Soft serve ice cream cone at Cup and Cone
A neighbor's rhubarb has started to tentatively poke its way out of the ground, a sure signal of spring's arrival. Another is the seasonal return of this beloved White Bear Lake landmark, which last served its sprinkles-encrusted dipped cone shortly before Thanksgiving.
It's been a family business since Glen Johnstone built it in 1973, right next door to his dairy and grocery store. He turned it over to his son Keith Johnstone, who was at the helm for decades before turning it over to his son, Rick Johnstone, in 2009.
The soft-serve menu always includes chocolate and vanilla (and twist), plus a rotating flavor of the day. When orange makes its twice-a-month appearance, it becomes the bestselling flavor, and twisting it with vanilla makes for a Dreamsicle-like treat. Basic cones run from 93 cents to $3.95, proving that "happiness" and "affordable" coexist.
One week out of the month, there's a lactose-free soft serve, and the remaining three weeks are reserved for a dairy-free option. It's Dole Whip, which Rick Johnstone started carrying after an employee — who had worked at the Dole Whip stand at the Minnesota State Fair — extolled its virtues.
Don't miss the ice cream sandwiches. The format changes each month (right now it's the classic vanilla soft serve-crisp chocolate wafers combo, and April will be all about Oreos), and they're sold in packs of six ($7 to $10).
Proceeds from the ice cream sandwiches are donated to the White Bear Area Food Shelf. Rick Johnstone reports that last year's sales raised nearly $10,000. How great is that?
2126 4th St., White Bear Lake, 651-426-1498, cupandconewbl.com. Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Wraps at Pizza Karma
Yes, the naan flatbread pizzas are worth a visit (ditto the stuffed potato cakes). But owner Dhivya Jegenathan recently found another use for the kitchen's showy tandoor ovens.
The same buttermilk-enriched dough that's used for the pizzas is being handled differently to create thin, pliable pita-like breads that become the foundation for a trio of wraps. One places chicken front and center, and another calls upon Impossible Burger. But it was the vegetarian version that was calling my name.
The fillings were a spot-on jumble of textures and flavors: crunchy cauliflower, crisply fried chickpeas, chewy okra and supple tofu, with pops of mellow paneer and tangy pickled onion. That's all tossed in a lively, bordering-on-fiery sauce that's fueled with chipotle and cayenne peppers, with cilantro tossed in for color.
What a meal! And at $7.95, what a deal.
8451 Joiner Way, Eden Prairie, 952-467-6100 and 11611 Fountains Dr., Maple Grove, 763-520-9800. Eden Prairie open 3:30-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sun., Maple Grove open 4-8 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Fri.-Sun.
Savory waffle at Birchwood Cafe
Thursday was Våffeldagen, when Sweden (and the rest of the world) celebrates all things waffles.
The Birchwood has long elevated the everyday waffle to dizzying heights, moving it beyond a breakfast staple into an all-day delight ($14.50) and making it one of the Twin Cities' great menu standards.
The kitchen, ever-mindful of its farm-to-table mission, is stirring chopped kale into the batter, which inserts a bit of virtuousness into each bite. Well, that's what I'd convinced myself to believe. Quinoa and feta also delicately accentuate the "savory" side of this thick, tender waffle (there's a gluten-free version, too), expanding what is all too often a sugary, one-dimensional format.
The wealth of riches continue with enormous chunks of smoky bacon, a rosemary-infused butter and a perfectly rendered, pepper-flecked sunny side-up fried egg. Wisconsin-made maple syrup contributes sweetness, which is nicely countered by a tart cranberry-pear chutney.
Another reason to love: this waffle travels well, making it ideal takeout fare. The Birchwood is currently open four days a week, and any one of them can be Våffeldagen.
3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474, birchwoodcafe.com. Open for takeout 4-7:30 p.m. Thu., 4-8 p.m. Fri., 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-:7:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Chicken rice bowl at Okome House
On the subject of reliably sturdy takeout options, a once-a-week (at least) rice bowl has helped my lazy self get through the winter.
Chef/owner Hide Tozawa — he made a name for himself at Kyatchi — has a half-dozen donburi on his menu, each with a different centerpiece: raw albacore tuna, soy-glazed pork, fried tofu, avocado in a miso sauce, mushrooms and chicken.
What's admirable about this particular rice bowl ($14), aside from its generous portion, is its appealing simplicity.
But that chicken! Tender and juicy, it's cut into big chunks (it hails from Larry Schultz Organic Farm in Owatonna, Minn.), which Tozawa liberally coats in a rich soy gravy, a welcome alternative to the ubiquitousness of fried chicken.
Supporting roles are filled by soft-cooked eggs (the yolks barely hold together), crunchy broccoli that's tossed in a lively avocado dressing and a few fresh cucumber and tomato slices.
I wish I'd encountered this months ago, and I'm glad to add it to my rice bowl rotation.
4457 42nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2423, okome.house. Open 4:30-8 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-6:30 p.m. Sun.
Black bean pastel at Feira
Owner Aaron Richey's fiancé, Marina Delneri, is from Brazil, and when the couple was visiting her family in São Paulo, Richey flipped for the deep-fried hand pies that are a staple in the city's farmers markets.
"They came from Japanese immigrants, who co-opted fried wontons and filled them with available Brazilian ingredients," he said. "When I got back home I wanted them, but they didn't exist here."
They do now. Last summer, Richey, a Colita and Giulia veteran, created a stand for the Neighborhood Roots family of south Minneapolis farmers markets — Fulton, Kingfield and Nokomis — and began selling pastel (pas-tay-ooh), frying them in striking, cauldron-like woks.
"This whole thing is thanks to the pandemic," he said. "My restaurant was shuttered, and I was bored stiff. It's been a thrill, it's what I've always wanted to do."
The bubbled, browned dough is light and crispy (his meat-filled pastel use a dough that's enriched with beef fat, and they take on a beautiful copper hue in the fryer) and twinkle with Maldon sea salt.
Richey's menu sports a handful of fillings, all of them tasty. Combinations of beef, olives and green onions — and hearts of palm with tomato — are Brazilian standards ($7, or three for $20). My favorite? Richey's togarashi-seasoned blend of black beans, Japanese sweet potatoes and fermented daikon.
"It's kind of cool to show that Japanese influence, given the history," he said. "I needed a vegan option, because I'm at the farmers market, surrounded by all of these vegetables. Being at the farmers market is just a joy."