Potica at Iron Ranger
During the holiday season on Minnesota's Iron Range, grandmas spend hours stretching enriched dough, gently nudging it ever thinner until their knuckles are visible through it. Then, a heady mix of crushed nuts, cinnamon, honey and sugar is spread over the dough before it's rolled over and over into a multilayer loaf that is baked into a sweet treat.
My grandmother possessed other talents, so we depended on neighbors or markets to purchase a loaf of potica, the Slovenian baked delicacy. Our go-to store was always Hibbing's Sunrise Bakery.
Now that I'm farther away, I have to get even more creative to satisfy my holiday bread craving. Luckily, Tom Forti of St. Paul's Iron Ranger is the grandson of Sunrise Bakery's original owner. And he ships the bread down from his cousins, who still operate the bakery. In his restaurant, it's served either as a dessert — part of the three P's of pasty, porketta and potica — or as a frozen loaf to-go.
The bread's outer layers crumble when handled, leaving sticky sweet nibbles behind. The texture is equal parts ethereal and tacky, with tender crumbly walnuts studding the stuffing. It's just not the holiday season until I've had a bite of potica. And in December, a few slices slathered with generous pats of butter, all cold straight from the fridge, is absolutely an acceptable breakfast. (Joy Summers)
1085 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-487-1913, ironrangermn.com. Opens at 4 p.m. Tue.-Thu., noon Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m. Sun.
Double-cut Duroc pork chop at the Butcher's Tale
There's plenty to look forward to at the Butcher's Tale, Peter Botcher's ode to meat. His excellent charcuterie and cheese platter, for one; Elsbeth Young-Haug's pastries, for another. But you come for meat, and you should order it.
Botcher sources his pork from Duroc pigs — they're fattier and more robust in flavor. And tender, too: For such a hulking portion of meat (3 inches or so in thickness), it is remarkably moist. That's also because Botcher wet-brines the pork and cooks it evenly so it's a light shade of pink throughout and slightly rosy toward the bone.
In keeping with the theme of Butcher's Tale, there's just char on the grill to lend smokiness; goat cheese and a blueberry glaze add splendid amounts of acidity and sweetness ($49). It's not subtle, but then again, little on the menu is. (Jon Cheng)
1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-236-4075, butcherstale.com. Main dining room open 5-10 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Sweet Potato C.R.E.A.M. Latte at the Get Down Coffee Co.
Since the Get Down Coffee Co. opened on Thanksgiving weekend, business has been booming. And the top seller, by far, is this latte inspired by sweet potato pie ($5).
The drink is not sweet, despite the name. Rather, it evokes the dessert in how it's spiced — nutmeg, cinnamon and a surprising addition of chopped pecans. "I like complex things that keep on evolving as you're tasting or drinking it," said Houston White, who collaborated with Dogwood Coffee Co. on the new shop. "You're going to taste different things in that cup."
In addition to a menu of specialty coffees, the shop also serves pastries made by Quince Market and inspired by memories and recipes from White's family. A cinnamon bun, fruit turnover and banana bread are currently behind the counter in the intimate space, designed by LSE Architects and featuring a tile wall from Mercury Mosaics and a mural by Peyton Scott Russell.
It was important to White to have the cafe's signature drink evoke a food that's integral to Black culture — sweet potato pie — in a business he has created to bring "cultural collision" to his corner of north Minneapolis. The Get Down is phase one of the entrepreneur's grand plan to establish a neighborhood that encourages Black professionals from other cities to put down roots in Minneapolis. The next phase will be to build apartments next door with that goal in mind. Eventually, White's partnership with Dogwood will yield a roaster for the neighborhood.
"People always joke and say, if you see a coffee shop coming in a neighborhood, here comes the white yuppies and there goes the end of culture, right?" White said. "So to flip that narrative: it's true that 60 percent or more of the people who have been through the door are white. But the difference is, it's oozing with Black culture." (Sharyn Jackson)
1500 44th Av. N., Mpls., getdowncoffee.com. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
Torta Sorta egg sandwich at Cafe Alma
"I love egg sandwiches," said chef/co-owner Alex Roberts. "They were among my favorite things to eat while in New York City. Dominican bodegas were the best."
Roberts features four refined yet amply portioned egg sandwiches at his all-day setup, and this one stands out. For starters, there's the bun. Soft, lavishly buttered and gently toasted, it's tailor-made for its a.m. time slot. Especially when the add-ons are a satisfying combination of scrambled eggs, refried beans, melty white Mexican cheese and a crunchy, colorful pickled jalapeño slaw. The kicker? The tease of a pepper-induced heat acts as a wakeup call.
As for the $9 price tag, consider that service fees are built into the price. "By eliminating tipping and our previous surcharge we hope to make the dining experience simpler and more straightforward," reads the card on the table. Makes perfect sense. (Rick Nelson).
528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909, almampls.com. Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
Oysters on the half-shell at Smack Shack
With its new location opening soon (Dec. 7), the Smack Shack crew was working out the bumps during a series of soft openings this week. Owners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald may be waiting for key equipment — parts for the lobster tank, for one — but they aren't missing a beat on the food.
Will the Bloomington location, a stunning transformation of a former Fuddrucker's, be a carbon copy of the downtown Minneapolis site? Kind of. The capacity is the same (thankfully, the parking is much better), and so are the cocktails. Some of the dishes may look the same, but have subtle differences. For example, the mussels here are bathed in a Cajun broth, while downtown it's a coconut curry broth. But they're still the same oysters, and it's easy to see why: They're fantastic.
The Moshier Island Royals were among the best I've ever tasted. Served with a snappy rice vinegar-based mignonette and a squeeze of lemon — using the cocktail sauce would be a disservice — they were exactly the right texture and tasted so fresh (prices vary). Turns out they were. Harvested just a few days before and shipped in from sustainably run family farms in the Gulf of Maine, it was the coastal experience I didn't know I needed, right off of I-494. (Nicole Hvidsten)
3801 Minnesota Drive, Bloomington, and 603 Washington Av. N., Mpls., smack-shack.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Bloomington dinner only until Dec. 15.