From hot chicken to smoked salmon, here’s a rundown of our dining diaries’ greatest hits over the past seven days. What were your top eats of the week? Share the details in the comments section.
Cajun Finn at Northern Waters Smokehaus
Not from the Twin Cities, except in my dreams. I stopped by the must-visit Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth this past weekend to pick up lunch en route to a North Shore hike. The smoked-everything shop is closed to customers due to coronavirus — understandable, since the tiny space is usually packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Luckily, it has added online ordering for no-contact pickup on the deck out back, a convenience I hope sticks around. Still, getting my sandwich wasn’t smooth sailing. The colossal lunch rush set my order back 2 hours. I could have canceled it and found something elsewhere, by truthfully, the hike was less important to me than the Cajun Finn. Rosy chunks of Cajun smoked salmon layered with scallion cream cheese, pepperoncini, roasted peppers and mixed greens inside a crisp ciabatta is all I ever want from a trip Up North. I held out till Gooseberry Falls before wolfing it down. The hike would have to wait for another day. (Sharyn Jackson)
394 S. Lake Av., Duluth, 218-724-7307. Curbside pickup, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Smoked Wings at Smoke in the Pit
Visitors to the closed streets near the intersection of 38th and Chicago might notice a big barrel of a smoker parked in front of Smoke in the Pit. That belongs to Dwight Alexander, the restaurant’s co-owner. Last Friday, I saw him loading about 200 chicken wings onto a grate inside the massive thing, only a fraction of the 1,200 or so he’d make that day. Some wings — his restaurant’s specialty — would be sold from his storefront window. Others, Alexander offered for free to hundreds of people there to pay respects to George Floyd, who was killed only a few doors down. It was Alexander’s first day doing the cooking out front; he usually keeps this 15-year-old smoker — the one that built his business — behind the building. But with all the new foot traffic and people to feed, “I wanted them to see the original,” he said. Cooking for the crowds of visitors, “it’s been a joy for me,” he said. “This is what I love doing.” And, “they forget about the sadness for 5 minutes when they eat this food.”
Only the lunch menu was available when I was there, so I got a brisket sandwich and, of course, those deep bronze wings. I’ll be back to buy both of those mouthwatering meats by the pound. The meals came with piles of ultra-crispy fries, and add-ons of vegetarian collard greens and peppery coleslaw were perfectly zippy companions to the fall-off-the-bone chicken and fork-tender brisket.
Alexander says he’s “blessed” to be on that street, in a building he’s cooked from for 7 years, now only steps from the epicenter of a global movement toward racial justice. “This,” he said, “is anointed ground.” (S.J.)
3733 Chicago Av. S., Mpls., 612-315-3145. Curbside pickup and delivery, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“Sammich” at Nashville Coop
After surveying the prospects of the 2020 food truck landscape, the ownership behind the popular Alimama’s Sambusa Mediterranean Grill decided to pivot their business in a different direction.
“Downtown just didn’t look feasible,” said Mohamed Omer, and he’s right: the noon-hour crowds that once clustered along 2nd Avenue have evaporated during the coronavirus pandemic.
Enter fried chicken. Fusing the spiced-up Nashville Hot fried chicken style with the flavor traditions of his own Ethiopian background, Omer & Co. have come up with a doozy of a sandwich. Two trucks have been converted to the Nashville Coop brand, and they’re making the rounds in various Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods, five days a week (“We’ll be adding a sixth day soon,” said Omer). Trust me, you’ll want to track them down.
This $12 “sammich” exceeds all expectations. The chicken, served in more-than-abundant proportions (“We like to give people what they paid for,” said Omer) has that irresistible contrast between juicy meat and crispy coating. Omer said that the liberally applied seasoning blend was developed through a long taste-test process, and diners can select from four levels of heat: “Minnesota Nice” (no heat), “Coop” (mild), “Growlin’ (hot) and “Cluckin’ Hot (“24-hour pain”).
Sales have demonstrated that Minnesotans, contrary to their reputation, can handle the heat.
“The hottest is very popular,” said Omer. “Of course, some go with no heat. It depends.”
The add-ons are just right, too: juiced-up and nicely acidic pickles, and plenty of them; crunchy coleslaw; a cool, mayo-like sauce; and a soft bun that holds up to the rigors of all that chicken. There’s also a big handful of long, golden fries, not that I much noticed, because the sandwich overshadowed. After loving the “Growlin’” version, I can’t wait to go back and give the “Cluckin’ Hot” a shot. (Rick Nelson)
Sungold tomatoes from Dawn2Dusk Farm
One of the many advantages of shopping at farmers markets is encountering first-of-the-season favorites. “That’s how you get the attention of customers,” said farmer Moses Momyani. “We try to have a little bit of everything, and have it as early as we can.” Case in point: these colorful bite-size tomatoes, which I tend to eat like candy, a far healthier alternative to the copious amounts of actual candy that I have been consuming during these shelter-in-place months.
They were cultivated in one of Momyani’s three massive hoop houses (uncomplicated greenhouse-like structures that help farmers stretch the growing season) that he built on the 20-acre farm near Cambridge, Minn., that he runs with his wife, Lonah Onyancha. After farming rental properties in western Wisconsin for five years, the couple purchased what had been a soybean and corn operation in 2015. They’ve been slowly but surely transforming the soil to suit the wide variety of organic vegetables under cultivation.
Including Sungolds, along with a few other small-scale tomatoes (cherry, grape), plus a handful of larger heirloom specimens, such as Brandywine and Striped Germans that will come along later in the growing season. “I like to slice them, sprinkle them with salt, and eat them just like that,” said Momyani. Same here. With Sungolds, I just pop them in my mouth, to contain the burst of juice and savor their delicate, sun-burnished sweetness, attributes that just don’t exist with their out-of-season, raised-elsewhere supermarket counterparts. My first locally grown tomato of the season. Truly, a treat to cherish. (R.N.)
Strawberry shortcake with biscuits from Hot Hands Pie & Biscuit
Sometimes I marvel at my own laziness. We’re in the midst of the local strawberry season, and the stash I purchased at the Dawn2Dusk stand didn’t last long enough to satisfy a sudden shortcake craving. I was fairly certain that I could find some local berries in the produce section at the Golden Fig. My hunch was right.
“I just picked these up at the farmers market 45 minutes ago,” said owner Laurie Crowell.
The shortcake part was just as easy. I’m ashamed to admit that I was feeling too lethargic to bake (in case you’re not, here’s a fantastic and foolproof recipe from my Taste colleague Beth Dooley). Which is why I’m grateful to Hot Hands chef/owner Tara Coleman for turning out tender, flaky biscuits ($3.50) that are ideal strawberry shortcake building blocks. I’m not a fan of sugary shortbreads — I prefer to let the berries handle this dessert’s sweet quotient — and Coleman’s skilled handiwork is pitch-perfect in this regard.
Sure, I could have sprinkled the berries with one of Crowell’s many infused sugars (such a good idea, by the way), or I could have infused the whipped cream with fresh mint or toasted coconut. But when making strawberry shortcake, the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) golden rule often applies. And not just out of laziness. (R.N.)
Hot Hands, 272 Snelling Av. S., St. Paul, 651-300-1503. Open 8 a.m. .to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Golden Fig, 794 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-602-0144. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.