It’s the happiest time of year, when Twin Cities chefs find inspiration in sweet corn. Check out these seven dishes.
At this St. Paul newcomer, chef de cuisine (and recent St. Paul Farmers Market convert) Paul Baker quickly learned to purchase sweet corn from Nowthen, Minn., farmer Ryan Thompson at his Thompson Produce stand (“I go down to the market, and they just load me up,” said Baker), and then teams up with chef/owner Rikki Giambruno to channel that bounty into the building block of a remarkable dish: a sublime sweet-corn/sweet-peppers salad topped with meaty, pan-seared prawns ($26). Once again, this unassuming-appearing dish sports a complicated back story. After getting a char on the grill, the husks and then the kernels are removed. The latter are tossed with grilled sweet peppers — hints of just-harvested Fresno chiles leave a fiery trace — and the finishing touch is a doozy: a supremely buttery corn-onion-garlic sauce that’s boosted by a bit of stock nurtured from the cobs, and a secret ingredient: a vinegar that’s quietly infused with the anise-like flavor of marigold leaves. “The gods aligned,” said Baker. “It’s the epitome of a seasonal-driven dish, or a market-driven dish, whatever you want to call it. Sweet corn really shines in Minnesota, which makes this time of year really exciting.”
790 Grand Av., St. Paul, hyacinthstpaul.com
Yum! Kitchen and Bakery
Years ago, owner Patti Soskin happened to walk into the kitchen while a member of the crew was using sweet corn to prepare the day’s staff meal. It was elote, the wonderfully messy Mexican street food tradition of charring freshly shucked corn on the cob and then smearing it with mayonnaise, fresh lime juice, chile powder and grated cotija. “It was literally, ‘Hey, what are you eating?’ ” Soskin said with a laugh. “It was fantastic, and it went right on the menu.” And that’s where it stays ($4.25), for a too-short time. “We’ll have it for as long as Burt the corn farmer comes to the back door,” said Soskin. “His sweet corn is so good. People wait — and wait — for it, every year, to come back on the menu.”
4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-922-4000 and 6001 Shady Oak Road, Minnetonka, 952-933-6001, yumkitchen.com
Chef/co-owner Russell Klein is a major sweet corn aficionado. “What don’t I like about corn?” he said with a laugh. “When you get corn that’s plump, and crisp, and sweet, it just says ‘summer.’ ” Yes, his plate of roasted corn kernels swooning in pistou-infused butter ($9) is spectacular. (“Corn and basil, they just go together,” said Klein. “It’s that old saying, ‘If it grows together, it goes together.’ ”) Still, don’t overlook the two-bite pain perdu “amusement” ($3.50). It’s a kind of pre-appetizer snack, with a sweet-corn custard baked into layers of thinly sliced brioche. Think of it as a highly seasonal French toast, with the golden glow of sweet corn standing in for maple syrup, and stealing the show. “We do a sweet pea pain perdu in the spring, and a pumpkin one in the fall,” said Klein. “But the corn version? It’s definitely the most popular.”
410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stp.com
Chef/co-owner Christina Nguyen has sweet corn on her menu right now for one reason: “Because it’s super-delicous,” she said. She’s crafted a complex-tasting dish ($8.50) that has a disarmingly simple appearance. The corn kernels are seared in a wok and given a slightly funky finish with a shrimp paste-infused butter, then they’re tossed with radishes and serrano chiles (for crunch and heat), caramelized onions (for a different level of sweetness), fried shallots (“Because it’s Vietnamese, so why not?” said Nguyen with a laugh) and, to insert a welcome layer of fatty unctuousness, sizzling ground pork. Go ahead, smile. “Sweet corn is so delicious on the cob, but we’re cutting it off the cob, so it won’t get stuck in your teeth,” Nguyen said with another laugh. “That’s the reality of eating corn on the cob. You know, ‘Oh, god, I can’t talk to my dinner companions for a while.’ ”
2121 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-223-8640, haihaimpls.com
The Bachelor Farmer
The words “corn” and “chowder” are an eternal August-September match, which is why the meal-in-a-bowl lands on menus from Stillwater to Spring Park. There’s a particularly engaging version ($6 or $10) at this North Loop destination’s daytime cafe, which lets the kernels shine while adding in all kinds of welcome background notes, from hearty bacon to tender, smoky chicken to sweet Carmen peppers.
50 N. 2nd Av., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com/cafe/
“Light, fast and easy” is how chef Scott Pampuch, a fairly recent newcomer to this gigantic Downtown East operation, describes this refreshing, perfect-for-the-patio salad ($10). The recipe’s development was a collaboration among the kitchen staff. “They used to do a corn/shrimp ceviche, which is how I discovered that they were really good at roasting corn,” said Pampuch. “We were catering an event that had a bunch of melons, and that’s when I looked at our prep cooks and said, ‘Corn and watermelon?’ Their eyes lit up.” The crew devised the delicate herbs-and-honey vinaigrette. “And then we were like, ‘What else?’ ” said Pampuch, which led to the final touch: green onions. “That’s it,” he said. And he’s right. Nothing more is needed.
530 S. 4th St., Mpls., 612-545-5863, mckinneyroe.com
Sweet Science Ice Cream
When Ashlee Olds founded her company in 2011, luscious sweet-corn/blueberry ice cream was one of 11 original flavors. “Sweet corn is so iconic in Minnesota, and it doesn’t get any ‘local-er’ than corn,” she said. “Blueberries and sweet corn overlap in season, so for me it was a ‘Hmmm, I wonder if they’d go together’ moment. Nature knows what she’s doing.” After infusing her dairy base with sweet corn, Olds removes the kernels (“We all know what frozen corn tastes like,” she said), then folds in a made-from-scratch blueberry compote. Among the Sweet Science fan base, the labor-intensive treat ($4 to $8.25) is popular, and depressingly short-lived. Find it through Labor Day (the 2018 season’s last hurrah) at Sweet Science’s Como Park location, then pick it up when Olds debuts her counter Keg and Case Market (928 W. 7th St., St. Paul, kegandcase.com) on Sept. 14. But don’t delay, because supplies will be limited. “We’ll have it until we run out,” said Olds.
1360 N. Lexington Pkwy., St. Paul, sweetscienceicecream.com