture on prepared phyllo dough and roll phyllo dough around apple mixture jelly roll fashion. Tuck in ends like rolling a burrito before you get to the end. Pinch ends to prevent leaking of apple mixture during baking. Place on cookie sheet seam side down. Brush roll with melted butter. Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool approximately 30 minutes and serve with whip cream spiked with rum. Slice and serve warm or cold
I am always excited when I can find a new spot to eat at. Even better, is when I haven’t read or heard a thing about it so I can completely discover it for myself with no built in expectation. I was at a meeting in St. Paul the other day when someone brought in 3 huge pizza boxes from Eden Pizza. Eden Pizza is located at 629 Aldine Street in St. Paul. I was not familiar with Eden so I was curious to see what was in the giant boxes.
Pizza box 1 was your standard meat and cheese affair but the crust on this pizza was different. This crust had a hearty twisty braid on the edge and you could see flecks of oregano in the crust which was quite tasty. I really liked the flavor of the crust and the crust held up very well to the meat stacked pizza with pepperoni and sausage.
Pizza box 2 was a really unique pizza that isEden’s signature pizza, called appropriately enough, theEden. TheEdenhas garlic sauce, apples, gorgonzola, green pepper and red onion. This pizza was a treat with the twisty braided crust and there was just enough of the gorgonzola to give the pizza that sharp tangy zest without overwhelming the sweetness of the apples.Edenhas an entire category on the menu devoted to fruit and vegetable pizzas and some are really unique like the Bloody Mary with tomato sauce, olives, carrots, pickles and mozzarella or the Spicy Thai Broccoli pizza with Thai and Sriracha, the spicy red vinegar and garlic sauce with the rooster on the bottle.
Pizza box 3 was my favorite. Chicken Thai pizza had peanut sauce, chicken, carrots, onions, garlic, and mozzarella and crushed peanuts. I loved the sweet and spicy of the Thai sauce mixed with the saltiness of mozzarella cheese.
The pizzas at Eden are some of the most unique I have seen on a pizza shop menu. The way it works is you choose your size from small, medium, jumbo or you can try calzone.
Next you pick your sauce including creamy garlic, Thai, buffalo sauce, traditional pizza and a few others. Lastly you choose your toppings. They again have the usual suspects but many more including, artichoke hearts, sauerkraut, pineapples, banana peppers, apple, feta cheese, bacon bits and mock duck.
You can eat in at Eden or of course take out. Not to be missed are their unique wings with lots of variety including plain, garlic butter, bbq, ranchero, and parmesan, buffalo, Thai and sriracha. I have not explored the inferno or satanic wings but I have to admit I am curious – they sound blazing HOT! Edenis a locally owned St. Paul business so check it out or call and order your perfect pie to go. They do deliver but call to make sure you are in the delivery area at 651-646-7616 or online at www.edenpizza.com.
The addition of Light rail is something that continues to make getting around Minneapolis/St. Paul a breeze. If you are like me, the idea of hopping on the rail for a sporting event, or to save on parking fees at the airport, is a great idea. As with all great ideas though, sometimes the realization of the dream takes a bit of work. I work in the Dinkytown area of the University of Minnesota and record my radio show in the KSTP Building on University Avenue. I am very familiar with the light rail construction project as they get the green line of the light rail system up and running. Each day a maze of orange cones and construction workers greet you as you snake down University Avenue. The green line, when complete, will offer a trail through some of the tastiest ethnic restaurants in the Twin Cities.
While we wait for completion of the light rail it is really important that we continue to support the many restaurants along the green line. The green line offers a diverse mix of many family owned restaurants and here are some of my favorites.
Homi Mexican – 864 University Ave W, St Paul, MN.
This restaurant is run by a very sweet couple. The space is small and tidy and they have authentic home-style Mexican food that is scratch cooked. I liked the hot salsa they served with chips and the beans served alongside my meal were home-style and delicious. I had chicken chiliquilles with green sauce made with tomatillos, pablanos, onions and cilantro. The dish itself is chips ladled with green sauce and topped with queso fresco and chicken. I have also had the jalapenos stuffed with chicken which were spicy that I loved. The breaded coating was light and the spice and smokiness of the shredded chicken filling was a treat. I hear the chicken mole is to die for and they do have take out as well.
Hoa Bien – 1105 University Ave W, St Paul, MN
This Vietnamese restaurant started as a hole in the wall and was re-modeled a few years back and is really large and perfect for large parties or banquets. The customer service here is fabulous and they check back often to make sure that your dish is what was expected. Their pho has a rich salty broth and is filled with noodles and tender meat. This is perfect for a cool day in Minnesota. The plump spring rolls filled with cilantro and mint is also not to be missed. If you are looking for inexpensive food with great flavors visit Hoa Bien.
On’s was started by the woman behind Bangkok Thai Deli (also a favorite) so you already know it’s going to be good. You will find all the usual Thai food, but their versions are super. My favorites are green chicken coconut curry, Thom Ka, and of course the spring rolls — but I’d really recommend heading over to the “On’s Special Dishes” section of the menu. It is here where you will find creativity and imagination as On’s takes Thai dishes and twists them on their head.
Ngon Vietnamese Bistro – 799 University Avenue, St Paul, MN
I love this spot. The inside of the restaurant is bright and airy and they have a great local craft beer selection as well as a sweet wine list. You will find your Vietnamese traditional favorites here like Pho and Bun but you will also fin inspired French influenced dishes sourced with local ingredients and beef from Thousand Acres cattle farm and duck and chicken from Wild Acres. I particularly like the rabbit dumpling which is crispy on the outside and filled with tender shredded rabbit on the inside. The dumpling sits on a sweet curry sauce which made me want to lick my plate. On Wednesdays, they have a date night special where for $30 you get two entrees a bottle of house wine and dessert which is a great reason in itself to brave the orange cones.
Little Szechuan Chinese – 422 University Ave W, St Paul, MN
This place is authentic Chinese. I love their Dan Dan Noodles, hot and sour soup and we always order the whole fish which is flash fried and served with a ginger, soy, scallion sauce. Other favorites are eggplant in a spicy stir fried sauce and the warm cucumbers sound weird but they are delicious and tart and spicy and take the cucumber to a whole new level. If you are into traditional Americanized dishes try the delicious Chicken Kung Pao and the spicy Szechuan fries and short ribs.
This is the first week of school for St. Paul Public Schools. This year, as school begins, we will celebrate our daughters first days of senior high. It’s amazing how fast you go from reminding them to keep track of their hat and mittens at pre-school to reminding them to turn in their math homework each week. My daughter Ellie is a product of her mother. She likes to eat out and always appreciates the dessert and baked good featured on any restaurant menu. When she was little and we would pass by a bakery, we would slow down to gaze in the bakery window and admire the beautiful cookies, cakes and torts.
Ellie’s dad drives her to school each day. Since Ellie was little he has bribed her with donuts as a way to get her out the door quickly. If they made it out the door by 7:30, they would have time to stop for a donut. If she took too long to get ready, the donut window passed. The place they visit most often was PJ Murphy’s Bakery at 1279 Randolph Avenue, St Paul www.pjmurphybakery.com . When the gals at the counter saw Ellie coming they would already know what her order was, a chocolate cake donut for her dad which they would start bagging up and then they would ask, “What are you having today?” Usually he answer was a chocolate brownie but sometimes it would be a sprinkled cake donut or a raised glazed donut with clear icing dripping off the sides. As Ellie grew up her donut tastes became more sophisticated. She discovered croissants and loved the buttery flakes of puff pastry. When she figured out that sometimes these buttery morsels are filled with dark chocolate too – she could not have been happier. Her dad saw this as an opportunity to get her out the door earlier and at least one day a week the agreement changed. The new agreement was if they got out the door at 7:20 they would have the chance to visit Bread and Chocolate.
Bread and Chocolate is owned by Linda and Peter Quinn at the corner of Grand and Victoria at 867 Grand Ave, St Paul www.cafelatte.com . They are the successful owners of Café Latte that has been on the opposite corner of the street for years turning out chocolaty turtle cakes, moist raspberry white chocolate scones and sandwiches and soups. At Bread and Chocolate, they have mastered the croissant. For the sweet lovers, there is chocolate, cream cheese, cream cheese raspberry and usually a seasonal fruit croissant. Not to be missed is the very buttery wonderful plain croissant with its crispy, flakey, buttery layers. Calling it plain does it an injustice. The croissant is simply wonderful on its own with some cold unsalted butter spread on its layers. My favorite is the almond croissant that has almond paste filling and is topped with slivered almonds to give it the right amount of crunch. Bread and Chocolate has savory croissants too like Ham and Cheese and Florentine filled with spinach and cheese which are great for a quick grab and go lunch.
On Saturday we were shopping on Grand Avenue. As we got to the corner where Bread and Chocolate is, my husband said, “Only one more week of getting Ellie up for donuts. It is really pleasant to have that time with her in the morning. We sit in the car or on the corner outside and eat our donuts or croissants. Sometimes she is chatty and wants to talk. Other times we just sit and eat. I will miss that time when she goes to college.”
The time with your kids goes by really fast. Enjoy the small rituals each day.
It is State Fair Time. I am crazy about the State Fair. The end of summer countdown can be set by the clock of the State Fair. I have been known to be at the gates at 8am to visit the fair. We will eat until we can’t stuff in another Sweet Martha’s cookie, cheese curd or Turkey To Go sammy. We will leave, go home and nap and do it again that night! There is no experience more 651-ish or more Minnesotan for me than the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
My State Fair clock is off this year though as I have been travelling throughout Italy for the past few weeks. My summer has flown by – how can the State Fair already be here? This means summer is coming to its natural close and while I will lament for the long hot days, I am also a Minnesota girl at heart who loves the completeness of each season. State Fair time means fall and winter aren’t far behind and usually by the time I have finished the last corn dog, cookie or curd – I am ready.
But before I can close out Summer I must have one more scoop of Janice’s potato salad.
Janice is my mother in laws sister. Janice’s potato salad is legendary. It is traditional in its taste but it presents a little better than the eggy gooey yellow mayonnaise mess that sometimes passes for potato salad. Janice’s potato salad is creamy, light, white and bright and pairs well with all those end of summer meals like beer can chicken BBQ ribs or blackened grilled rib eye. I have made this potato salad three times this summer and each time it gets rave reviews. If you can get to the St. Paul Farmers Market and get your hands on some of the delicious little red, yellow or even purple potatoes as I have used here, consider making Janice’s potato salad for a last blast of summer before you head to the State Fair and say good bye to the lazy days of Summer until next year.
Janice’s Potato Salad
- 2 lbs potatoes boiled in their skins and left at room temperature overnight or refrigerated for 4 hours.
- 2 Green onions sliced
- ½ cup diced red onion
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cupDijonmustard
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper1 tsp lime juice
- 1 tablespoon dry dill or if using fresh 2 tsps chopped
Boil potatoes leaving skins on until fork tender. Leave them on the counter overnight to cool or refrigerate for 4 hours.
Slice Green onion and red onion and mince garlic.
Mix remaining ingredients in a cup.
Toss potato and onions with dressing to coat.
I have a grocery store that I shop at when I am feeding a crowd. Coopers Super Value on West 7th Street inSt Paul has the best prices on things like, ribs, pork shoulder, chorizo and tomatillos. I like that there are people from all walks of life in the store and they have a great selection of ethnic foods.
While I was at Coopers the other day they had Cherries on sale for $1.99 a lb. This was an amazing price – I have paid as much as $4 a lb. in the past so I loaded up on 3 lbs. and decided to make a homemade cherry tart. When I was a kid my mom would buy the Wagner’s Cherry Pie filling and make pies with it. I loved my mom’s pies but I had the opportunity to dip my spoon into the cherry pie filling recently and it was so cloying sweet I knew I would not be able to cook with it. I loved that sweetness as a kid but in my adult life I was looking for something more sophisticated. I had the cherries and was all set to cook with them when I realized I did not have a cherry pitter. My mother in law told me you can use a paper clip that is stretched out as a hook and fish out the pits and it really works. I should caution you, it’s best to do this outside as juice and pits can go flying and make a mess.
Here is the Recipe from the trustiest cookbook alive, The Joy of Cooking. You will note we used the crust pressed into a tart pan instead of rolling it out for pie.
2 prepared pie crusts (store bought or homemade), rolled and ready to use.
Or you can make the tart dough from the Barefoot Contessa which is what I used:
Ingredients and instructions for Tart Crust
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 3-4 tablespoons ice water
Combine flour, sugar and salt and place in freezer for 30 minutes.
Cut butter into 1/4″ pieces. Put flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Add butter and pulse about 10 times until butter forms small bits. Add ice water and process until dough comes together. Place on a well-floured board and form into a disk. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F.Remove dough from refrigerator and let sit 5 minutes. Roll dough into 1/16“thick circle or square large enough to drape over the sides of a tart pan with removable bottom. Place dough in pan and press into edges of pan. Fill with cherries and bake
Ingredients and instructions for Tart filling:
- 5 cups pitted sour or Bing cherries (2 ½-3 lbs.)
1 1/4 cups sugar (3/4 cup for Bing cherries)
3 to 3 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch or quick-cooking tapioca
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. almond extract (I used vanilla instead)
- 2 to 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Fit tart crust into fluted tart pan with removable bottom.
Place the pitted cherries in a large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and cornstarch. Toss. Add water, lemon juice, vanilla extract. Toss again to coat, making sure no lumps of sugar or cornstarch remain.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the cherries are giving up their juices and the crust is brown.
I have always loved an old fashioned supper club. I used to visit a place in Wisconsin called Simpsons. They had the best relish tray. The tray came with olives, radishes, carrots, celery, pickled briny herring and they had a bread basket with crackers, breadsticks, butter and a cheese spread. I want to start a movement to bring back a decent relish tray. In fact I encourage relish tray conversation and emails at firstname.lastname@example.org on my continuing quest to try all the remaining relish trays in the Twin Cities so feel free to weigh in.
In the 651, we are lucky to have a few great historic classic steakhouses with Mancinnis and the Lexington. More recently we were treated to the homey and delicious Joan’s in the Park. My latest stop is a place that has been around for a while, but it had been awhile since I visited, so I went for a refresher course at Bennett’s Rail and Chop House at 1305 W 7th Street.
At first glance it’s hard to tell what to expect from the non-descript small yellow building on W. 7th in the middle of a neighborhood. I could not decide if Bennett’s is a neighborhood bar or a steakhouse and I decided it is decidedly both. The bar takes up about half the space in the place but the restaurant has white tablecloths. The tiny ladies room had pink tile throughout and reminded me of my own 1940’s St. Paul bathroom. We noticed lots of tables chatting each other up. It seemed like they truly were neighbors or regulars back for another visit. Our server was outstanding. She told us about the house favorites including many of the staples you would find in steak houses like the tenderloin tips served with either béarnaise or a horseradish cream sauce or the crab cakes with lemon aioli and the classic “chop” chef salad. Also on the menu were favorites you might find in your neighborhood bar like braised short rib sandwich piled high on a French roll or the juicy Lucy or the juicy Juanita with spicy pepper jack cheese.
For Cocktails you will find a straightforward wine list and a “his” and “hers” cocktail menu. His list included the Manhattan, the Rob Roy and the Rusty Nail while hers featured the Cosmopolitan, the Appletini and the Lemon Drop. Sexist maybe, but I thought it was cute. They even had a classic cocktail on the menu named after our own Prince. The drink is the “Purple Rain” with Bombay gin, Absolut vodka, Bacardi Rum and Jose Quervo tequila with Chambord and sweet and sour – if that doesn’t make you feel like being chatting and neighborly perhaps nothing will.
Our server helped us select a few menu items that we really enjoyed. We started with the pan seared Asian scallops off the appetizer menu and they were seared perfectly and served atop some mixed greens with an Asian pan sauce that was light, salty and sweet. There were 4 big scallops for $13 which I thought was also a good value. We moved onto the dinner salad which was perfect for a steak house side. Thick blue cheese dressing atop a dinner salad with bacon and black olives and a fluffy potato roll with butter pats on the side. My husband had the Little Charlie’s grilled tenderloin sandwiches that I am sure are named after the famous Minneapolis steak house Charlie’s Café Exceptionale classic steak sandwich. This was really a nice sandwich. The tenderloin morsels were well… tender and smothered in caramelized onions that were buttery, silky and salty and the petit buns they came with were just right. I was also pleasantly surprised by their crispy fries. I think you can tell the mark of a chef that cares by the fries they serve and these looked hand cut and were delicious crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and salty. I had a filet topped with a horseradish crust which was also really tasty. The meat was a tender cut and the horseradish crust was spicy, crispy and browned and very generous in proportion to the meat.
Throughout our meal I couldn’t help but notice the ladies at the table next to us. They were partaking in the $32.95 per person all you can eat crab legs that is a huge special at Bennett’s on Friday nights. This table of ladies look like they had a lot of catching up to do and they were there when we sat down with a plate of crab legs and they were there when we left with more crab legs and a pile of spent crab carcasses. They were clearly having a great time.
The service was efficient, helpful and friendly and much unexpected. I really feel like the service in restaurants in general in the Twin Cities is very average. We were treated great at Bennett’s. Our experience at Bennett’s was made better by the service. Our server offered menu suggestions, promptly had water and drinks refilled, checked back on the temp of our meat before the meal was over and offered desserts – I know it seems simple but many places miss the easy things and our server hit it out of the park. A bad server can make a good meal bad. A good server can make a mediocre meal better. If you can hit it out of the park with service and the food is better than to be expected, as I felt it was at Bennett’s, then it’s a home run for everyone!
Bennett’s Rail and Chop House
W. 7th Street
St. Paul, MN
In St. Paul you are likely to stumble across some places that may not be what you think. This happened to me when I entered Lulu’s Deli on 1626 Selby Avenue in St. Paul. I had heard that there was a convenience store selling delicious gyro sandwiches on Selby Avenue. Mixing convenience items with a sandwich shop must make good business sense. There are plenty grocery/sandwich shops scattered throughout the Twin Cities. Joes in Minneapolis is a personal favorite. I guess pairing sandwiches and grab and go items makes some sense so that was what I expected when I hit Lulu’s Deli. What I found was a corner store with a few frozen food coolers and a few dry good shelves but other than that this was mostly like a sandwich shop with the added bonus of smokes and lottery tickets.
When I arrived, the gentleman at the counter explained that you grab a menu, order at the counter, then have a seat and they bring you your food – fair enough. From there I waited for my gyro with saffron rice and salad. I asked what other type of specials people liked from the menu and he suggested fish tacos, the fair burger which is a classic juicy Lucy topped with fried onions, pickles and you guessed it – cheese curds. There are saffron chicken wings which looked like your typical wings but they are served alongside a spicy pink sauce which I suspect is a Sriracha mayonnaise! Other items that looked really great coming out of the kitchen were a hummus platter, fries tossed with parsley and sea salt and the falafels looked small and delicate and crispy.
My gyro basket arrived and I was really pleasantly surprised at how good my sandwich was. The lamb was super tender and flavorful. The sauce was cucumbery cool and refreshing and there wasn’t too much or it which can sometimes happen with gyros so the meat taste gets overwhelmed. This sandwich had the perfect meat to cucumber sauce to vegetable ratio. Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce rounded out my sandwich. I had a nice side salad with balsamic vinaigrette and big chunks of tomatoes and cucumbers and the saffron rice was accompanied by a dollop of cucumber tzatziki sauce.
This place felt right at home in the neighborhood. I will definitely go back to try the tabouli salad and the falafel or… to buy some milk and cereal or a lottery ticket when I happen to be in the neighborhood. The young people that run the place are very social media savvy and you can order online and have your meal delivered and they do catering as well. If you find yourself in Merriam Park – check it out.
1626 Selby Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104