Pepperoni slice at Joey Nova's
As a born and bred New Jerseyan who worked at a pizza place in high school, I'm always in search of a good slice in Minnesota. This week, I may have found The One. Joey Nova's, which opened in 2006 in Tonka Bay, has nailed all the hallmarks of New York-style pizza: foldability (excellent), size (huge), seasoning (heavy on the oregano). It reminded me of the Jersey Shore, those sun-dappled days on the Boardwalk, scrounging up enough loose change to buy an enormous slice served on a white paper plate that starts to disintegrate with grease stains before you can finish.
So, how does Joey Nova's do it? "I had a guest come in from out East, and he told me 'It's the waw-tuh,' " said Cynthia Baer, general manager.
Joey Nova's uses plain old Minnesota water, but they make everything in-house, including shredding their own fancy mozzarella. Baer thinks that's the key. The dough is hand-tossed until it's paper-thin in the middle and slightly crisped up on the bottom. "I've had guests say you're supposed to be able to fold it and the grease drips out. I was told, 'That's it! If it's doing that, it's right.' So, it's doing that."
East Coast transplants have been known to drive well out of their way for a slice, and those making the trek will be pleased to know that the pizzeria is eyeing an expansion into other suburbs, perhaps in 2022.
In Tonka Bay, even the atmosphere was like home, starting with an olfactory blast of oregano as you walk into a lowly lit, brown booth-filled pizzeria. For homesick New Yorkers, Baer suggests getting a parbaked pie to have later (an extra-large, at 19 inches, is $18.45). Slices start at $5.25 and are bigger than any reasonably sized restaurant plate, at 11 inches from crust to tip. "I had someone ask if we do a personal pizza," Baer said. "I said yes, it's just not round." (Sharyn Jackson)
5655 Manitou Road, Tonka Bay, 952-405-2700, joeynovas.com. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Chicken wild rice soup at Local Roots
The week's snow flurries sparked a craving for this Minnesota classic ($4 and $6), especially this fine rendition.
The essence-of-comfort-food aura begins with hefty chunks of tender chicken. The kitchen goes all-in when it comes to carrots, their gentle sweetness a fine foil to the chewy, slightly nutty (and wonderfully plentiful) wild rice.
Expect to also encounter lots of cream, making it one of those soups that's so thick that a crown of Tater Tots could credibly re-brand it as a hot dish. As if that were a bad thing. (Rick Nelson)
817 E. 66th St., Richfield, 612-345-5258, localrootsmn.com. Open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.-Tue., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Barramundi at Mezcalito Butcher
A spin down 35E yields big rewards at this busy Apple Valley newcomer, where the wood-fired oven not only provides ambience but cooks up pizza, sandwiches, salad, fish and other Spanish-influenced entrees.
Order housemade chips and a huge bowl of salsa verde ($9) while you peruse the eclectic menu. Our server said the fish and seafood were the best, so it was only right to give that a shot. Barramundi (an Asian sea bass) was topped with butter, sprigs of thyme, lemon and red onion before being tucked into corn husks and cooked over the open fire ($28). It was done to perfection, with deliciously charred ends proving the fire-kissed treatment was well worth the effort. Served with cilantro rice, it was a satisfying meal that wasn't too heavy.
True to its name, Mezcalito Butcher also has an impressive number of mezcal options — three pages! — and the Mezcalito cocktail ($12) is among the restaurant's most popular. House-blended mezcal combines with sherry and hints of agave, cinnamon and burnt orange, with an ancho salt rim. It's smooth, a little spicy, and the perfect antidote to a wind-whipped week. (Nicole Hvidsten)
14889 Florence Trail, Apple Valley, 952-236-8115, mezcalitobutcher.com. Open 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 10 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
Holiday ice cream samplers at Honey & Mackie's
Missing the pre-virus days of free samples at ice cream counters? Mid-pandemic, Honey & Mackie's owner Suzanne Varecka came up with a way to give that experience back to customers with a sampler pack, available at the Plymouth ice cream shop or shipped nationally. It came out just in time for the holidays last year and was such a hit she brought it back for 2021.
Inside, you'll find 12 single scoop-sized containers with flavors on the holiday theme: hot chocolate, peppermint bark with crushed candy canes, a red and white cookie flavor inspired by a Santa hat. It's about 4 1/2 pints for $34.75.
But that's not all. When a customer asked Varecka to make a variety pack for Hanukkah, too, she happily obliged. "That's my favorite thing in the world, making custom flavors, thinking, can I take this pastry or this drink and turn it into an ice cream?" Varecka said.
The CelebrEIGHT Pint Pack includes some experimental flavors, including rugelach and sufganiyah, two pastries traditionally eaten on the Jewish holiday. But Varecka's most unusual flavor to date might be apple latke. The tangy sour cream and brown sugar base is studded with apple slices and apple purée. Chopped waffle cone bits "give it that crunch of the fried potato," Varecka said.
The Hanukkah pack comes with eight full pints for $48, and is available starting today through the duration of Hanukkah (Sunday, Nov. 28, through Dec. 6). Additionally, the store will carry some of the individual pints to go, plus some of the special flavors in the scoop case as of next week. But there's something about offering a sampler that makes Varecka feel all warm and fuzzy.
"Regardless of what you celebrate or believe in, the holidays is about being together with people that you love," Varecka said. "Ice cream brings people together. It makes people happy. It cheers people up. And it's such a great way to sample of spoonful of different flavors and then talk about it. It's such an easy conversation piece for families, friends, and that's what the holidays are about for us." (S.J.)
16725 County Road 24, Plymouth, 763-225-6682, honeyandmackies.shopsettings.com. Open 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 3 p.m.-10 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Leek-Parmesan croissant at La Delicious Bread
All too often, the savory side of croissants begins and ends with the words "ham and cheese."
Not here. The father-and-son ownership team of Tieng Vang and Brandon Vang turn out a pair of beautiful and beautifully realized vegetarian options.
One pairs spinach with feta, and it's great.
Even more appealing is the version made with leeks and Parmesan ($5.49). Both building blocks are invoked with a just-right sense of moderation, and the combination of mildly fragrant vegetable and slightly sharp cheese is a treat. That word also describes all of those golden, delicately flaky layers of butter-fortified dough. (R.N.)
2158 Rice St., Maplewood, 651-797-4620, ladeliciousbread.com. Open 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 6 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sun.