French dip at Carbon Kitchen + Market
In the early days of the Twin Cities' food truck revolution, hunting down great bites became an epic quest of following trucks on Twitter or stumbling upon them in surprising locations. Gastrotruck was a part of that early push of cooking outside the usual kitchen and bringing creative dishes to the people by way of little paper boats.
Inside the truck were Catherine Eckert and chef Stephen Trojahn. Eckert's warm hospitality would draw curb minglers, while Trojahn's fine-dining skills built irresistible handheld eats. For years the two planned to open a restaurant; they even secured a location. Now, years later, they've opened Carbon Kitchen + Market in that space.
The concept is an idea they tried briefly inside Graze Provisions + Libations food hall before closing it during the pandemic shutdown. It's inspired by pit beef sandwiches, something Eckert introduced to Trojahn after tasting it in Baltimore, where the cooking style is more prevalent. All of the restaurant's meats are slow-roasted over charcoal (hence the name Carbon).
In the French dip ($13-$17), lacy, savory meat is layered with charred onions and blanketed with a white cheese sauce. Ensconced in crusty bread, the whole business is dipped in a side of rich jus. It's a triumph of sandwich achievement. On the side are perfect homemade chips: thin, crispy, salty and seasoned with a spice mix that mimics Old Bay.
Beef isn't the only thing on the menu: There's also shawarma-seasoned chicken and chargrilled beets that stand in for meat. Although I'm so smitten with the French dip that it'll be hard not to make it my regular order. (Joy Summers)
2400 University Av. NE., Mpls., carbonkitchenmarket.com. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
The Betty White from Wrecktangle
As a committed "Golden Girls" fan, I'm the target customer for Wrecktangle's latest "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Menu" pizza special. But even if you're not, there's a reason to get this pie that's more convincing than just an abiding love for the late television legend Betty White: It's delicious. Who would expect less from the pizza masterminds at Wrecktangle, who have perfected the art of the cheesy burnt edge and made it into a food group all its own?
The $18 pie, made in honor this week of what would have been White's 100th birthday, is a white pie, of course. It's topped with ricotta, a mozzarella cheese blend and Oaxaca cheese, then dabbed with pale green pools of garlic butter. It might not be as saucy as the comedian herself, but the garlic lingers like a good St. Olaf story. (Sharyn Jackson)
North Loop Galley, 729 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-695-6525, open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. and Tue.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. The Market at Malcolm Yards, 501 30th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-448-5247, open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. and Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. wrecktanglepizza.com
Yakitori at Sanjusan
The word (including that of yours truly) is that since Sanjusan opened in March of last year, the brand of "fusion" borne by Sanjusan's owners, Daniel del Prado and Shigeyuki Furukawa, has quietly broken in. There is no better time to visit than now.
First-timers should certainly embrace the Italian-Japanese duality that has worked so well with Sanjusan's pizzas, notably the Isaac Becker homage (spicy raw tuna, cilantro, lime) and the Verdi, which ingeniously combines miso pesto, burrata, walnuts and Parmesan.
But that isn't to say that Sanjusan's simple, unadorned pleasures are not worthy of mention. The yakitori, or skewered meats and vegetables cooked over a charcoal fire, maintain the kind of char and smoke that I only find across top-flight yakitori joints. All are cooked with precision.
During my most recent visit, I indulged in chicken drum, meatball and tenderloin ($3-$5 each). Each has its virtue: one may be more deeply redolent of the fatty parts of chicken; another might be cleaner, snappier. These are often served with pickles and a bright, funky dipping sauce made from raw egg and fish sauce.
My strong recommendation: Order them all and make a meal as and when you can. (Jon Cheng)
Cream puffs from Beard Papa's
Who knew Minnesota was late to the cream puff party? The petite Japanese phenomenon opened an outpost in the Mall of America earlier this month — its 33rd in the United States. And judging from the number of bright yellow boxes being couriered around, it's a hit.
Located in the mall's North Garden area, Beard Papa's concept is simple. Pick a shell ($4.29-$4.89) — the flavors that day were plain, chocolate éclair, green tea, honey and cookies and cream — and then choose vanilla, chocolate or green tea filling. The cream puffs themselves follow a proprietary recipe that's double layered puff-choux on the inside and pie crust on the outside. They're slightly sweet yet sturdy, more than capable of holding its own when filled. (The filling is a combination of whipped and custard cream.) I was bracing for a sugar overload, but was pleasantly surprised. While obviously sweet — it is a cream puff, after all — it was a nice midafternoon pick-me-up.
But about that name. Beard Papa's first opened as a small bakery in Osaka, Japan, in 1999. Owner Yuji Hirota's fluffy white beard was so well-known that his regulars referred to him as Beard Papa. When local kids kept asking him to create new treats, he decided to make a pastry "as fluffy and lovable as his beard." The rest is cream-filled history. (Nicole Hvidsten)
Mall of America, 375 Garden Court, 612-999-8218, beardpapas.com. Open noon-7 p.m. Mon.-Thu., noon-9 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.
The Baconator from Francis
Named for a Canadian pig who escaped the slaughterhouse and became a folk hero, Francis is the newest tenant of the food trailer outside Sociable Cider Werks (the same space that launched Yia Vang's Union Hmong Kitchen). And like its namesake, no animals were harmed in the making of its excellent burgers.
Two Impossible patties, faux cheese, bacon from Herbivorous Butcher and a solid brioche bun come together to make this massive meatless double bacon cheeseburger ($19). I couldn't get through half of it, especially with a mountain of ultra-crispy fries on the side.
Like Union Hmong Kitchen, Francis is on a brick-and-mortar trajectory, said co-owner Lindsey Johnston. The proprietors are looking for a spot in northeast Minneapolis.
"Our goal is to have that burger joint feel, with the malts and shakes and ice cream," she said. At the truck, you can also get chicken nuggets, chili, loaded fries and salad. "But we want to keep the focus on burgers and fries and appeal to non-vegan eaters, and make something that is delicious to everyone." (S.J.)
Sociable Cider Werks, 1500 NE. Fillmore St., Mpls., 612-208-6870, francisthevegan.com. Open for takeout and delivery 5-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 1-9 p.m. Sat.