5 of the most reader-requested recipes from beloved Twin Cities restaurants

Tracking down restaurant secrets was a Taste staple for more than three decades.

Recipes from the Magic Pan were often requested. Bill Wagner cooked crêpes at the Minneapolis location of the popular chain.
Recipes from the Magic Pan were often requested. Bill Wagner cooked crêpes at the Minneapolis location of the popular chain.

— Star Tribune File

About a year after the section’s debut, a new column appeared in Taste, one designed to tap into readers’ burgeoning interest in the local dining scene.

“This week Taste begins a monthly feature in which readers write in requesting recipes for their favorite restaurant dishes,” wrote Beverly Kees, the section’s first editor. “If the restaurants are willing to part with them, Taste will print them.”

And publish them it did, by the thousands.

First called “Menus,” then “From the Chef,” then “Requests,” and finally “Restaurant Requests,” the conversational column proved to be an instant hit with readers, who loved its insider glimpse into the restaurant industry’s exotic world. It quickly expanded from a one-recipe-a-month schedule into a several-recipes-a-week format.

The entries from the early 1970s hit every marquee name Twin Cities restaurant: beef tartare at the Rosewood Room, tomato soup at Camelot, beef stroganoff at Eddie Webster’s, fettuccine Alfredo at the Blue Horse, yakitori sauce at Fuji Ya, au gratin potatoes at the Parker House, lobster Newberg at the Hopkins House, beer-cheese soup at the Leamington Hotel’s Norse Room and pressed Mandarin duck at David Fong’s.

Some inquiries were politely declined. The clam chowder and French dressing recipes at Jax Cafe were “closely guarded secrets,” the garlic toast at Murray’s was “a house secret” and the hot fudge sauce at Bridgeman’s was “something we had for many, many years and we don’t give out the formula.”

Fortunately for Taste editors and readers, most restaurants happily obliged. When a reader asked for the particulars behind the sour cream-raisin meringue pie at the North Shore Grill at Donaldson’s, Amy Herman, director of the department store’s restaurant division, said that she was pleased to share the details. “We consider it a compliment from our customers,” she said.

Many entries revealed that restaurants weren’t exactly cooking from scratch. Witness the hamburger sauce at Embers restaurants, a mix of ketchup, Open Pit brand barbecue sauce and water. Or “Fondue à la Greager” at Diamond Jim’s, which relied upon a Velveeta/Cheez Whiz combination.

Others didn’t bother with home-cooking mathematics. A French dressing recipe from Elsie’s in northeast Minneapolis called for 1 gallon plus 1 quart salad oil, 10 pounds of sugar and about 5 gallons of ketchup. The yield? Eight-and-a-half gallons of dressing.

Readers quickly began to request recipes from out-of-town restaurants: a lemon chess pie encountered at the Harvest House cafeteria at the Woolworth Co. store in Columbus, Ga.; cannelloni at Mario’s in Denver; “Steak Bora Bora” at Don the Beachcomber’s in San Diego.

“Over time it developed into an interesting status thing,” recalled Kees in a 2004 interview. “We’d start getting letters like, ‘When I was recently in Indonesia and was shopping in an outdoor market,’ that kind of thing. And honest to God, we tried to track them all down. It was fun detective work for us.”

The column grew into the longest-running feature in Taste history, publishing for 30 years. The end came for several reasons.

“More and more restaurants were unwilling to share their recipes,” said editor Lee Svitak Dean. “And as restaurant menus became more sophisticated, the recipes were often difficult to make practical for home cooks.”

Shrimp Bonaparte Crêpe

Makes 6 crêpes.
Note: The headline read, “At long last!” The recipe did represent something of a Restaurant Requests column breakthrough. “Time and again, Taste readers have requested recipes for the main-course crêpes at the Magic Pan restaurants,” read the 1980 story. “But the only recipe available, the chain’s management said, was for the strawberry dessert crêpes. Now, as part of a promotion, the recipe for the shrimp and spinach crêpe has been released.”
  • 1 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen spinach, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. snipped chives
  • 1 tsp. seasoned salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 oz. small shrimp, cooked and shelled
  • 6 baked crêpes (see recipe)
  • 1/2 c. sliced and toasted almonds
Directions
Cook spinach as package directs; drain and squeeze out excess liquid. Set aside. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk, sherry, lemon juice and tomato paste. Add chives, seasoned salt, nutmeg and pepper. Cook and stir about 5 minutes, or until smooth and thickened. Remove 2/3 cup of mixture and reserve. Stir spinach and shrimp into larger portion of sauce. Reduce heat and cook until heated through, stirring often.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a crêpe on the prepared baking sheet and spoon 1/2 cup hot spinach mixture across center of each crêpe. Fold sides over to enclose filling. Repeat with remaining crêpes. Bake until edges of crêpes begin to curl, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat reserved sauce, mixing in a small amount of milk to thin, if needed. With a large spatula, transfer crêpes to individual heated serving plates; pour sauce over center of each. Sprinkle with almonds and garnish with parsley sprigs.

Magic Pan Basic Crêpes

Makes 12 to 14 crêpes, 6 inches in diameter.
Note: This batter must be prepared in advance. “A batch of crêpes in the freezer is like money in the bank because the thin pancakes are the basis of so many economical yet elegant dishes,” reads a 1979 Taste story that republished this “simple, egg-rich” recipe.
  • 1 c. flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. melted butter or oil, for pan
Directions
In a medium bowl, whisk flour and salt together. Add eggs and whisk together thoroughly; the mixture will form a thick paste. Gradually add milk and whisk thoroughly until the mixture is smooth. The batter will have the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before using.
When ready to cook, brush a hot 6-inch crêpe pan with butter or oil. Pour in about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons batter, depending upon the size of the pan. Tip pan to coat it with a thin layer of batter.
When crêpe is golden brown, about 1 minute, turn it and brown the other side. Continue cooking crêpes, adding butter or oil to pan as needed.

Beer-Cheese Soup

Serves 6.
Note: Beer-cheese soup was a popular request, with several dozen iterations published over the years. This version, from Jax Cafe in northeast Minneapolis, was published in 1979.
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped carrots
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped onions
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) melted butter
  • 1/2 c. beer or ale
  • 1/2 lb. shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
Directions
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, combine celery, carrots, onions and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and cook until vegetables are nearly tender. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and melted butter to make a roux; whisk into broth to thicken it. Reduce heat to low and add beer, cheese, pepper and seasoned salt, stirring until cheese melts and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Minnesota Alumni Cracker Pie

Serves 8 to 10.
Note: Adapted from the University of Minnesota Alumni Club in the IDS Tower and published in 1978.
  • Butter for pie pan
  • 1 1/2 c. egg whites (about 10 eggs)
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. Ritz-style cracker crumbs
  • 1 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Freshly whipped cream for garnish
Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a deep 10-inch pie pan and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on medium-high speed, whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry. Fold in cracker crumbs, walnuts, baking powder and vanilla extract. Spread mixture into prepared pan (batter will be high but will settle after baking) and bake until top is lightly browned and starting to crack, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Garnish with whipped cream and serve.

Fitger’s Black Bean Vegetarian Chili

Serves 8.
Note: Published in 2001, this was the last recipe to appear in the long-running Restaurant Requests column. From Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth.
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 c. finely chopped onion
  • 3/4 c. chopped celery
  • 1 c. chopped green pepper
  • 1 c. chopped carrots
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 c. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 to 2 tbsp. chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 3 c. cooked black beans (or canned, with liquid)
  • 3/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1/4 c. red wine
  • 2 c. water
Directions
Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, celery, green peppers, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, cumin, basil, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper, and sauté for two minutes. Add tomatoes and juice, beans, Tabasco, tomato paste, wine and water and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.