Archive for the ‘Eating & Drinking (aka Restaurants)’ Category

IMG_4629I write about restaurants because I love good food and I don’t work in one. When I lived in North Carolina I embodied the East-West divide. But I missed Pho and green curry and Tom Yum Goong from St. Paul’s University Avenue. In France, I ate everything served to me without asking what was in it until after dinner (which is probably why I order tripe in my Pho.)

As much as I enjoy cooking, I love when someone cooks for me.

Meet Tony Andersen

I don’t go out to eat that often, so when I do, I want it to count. Meet Tony Andersen, restauranteur, old friend and servant leader. Tony owns the Happy Gnome and Augustine’s in St. Paul.

IMG_7752I lunched with Tony a few weeks ago at Augustine’s. He was keen for me to sample the veggie dishes. With my passion for burgers, BLTs and Bullock’s Bar-B-Cue I can barely remember I was a vegetarian for years and years. But instead of talking much about the curried falafel, Tony regaled me with stories of the bread oven and the coffee maker. I was hungry and definitely wasn’t paying the finest attention until the part about “my chef had to have the very best Italian bread oven.”

So I asked why.

Selby Avenue in Saint Paul is not the epicenter of fine dining. The food at Augustine’s and the Happy Gnome is delicious, but they are both pretty casual spots. So why invest in the very best machines?

Tony’s response? His employees take pride in their work and they needed them to do their jobs right.

Now, I was paying attention.

While technically Tony works for himself, he really works for his employees. As a servant leader, Tony instinctively knows that supporting his people makes his businesses successful. Bravo.

“The key to motivating employees is the focus a servant leader places on the welfare and growth of everyone in the organization. The motivating factor is that the servant leader pursue every opportunity to positively impact the behaviors of employees first—making a difference in their lives,” said David McCuistion in his article 9 Ways to Motivate People Using Servant Leadership.

Think Servant Leadership Is Too Good To Be True? Why It’s The Best Investment A Business Can Make, Forbes



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Thankfully the only wars raging in Minnesota include Japanese beetles vs. everyone’s garden and who serves the best Juicy Lucy. I suppose I could name a few other feuds (best twin city, best new food at the fair, best food on the Green Line, etc.), but I’m here to talk about the best cheeseburger in town. I’m not a fan of Juicy Lucy’s, so I’m referring to a classic grilled beef patty with cheese on top.

The economics side of me definitely prefers Monday night burgers at the Groveland Tap for $3 each. IMG_3560Even with the recent 50¢ price increase, I can order 6 burgers and a basket of fries for less than $40. No, I don’t eat them all myself.

But there might be a new champion burger in my life.

The other day, I wandered down West 7th and popped into Burger Moe’s with some friends. The Bleu Sky Burger with grilled mushrooms, caramelized balsamic onions and dripping with blue cheese still haunts me. Its unami yumminess — that 5th taste found in parmesan cheese, Japanese dashi (kelp) stock and caramelized veggies — is so satisfying. Unfortunately, it’s huge, so I’ve yet to finish one and remembered to bring my leftovers home. Now if only they served Fresh French Fries, I’d be in culinary heaven.

The burger’s so good, I forgot to take a photo.


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As a teenager I lived on Diet Coke. I’d wake up at 5:00 a.m. and drive to swim practice with a can in my hand. I gave up that habit a long time ago, but every so often I’ll buy one on a hot summer’s day, drink two sips, shake my head in wonder and dump it out. In case you’re curious it tastes like overly carbonated chemicals to me — or just weird (if I were being polite).

I drink a lot of water, the occasional good beer and fantastic wine when I have the chance. However, every so often I want something sweet. Crystal Light doesn’t cut it.

Unrequited Love

Homemade lemonade satisfies, but few restaurants serve it on their menus. Last summer I bought some at a Bastille Day celebration flavored with lavender. It was sublime — tart, slightly sweet and meant to be savored. I’d drink it all the time if I could find it.

Enter Cribbage

Board games don’t obviously have much to do with my search for limonade à lavande except you find plenty of games at tap rooms. And beer + games = fun. Having mastered UNO, Candyland and Monopoly I needed a challenge. I tried golf. Golf goes well with beer and my husband  plays it. Golf does not go well with me — too much sun, takes forever and I have no skill. It’s not a game one can quickly play on par with one’s spouse if said spouse has played since he was six. And you can’t play golf in a taproom, you have to bring the beer to the game.

Cribbage seemed like a more strategic choice. How hard can it be, I thought? But I just can’t remember the rules after 8 ounces of beer. So in the pursuit of excellence one night, I ordered a grapefruit soda at Bad Weather Brewing. It was delicious. In fact, it was so good the next few times we went there I didn’t even order a beer.

Like a seasonal beer, the soda tap rotates at Bad Weather. Gone was the grapefruit Friday night and in its place, cherry basil. By midnight, I was thinking of serving it with barbecued ribs and Thai-style green beans or with a dark chocolate chipotle-laced brownie. In other words, like a wine or beer, it would pair well with food. Plus it’s good for my game.

Back to cribbage:  last week I almost skunked my husband. (That’s an official cribbage term, by the way!) I’m sure the soda helps.


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Twenty Years.

Frogs bring good luck.

Frogs bring good luck.

That’s a long time–not as long as my parents (55 years) or my in-laws (52 years), but impressive, I think, when 50% of marriages end for a reason besides old age. With multiple kids playing multiple sports, I understand how this anniversary can slip by, under-celebrated.

I looked for bargain airfares. Sailboats, beaches, and Margaritas beckoned but ultimately, we decided that rearranging childcare and transport for 6 games was too much work for too much money. Don’t call me a curmudgeon just yet. The romantic lives on.

Tonight, we celebrated the last day of school at a favorite restaurant, Glockenspiel in St. Paul (Jen, our favorite bartender always works on Tuesday nights). The banter was familiar, the Hefeweizen cold even though it’d been almost a year since our last visit (yes, we grew up Catholic). Tonight got us reminiscing about where we used to hang out — before kids, with flight benefits, and even now.

We’ve lasted longer than many of our employers or favorite haunts. All Saints Brands was a pre-internet importer and distributor of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne, Gaja Barolo, and funky, tasty beer that was difficult to sell (Rogue Ales, Bells Brewery, and Geary’s). Northwest Airlines was gutted, sold off, and moved south. I still miss the flight benefits, though (the Replacements European tour seemed irresistible until i priced out the airfare).

But enough with the work stories: what about the beer? the tapas? the amuse-bouches?

Who’s left? Who’s gone? Who’s changed?


Pracna on Main, Minneapolis:  best gin and tonics (and where I met my husband)

Ciatti’s on Grand, St. Paul:  best cheap, late-night happy hour

Grandpa Tony’s on Randolph, St. Paul:  thank goodness there are other pizza joints

The 510 on Groveland, Minneapolis:  (sigh) truly missed:  impeccable service, linen tablecloths, and fantastic wine list

Around, but different:

Italian Pie Shoppe, St. Paul:  moved down the street to Macalester

La Cucaracha, Minneapolis:  gone, but still on Dale in St. Paul

Half Time Rec, St. Paul:  they serve food now!

Still clucking:

Frog et Rosbif, Paris:  English-style ales since 1993

First Avenue, Minneapolis:  many derivations and bleeding ears since 1970

Micky’s Diner, St.. Paul:  greasy eggs for over 70 years

Paradiso, Amsterdam:  a former church that became a creative center in 1968

W.A. Frost, St. Paul:  best patio, smallest keg room

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Cossetta’s, Pho Ca Dao, On’s Thai Kitchen, Big Daddy’s Barbecue

I like to eat far more than I like to cook. While I’m pretty good at the latter, I’m even better at finding great food close to home. I especially like food that I don’t know how to cook like Pho or that I’m simply to lazy to make–Cossetta’s ravioli and mushroom salad, for instance.

20130118-220300.jpgTonight’s pulled pork on my salad was incredible. The Styrofoam containers or number-5-the-city-won’t-recycle containers never are.

We need an affordable, environmentally friendly alternative.

No, I don’t have a solution. Do you?

Here are a few ideas:

1) A city-wide packaging cooperative. Put economies of scale to work and find better substitutes.

2) Ask restaurants to make a reasonable committment to using more earth friendly products.

3) Promote restaurants that do use paper vs. styrofoam.

4) Ask patrons if they want disposable forks and spoons. I think that many people, like me, bring the food home and use real plates, bowls, and silverware.

5) Challenge a local design school to create a better package. If IKEA can design from the packaging point of view, why can’t we start with the landfill’s perspective?

6) Lastly, lobby the government to incentify packaging producers and restaurants to use recyclable and compostable products.20130118-220221.jpg

What’s your idea?

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When I lived in North Carolina, I bought two tiny fig trees at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market. Like most things in that part of the world, my fig trees grew prodigiously in only a couple of years. When I left a couple of years ago, my fig trees were laden with hundreds of small, hard, immature figs. My neighbor sends me fig updates from time to time and posts photos of my garden on Facebook, so I can imagine grilling figs and canning fig jam.

However, like the Dutch blogger, Martetatin, a pint of organic figs in Minnesota costs $5, so I don’t buy them very often.

While checking in on my class blogs, I stumbled upon the gorgeous fig salad photos that Martetatin posted recently and WordPress featured today. Click here to see them and for the recipe.

Was I searching for a fig recipe? Not at all, but the stunning photo made me click…

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My friend, Lishyloo is a master thrifter. If you miss the cutie-pie clothes you wore as a kid, check out her Etsy site, that I mentioned on Day Four’s Daily Dozen.

On the other hand, I covet old cars. Maybe it was childhood trips crammed into my parents’ MGs and jags driving around the Iowa countryside or maybe I just appreciate their design; either way, no used-goods list would be complete without Quality Coaches. I have to admit the lack of price on this 1957 MGA listing might just prevent me from seeking more information, but not the Electric MG Midget. Find them at 20 West 38th Street (at Nicollet) in Minneapolis. They are a perfect place to walk to after lunch at Blackbird.

Not too far away on Lyndale, you’ll find june. It’s a “buy outright resale shop, not consignment.” Custom made hats. Wow. 3406 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis

The Selby corridor in St. Paul features a plethora of old stuff, as I like to call it:

Lula Vintage. Mod and cool vintage. 1587 Selby Avenue

Up Six. Mid-century coolness for house and home. 157 Snelling Avenue North

The Mall of St Paul. I counted 6 manual typewriters the last time I was there (my son saw one on display, so we had to stop). Over 5o antique dealers in one place. Awesome record collection. 1817 Selby Avenue

Peter’s Oldies but Goodies is just across the street from the Mall of St. Paul. Lots of old furniture that needing TLC.

Before you head East down Selby, stop at the Blue Door for a snack, but beware, they are always busy.

Between Hamline and Lexington on Selby, you’ll find Express Yourself Clothing. Cool clothes and cool deeds:  “Express Yourself Clothing is kind of a hybrid. We’re both a traditional clothing exchange and a social purpose venture where young people from our community learn all aspects of operating a small business. In this unique environment, our customers can expect to receive courteous, professional service; high-quality clothing and accessories at great prices; and the knowledge that 100% of our revenues are reinvested in our urban internship program.” 1154 Selby Avenue

Northwest Architectural Salvage. Are you one doorknob short of a complete collection in your old house? Look no further.  Located across from J.J. Hill Montessori School at Chatsworth. 981 Selby Avenue

However for a truly amazing selection of furnishings for your old house and other house jewelry (more doorknobs and funky plumbing fixtures), you must visit Architectural Antiques. If you’re not sure what you could do, visit their idea page. 1330 Northeast Quincy Street, Minneapolis

Also in Minneapolis, but formerly in Saint Paul, is Bauer Brothers Salvage. When my husband I finished our 3rd floor walk-up, we wanted 25 linear feet of Oak molding to match the other 2 floors of our house. We went to Bauer Brothers and asked for it. The guy at the front desk politely shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, that’s a lot of molding, but you can put your name in book.” So we did. And they called us 2 days later when they had some in stock. 2432 2nd Avenue North, Minneapolis

Another old favorite, the Reuse Center closed in January 2011. I mention them because their story is great. Read it here.

Obviously, I like old houses and old cars.

But let’s get back to my friend Lishlyloo. Hands down she recommends ARC Value Village because they have an excellent volunteer program, great organization and provide AWESOME thrifting. Four locations in the Twin Cities.

Another do-good-thrift-shop is the Animal Art Thrift Store, which supports Minnesota’s largest no-kill shelter at 809 East 7th Street in Saint Paul.

One last stop in St. Paul – Elite Repeat on Randolph at Hamline. Fashionable women’s clothes in perfect shape at great prices. Plus, I love their tagline:  “Ralph Lauren found hanging around second-hand shop.”

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