Saturday, March 31, 2007

Road Food Pursuits - The Freight House

What a dreary day. It has been raining since Friday, making it difficult to enjoy any outdoor activities. Going to lunch seemed like a good enough excuse to get out of the house, so I ventured over to Stillwater to dine at an historic restaurant.

The Freight House
305 S. Water St.
Stillwater, MN

In the heart of downtown Stillwater, you will find The Freight House, an old railroad freight depot that has since been converted into a restaurant.

In the late 1800’s, Stillwater was a major hub of commerce in Minnesota. The Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Freight House was built in 1883 to serve the need for a railroad depot. While operations ceased and the building was sold in 1970, in 1977 it became Stillwater’s first building to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, The Freight House serves a variety of hearty American fare, including sandwiches, burgers, salads, and assorted entrees. The inside of the restaurant is beautiful, and you immediately know you are in a unique place. Vaulted ceilings, old brick walls, huge wooden beams, and a dark wooden floor. It is decorated with pictures of old Stillwater. Really, a very charming building.

I ordered myself a burger, specifically their bleu cheese bacon burger (their online menu and prices are a bit outdated, so you won’t see this item on the web site). I also upgraded to the fries instead of chips.

The Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger at The Freight House

The burger had a really nice char on the outside, A great job of grilling by the chef, and it still remained pink on the inside, but still cooked through. I am beginning to think the bleu cheese might be my favorite burger topping. The sharp flavor and creamy texture mingles so beautifully with grilled meat! Also topped with crumbled bacon and grilled onions, this made for a darn good hamburger.

The fries were of the skin-on variety, and they were generously coated with a delicious seasoned salt. This is one of the first places I have been to that uses a seasoned salt of their fries, which was a nice touch. And they were tasty and crispy, as fries should be.

The burger was $8.95, and the upgrade to fries was $1.50, so before you order your drink, you are already in for ten and a half bucks. Certainly not the greatest value I have encountered. But that was my only quibble. The meal and the service were both very good!

When in Stillwater searching for good eats, you have many choices. The Freight House is most certainly one of them where you will not only be able to whet your appetite, but you can also soak in some Minnesota history as well.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The first pizza of spring

Tonight's pizza turned out pretty nice.

The ingredients consisted of Nueske's Canadian bacon, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh asparagus, and some fresh mozzarella with a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Really tasty! I particularly like the way the asparagus turns out. The high heat roasts it, so it gets heated through, but still retains a crisp and fresh texture.

Not a bad way to welcome the arrival of spring!

Road Food Pursuits - The Lookout Bar & Grill

Let’s take a step back in time.

When I was a youngster growing up in central Minnesota, I was weaned on the small mom & pop restaurants that had a sort of “north woods” feel to them. Decorated in knotty pine and filled with locals, you could go there for good burgers, sandwiches, or Broaster chicken. They were never pretentious, always friendly, and the food was tasty and reasonably priced.

Today I found such a place located right in the middle of a Twin Cities suburb.

The Lookout Bar & Grill
8672 Pineview Lane North
Maple Grove, MN

The Lookout Bar & Grill seems out of place. You will find it on a hilltop in Maple Grove, and it is completely surrounded by housing developments. You almost wonder how it got there.

Truth is, The Lookout was there long before anyone else! It just so happened that the Twin Cities closed in on them. Opened in 1958, this family-owned bar and restaurant has been serving what is now the northwest suburbs for decades.

In addition to the bar and restaurant, they also offer offsite catering, as well as a private dining room for various receptions. The bar and restaurant area is beautifully decorated with knotty pine, which is what made me think of all those old joints back home. A really a cozy and warming environment, filled with friendly locals and cheerful servers.

The menu is huge. Appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, entrees, and even the famous Broaster chicken that I remember from my youth!

While the Broaster chicken was tempting, I opted for the “Shroom Swissburger,” a half-pound burger topped with sautéed mushrooms and Swiss cheese. This comes with cole slaw and your choice of fries, mashed potatoes, JoJo potatoes, or potato salad. I chose fries.

The “Shroom Swissburger” at The Lookout Bar & Grill

The burger is enormous. Since I started doing these pursuits, this is the largest burger I have encountered. It truly takes two hands to eat it! The flavor was great. Nicely charred exterior, juicy on the inside, topped with a mound of mushrooms and creamy Swiss cheese on a lightly toasted bun. What is not to like here?

The fries were actually seasoned fries, kind of like those seasoned waffle fries you see at some places. They were crisp, hot, and tasty. Couple that with some cool, homemade cole slaw, and I had a great meal (even though I am embarrassed to say I couldn’t finish my burger because it was so huge!).

The price? A ridiculous $7.49 for the burger, fries, and slaw! Are you kidding me? That has to be the bargain of the century. If you are a fan of giant, high-quality hamburgers, this is perhaps one of the best values going in the Twin Cities.

If you are in the area looking for a bite to eat, I would highly recommend stopping in at The Lookout Bar & Grill, a landmark restaurant in the northwest suburbs. I will be going back sometime for the Broaster chicken, that is for sure! :)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More fun with Giada's recipes

My Mom e-mailed me this recipe recently, so tonight I put it to good use. She tried it last week and said it was great. The recipe was for Giada’s De Laurentiis’ Fusilli with Sausage, Artichokes, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes.

I pretty much followed the ingredients to the letter, except that I used mild Italian sausage instead of hot, I used canned artichokes instead of frozen and simply added them at the last minute, and I did add the optional fresh mozzarella.

This was a very good and somewhat lighter pasta dish. Lots of bright, refreshing ingredients, quite colorful, and I would recommend adding the fresh mozzarella. I love the stringy, creamy bits of cheese, and it really helps to tighten up the sauce as well.

Good stuff. Giada has some great recipes, and I will be making this one again!

Road Food Pursuits - Snuffy’s Malt Shop

The old-fashioned hamburger and malt shops are really a thing of the past. Sure, you occasionally see 50’s themed restaurants popping up, but they always feel a little phony. And in today’s homogenous fast food culture, it is getting harder and harder to find places where you can grab a good burger and enjoy an authentic, homemade malt.

Today I found such a place that is keeping the burger and malt shop alive and well.

Snuffy’s Malt Shop
1125 Larpenteur Ave W
Roseville, MN

Snuffy’s Malt Shop is an old-fashioned burger joint and malt shop with four locations throughout the metro area, including Highland Park, Minnetonka, Edina, and the location I visited, Roseville.

I am unable to confirm for certain, but I read on the internet that at least one of Snuffy’s locations has been around since the 50’s. They have received numerous accolades and awards for their burgers, shakes, and kid-friendly atmosphere.

The menu is as you would expect; plenty of reasonably priced burgers, sandwiches, and ice cream treats. Wow, when is the last time you have seen real sodas and phosphates on a menu? Walking into Snuffy’s is like taking a wonderful step back in time.

I opted for the “Snuffy Burger.” A single burger patty with lettuce, tomato, pickles, bacon, and your choice of American, Swiss, or cheddar cheese (I chose Swiss). Fries and a diet Coke completed my order.

The “Snuffy Burger”

The burger consisted of a thinner style patty, kind of like you would see at the fast food joints, except it was light years better. The beef remained quite juicy (hard to do with a thin burger) and fresh tasting. The crisp bacon and cool veggie toppings on a fluffy, soft bun rounded things out nicely. A delicious hamburger.

Good fries, too. I am always happy to see the skin of the potato on my fries, and they were crisp, tasty, and perfectly portioned for my taste. I left feeling satisfied, but not stuffed.

The service was friendly and fast. I had my order in less than 10 minutes. One of the cooks from the kitchen even stopped by my table to ask me how my meal was. When I told him, “excellent,” he responded with, “All right! We aim to be the best!” That was neat. Clearly, they take pride in their work here at Snuffy’s.

My bill before tip came to a modest $9.53. A very reasonable price for a quality meal like this.

No ice cream or soda fountain treats on this trip, but I will be returning once the summer rolls around! Snuffy's rules.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pollo alla Cacciatora

By now everyone who cooks Italian knows that the word cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. So pollo alla cacciatora is supposedly a dish that a hunter’s wife would prepare for the boys after their hunt.

Why this dish is associated with hunters, however, has always confused me. If the hunters were any good, wouldn’t you see this prepared with pheasant or game? Why is chicken so famous, unless the boys are consistently getting skunked in the field? :) Oh well, who cares? It is still a great meal!

The weekend I decided I wanted to make some of my own chicken cacciatora, a dish I have not made in many years. I was inspired by the recipe in Jamie Oliver’s beautiful ”Jamie’s Italy” cookbook. My recipe was largely improvised and in the end only bears a few similarities to his.

Jamie’s recipe uses whole chicken pieces and red wine. I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs and white wine. Jamie serves this along side beans. I wanted to serve it over pasta. I also added mushrooms to mine.

The local Kowalski’s Market has a great olive bar, so I was able to get some fantastic mixed olives for this dish.

This is a really tasty and rustic dish. It also makes for great leftovers, and the sauce freezes very well.

Pollo alla Cacciatora

For the Chicken

-2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
-1 spring fresh rosemary, chopped
-1 T. fresh thyme, chopped
-2 bay leaves
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-Fresh black pepper
-2 T. extra virgin olive oil

Cut the chicken thighs into large pieces. Toss the chicken and the remaining ingredients into a ziplock bag and refrigerate overnight.

For the Sauce

-Extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and pepper
-6 cloves garlic
-1 T. tomato paste
-1/2 bottle of white wine
-1 28 oz can whole Italian tomatoes, broken up
-3 bay leaves
-Additional fresh rosemary & thyme
-1 8 oz. package crimini mushrooms, sliced
-1 cup mixed, pitted olives
-Pasta or rice for serving

Remove the chicken from the ziplock bag and discard the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Brown the chicken pieces (in batches to prevent overcrowding) and set aside.

Add the garlic and allow to cook for a minute of so. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pot to release all those delicious brown bits. Return the chicken to the pot, add the tomatoes, bay leaves,and perhaps a sprig of rosemary and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.

Once simmering, add the mushrooms and olives. Allow to cook, uncovered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the chicken is tender and the sauce is slightly reduced. Occasionally skim the surface to remove additional fat. Add some extra chopped rosemary and thyme right at the end if you would like a fresh flavor boost! Discard the bay leaves, as well as the thyme and rosemary sprigs. Serve over pasta or rice.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Winter storm pizza

In the midst of the biggest winter storm of the season here in Minnesota, I made myself a nice pizza for dinner.

Tonight is was a combination of pepperoni, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, chopped black olives, and fresh basil, with mozzarella, Swiss, and aged provolone. It was delicious to eat while I watched the horizontal snow fly past my window! :)