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BLT Sandwich at Sandcastle

Can we all agree that the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich has no equal? Especially when it's from this lakeside stand, which is back in business for the summer.

Because this classic formula has few components, each one has to be spot-on or the whole thing falls apart. Sandcastle nails it.

Owners Doug Flicker, Amy Greeley and Chele Payer seem to have a covert pipeline for sourcing out-of-season tomatoes that actually have flavor, juice (kosher salt surely helps) and color.

When it comes to bacon, they also display a just-right touch. The thick, smoky slices — fried to a firm but not overwhelming crispness, so that a tantalizingly fatty cushion remains — are generously stacked to the point where it's really a bacon sandwich with a few key garden garnishes. And what's wrong with that? Nothing.

Crunchy iceberg lettuce is the way to go, and the buttered-and-toasted white bread is swiped with a lascivious amount of mayonnaise. Yes, this BLT ($8.75), like Sandcastle itself, is a Minneapolis treasure.

Wash it down with an ice-old Hamm's ($5). Better yet, a refreshing glass of Ruby Punch ($3.75, pictured) from Jinx Tea.

4955 W. Lake Nokomis Pkwy., Mpls., sandcastlempls.com. Open 3-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Pineapple bowl from Bravis Modern Street Food.
Pineapple bowl from Bravis Modern Street Food.

Nicole Hvidsten • Star Tribune

Pineapple bowl from Bravis Modern Street Food

This south-of-the-river gem gave me quite the dilemma. The food was so good and the service so delightful that I wanted to tell everyone about it, but I also wanted to keep it to myself so I could have my own little slice of taco heaven. Well, it's your lucky day.

As we were perusing the menu and muttering about not being able to decide, our server realized we were first-timers. "Oh, it's your first visit? Well, it won't be your last," she said. "Don't worry, we'll work our way through the menu together."

We started with street tacos ($3.25-$4.25) and were instantly smitten. (Street tacos are double corn tortillas filled with meat and topped with onion and cilantro.) The pork belly tacos were outstanding, adding a nice crunch to the mix, and the carne asada was tender and flavorful. Easily some of the best tacos I've had since living in Arizona.

But the showstopper, according to our server, was the pineapple bowl ($15.99-$18.99). And she was right. It might seem intimidating at first — it's huge — but our server was very encouraging: "Go ahead, dig right in there." "There" is a pineapple half that's cored, seared and filled with jasmine rice and topped with your choice of steak, shrimp and/or chicken sauteed with bell pepper and onions with a side of spicy teriyaki sauce. We chose the classic steak-and-shrimp combo on our server's recommendation. Both were grilled just right, and the tender pineapple helped cut the harshness that bell peppers sometimes carry with them. The whole thing just … worked. And the leftovers worked just as well the next day.

The family-run Bravis has been around for about three years, focusing on fresh, small-batch cooking. There are only a handful of tables, so plan ahead. (Online ordering is also available). Oh, and our server was right: we'll definitely be back. (Nicole Hvidsten)

105 S. Lewis St., Shakopee, bravismn.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tues.-Thur., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat.

Madeleines at Rustica and Patisserie 46.
Madeleines at Rustica and Patisserie 46.

Rick Nelson • Star Tribune

Madeleines at Rustica and Patisserie 46

John Kraus has a vision for madeleines.

"You'll never top the macaron in its popularity, because people have glommed onto that cookie like nobody's business," he said. "But the madeleine should be just as popular, if not more so. Give me the choice, and I'll go for the madeleine, every time."

Same here. I'll even resort to the three-pack version sold at Starbucks, but comparing them to Kraus' version is like comparing Megan Fox to Meryl Streep; there's no comparison.

Kraus is the chef/owner of Patisserie 46 and Rose Street Patisserie — he and his crew also serve as the bakehouse for Rustica — and, like me, he's been a fan of the uncomplicated, shell-shaped pound cake for as long as he can remember.

"Simple and delicious, I think that's the way to go," he said.

Making madeleines magic doesn't take much, just flour, baking powder, butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest. Tender and golden, they're substantial but not wildly rich, sweet but not sugary. In other words, they're perfect. Especially the versions ($2) that come out of Kraus' busy ovens.

Sadly, madeleines are only available on Saturday and Sunday at Rustica and Patisserie 46 (and make occasional weekend appearances at Rose Street Patisserie). For now, anyway; there's that vision thing, remember?

Ever the tinkerer, Kraus is figuring out a way to serve them warm ("A warm madeleine is one of the simple things in life that should not be ignored," he said) and he's also playing with flavorful add-ons: filling the centers with rhubarb jam, orange marmalade and other goodies, or brushing the tops with honey and lemon glaze.

"You can do anything you want to them," he said. "I have so many ideas for the future of madeleines."

Rustica, 3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, and 200 Southdale Center, Edina, open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, rusticabakery.com. Patisserie 46, 4552 S. Grand Av., Mpls., patisserie46.com, open 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Sun. Rose Street Patisserie, 171 Snelling Av., St. Paul, patisserie46.com, open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Waffle sticks from Coconut Whisk.
Waffle sticks from Coconut Whisk.

Nicole Hvidsten • Star Tribune

Waffle sticks from Coconut Whisk Cafe and Bubble Tea Shop

Bella Lam has parlayed her popular baking mixes into a lively downtown Minneapolis storefront. And if you're looking for a vegan, gluten-free and peanut-free place for pancakes and waffles, this is it.

The menu is simple: mini pancakes and waffle sticks. Each can be served five ways, from a dusting of powdered sugar ($6) to drizzled with chocolate and gold sprinkles ($7), all made with Lam's baking mixes.

The mini pancakes were light and fluffy, perfect for a bite-size snack (the accompanying syrup wasn't even necessary) or as breakfast dippers. But those waffle sticks! The waffles, which come in threes, were a little denser than the waffles I make at home, but that's a good thing. They hold up well to the chocolate drizzle, which was just the right amount of sweetness, and the gold sprinkles were a very fun touch (the accompanying syrup definitely wasn't necessary). Not exactly the breakfast of champions, but a bright start to a rainy day.

While you're there, pick up a CW Boba Mylk Tea ($7) or one of the handful of other coffees and specialty beverages and enjoy the cheery surroundings, which include a well-chosen selection of products from local makers and, naturally, Coconut Whisk baking mixes. If you're not close to downtown Minneapolis, it's worth checking out Lam's baking mixes. In addition to pancake and waffle mixes, there's also mixes for cookies, muffins and cakes, all vegan and gluten-free. (N.H.)

911 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., coconutwhisk.com. Open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Thu.-Sun.

Gyros from Oasis Market and Deli.
Gyros from Oasis Market and Deli.

Nicole Hvidsten • Star Tribune

Gyro from Oasis Market and Deli

The next time you're craving a gyro, head down to Midtown Global Market. This newcomer offers a lot of bang for your buck.

The cafeteria-style restaurant is run by mother-and-son duo Amina Deble, who owns East Village Grill in Minneapolis, and Warsame Warsame, the general manager. All your Mediterranean favorites are on the menu — gyros, kebabs, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, baba ganuouj — along with some American favorites with a twist (one worker was raving about the gyros cheeseburger).

But I went for a gyro fix, and that's what I got. The classic sandwich (lamb and beef gyro meat wrapped in a pita with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cucumber sauce), which came with fries, was enormous ($8.99) — big enough to fill me up and have enough left for an after-school snack for my teen son. And it was tasty, too. I'm always a fan of gyros that don't minimize the flavor of lamb (what's the point?), and I found it here. But it is definitely not for the dainty: It's a hefty sandwich that's best eaten at a table with a handful of napkins nearby. Luckily, the cafe offers ample seating and a pleasant environment with lots of greenery. A tip: While you're there, pick up the kebab combo ($14.99) to go: A combo of chicken, kofta and lamb kebabs with hummus, salad, basmati rice and pita bread will easily serve two for dinner that night.

And make sure to take a spin through Oasis' market, where you'll find an array of groceries from East Africa and the Middle East, from grains and oils to spices and candies. (N.H.)

In Midtown Global Market, 920 E Lake St., Mpls., oasismidtown.com. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.