ETC… Local “foodie” news & eats Summer 2005

Story by Kathy Couturié
Illustrations by Mary Ogle

I’ve come to the Twin Cities area on behalf of Edible Communities, to help launch EDIBLE TWIN CITIES with our partners in eating, Michelle and Ken Hueser and Carol and Chuck Banks. My plan is to consume as much as possible of the local food scene, seeking out fresh, local foods, in the four short days I am to be in the area…a dream come true assignment! Following is a food fanatic’s journal of our delicious days…

goblet.gifAfter an exciting landing in what we Californians would describe as a mild tornado, I was starving! Fortunately we had dinner reservations at Heartland in St. Paul, but naturally my first stop in every new town is a wine shop…thus we maneuvered our way across the Lake Street bridge to Solo Vino. We met a marvelous salesperson, Chuck Kanski, who regaled us with stories of Hendry Ranch Block 8 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 – before he even knew we were from California. We learned that the “juice” from Hendry is pretty darn spectacular, so we purchased both the Cab and the Pinot Noir to taste over the next few days. Solo Vino is a spectacular little wine shop, and we enjoyed perusing their selection of California wines… The shop’s inventory is 85% imported, specializing in Spain, and we happily browsed the aisles while Chuck continued to educate us with his helpful wine tips. At the front counter I picked up a card for a “Taste & Enjoy” wine course at home, taught by Bill Coy at Vintage U – Bill writes the wine column for Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine. You just don’t get this sort of cultural richness in our small hometown of Ojai, California, and I am a wee bit envious of Twin Cities residents who have the ability to sample, enjoy and learn about fine wines in the comfort of their own home courtesy of Bill Coy (contact Bill at (651) 915-1138 or email vintageu@msn.com)… Solo Vino is truly “a full service wine shop” – please stop by, enjoy their unique selections, and say hello to Chuck for me: 517 Selby Ave., St. Paul; tel. (651) 602-9515 or visit www.solovinowines.com

We all met up at Heartland Restaurant – a fitting destination for a publication featuring fresh, local and seasonal cuisine. Chef Lenny Russo’s heart and soul are evident in this lovely restaurant, and I was intrigued by this description on their website: “The restaurant concept features North American Midwest regional cuisine that employs indigenous and cultivated ingredients from the American and Canadian Midwest to create a nightly changing menu… The restaurant has shunned mainline purveyors in favor of small family farmers and artisanal producers to source ingredients, the majority of which are either organically grown or naturally raised.” It took us some time to read through Heartland’s extensive menu and determine how to proceed with tasting as much as possible, but turns out we were the right group for this task…

quote.gifI considered just biting the bullet and ordering everything on the menu – hey, why not get wild your first night in town? After enjoying an amuse-bouche from the kitchen – a divine terrine of pheasant-hazelnut topped with tarragon aioli and radish sprouts, we settled on starters of roasted sweet onion-Calvados cream soup with fried Minnesota prosciutto and marjoram-chive oil, and an early spring frisée and baby arugula salad with Muscat grapes, goose leg confit, sweet onion and brown sugar-caraway vinaigrette… The soup was brilliant – I’ve never met a prosciutto I didn’t love, thus I found it hard to share Heartland’s crispy, locally made version floating in the soup… We happily moved on to mains: the grilled Fischer Farm Yorkshire pork chop with roasted baby turnips, grilled sweet onions and Kansas pecan sauce, the wild mushroom-crusted filet of Lake Huron walleye with freshwater crayfish consommé, basil oil, garlic butter-braised spring greens and preserved tomato-hazelnut pistou, the pan roasted Wild Acres Farm free-range chicken breast with fava bean-barley risotto, Shepherd’s Way Farm sheep milk grana cheese and herb-infused shell pea sauce, and the grilled Creekstone Farms grass-fed angus beef ribeye steak with wild leek-potato purée and brandied game bird glace. The pork chop was easily the largest pork chop I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I was thrilled to taste the famed walleye I’d read about while researching Twin Cities specialties – delicious! With our meal we enjoyed bottles of two West Coast wines: a Shooting Star “Blue Franc” 2003 Syrah from Washington State, and the Andrew Rich Syrah from Newberg, Oregon – both quite drinkable, and I found Heartland’s wine list to be a great read, and reasonably priced… Naturally we required desserts, so we sampled the assorted regional artisanal cheeses with house-baked cornmeal crackers, on Ames Farm honeycomb and preserved fruit chutney, the bittersweet chocolate chess pie with Cointreau syrup-macerated strawberries, lavender panna cotta and candied walnuts, and the passion fruit curd tartlette with vanilla goat milk custard, caramel-rum sauce and chocolate hazelnut bark… I am a newly-converted devotee of cheese platters, and Heartland’s is fantastic – I loved the Shepherd’s Way Farm Friesago from Nerstrand, MN, and the Tres Freres semi-soft brie was nearly enough to make me weep, especially when dipped in Ames Honey… This was a fabulous meal, but the best part for me was towards the end when Chef de Cuisine/Proprietor Lenny Russo arrived at the table to chat…

We had lots of questions, and he fielded them with grace and good humor, regaling us with stories of his sources, organic suppliers, and his unique, personal relationships with seemingly every ingredient utilized in his restaurant. While drooling over some cave aged Virgin Pine Native blue cheese, I complemented Chef Russo on the little details, including the cornmeal crackers that came with the cheese. He explained that all the restaurant’s baked goods are homemade, using organic, local flour sources – including the cornmeal! Most of his ingredients come from a 100-200 mile radius, and when I asked him about the generous size of my pork chop he told us about Tim Fischer and his Yorkshire purebred hog farm near Waseca, MN, as well as Tim’s friend Harold Weber who grows the restaurant’s micro greens, and Joel who does the flour grinding, not to mention his source for bison that comes from the banks of the St. Croix river, etc. It was a pleasure to spend time with Chef Russo at Heartland, and this meal was certainly an auspicious start to our trip. Heartland is at 1806 St. Clair Ave., Saint Paul; tel. (651) 699-3536 or visit www.heartlandrestaurant.com.The next day we headed south to visit with various folks in the Red Wing area, but I must start the day with java… Thus we found ourselves in Dunn Bros. Coffee, a Minneapolis institution. We marveled at the incredible selection of fresh roasted coffees and slurped up our double cappuccinos in no time. Dunn Bros. has great atmosphere, friendly mid-west service, and I knew I wasn’t in California anymore when they didn’t scream “NEXT!” immediately after I ordered… Fortunately for Twin Cities residents, Dunn Bros. is at numerous locations throughout the region. Please visit www.dunnbros.com to find a location near you.

It’s hard to explain how exotic it is to a native Californian to visit TWO STATES IN THE SAME DAY! We cheered when we crossed the bridge into Wisconsin later that morning, but I nearly jumped for joy when I got out of the car and into the home of the Rush River Brewing Company… We were visiting to take photographs for an upcoming Edible Twin Cities feature, and I’m so glad I tagged along… I can’t recall the last time I visited a microbrewery that I didn’t enjoy, but Rush River will certainly go down in memory as one of the most scenic I’ve ever visited… Partners Dan Chang and Nick Anderson met while working at a microbrewery in the Seattle area, and decided to return to their Midwestern roots after meeting the ever-so-charming Robbie Stair, a co-owner in Rush River who conveniently happened to own some beautiful land on a bluff overlooking Lake Pepin, enabling them to start a brewery together in Wisconsin… Together the three partners are manufacturing some fabulous suds, and we were able to sample their heavenly concoctions while taking a highly entertaining and informative tour of the brewing facility… Serious journalist that I am, I try to stick to the important facts while on a brewery visit, such as where the heck do I get my paws on more of this stuff, and I don’t mean tomorrow? However, I did manage to jot down a few things about the brewing process, including the fact that the brewery consists of a 20 barrel brewhouse, with enough fermenters to produce approximately 5,000 barrels of pure bliss annually… We sampled three different brews: Lost Arrow Porter, The Unforgiven Amber Ale, and BubbleJack IPA-India Pale Ale. The remarkably smooth Unforgiven was my favorite, but all three are spectacular…

beer.gifHere’s a description of the Unforgiven from their website: “We ‘dry-hop’ this ale in the conditioning tank meaning fresh hops are added after fermentation to steep and add a subtle fruity nose. The yeast for this beer was custom created and cultured for us by a lab in Oregon, insuring a one-of-a-kind experience found in no other micro.” I have long been a lover of porters, and Rush River’s Lost Arrow is a luscious, dark, creamy version, which would easily enable me to skip chocolate for a dessert brew anytime… Rush River offers seasonal brews as well: a wheat-based summer golden ale called Small Axe, and a Winter Warmer, based on one of their favorite Scotch Ale recipes, the mere description of which may force me to return (in proper glacier-worthy attire) to the area this winter… Currently Rush River microbrews are available only in restaurants and bars in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area, but soon they’ll be expanding to a new facility in Ellsworth for bottling, kegs, and labeling – hallelujah! Fans will be able to purchase their brews to take home -this will directly benefit beer afficianados for hundreds of miles… These guys are so fun, and so intelligent, we could’ve easily spent the entire day there, but our stomachs called and thus we reluctantly headed off to Red Wing for lunch. If you get a chance, check out their website at www.rushriverbeer.com – it has a heading called “Beer Finder” enabling one to find their beer locally. Rush River Brewing Co. is in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin; tel. (715) 448-2035 – visits are by appointment only. Meantime, stop at nothing until you sample their heavenly microbrews!

artichoke.gifKeeping in mind that Wisconsin has a “pay on contact” law for speeding tickets, we slowly drove into Red Wing to locate the Oar d’oeuvre restaurant. Nick Anderson at Rush River had advised us this restaurant and beverage bar serves their microbrews and since, in my opinion, you can never drink too much of a good thing, this was clearly our only choice for lunch… We found the Oar d’oeuvre easily, and settled in for a surprisingly delightful meal. The restaurant specializes in fresh food, great wines and spirits, and offers diners an ever-changing menu, serving lunch and dinner six days a week. The focus of the menu is on their numerous house specialties, their unique signature hors d’oeuvres, which include the “Capsized” artichoke and prosciutto gratin baked with Swiss and Asiago cheeses, topped with toasted almonds and served with crostinis, and the “Scuttlebutt” savory green chili cheesecake topped with mango salsa and served with blue corn tortilla chips… There is also homemade pâté, grilled beef or chicken skewers, spicy shrimp, and an olive and tomato tempanade, to name a few…it all sounded too fabulous. After ordering an ice cold tankard of Rush River BubbleJack IPA, I determined the healthiest choice for me would be the special Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, and my partners in crime sampled the sliced pear and candied pecan salad, as well as a Cajun pork cutlet melt and a gourmet burger…all were fabulous. Chef/Proprietor Marie Mikel visited our table, and we learned that she is on her third and final career change – we wish her much success in this exciting new venture. Marie attempts to source local ingredients as much as she can, and we roared when she told us she sends her kids to the farmers’ markets up in the Cities, and “do ya think they can figure out what basil looks like – no!” The Oar d’oeuvre has a calendar of events printed up for 2005, and after perusing it I determined that I may have to temporarily relocate to Red Wing in order to enjoy “Something Different Nights.” These are offered once a month, and usually include a six-course dinner paired with a different wine or beer tasting… Marie had just done a tasting night with Rush River’s brews, where each course included beer in its ingredients, such as beer in the vinaigrette, beer in the BBQ sauce, beef beer stew, etc… In August they will celebrate their one-year anniversary, and I would advise you to get thee to Red Wing for this party! The Oar d’oeuvre is located at 433 Main Street in Red Wing; tel. (651) 388-2155 or visit www.greatfoodinredwing.com

After lunch we nabbed some locally made chocolate infused toffee from the River Chocolate Company in Beldenville, Wisconsin – superb. This was a tremendous boost to get us back up to the Twin Cities, where I look forward to sharing my delicious food explorations with you in the fall issue of Edible Twin Cities…

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Facebook

Twitter