From Lent-inspired fish sandwiches to a once-a-year indulgence, here’s a rundown of my dining diary’s greatest hits from the past seven days. What were your top eats of the week? Share the details in the comments section.
Sweet Thang Fish Sammich at World Street Kitchen
With Lent comes fish fry. I recently compiled a list of 16 Twin Cities restaurant versions, and the Catholic Spirit helpfully chronicles 93 metro area (and beyond) no-meat suggestions at churches and Knights of Columbus locations. For those who prefer to rely upon the ease and affordability of the fried fish sandwich, this is probably my new local go-to ($10.75). At its center is a preposterously generous, spear-like slab of mild, beer-battered tilapia – the contrast between crisp, golden battered coating and tender, white, steaming fish is spot-on – and it’s served in a first-rate bun that gets the buttered-and-toasted treatment. Instead of a sweet tartar sauce, chef/co-owner Sameh Wadi swerves in the opposite direction, inserting some much-needed heat into the proceedings. He breaks down – and then ramps up -- all of the flavors of classic Old Bay seasoning – and uses them as a basis for a house-made mayonnaise that he’s dubbed “New Bay.” A side salad-like amount of shredded iceberg lettuce inserts a cool, crunchy note, and for added texture Wadi tosses in super-thin, super-crisp and super-salty (in a good way) potato chips. “I love fish sandwiches!” said Wadi. “When we opened World Street Kitchen, [chef de cuisine] Matt Eisele and I wanted to make a down-and-dirty version and wanted it to be bold flavored, but not with strong fish flavor. New Bay is a favorite of mine, so it was a starting point, then lettuce and homemade crispy kettle-style chips made sense.” Agreed. Stop by during happy hour (3 to 5 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m.), when the bar knocks $2 off tap beers and $3 off house wines. 2743 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-424-8855
Fish burger at My Burger
My digestive tract still protests the indignity it suffered during the afternoons I devoted to sampling nine fast-food fish sandwiches for a best-to-worst rundown (find the 2019 version here). I’m not repeating that perilous duty in 2020, but for this Lenten season I’ll continue to heartily endorse my No. 1 pick from the previous two years, which remains a fast-food fish sandwich role model ($7.75, and $6.75 on Friday during Lent). The type of fish isn’t specified, but it’s a substantial squared-off portion that sports a notably appealing contrast between interior (snowy-white and flaky) and exterior (a browned, splendidly crunchy coating). The bun teeters toward the generic, but it’s redeemed by a swipe of honest-to-goodness butter before it gets a warm, golden toast. The straightforward garnishes stick to a generous handful of chopped iceberg lettuce and the sandwich’s one true demerit, a snoozer of a tartar sauce. Riddle me this: the house pickles here are delicious; would financial ruination rain down if some were chopped and added to this dull-as-dishwater mayo that’s masquerading as tartar sauce? As for the price ($7.75), it’s higher than average because it includes a heaping handful of (pretty great) French fries. This 16-year-old homegrown chain now operates seven Twin Cities locations, including 1330 Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata, 952-476-2319
King crab stuffed French omelet at Grand Cafe
The James Beard award semifinalists were announced on Wednesday. As always, Minnesota chefs and restaurants were showered with recognition, including Grand Cafe chef/owner Jamie Malone, who is in the running for Best Chef: Midwest honors. As well she should be. I mean, just one look – and one taste – of this extraordinary omelet should be enough to earn Malone a berth on this list of high achievers. Despite its $35 price tag (which sounds outrageous but so isn’t), it’s an impressive display of economy, technical agility, culinary artistry and unabashed decadence. The cool sweetness of the tender crab is a fine foil for the over-the-top richness of the butter sauce, and Mary Cassatt herself couldn’t have better matched the butter’s intense burst-of-sunshine color with the omelet’s rich, golden hue. It’s one of the Twin Cities’ great dishes. 3804 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-8260
Hummus at Just/Us
Now ensconced in a Lowertown space directly across from the St. Paul Farmers Market, this intriguing restaurant is clearly catering to the residents of its new neighborhood by serving an eclectic menu – sweet tea-brined chicken with collard greens, a half-dozen novelty burgers, grilled pineapple-enriched guacamole – at neighborhood-friendly prices. Of special note is the emphasis on vegetarian (and occasionally vegan) options. I loved the hummus: it’s dense but still spreadable (across thick slices of grilled sourdough bread), and topped with compare-contrast garnishes that include brown butter, tangy/sweet pickled golden raisins and crunchy, well-seasoned fried chickpeas. 275 E. 4th St., St. Paul, 651-424-1080
Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts
For some, it’s Do-Si-Dos, for others, it’s Samoas. My cravings reliably zoom toward the combination of mint and chocolate with the intensity of a heat-seeking missile (I firmly believe that Pearson’s Mint Patties rank as one of the greatest candies ever made), which is why my waistline is grateful that Thin Mints are a brief once-a-year phenomenon. My favorite part of a recent transaction was the conversation I shared with an extremely outgoing Girl Scout/future hedge fund shark. When I told her that I’d be back in a moment – I was headed to a nearby ATM to pick up cash for the purchase – she didn’t skip a beat. “We accept credit cards,” she said, holding out her hand. Sold. Try as I might, my Thin Mints stash has a relatively short shelf life (is there a cookie that freezes better?), which is why I have found myself turning to a bake-at-home replication. Verdict? Not bad. Not the can’t-eat-just-one quality of the real thing, but not bad, and relatively easy to make. A final note: the Girl Scouts website offers all kinds of recipe ideas that incorporate their cookies. I’ll definitely be making Mile-High Peppermint Pie, because it merges three of my obsessions: Thin Mints, ice cream pie and meringue. It does require, however, hanging onto a box of Thin Mints until it can be prepared. Easier said than done.