'Better Than a Bagel' pizza at Margie's Kitchen + Cocktails
The Margie in question is Justin Ahlstrom's 92-year-old grandmother, who ran a small cafe in Winthrop, Minn., for 40 years. Ahlstrom's lively year-old restaurant is a tribute to her, having learned the hospitality industry from the family matriarch.
But that's where the comparison ends. "This is not a small-town diner," said Ahlstrom, who wanted to bring to the far north metro the kind of dining he was used to when he lived within the Minneapolis city limits. Everything is made in house, including the dough for Neapolitan-style pizzas, a 48-hour process.
The long list of pies is pretty popular, though the one I gravitated toward, "Better Than a Bagel" ($15), wasn't always a favorite, Ahlstrom said. "We wanted to put some more adventurous options out there and at first, people weren't sure what to make of it," he said. It's finally catching on, and it's clear why. Rich cream sauce is the base, covered with mozzarella and red onion. Post-fire, the pie is topped with avocado slices, Nova lox and microgreens. It all comes together with a squirt of lemon. Brunch, for dinner.
By the way, downtown Minneapolis nostalgics will be happy to hear that chef Diego Chalco is behind that pizza, an exceptional burger and the restaurant's other solid fare. He's the former executive chef for Macy's, having helmed the Oak Grill.
"One problem is I would never ask him to make a popover," Ahlstrom said. "He's like, 'I made too many thousands of them.' " (Sharyn Jackson)
Margie's Kitchen + Cocktails, 13735 Round Lake Blvd. NW., Andover, 763-205-4762, margies-kitchen.com. Open 4-10 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 3-10 p.m. Fri., 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup at All Square
While October can be a glorious month in Minnesota, weather-wise, it isn't always sunny skies and blazing fall colors.The upside to a recent day of bluster and drizzle was that the chilly conditions triggered a craving for a favorite plunging-temperatures lunch.
This classic soup-sandwich marriage is the house specialty at this remarkable counter-service cafe, which is a component of a nonprofit criminal justice reform program.
The menu boasts eight tempting grilled cheese varieties, including layers of mozzarella, provolone and a lively basil pesto ($8), a combination that underscores the enduring appeal of a grilled cheese sandwich: the way the stove's heat — and tons of butter — transform bread (in this case, a sturdy, seed-studded loaf) and cheese into something delightfully gooey, toasty and comforting.
The soup ($4 cup, $10 bowl) had a robust tomato-ey bite backed by plenty of onion and basil. The pairing is proof that tomato soup is at its best when used as a dipping sauce for a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Talk about ideal food truck fare. Which makes sense: All Square just debuted a great-looking and convenient cafe on wheels. Be on the lookout.(Rick Nelson)
Cinnamon almond coffee cake from the Thirsty Whale Bakery
This week on "Halloween Baking Championship," Minnesota's own Megan Baker presented her cinnamon almond coffee cake with a viscous drizzle of green slime running down the sides. The challenge was to have a "tsunami" of some kind of liquid enrobing a spooky Halloween cake. But waves of goo don't really lend themselves to the bakery case, so Baker reconfigured this as-seen-on-TV treat into cupcake form, and it's available just this week at her north Minneapolis shop.
Since Baker began appearing on the wacky Food Network competition, she's picked one of each episode's recipes to re-create at the Thirsty Whale. Baking for her business is, fortunately, lower-stakes than doing it under the stage lights.
"Some of it's really cool because the bakes didn't go super well in the high-stress environment, so being able to redo it has been great," Baker said.
The coffee cake is stuffed with crunchy almonds and cinnamon frosting, and it's topped with a swirl of that delicious spiced buttercream. No surprise that it won high marks from the show's judges.
Cupcakes are $3 each, though try to resist any of the bakery's other goodies, including a dreamy apple-cinnamon scone. But if it's a custom cake you're looking for, which is Thirsty Whale's specialty, know that orders are about a month out, thanks to Baker's newfound TV fame. (S.J.)
Thirsty Whale Bakery, 4149 Fremont Av. N., Mpls., 612-259-7168, thirstywhalebakery.com. Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Sun.
Wet tacos at Woodfired Cantina
A good fire takes the chill out of the air. And if that fire happens to come from the 20-foot wood-burning hearth at Keg and Case's Woodfired Cantina, you're in luck.
That hearth keeps mighty busy cooking up meat for tacos, charring vegetables and — its most important job — churning out wet tacos. Described by our server as a cross between a taco and a French dip, corn tortillas are filled with meat and cheese, folded and seared; it's served with a side of consommé for dipping. We had the skirt steak (flatiron pork and chicken were the other options, all $12), and the tacos elicited a pretty high compliment from our table: pure silence.
If wet tacos are a little out-of-the-box for you, there's no shame in sticking with the meat tacos ($8-$15), served like a taco should be: meat, tortilla, salsa and a squeeze of lime. Nice and simple. But if you sneak in an order of charred vegetables ($20), the chile-lime avocado and elotes make it worth your while.
Woodfired Cantina is part of chef Brian Ingram's Purpose Driven Restaurants, which donates 3% of proceeds to charity. So think of your tacos and margarita as your good deed for the day. (Nicole Hvidsten)
928 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-999-3959, woodfiredcantina.com. Open 6-9 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.
Baked stuffed lobster from wkndr
The number of times before this past weekend that I've made my own lobster was exactly zero. It took the efforts of two culinary powerhouses, Jamie Malone and Bill Summerville, to change that.
Early in the pandemic, when her Grand Cafe was in shutdown mode, Malone blazed a trail for fine-dining takeout with her Keep It Grand kits. Those boxes with the makings for Dutch babies and beef stroganoff were a highlight of how good cooking at home could be, with a little help from a James Beard-nominated chef.
The Grand Cafe has since closed, but last month, Malone spun off a new luxury food kit called wkndr, and she provided us a box to try.
The $275 kit, while pricey, contains enough fancy food for Friday night hors d'oeuvres, Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch. Drinks, too. Individual meals can be purchased separately starting at $50 (the lobster brunch is $75, and serves two).
This month, Malone collaborated with Summerville, a sommelier who hosts cozy dinners with limitless wine in his Minneapolis home, where he cooks in a wood-burning fireplace. And that's how Summerville likes to prepare his lobster, though, thankfully, a fireplace is not required for us home cooks.
Among the neatly packed gems in the box, you'll find a whole lobster, split and cleaned, and a container of crab and scallop stuffing inspired by Summerville's mother's holiday recipe. Simply scoop the stuffing onto the open-faced sea critters, bake for 25 minutes, and voilá — the most decadent brunch with the least effort imaginable.
The wkndr boxes are inspired by a person, place or thing. September's "thing" was shellfish, and had customers shucking their own oysters at home. The current "person" edition continues the rest of this month, and November's theme will be an ode to Los Angeles. (S.J.)
Delivery on Fridays. wkndreditions.com