Saturday, December 29, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - Mama G's

On a snowy Saturday, I ventured to an establishment that I had never been to before. Sometimes it is a pleasant surprise what one might find.

Mama G's
9705 Highway 101
Maple Grove, MN

I had lunch at Mama G's in Maple Grove. Operating on the northwest corner of Highway 101 and County Road 30 since 1968, this small, unassuming sports bars is known all across the metro for hosting a variety of sports leagues. They are one of the premier locations for sand volleyball in the Twin Cities, and they also do broomball in the winter.

Being a sports bar, it means there are plenty of drinks and also some food. I was not sure what to expect because the menu is quite small with no frills. It was a single page containing a select number of appetizers, a few sandwich, burger, and wrap options, as well as pizza. There did not appear to be fried foods on the menu, so I am guessing the kitchen must not have a deep fryer.

There were three burgers to choose from; the hamburger, cheeseburger, or bacon cheeseburger. I opted for the one with bacon, and with a choice of cheddar or Swiss, I chose Swiss. Also, you get a choice of a variety of bagged chips for your side. I took the Poore Brothers BBQ chips.

The bacon cheeseburger at Mama G's

My burger arrived, and I was pleased with what I saw; crispy strips of bacon, beautifully melted Swiss cheese, and a good looking burger on a fluffy, toasted bun. It came with lettuce, tomato, pickles, as well as some mayonnaise and diced raw onions on the side. This looks very promising!

One bite and I knew I had found a gem. The 1/3 pound burger tasted fresh with a fantastic beefy flavor. It was fairly thick, had a nice juiciness, and reminded me of a good homemade burger. All of the toppings and condiments only added to what was a delightful lunch. Delicious!

Even better, the burger with a bag of crunchy kettle chips only cost $5.50. The whole meal with a diet Coke and a little bit of tax set me back $8 on the nose before tip. Are you kidding me? Unquestionably, this is one of the better burger values I have encountered.

If you are looking for a reasonably priced and very tasty burger, I would suggest stopping at Mama G's. I know I will be back!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Venison sausage meets pasta

Over the weekend, I made a quick and easy pasta dish; venison sausage with fennel, red wine, and fusili.

I got the idea from an excellent Patricia Wells cookbook, At Home In Provence. The dish is fairly simple with a handful of ingredients, and it can be thrown together very quickly. The rich sauce is made entirely of tomato paste and red wine seasoned with fennel seeds. Additional body is added with an egg and cheese mixture that is stirred in right at the end. Along with a splash of pasta cooking water, this creates a silky texture.

Her recipe called for Italian sausage, but I had something else in mind. My brother had given me some of his homemade onion and garlic venison sausage. Really flavorful stuff, and perfect for a pasta dish like this. And the recipe in the book did not call for mushrooms and peas. I added them for some contrast in texture, additional flavor, and a little color.

Here is my interpretation of the recipe:

Jean's Venison Sausage with Fusili, Fennel, and Red Wine

-2 T. olive oil
-1 lb. venison sausage (or Italian sausage), removed from casings
-2 t. fennel seeds
-1 6 oz can tomato paste
-2 c. red wine
-8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
-1 c. frozen peas
-12 oz. fusilli pasta (or other short pasta like penne or ziti)
-2 eggs, beaten
-1/4 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
-Fresh ground black pepper
-Reserved pasta cooking water

Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet. Brown the venison sausage, breaking up the meat with your spoon. Add the fennel seeds. Allow to cook until just about all the pink is gone. Add the tomato paste, stirring it into the meat, and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the red wine and the mushrooms. Bring to a quick boil, reduce heat, and let it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Add the pasta and cook to just shy of al dente. Be sure to save a cup of the pasta cooking water for later.

While the pasta is cooking, beat a couple of eggs in a dish. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the eggs, along with some generous twists of fresh ground black pepper. Set aside.

Drain the pasta and toss it into the sauce. Stir until all the noodles are nicely coated with the sauce.

Remove the pasta and sauce from the heat. With a large spoon, gently stir in the egg and cheese mixture, using just enough reserved pasta water to help thin out the sauce (this is a judgment call on your part!). Stir well to be sure the eggs do not curdle.

When the sauce achieves the desired texture, it is ready to serve. Be sure to have a little extra Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on hand to sprinkle over the dish. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas cookies

This week, my office is having a cookie baking contest. Today I prepared my entry.

It is your basic drop cookie, and it contains dark chocolate chips, dark chocolate M&M's, and also little chopped up bits of Heath bars.

The recipe is loosely based on this one. Simply get rid of the macadamia nuts, and instead of the cappuccino chips, substitute a cup of dark chocolate M&M's. The rest is exactly the same.

Of course, I have already sampled some of the finished product, and these cookies are really yummy. I think I have a shot at the title! :)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Venison chili on a cold December day

I think the high temperature was something like 16 degrees today. Because of that, as well as the fact that it is football Sunday, and since my brother gave me some really excellent venison stew meat, it is the perfect occasion to make venison chili!

The recipe is this one, except I substituted 2 lbs. of venison (which I ground myself along with a couple strips of bacon for some added fat and flavor) for the beef chuck. And I used a can of black beans and a can of light red kidney beans, as opposed to two cans of kidney beans. Otherwise, the recipe is exactly the same.

The quality of the venison was excellent, and it was so lean and flavorful. A fantastic, mild venison taste really cames through, and I hardly had to skim any fat from the chili while it was simmering.

My chili has sort of a "sweet heat" to it, which I like very much. Served with a little grated sharp cheddar, and some hot sauce on the side; perfect cold weather football food. Yum! :)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Pork Tenderloin Sandwich at The Lookout

Today I had lunch at one of my local establishments, The Lookout Bar & Grill in Maple Grove. I tried something different from my usual burger and opted for the pork tenderloin sandwich.

I have very limited experience with these sandwiches, which the State of Iowa is practically known for, but I found it to be a tasty alternative to a burger.

Here you have a breaded piece of pork tenderloin served on toasted sourdough bread and topped with lettuce, Swiss cheese, and a chipotle mayonnaise. I added a little bit of mustard and some pickles to it as well. The pork had a crispy crust, and a juicy interior. It was a substantial sandwich that was quite yummy and satisfying.

Hmmm, I may have to check these out when I see them on the menus at other establishments! :)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Our Thanksgiving Day dinner, as always, was a bit unconventional.

The Thanksgiving Day dinner

Dad grilled up a marinated tri-tip, nice and rare. In addition, he also made some jumbo stuffed shrimp, as well as some baked sea scallops with Italian herbs.

For side dishes, Mom whipped up a roasted vegetable casserole, as well as a wild rice casserole with bacon.

As unusual as this might be for "Turkey Day," it sure was delicious!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving on a plate

This is Thanksgiving on a plate if there ever was one..even if we didn't eat it on Thanksgiving Day!

Roast turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, roasted vegetables, and cranberry relish. Very traditional, and very, very nice!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Spaghetti & Meatballs from Sunday

Last weekend I made some fantastic spaghetti and meatballs.

The meatball recipe was pretty much based on this one, except that I used dried Italian seasoning in place of the fresh herbs. And for the sauce I used large can of crushed tomatoes, one can of Trader Joe's "Sugo di Pomodoro" marinara sauce, and about a cup of red wine. I also sprinkled in some Italian seasoning just for some added flavor.

Delicious. The meatballs turned out flavorful and well seasoned. I love adding bits of sun-dried tomatoes to them, because they provide a bright little surprise in each bite. And the sauce was rich with a hint of sweetness. A comforting meal after the Packers destroyed my Vikings on Sunday… :)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The perfect pizza?

This is arguably the best pizza I have made. At the very least, it is among the prettiest!

My masterpiece pizza

It was topped with pepperoni, green peppers, green olives, black olives, mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Along with a homemade pizza sauce, this was one of my finest works to date!

Road Food Pursuits - Mainstreet Bar & Grill

My pursuit for real, authentic American food continued yesterday with a stop in the city of Hopkins, MN, a now Twin Cities suburb that still retains some charms from yesteryear, including an honest-to-goodness main street.

And on Main Street, you will find (appropriately enough) the Mainstreet Bar & Grill

Mainstreet Bar & Grill
814 Main Street
Hopkins, MN

The Mainstreet Bar & Grill is an old fashioned bar right in the heart of downtown Hopkins. I used to come here for lunch on occasion when I worked in the area, but I have not been here in ages. It is decked out with brick and wood, and has a dark. cozy atmosphere. They have been here for decades and are known for their live music on weekend. And, of course, there is a menu filled with great bar food; sandwiches, appetizers, burgers, and entrees.

I opted for the "Mainstreet Burger," which was a 1/3 lb. hamburger topped with bacon and ham, cheddar cheese, and Thousand Island dressing.

The "Mainstreet Burger" at the Mainstreet Bar & Grill

The burger was cooked to order (medium, with just a little pink on the inside. It had a great crust on the outside, and the two-kinds-of-pork toppings and the cheddar cheese were tasty, with the bacon being the thick-cut variety. The dressing added a sweet and tangy zip, and what I really liked was the bun. A toasted onion roll...yum! All in all, a very good burger.

The accompanying fries were again my least favorite thicker-cut style, but they were crispy, hot, and cooked up just fine.

The total bill with a diet Coke was $11.18 before tip, which is getting a bit on the spendy when talking about burgers and fries. But the burger was good, and the atmosphere was very authentic and cool, unlike all of the various chain restaurants. And isn't that worth a couple of extra bucks?

Vegetable beef soup from last weekend

With the weather getting colder, last weekend I brewed up a pot of vegetable beef soup. I haven't made this soup in ages, and it turned out very tasty. The beef was incredibly flavorful and tender, and it is chock full of veggies. Great stuff to warm you up on a chilly day.

Of course, I didn't write down a recipe. But if I had to guess, I used a 2 ½ lb beef chuck roast that was trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes. I seasoned them with salt and pepper, browned them really well in a large Dutch oven, and set them aside.

Then, in the same Dutch oven, I sautéed approximately 4 carrots (slices), 1 small yellow onion (diced), and about 6 cloves of garlic (minced) for a few minutes until very aromatic and the onions were translucent. I added 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, about 8 cups of beef stock, and returned the beef to pot. I seasoned the soup with a generous amount of Italian seasoning blend and a good splash (2 tablespoons?) of Worcestershire sauce, along with black pepper and salt to taste. Bring it to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

Once simmering, I added about 8 oz. of sliced crimini mushrooms, and two Yukon gold potatoes (cubed). Allow to simmer for a couple of hours for the flavors to come together. Right towards the end, I add corn and frozen peas (as much as you like), as well as some small pasta shells (which I actually cook first and rinse with cold water before adding to the soup…the pasta retains its texture better that way!).

Serve with oyster cracker, and enjoy the leftovers! This seems to taste even better on the second day.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The first pizza in months

I haven't made a homemade pizza since the summer. I felt it was long overdue.

This baby was topped with pepperoni, hot Italian sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and black and green olives. Cheeses included mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a tiny bit of baby Swiss.

The pizza tasted so good after such a long hiatus. I did learn that my oven heats unevenly, as the portion of the crust in the back of the oven got darker than the portion in the front. I'll have to work on that.

I love pizza. :)

Road Food Pursuits - Wayzata Bar & Grill

Today for lunch I ventured into the town of Wayzata on the northern shores of Lake Minnetonka to have a little lunch. Wayzata has a reputation of being one of the "high rent districts" in the western Twin Cities suburbs, and there are a lot of upscale dining establishments that reflect this. However, there are good casual places to go as well.

Wayzata Bar & Grill
810 Superior Boulevard
Wayzata, MN

I stopped in at the Wayzata Bar & Grill. This is an interesting place in that it is owned by the City of Wayzata and has the municipal liquor store attached. Not too many restaurants can claim that they are owned by the government!

The bar is very nice and clean, with sort of a nautical theme combined with pictures of old Wayzata. The staff is very friendly, and it is the kind of place that still has a small town feel. Many of the patrons were conversing, and the servers knew most of them by name.

Their menu is classic bar food; burgers, sandwiches, several appetizers, wraps, and salads. I ended up diverting from my usual burger and went with the breaded fish sandwich.

The breaded fish sandwich at the Wayzata Bar & Grill

The sandwich consisted of a breaded cod fillet on a hoagie roll, topped with lettuce and tomatoes, with tartar sauce on the side. Sides included cole slaw, and I upgraded to the French fries.

A good fish sandwich should have some textural contrast between the bread and the fish, which this sandwich definitely had. The cod fillet was crispy on the outside, with a mild, delicious flavor, rounded out nicely by the vegetable toppings and some of the tartar sauce. Well done! The fries, while they are my least favorite style (those being the larger, thicker kind), were also well-prepared. Some sweet, crunchy cole slaw on the side, and I was a happy boy. The meal with a diet soda cost $11.35 before tip.

So if you are in Wayzata looking for a casual meal, look no further than the Wayzata Bar & Grill. Not too bad for government work. :)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thai one on

Last weekend, I made a delicious Thai chicken stir-fry dish with rice stick noodles.

The sauce component was pretty much the same as the fish sauce-based mixture of this recipe (minus the grated ginger), and I used cubed chicken thighs, orange bell pepper, carrots, bamboo shoots, yellow onions, green onions, mushrooms, garlic, peas, and ginger. (Nothing was measured, or course!)

With the ginger, I was inspired by a ginger chicken stir-fry dish I had at Sawatdee in Maple Grove last month. In it, they left the ginger in long, thin, matchstick strands, treating it more like a vegetable than a flavoring agent. Every so often you would take a bite and get this wonderful crunch and a burst of fresh ginger flavor.

I liked that. And I liked that in this dish. Combined with the rice stick noodles (which I am planning on using more often in my stir-fries), the Thai chicken stir fry offered a spicy and salty flavor with a variety of textures. And the aroma is torturing my coworkers (in a good way), as I have been enjoying leftovers for my lunches this week! :)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Joe Senser's for lunch

Joe Senser's Restaurant & Sports Theater
16605 County Road 24
Plymouth, MN

Today I took a break from my errands and stopped at the Plymouth Joe Senser's Restaurant & Sports Theater.

Joe Senser is one of the Minnesota Vikings' great tight ends from back in the late 70's and early 80's. His name has been prominent here in the state, as he not only did some color commentary on radio following his playing days, but in 1988, he open his first of what are now four awesome sports bars around the Twin Cities.

The Plymouth branch is the newest, and it is not really billed a a "sports bar," rather, it is a "sports theater." Easy to see why; I counted 14 enormous HDTV screens surrounding the entire place! I would think you would be able to catch just about any big game you wanted. It was impressive.

Also impressive is the menu, which contains the usual array of bar food, but it is a little more grown up with some interesting twist. Lots of great looking burgers, sandwiches, appetizers, and even some tempting entrees.

The "Cajun Burger" at Joe Senser's

I ordered the "Cajun Burger" and upgraded to the shoestring fries (instead of the standard Old Dutch kettle chips). This half pound monster came topped with ham, smoked mozzarella, BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and red onions.

This was one of the biggest and tallest burgers I have ever had! Once you put the bun on top, it is almost impossible to take a bite of. Definitely more than a mouthful and cooked to order, it was oh, so good! Well browned on the outside, extremely juicy on the inside, sitting on top of some crisp veggies with plenty of smoky topping to add even more flavor. Nice!

The fries were good, too. Nothing fancy, just good, crisp, hot shoestring fries, exactly what you want with a burger.

My bill, with a diet Pepsi, came to $12.80 before tip. A little higher priced than some of the typical places I go for burgers. But it was a mountain of food, and the couple of extra bucks is worth it to enjoy the "sports theater!"

Stop in at one of Joe Senser's locations for the next big game. I guarantee you will not leave hungry.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A return to the kitchen - part 2

And here is this weekend's damn good beef and mushroom lasagna...

It is good to be back in the kitchen! :)

A return to the kitchen - part 1

Over late September and early October, I was moving and didn't have much of a chance to cook (or blog about food, for that matter!). The past two weekends have been all about returning to the kitchen.

No words, really; just pictures:

Here is last weekend's damn good venison stew...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A trip to Meisters before the move

Since I am moving this coming week, I thought that today I would go to a favorite place that will soon be a pretty long haul from my new place. I drove to the Swedish village of Scandia to have lunch at Meisters Bar & Grill.

I love this little bar. It has so much character and small town charm. And, as I learned from a previous visit, Meisters has dang good burgers, too.

The "Mushroom & Swiss Meisterburger" at Meisters Bar & Grill

Today I has the "Mushroom and Swiss Meisterburger." It was a 1/3 lb. patty sitting atop a mound of sautéed mushrooms and creamy swiss cheese, and served on an incredibly soft, bakery fresh roll. I ordered it "California style" as well, so I got some lettuce and tomato to throw on top. The burger was delightfully juicy with a ton of flavor. Absolutely excellent!

Also, the fries were superb. These are honest-to-goodness, hand-cut, never frozen fries here, and they are awesome. A real french fry is in a league of its own as far as deep-fried potatoes are concerned, and they are fantastic at Meisters.

My new place will be quite a distance from Meisters, so I don't imagine I will get over here as often as I might like. However, it will make a great excuse to go on a little road trip!

Well done, Meisters Bar & Grill! I will be back.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pheasant cacciatora

My brother had given me a pheasant recently, so I decided to put it to good use. I made a batch of pheasant cacciatora.

As we know, cacciatora in Italian means it was prepared in the style of the hunter's wife. So I figured this is probably slightly more authentic than using chicken! The recipe I followed closely matched this one with a few alterations:

Obviously, I used cubed pheasant meat in place of the chicken. I would guess there was about a pound and a half of meat on the bird. Red wine was substituted for white. I added a chopped red bell pepper. There was no fresh thyme on hand, so I opted for perhaps a teaspoon of an Italian seasoning blend. And, I forgot to add the bay leaves! :) Otherwise, everything else is as the recipe stated.

What a luxurious dish! The pheasant was tender and flavorful, and the sauce quite thick and rich. Served over some pasta, it made for a lovely fall meal.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tacos with Salsa Fresca

Last night I made some simple tacos for dinner with a fresh, homemade salsa.

The salsa was improvised and nothing was measured. But I had three home grown tomatoes that my Mom gave me, along with an assorted batch of hit peppers. Along with some red onion and garlic, I pan roasted everything in a hot skillet until browned and charred. Chopped up the ingredients (removed the seeds from the peppers first!), mixed in some cilantro, salt and pepper, and a little bit of toasted Mexican oregano...that was it!

For the tacos, I browned a pound of ground beef that I seasoned liberally with a mixture of ancho chile powder, cumin, coriander, Mexican oregano, paprika, and black pepper. Flour tortillas were then topped with the meat, refried beans, sharp cheddar, fresh cilantro, and the homemade salsa.

A perfect meal for watching some football games! :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - CurtiSinn Headwaters Restaurant

Driving home from my weekend in Walker, MN,, I decided to take a bit of a detour to enjoy some new scenery. I found myself in the neighboring town of Akeley where I stopped for breakfast.

CurtiSinn Headwaters Restaurant
Junction of Hwy. 34 & 64
Akeley, MN

The CurtiSinn Headwaters Restaurant sits right in downtown Akeley, which is known as the "Birthplace of Paul Bunyan." It is your quintessential small town restaurant. The parking lot was filled with trucks, and the dining area with hungry locals. I was the only person there that the server did not know by name.

Their breakfast menu was filled with many egg and omelet options. I chose the combination of two eggs, hash browns, and choice of bacon, sausage, or…kielbasa? Excellent! Without hesitation, I selected the kielbasa.

Breakfast at the CurtiSinn Headwaters Restaurant in Akeley

A very satisfying breakfast. My eggs were nicely scrambled, and the hash browns had a crispy and brown exterior. And the kielbasa was smokey, garlicky, and flavorful; a really excellent breakfast meat. The entire breakfast was delicious.

The whole meal, including a glass of orange juice, cost all of $7.60, so it was very reasonable as well.

How can you not love these small town restaurants? If you are in the Akeley area looking for a tasty, inexpensive, and filling breakfast, be sure to stop in and mix with the friendly locals at the CurtiSinn Headwaters Restaurant.

A "Kitchen Sink" pizza in Walker

Last Friday I was up in Walker, MN,, and I ate dinner at the Village Square Cafe.

Village Square Café
Corner of Minnesota Ave. & 5th Street
Walker, MN


Established in 1979, the Village Square was a neat building complex comprised of several different sections where your could have a family dinner, pizza, coffee, or ice cream. Hungry for some carbs, I gravitated towards the pizza area.

The restaurant was cute with lots of brick and wood, giving it a definite pizzaria feel. The menu had lots of choices for combinations, as well as options to select you own toppings, in a multitude of sizes. Unable to resist a pizza with a lot going on, I chose the 9-inch "Kitchen Sink Combo."

The "Kitchen Sink Combo" pizza at the Village Square Café


As the name implied, the pizza contained everything but the kitchen sink! Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, and pepperoni, along with a multitude of vegetables including green peppers, mushrooms, onions, with both green and black olives.

The pizza had a thin, crispy crust, a light layer of zesty tomato sauce, and the toppings were very flavorful. I enjoy pizzas that give me some variety and contrast, and this defintely had it. Distinctive meats, briny olives, fresh peppers, onions, and mushrooms; yum! The cheese at the edge was nicely browned, too. The meal was fantastic, and I absolutely inhaled it.

If you are in the Leech Lake area looking for a good pizza, the Village Square Café is a great place to start.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - Happy's Drive-In

This past weekend I found myself driving through east-central Minnesota. For lunch, I dined at a place that is a rarity in today's world; a small, independent fast food-style restaurant.

Happy's Drive-In
11373 Stevens Rd
Onamia, MN

Happy's Drive-In seemingly sits all by itself in the middle of nowhere. It is located just about a mile north of Onamia on US Hwy 169. It is family owned and operated and has been open since 1990, serving an assortment of fast food items and ice cream to hungry locals and tourists heading to the prime Mille Lacs Lake fishing destinations.

Their menu contains a number of different burgers and sandwiches (and even a homemade chicken wild rice soup!). I chose one of their burger baskets; the "Big Happy Burger," which included fries, a pickle spear, and a soda.

The "Big Happy Burger" basket at Happy's Drive-In

The 1/3 pound burger came topped with American cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce, their own "special sauce," and was served on a large, fluffy Kaiser roll. Essentially, it was a California-style cheeseburger with a zippy sauce. The beef tasted fresh and juicy, and the creamy, melted cheese, along with the crisp vegetable toppings dressed lightly in a tangy sauce, provided a wonderful contrast. A good and tasty burger.

Shoestring French fries accompanied the meal. Delightfully crispy and hot, they had a great crunch when you bit into them. A very nice fast food-style fry.

The entire meal with tax cost a mere $7.35, and it was a decent amount of quality food. I left very satisfied.

If you find yourself heading up to the Mille Lacs area, Happy's Drive-In is a worthy pit stop. Before you put the boat in the lake, swing in for a quick bite. The staff is friendly, the service is prompt, and you will enjoy some delicious food served fast.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Venison stroganoff (now in color instead of black & white!)

Last night I made some venison stroganoff, and I did it a little different than my recipe in the archive. It consisted of sliced venison steak, crimini mushrooms, garlic, caramelized onions, fresh thyme, and herbes de Provence in a sauce of beef stock, soure cream, and sweet vermouth.

To give the dish some color (and if there ever was a dish in need of color, this might be it!), I added some peas and served it over a multi-colored whole-wheat vegetable rotini pasta. I thought it really brightened up the meal, and the stroganoff was extremely tasty.

The leftovers were even better today for my lunch at work! :)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - Wagner’s Drive In

I am thoroughly embarrassed.

I’ve lived near this place for most of the years I have lived in the Twin Cities, yet I just learned about it recently. How could this one have slipped under my radar for all this time?

Wagner’s Drive In
3712 Quebec Ave S
St. Louis Park, MN

Admittedly, Wagner’s Drive In is not all that easy to get to. It has been here for decades tucked away on a frontage road on the south side of Highway 7 in St. Louis Park. Wagner’s is a tiny little 50’s style joint, complete with carhops, that serves up your typical drive in fare. And it is great.

I stopped in for lunch today and feasted on a California cheeseburger basket, which comes with fries and your choice of cole slaw or baked beans.

The California cheeseburger and fries at Wagner’s Drive In

The burger was awesome. First of all, it looked almost too pretty to eat! It is not often you see such an attractive burger, particularly at a place that serves fast food. And what a tasty burger it was, too. A fresh and wonderfully griddled patty, still juicy and slightly pink in the middle, topped with lettuce, tomato, and American cheese on a fluffy, soft bun. Just fantastic.

And the fries were crispy and hot. Love those crinkle-cut fries, and they were cooked to a delicious golden brown, with a creamy interior. A small cup of baked beans and a diet soda on the side, and I had a memorable meal at one of the picnic tables along side the restaurant.

The entire meal was a bargain as well. With a large soda, the total cost was $7 and some change. An excellent deal.

If you are anywhere near St. Louis Park during the milder months (this is a seasonal business), you really owe it to yourself to check out Wagner’s Drive In. Just turn off at either Louisiana Ave. or Texas Ave. and take the south frontage road and you will drive right by it. Trust me, I know my way there now, and I need to make up for lost time!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Peppermint Twist revisited

This past Friday, I traveled through the city of Delano, and I couldn’t resist stopping at the Peppermint Twist Drive In for some lunch.

I had the “California Supreme Burger” with a basket of fries and cole slaw. It was awesome. The burger, consisting of two thin patties (1/3 lb total), was topped with lettuce, a thick tomato slice, mayonaisse, and American cheese. Juicy and flavorful, the way a fast food burger should be.

The "California Supreme Burger" at the Peppermint Twist Drive In

I also loved the fries, which were thick potato wedges. They had a nice crispness on the outside, and were delightfully creamy on the interior. The cole slaw was also very good, with a sweet, creamy dressing that had a slight vinegary bite.

I ate my meal in the shade of the picnic area on a beautiful, 80 degree Minnesota day. Does fast food get any better than this?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - Groveland Tap

Minneapolis is said to be the home of the ”Juicy Lucy” (also spelled “Jucy Lucy”), which is more of less a burger with the cheese stuffed in the center. Most credit Matt’s Bar with inventing it, but the 5-8 Club just south of them will dispute the claim.

(For more Juicy Lucy history, click here.)

Whatever the case, it is definitely a Minneapolis original. But that doesn’t prevent their neighbors to the east in St. Paul from serving them!

Groveland Tap
1834 St. Clair Ave
St. Paul, MN

Today I had lunch at the Groveland Tap, a classic neighborhood bar near Macalester College. It is a narrow old bar with tall, wooden booths, and plenty of character. A very charming and cozy establishment.

While their menu has plenty to offer in the way of burgers, sandwiches, appetizers, and even some weekly special entrees, I was there for their version of the Juicy Lucy.

Not brave enough to try their “Cajun Lucy,” which is stuffed with pepper jack cheese and jalapenos (yikes!), I settled for the regular Lucy. I also made it a basket for an extra $2 to get some fries and cole slaw.

The “Juicy Lucy” at the Groveland Tap

Admittedly, these burgers are not much for aesthetics. Really, it is just a burger on a toasted bun with no garnishes except for some pickles on the bottom. You can throw a little ketchup and mustard on for good measure. But the magic happens on the inside. The melted American cheese in the center of the burger keeps it moist and juicy, as the name would imply. Nicely charred on the outside, a little pink in the middle, and served on a bakery fresh flour-dusted bun. Delightfully simple, and wonderful.

As a side note, my Juicy Lucy experienced a bit of a “blowout” after the first two bites, and most of the cheese ran into the bottom of the basket. But, this served as an excellent dipping sauce of sorts. Yum! :)

After the blowout!

The fries were nothing to sneeze at, either. Real, skin-on fries are served here; crisp, light, and delicious. The cole slaw was also quite good. Lightly dressed and flavorful, with a fresh and satisfying crunch.

The Juicy Lucy basket cost all of $7.75, so with a diet pop and tax, the bill came to $10.43. Not a bad price to eat a piece of Minneapolis food history, even if you are in St. Paul!

Nice job, Groveland Tap. I shall return.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lunch at the Coho Café

While visiting my parents over the weekend, we had lunch at the Coho Café in Tofte, MN.

Coho Café
MN Highway 61
Tofte, MN

The Coho Café is a small bakery and restaurant located right along the highway in Tofte. The cuisine is very fresh and creative. It is a bright, airy restaurant on the inside and filled with local art. There is also outdoor seating during the summer months. They feature a number of home baked breads, gourmet coffee, deli items, soups, salads, pizzas, pasta, and sandwiches.

Mom had a croissant sandwich from the deli, and Dad and I both opted for the "Onion River Reuben," which was topped with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and their own special sauce, served on a dark pumpernickel rye.

The "Onion River Reuben" at the Coho Café

What a great sandwich. The bread is absolutely delicious and fresh with a great rye flavor. Corned beef, kraut, and Swiss cheese were lightly bathed in a sauce reminiscent of the traditional thousand island dressing, but with a bit of a garlic tang to it. Very nice. Coupled with some pasta salad and fresh fruit, it made for a satisfying meal after a morning round of golf.

The Coho Café is worthy of a stop for any North Shore traveler looking for a bite to eat. Their menu is large and varied, so there should be something for everyone. While we were dining, some impressive looking pizzas came past our table. Hmmm, perhaps I already know what I am having next time?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Summer on a plate

This could be my favorite summer meal.

Tonight I made my favorite ”BBT” sandwich on German dark wheat bread for dinner, and I had my first sweet corn of the season.

I love this time of year when sweet corn becomes available in Minnesota. This is about the time when you start seeing the actually Minnesota grown corn (not stuff trucked in from parts unknown) show up at farmers’ markets and roadside stands.

I bought my corn at a little stand near my place. For this early in the season, it was not too bad. Not great, but pretty decent. It has me excited for the remainder of summer. I will be pigging out on sweet corn all of August!

There will be many a meal like this in the coming months.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Barker's revisited

On the 4th of July, I took a road trip back to Barker’s Bar & Grill in Hudson, WI.

The outrageously good "Tyson Burger" at Barker's Bar & Grill

I visited Barker's in January and had their magnificent “Tyson Burger," which is coated with blackened seasonings and topped with bleu and Monterey Jack cheeses.

To no surprise, it was as good as I remembered, and it is currently my favorite burger of any place I have gone, Juicy, beautifully cooked, creamy cheeses...yum! And I can't forget the fries, which are homemade and hand-cut. Simply amazing.

I can't wait for my next road trip to Hudson. :)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Busting some chops

Last night I made Giada De Laurentiis’ Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops for dinner. These are really good, the recipe has very few ingredients, and it is very easy to prepare.

One thing I did (and I was very glad I did) was bread the chops and let them sit in the fridge for about a half and hour. I think that really helped the breading set up and adhere to the chops. Also, I just flipped these once, and I didn’t mess with them once they were in the pan. The crust stayed perfectly intact.

A quick and delicious meal, for sure. The chops were really juicy on the inside and had a flavorful, crispy crust on the outside. Yummy!

I love Giada’s recipes, and this one could become part of my regular rotation.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Meisters for lunch

This morning I went for what was nearly a 16 mile run, my longest run to date. My reward was a burger. And a darn good one.

Today I made a return visit to Meisters Bar & Grill in Scandia, MN, but this time for lunch. On my original visit back in the beginning of May, I was at Meisters for breakfast, vowing that I would return for lunch.

So lunch I would have. They have a number of nice looking burgers and sandwiches to choose from. I opted for the “Bacon BBQ Meisterburger,” a 1/3 lb. burger with bacon, Swiss cheese, and BBQ sauce. Fries would come with it, and for an extra 50 cents, I made it “California style” with some tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise.

The “Bacon BBQ Meisterburger” at Meisters Bar & Grill

This was a fantastic burger. In the picture, you will see that the burger is resting on top of something. That is all bacon, baby! (Good grief!) The burger was well prepared and juicy. The creamy Swiss cheese, a delightfully smoky BBQ sauce, and the aforementioned mound of crispy bacon all complimented the burger nicely, as did the upgrade to the California toppings. Excellent!

And bless Meisters, they make their own, homemade, hand-cut fries! (And there was much rejoicing!) So few places do this, and that is really a shame because the flavor is incomparable to frozen ones. The fries were delicious and something to be savored.

The online menu appears to have the incorrect price for my burger. It was actually $6.99 according to the computerized receipt, and with the 50 cent upgrade to the California fixings, brought the price to a scant $7.49. Add a diet Pepsi and some tax, and my total bill was all of $9.84 before tip.

Are you kidding? A burger this tasty with honest-to-goodness homemade fries for such an inexpensive price? Wow. I will be coming to Meisters Bar & Grill again. And again. And again. :)

Monday, June 18, 2007

A nice pizza

I made this a few days ago.

Essentially, it is a pizza Margherita, but with pepperoni. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and a few slices of some nice pepperoni I bought at the store. Oh, there was a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top for good measure.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - King’s Place

Today was a nice sunny day, perfect for a road trip. I hopped in the car and headed southeast of the Twin Cities to find a burger joint that had I read about in the past. It was time to investigate.

Miesville is a small farming community of slightly more that 100 residents. It is located south of Hastings on US Highway 61.

Although tiny, Miesville is a hotbed for amateur baseball and is home to the Miesville Mudhens. Driving in to town from the west, you can see the light of Jack Ruhr Field before you can even really see the town itself. You almost feel like you are driving to the “Field of Dreams!” Baseball is legendary here, and it has been for decades.

Also legendary are the burgers at King’s Place.

King’s Place
14460 240th St. E.
Miesville, MN

King’s Place in a small, unassuming bar located right along the south side of the highway in Miesville. If you are not paying attention, you could easily drive right by (as I did!). It is an old building (built in 1916, according to the menu cover). And while King’s Place might not look like much from the outside, the inside tells another story.

The bar and restaurant areas are finished with rustic knotty pine, and the walls are covered with all sorts of cool neon beer signs. It is a very warm and welcoming environment with a friendly staff. A small town bar at its finest. And did I mention they serve burgers?

Let’s face it, the reason you come to King’s Place is to have a burger, and that is what the menu is all about. I didn’t total them up, but it appeared that there were close to a couple dozen options to choose from, all with different toppings and condiments (make that upwards of four dozen if you count the option of 1/4 lb. vs. 1/2 lb.!). All of the burgers were named after terminology from the game of chess or (perhaps not so surprising) baseball!

Since I was in Mudhen territory, I selected the “Mudhen Burger,” 1/4 lb. size, which was topped with bacon, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and I added chopped raw onions to the mix as well. I also ordered fries on the side, and a diet Coke.

The “Mudhen Burger” at King’s Place

The burger was clearly hand-formed, nicely charred, and delightfully pink and juicy on the inside. An excellent fresh “beefy” flavor, too. Crispy bacon, creamy Swiss cheese, and raw onions were all excellent accompaniments, and I loved the kraut on the burger as well. This was great stuff! The burger tasted homemade, as a good burger should. Throw in an ample portion of shoestring fries on the side, and you have a wonderful lunch.

The prices at King’s Place are ridiculously cheap. My Mudhen Burger with an upgrade to fries was only $5.75. Throw in the diet Coke with some tax and my bill came to a mere $7.83! In this day an age, these prices don’t seem possible. Yet they are. King's Place offers one of the better values I have encountered in my various quests for burger greatness.

A trip to the Hastings area is worth your your time. It is very close to the Twin Cities. The upper Mississippi River valley is quite beautiful. Stop in at the Alexis Bailly Vineyard outside of Hasting and sample some delicious Minnesota wine (believe me, they produce fantastic local wines with some unique grapes). And since you are in the area, I would highly encourage you to swing down to Miesville for a burger at King’s Place.

And if you are there in the summer, take in a Mudhens game, too!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Ragu of Pork Shoulder

After seeing this recipe, I was inspired to try something similar.

I loved the idea of using fennel in a ragu (both fresh fennel bulb and fennel seeds), but I didn’t want to mess around with the pork spareribs. Instead, I bought a pork shoulder and borrowed a few ideas from the recipe to make something on my own.

Here is what I came up with, a ragu of pork shoulder. The shredded pork is very tasty with a wonderful texture, and the fresh fennel and fennel seed add an interesting and delicious flavor. It is even better the next day.

Ragu of Pork Shoulder

-2 T. extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and pepper
-2 lb. pork shoulder
-2 carrots, diced
-2 stalks of celery, diced
-1 small fennel bulb, diced
-1 small yellow onion, diced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 t. fennel seeds
-1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes
-2 T. tomato paste
-1 c. dry red wine
-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
-1 11.5 oz can V-8 vegetable juice
-1 t. Italian seasoning
-8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
-A few leaves of fresh basil, torn
-1 lb. short, tubular pasta
-Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sprinkle Salt and pepper on the pork shoulder and add to the Dutch oven. Sear on all sides until nicely browned. Transfer the pork to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the carrots, celery, fennel bulb, and onion. Sauté the vegetables until slightly softened (perhaps 10 minutes), stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits in the pan. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper and allow to cook for a minute until fragrant.

Add the tomato paste and stir to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the red wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes, V-8, Italian seasoning, and return the pork to the Dutch oven. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer. Add the sliced mushrooms and give it a good stir to incorporate the ingredients.

After 2 hours, the pork should be very tender. Carefully remove the pork to a large cutting board and allow to cool slightly. Skim the surface of the sauce to remove excess fat. When cool enough to handle, shred the pork meat with a fork, discarding any remaining fat. Return the meat to the Dutch oven and allow to heat through. Add the fresh basil at the last minute before serving.

Serve over your favorite short, tubular pasta; penne, mostaccioli, ziti, or as I used here, whole wheat gobbetti. Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over this, too!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - The Drive In Restaurant

One of the great things about this time of year in Minnesota is that the handful of drive in restaurants we have in this state are now open for the summer season. Today I took a short road trip to partake in one of them.

The Drive In Restaurant
572 Bench St.
Taylors Falls, MN

The town of Taylors Falls, MN is located about 40 miles or so northeast in the Twin Cities and is nestled along the St. Croix River. It is a gorgeous area. And they are lucky enough to have a drive in restaurant that still has carhops in poodle skirts, and still serves root beer in a frosty mug.

The Drive In Restaurant is hard to miss. Just look for the giant, spinning, mug of Frostop root beer! This is an honest-to-goodness, authentic drive in that serves a number of burgers, sandwiches, fries, onion rings, desserts, and the like. It simply oozes nostalgia, and not at all in a phony way. And judging by the number of people dining here this Saturday, the Drive In is quite popular.

My carhop (friendly, attentive, and most pleasant) took my order. I selected the “Drive In Burger” basket; a 1/3 pound patty with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, with both American and Swiss cheese.

The “Drive In Burger” at the Drive In Restaurant

The burger was marvelous. It was a thinner patty that had an excellent char on the outside, and it was still very moist. There was almost a little bit of crunch when you bit into it. All of the ingredients were nice and fresh. Cool lettuce, juicy slices of tomato, and crunchy pickles mingled beautifully with the melted cheeses and condiments. I absolutely loved this burger.

With the burger basket comes a side of crinkle-cut fries, a style which I like very much. They were crispy and delicious, and with my burger sitting on top of them, they soaked up some of the juices and condiments that ran off (yum!).

Dining here at the Drive In is a great value, too. The burger basket was all of $6.94, a small price for such wonderful quality. Add a large diet Coke and some tax, and the total bill came to $9.19.

I am beginning to think that all burgers should be eaten in cars and served to you by carhops in poodle skirts. There is just something about eating at a drive in. It brings back memories of a different time when fast food simply meant good food fast. You can enjoy a beautiful summer day and take in the very social and festive setting that a drive in offers. And you get to dribble juices from your burger all over your driver side window (which I did, thank you very much!).

And if you live near, or are traveling through, Taylors Falls, you too can have this experience at the Drive In Restaurant.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gordy's revisited

While driving back to the Twin Cities from Duluth, I realized that, with the summer season essentially upeon us, it was time to take a detour for lunch and head into Cloquet, MN.

Gordy’s Hi-Hat is open again. (And there was much rejoicing!)

My bacon cheeseburger and fries at Gordy’s Hi-Hat

I had previously written about Gordy’s, a seasonal operation that is only open during Minnesota's milder months, so I need not go into great detail. But I will say my bacon cheeseburger was awesome. Fresh, well-seasoned, and tasted incredibly homemade. It was dressed with a little mayo and ketchup, and topped off with a creamy melted Ameroican cheese, bacon, and pickles. This is everything a fast food burger should be. And the fries rock. These skinny, crispy little gems are a delight.

Gordy's is yet another reason that I love summer! :)

Wild Onion

This past weekend I was in Grand Marais, MN and got a chance to dine at a new restaurant in town.

Wild Onion Cafe
207 Wisconsin St.
Grand Marais, MN

The Wild Onion Cafe just opened on May 7th of this year. It is located in downtown Grand Marais in the Harbor Inn Motel and has a fantastic view of the harbor.

The menu is very creative and exhibits a great sense of humor, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner items available, depending upon the time of day. I was there for lunch, and they had numerous sandwich offerings that are familiar, but with a creative twist. There were things like a venison burger, a “BLT” with shaved Kobe beef, a smoked turkey sandwich on cranberry bread (cleverly named “11-25-07,” the day after Thanksgiving!), and a pulled barbecue chicken sandwich, to name a few.

I ordered their Rueben, which was corned beef with Swiss cheese, sweet and sour kraut, and a homemade Russian dressing.

The Rueben at the Wild Onion Cafe

Served on a delicious toasted caraway rye bread, the sandwich was excellent. The ingredients were top notch and very fresh, with a generous amount of corned beef, and was perfectly balanced with the cheese, kraut, and the zippy, sweet Russian dressing. Yum!

Homemade rosemary potato chips accompanied the Rueben, and they were absolutely wonderful. Think of the best kettle chip you have ever had lightly kissed with fresh rosemary. Outstanding. I wish I could buy bags of these chips.

When in Grand Marais looking for a meal that offers a new twist on some old favorites, stop in at the Wild Onion Cafe. Enjoy the beautiful view, along with some very well prepared and delicious food.