Archive | Fall 2005

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ETC… Local “foodie” news and eats Fall 2005

Story by Kathy Couturié
Photos by Carol Banks
 
I’m continuing to consume as much as possible of the local food scene while writing for EDIBLE TWIN CITIES. We are seeking out unique, local foods in the three short days we have left … a dream come true assignment! Following is a food fanatic’s journal of yet another delicious day in Minneapolis …

Kowalski’s Market

After masterminding a strategic plan of attack for a wandering food fan with our local publishers, we struck out to explore/devour Minneapolis. First stop: Kowalski’s Market. I’d read about Kowalski’s – they actively support local businesses and products, such as Bramblewood Cottage’s shortbreads and scones, Ames Honey, B.T. McElrath Chocolates and more – how could you not love a family-owned grocery store such as this? This is a spectacular store, and I was sucked in the minute I saw the easy-to-spot “local” signs on the shelves, identifying what seemed like hundreds of local products I’d never heard of, such as Dixie’s on Grand’s slow-cooked jerky and Wee Willy’s Premium Bar-B-Q Sauce, both of which I snapped up to take back to California … We browsed happily, spotting local favorites such as Dehn’s herbs, Bramblewood Cottage’s lemon shortbread, and Kowalski’s own private label products … Kowalski’s even has “Natural Path” signs, identifying natural/organic foods in each aisle. We sampled Curt’s Salsa from Frederic, Wisconsin, and admired the deli, which was a thing of beauty. The piece de resistance was the information kiosk, where we picked up a Produce Availability Guide, a copy of “At Home with Kowalski’s” – their delightful in-house magazine, a Party Planning Guide, numerous flyers featuring recipes, tips and info on just about anything you can think of including artichokes, garlic, garden fresh herbs, and recipe cards for grilling the perfect burger – even cheese and wine pairings! We visited the Parkview store at 5615 Chicago Avenue South in Minneapolis, and there are eight other locations in the area. For more information, visit www.kowalskis.com.

Turtle Bread Company

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Turtle Bread Company was next up … Just entering this incredible bakery/café/retail store, and immediately sighting (and smelling) the numerous bins of freshly baked bread practically made me burst into tears – especially when I found out they bake over 30 kinds … Bread is one of my favorite foods, and clearly these folks have their artisanal bread-making techniques nailed … “Too many choices, too little time!” I whined to my partner, as we longingly sniffed the bins of amazing breads, only then to find the breakfast-goodie section containing such delicacies as almond croissants, ginger and hazelnut scones, and almond pretzel Danish … I loved the ambience, and I was surprised to see the array of gourmet goodies on the shelves: imported olive oils, jams and jellies, private label bread & butter pickles, cheeses such as Roth Käse Raclette from Wisconsin, locally-made Hope butter, and a personal staple – Café Fanny’s granola from Berkeley, CA. Turtle Bread’s café offers homemade soups, gourmet sandwiches, and healthy à la carte entrees such as turkey meatloaf, as well as coffee and espresso … While paying for our goodies I looked down and saw the desserts: cakes, pies, tarts, cookies, cupcakes, etc., many of which are individually sized and hard to pass up, folly to even try … Turtle Bread Co. has three locations in Minneapolis; we visited their store at 4762 Chicago Ave. South; tel. (612) 823-7333 or visit www.turtlebread.com.

Resource Center of the Americas

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We then visited the Resource Center of the Americas, an independently owned bookstore and café. The vibe here is fantastic, and I paused to admire their mission statement: “The RCA informs, educates, and organizes to promote human rights, democratic participation, economic justice, and cross-cultural understanding in the context of globalization in the Americas.” I checked out their café menu – in addition to fair trade and organic coffees, items such as chili & corn tamal, gazpacho, and their soup and sandwich combos soon had me drooling … We browsed through the bookstore, purchasing White Earth Land Recovery Project’s Native Harvest Fry Bread Mix – hard to decide which of these goodies I should bring back home, as they also stock a Wild Rice Pancake Mix, strawberry and raspberry teas, maple syrup, jams, jellies, etc … You can purchase copies of the Twin Cities Green Guide here, and they schedule community-oriented events such as book groups, story times for kids, movie and culture nights, and “Coffeehours” – a weekly talk and discussion with a featured speaker. Stop by and check it out – well worth the visit … The Resource Center of the Americas is at 3019 Minnehaha Ave. in Minneapolis. Tel. (612) 276-0788. Their website has “take action” links, and you can make bookstore purchases online, thereby “putting your money where your heart is …” Be sure to visit www.americas.org.

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Clancey’s Meats & Fish

No self-described foodie’s visit to Minneapolis could be complete without a stop at Clancey’s Meats & Fish in Linden Hills … Proprietors Kristin Tombers and Greg Westergreen have combined their talents together in a magical butcher shop, and I found it torturous that I was in a hotel and unable to purchase some of their cuts of beef, especially flat iron steak … Clancey’s stocks natural duck, chicken, pork, and smoked fish, all of which come from local producers, and there are home-made sausages, house-marinated olives, and even house-made veal demi-glace (for a fraction of the price we’ve been paying at Williams-Sonoma), which we will be shipping to California the minute we run low … Kristin and Greg believe in supporting locally grown, sustainable products, and they work really hard to offer customers the best meats and fish available … Run, don’t walk, to Clancey’s Meats & Fish, 4307 Upton Ave South in Minneapolis; tel. (612) 926-0222.

France 44

France 44 was last but not least, and this truly is The Store That Has It All … if you’re into high-end gourmet shops. California sells alcohol 24/7, so it was a surprise to see the wine/spirits/beer separated from the deli/retail area, but once we figured it out we had no trouble locating lots of fabulous goodies … The deli has some great cheeses, including our beloved Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes, CA, and we could not get over what great taste their buyer has … We purchased a jar of Suzie’s Sassy Salsa, a Minnesota micro-brewed salsa, as well as some McEvoy Olive Oil – our favorite domestically-produced oil from Petaluma, CA. Some of the deli’s signature sandwich descriptions made me crazy – why can’t I expand in order to eat multiple lunches? On Wednesday nights they make dinners for two, priced at $44 including salads, entrees, bread and a bottle of wine, and on Thursdays it’s Italian night, plus they also do box lunches and beautiful gift baskets … I briefly considered renting their deli for a party, then remembered I don’t know enough people in Minneapolis … yet. This is a beautiful space, and it would be Big Fun to party in it with France 44 doing the catering … I’d love to join Club 44 – a frequent shopper club that offers Read More

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Grower’s Profile – Pepin Heights

Story by Jeff Hudson
Photos by Michelle Hueser

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Dennis Courtier grew up roaming the apple orchard that his parents first planted in 1949. Since buying the orchard from his parents in 1978, Dennis isn’t the only one who has grown. From a literal Mom & Pop operation, he has grown the business into a multi-orchard, multi-product corporation with partnerships stretching from Nova Scotia to Washington State. While this might sound like a big city conglomerate with Armani suits roaming the cubicles, it is actually Lake City’s own Pepin Heights Orchard with a rather simple business model: to make a tasty apple.

Dennis heads up the organization, but he is quick to credit the people who surround him as the reason for the orchard’s success. When asked what role he plays, he quickly replies “There’s a very clear division of responsibilities. They’re responsible for doing things right and I’m responsible for making sure we’re doing the right things.”

To insure that Pepin Heights is continually doing the right things, Dennis spends his days visiting the orchards, traveling the world to find what others are doing, and constantly re-evaluating what Pepin Heights is doing to make sure decisions are consistent with the goals and philosophies of the company.

Visiting the Orchard

Dennis leads us across the bluff-top orchard land he’s known all his life. But this may not look like the orchard one would expect. In fact, it is more reminiscent of a vineyard with shorter, sinewy trees replacing their taller and bulkier ancestors. As Dennis weaves his way through the orchard, he explains that the thinner trees provide the leaves on the interior of the tree with more access to the sun, which in turn feeds the surrounding apples.

Because of the heavy load of fruit weighing on a smaller root structure, the trees cannot stand on their own. The solution is simple: all of the trees are supported by a fence of sorts that runs the length of each row, contributing to the vineyard-like appearance.

As Dennis leads us down “HoneyCrisp Avenue,” he talks with the energy that fuels his search for a great-tasting apple. Clearly, one of the surest ways to offend Mr. Courtier is with a bland apple. To insure that Pepin Heights is always producing a tasty apple that provides value, he is constantly conducting research, both in developing new apple varieties and testing others from around the world.

Along with more sophisticated marketing and research, Dennis believes mightily in good old-fashioned taste. “If I get to the point where I know where an experimental tree is and I look forward to coming back, that is a good sign.”

Traveling the World

Although he grew up in Lake City and lives there today, Dennis believes he needs to be out and about to keep abreast of the apple world. As we talked to him, he was one week removed from a trip with the International Fruit Tree Association to China.

Through his travels, Dennis learns not only about other apple varieties but also other markets. For example, Pepin Heights produces an apple called Sweet 16. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, most of us in the Midwest haven’t. Dennis explains that the sweeter taste does not generally resonate well with the northern crowd (we tend to prefer a more acidic taste) but is a big hit in the south, where sweetness is the expected norm. Because the apple grows well here, Pepin Heights ships almost all Sweet 16’s to the south, using partnerships from the relationships Dennis has developed over the years.

Evaluating the Business

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Dennis makes one thing abundantly clear: he is not a flower child who talks to each individual apple, boosting its growth potential along with its self-esteem. He is in business and the goal of the business is to turn a profit. That being said, good business to Dennis means being a good steward of the land and producing a quality apple.

That concern is what drives Dennis to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the quality of the entire business, from the research all the way through to the final production.

Just as Dennis eschews volume production for its own sake, he casts a skeptical eye on quantitative research. He learns more from watching an individual’s face as they bite into an experimental variety and listening to them describe the experience than in reading objective market data. Therefore, Dennis spends much of his time in the research and marketing phase watching focus groups and talking with individual consumers. He sees his competition not so much as the orchard down the street, but as snack giants Hershey and Frito-Lay. In other words, Dennis wants his apples to be a contender when the average 10-year-old kid (or at least that kid’s mother) is choosing a tasty snack.

When the research is completed and a variety goes into production, this commitment to quality and environmental responsibility follows the process until the apple comes to literal fruition. Being one of the bigger apple producers in the nation, Dennis takes Pepin Heights’ responsibility as a steward of the land very seriously. He sees this as the best way to sustain long-term production. “An apple orchard is a complex ecosystem into which we reach with the specific purpose of producing a perennial crop. Biologically, there is a ton of stuff going on in that ecosystem, and as much as possible we try to work with the natural balance of things and to disrupt as little as possible in meeting the goals of the crop.” This philosophy in practice is called Integrated Pest Management, where blanket pesticide solutions are avoided in place of careful determination of when and where action might be needed. Using advanced computer modeling and not-so-advanced insect traps to detect problems, Dennis and his staff can suggest alternate solutions such as the use of predator species.

Through it all, Dennis is committed to providing a quality product at a value. That is not to be mistaken for a low price, as there is an important distinction to be made between value and price. As Dennis explains, “Value is not a price point. Value is whether it’s worth what you paid for it. The world has enough people willing to cut corners. I won’t do it.”

DETAILS: Find a retailer near you – Pepin Heights products are available in many local grocery stores and co-ops. Go to www.pepinheights.com and click on “About Us” and then “Find a retailer.”

Order online – Order online and Pepin Heights will ship gift boxes of fresh, hand-picked apples to most places in the U.S. and Canada.

Visit Pepin Heights’ store – You can visit Pepin Heights’ Lake City store to sample the different apple varieties as they come into season and take some fresh-from-the-orchard apples home with you. Check out their gourmet caramel apples and other apple products, as well as items from other regional producers, such as baked goods, cheeses and wild rice. Just take Highway 61 south through Lake City. The store will be on the left-hand side of the road on the south side of town. Find directions online or call Pepin Heights at 651.345.2305. The store is open Read More

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Dining Out at W. A. Frost

Story by Alice Short
Photos by Carol Banks

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Eating out at a first class restaurant is a treat. Something looked forward to; something savored both at the restaurant and in the memory of the meal. We want and expect everything to taste great. Do we think about the ingredients that are the starting point of that great taste? Probably not. But Russell Klein, Executive Chef at W. A. Frost and Company in St. Paul does – every day. And every day he can, Klein buys the best local Minnesota produce and creates recipes to show it off.

A look at Frost’s menu is a tribute to what Minnesota producers grow and raise. Take lunch. Two items offer Minnesota-grown vegetables – one of them a summer vegetable thin crust pizza. Also for lunch, a dark meat turkey salad sandwich made from Wild Acres Farm birds, and a Fischer’s Farm barbecued pork sandwich. Prefer dinner? Five of the eleven entrées on the summer menu feature local products: a chicken confit or a duck breast, both with Wild Acres Farm poultry; a pork loin entrée made with Fischer’s Farm pork; and a grilled rainbow trout from Star Prairie Trout Farm in Wisconsin. There is also what Klein calls “A Composition of Summer Vegetables” – a sampler plate consisting of carrot pancakes, a stuffed onion and a vegetable ragoût.

“As a chef, you realize that unless you start with good stuff you can’t finish with anything good,” says Klein. “That means you are going to want to deal on as local a level as possible to make sure that things are as fresh as possible and have as much flavor as possible.” A native of New York City, Klein’s love of local ingredients began when he was learning his trade at the French Culinary Institute there, and spent his spare time wandering around Manhattan’s Union Square Farmers’ Market in New York, which he considers one of the best in the country – quickly adding that he puts the St. Paul Farmers’ Market in the same class.

W. A. Frost’s cuisine is New American, with a French flair traceable to Klein’s work as a chef in Southern France. Housed in a historic building that 120 years ago was the W. A. Frost drugstore, the restaurant can seat 400+ people in an endless series of connected rooms and an outdoor patio. Size here is a challenge and Klein admits that it’s a lot easier to buy from small producers when you only have an 80-seat restaurant.

W. A. Frost’s focus on local produce began under Klein’s predecessor, Chef Lenny Russo. Three and a half years after succeeding Russo as executive chef, Klein is continuing the effort to make Frost part of the larger community of local food producers. “For me as a chef, it’s important to know the people growing the food,” he says. To this end, Klein tries to spend more time in the field visiting the farmers from whom he buys. “If nothing else, to see their farms, to see how they grow things and to get a better picture in my head of what goes on there.”

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This commitment to fresh, local ingredients is not without some cost. Not so much the cost of the products, rather it’s the labor needed to get these products onto a dinner plate. “Salad is a good example,” says Klein. “I can buy a commercially available box of mesclun mix, eight bucks for five pounds. Open a bag, dress it, put it on a plate and it’s ready go. Zero labor.” The local greens Klein buys for Frost have to be washed, spun and sorted – jobs not required for commodity products. Klein says he’s lucky that Frost’s ownership shares the philosophy he has: that from a flavor standpoint it’s important to be part of this wider food community, to support small businesses, to make an investment in this idea. “It’s not free to do it and it’s easier not to do it.”

Getting to know the farmers and producers allows Klein to better forecast when local produce will be available, which translates into the menu consistency that Frost’s patrons expect. Klein keeps his menu options open to accommodate the arrival of local products. “With Minnesota’s short and unpredictable growing season you can’t lock yourself into rigid menu planning,” Klein says. This is especially true of fresh produce. I always try to have something on the menu that allows me to take whatever walks in on a given day and use it on that dish.”

Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend when most Americans, even chefs, were taking a little time off, Klein went for an extended visit to Wild Acres Farm, where he buys all the duck and some of the other poultry items he prepares. Here Klein saw first hand how these ducks are raised. Doing this is part of Klein’s philosophy and his commitment to local producers. “It’s important for a chef to take something from the field to the plate.” That’s a commitment you can taste for yourself at W. A. Frost.

DETAILS: W. A. Frost and Company 374 Selby Avenue o St. Paul, MN Tel. (651) 224-5715

Located in the historic Dacotah building in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood, W. A. Frost serves dinner seven days a week. Lunch is served Monday through Saturday and brunch on Sundays.

W. A. Frost also hosts a “Friends of the Farmer” dinner series, which highlights the connection with local farmers. To be notified of upcoming dinners, go to www.wafrost.com and join their mailing list.

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