From shakshuka to strawberry ice cream, here' s a rundown of my dining diary for the past seven days. What were your top eats of the week? Share the details in the comments section.
Dutch baby at Eastside
When chef Ryan Cook spied a Dutch baby on the internet, he was instantly smitten. “I had to figure out how to make it,” he said. And when he did? “Wow,” he said. Agreed. (Want to make it at home? Find a great recipe here). This delectable cross between a popover and a pancake ($10) is clearly trending on discerning Twin Cities brunch menus (I raved about the In Bloom iteration in October) and that’s fine with Cook. “Why not?” he said. “They’re so great.” They certainly are under his watch. He adds blueberries to the batter, a nod to when he was a kid and toasting frozen store-bought waffles studded with blueberries. At Eastside, the beautiful Dutch babies are served with maple syrup and a side of vanilla ice cream. “I spoon it on like butter,” said Cook. “It’s over the top. It’s fun.” It’s also delicious. 305 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-208-1638
Pasteis de Nata at Estelle
There are so many reasons to pile on the admiration for this dessert. The size is just right: a few bites, and you’re out; isn’t that an ideal post-meal sweet? The price hits the sweet spot, too: $3. This Portuguese staple is the handiwork of chef de cuisine Nathel Anderson, and her tenure at top-rated Patisserie 46 shines through in those abbreviated bites. The formula isn’t complicated, just puff pastry and a cinnamon- and vanilla-scented egg custard; sometimes simple really does win the race. They’re baked just before the restaurant opens, and warmed in a convection oven just prior to arriving at the table. The contrast in textures is a total treat, with the flaky, crisped-up puff pastry yielding to soft, rich custard. Anderson prepares the puff pastry on the premises -- just one of many handmade efforts that make this St. Paul newcomer stand out -- and her prodigious skills are readily apparent. “I’m obsessed with it,” said chef/co-owner Jason Hansen. “For a while I was eating two of them a day, and I had to stop because I was gaining weight.” 1806 St. Clair Av., St. Paul, 651-330-9648
Shakshuka at the Lynhall
Whenever I see this North African-Middle Eastern staple on a menu, I order it. It’s basically eggs simmered in a well-seasoned red pepper-tomato sauce, but variations abound. Chef Kristin Tyborksi's version at this great-looking counter-service spot ($11) is intriguing. The sauce is tomato-roasted eggplant, the eggs are scrambled rather than cooked in the sauce, and there are (welcome) pops of creamy avocado. The whole hearty, colorful shebang is vegetarian and gluten-free. Sides include a mixed-greens salad that actually tastes like something, and a stack of chickpea-based fries. (For an impressive and easy-to-prepare version. go here). 2640 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-870-2640
Kringle at Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery
After reading a recent Taste story by yours truly on a bake-at-home version of this Danish classic, Star Tribune reader Ilsa Andersen was kind enough to clue me into her local source. “If you want to see real kringle, go to Denny’s,” she wrote. I did, and I was impressed. This made-in-Minnesota kringle is lighter and more delicate ($9.89) than its dense, heavily layered counterparts found in the nation's kringle capital, Racine, Wis. The Denny's version is also far less sugary; instead of the thick, standard-issue swoop of icing, the top was decorated with an abundance of toasted sliced almonds and twinkled with sugar, and the almond paste filling was sweet but not toothache-inducing. (If only the Denny’s kringle-making crew would nix the shortening and margarine and reach for butter instead). It’s pretty, too: Denny’s kringle is baked in the traditional kringle pretzel-like shape, which is far more elegant than the racetrack oval of a typical Racine-made kringle. Thanks, Ms. Andersen. I appreciate the tip. 7840 5th Av. S., Bloomington, 952-881-4445
Strawberry ice cream at Pumphouse Creamery
Chalk up this week’s sugarfest to a lingering case of the winter blahs. Despite the recent sunny weather, or maybe because of it, I’ve been craving a taste of summer; that explains the story in this week’s Taste on frozen peas. I’m also a firm believer in wintertime ice cream consumption, which is why I found myself at Pumphouse Creamery. I was confident that owner Barb Zapzalka would have some kind of warm-weather love letter in her scoop case, and my instincts were right. Her rendition of strawberry ice cream (single scoop: $4, double scoop $6.50) was right on the money, radiating the much-missed essence of peak berry season flavor. Even the color – a cheery pink, streaked with bits of deep red berries – was a mood elevator. Zapzalka wisely taps into a network of southeastern Minnesota strawberry growers, and 17 years of hands-on experience has given her the know-how to skillfully preserve every molecule of just-picked berry flavor. Her tiny shop is a glowing endorsement of the benefits of supporting local agricultural: Zapzalka uses premium milk and cream from Autumnwood Farm in Forest Lake, and meticulously fashions her own crunchy, slightly nutty waffle cones with organic, Minnesota-milled whole-wheat flour that’s fortified with flax seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Hey, I just realized: Zapzalka could have some of her signature fresh rhubarb ice cream on hand in less than three months. Winter suddenly seems a lot more doable. 4754 Chicago Av. S., Mpls.