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S & S Burger from Stalk & Spade

Remember when savvy entrepreneurs were remaking tired Burger King, Taco Bell and Perkins outlets into trendy dining destinations? That same welcome phenomenon has now spread to the Starbucks property portfolio.

Witness the incarnation of this plant-based newcomer, the work of Crisp & Green head honcho Steele Smiley. On Thursday morning, in advance of a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a line of curiosity seekers stretched down the block (the generous offer of free opening-day food may have been an additional incentive), with Smiley greeting his guests and talking about the 300 to 400 recipe-testing trials behind the menu's meat- and dairy-free burgers, chicken sandwiches and ice cream.

"The future of food is plants," he said. "I think that what we have made is really special."

Agreed. This well-engineered burger ($11.45) certainly deserves a berth in the "special" category.

There's an admirable attention to detail. The patty, which hugs the bun's perimeter, has the look and texture of grilled beef, and closely mimics the flavor. Sweet-and-tangy fried onions bump up the diner-style burger quotient, the faux American cheese possesses the requisite salty-and-melty qualities (and vivid Caution Sign coloration), the "Fancy Sauce" has a just-right tickle of heat and the bun confidently walks the necessary soft-sturdy balance.

"Welcome to Unit No. 1," Steele told the crowd as the doors opened at his chain-in-the-making. It's hard to imagine that it'll be going solo for long. (Rick Nelson)

740 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-222-5499, stalkandspade.com. Open for dine-in and takeout, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

Cheeses from LoveTree Farmstead.
Cheeses from LoveTree Farmstead.

Rick Nelson • Star Tribune

Cheeses at LoveTree Farmstead

Invoke "world class" with any frequency, and the accolade's meaning becomes diluted beyond recognition. But when it comes to the output of this farmstead operation, "world class" is entirely suitable. Inevitable, actually.

At their picturesque acreage near Grantsburg, Wis., Dave Falk tends the pasture-raised goats, sheep and cows, and Mary Falk skillfully transforms the animals' prized milk into a dazzling array of extraordinary, full-bodied cheeses, most of them aged in cavelike spaces.

For the past 22 years, the couple's prime retail platform has been a pink-dappled stand at the St. Paul Farmers Market, where Mary proudly sells her one-of-a-kind treasures in fist-sized chunks ($10) wrapped in wax paper.

My first visit to the farm, 19 years ago, made a lasting impression. Mary escorted me inside the cramped cave, which was little more than a bermed cellar elbowed into an embankment (it was subsequently replaced with a roomier facility), and recounted an illuminating story, one that underscores the Falks' pivotal role in advancing the Midwest's artisanal food movement.

A few years earlier, a by-the-book trio of Wisconsin dairy regulators had taken the same tour, and when they entered the dank, musty space, they went ballistic. The old-world setup was light years away from the gleaming, industrial-strength Colby and Cheddar production facilities they were accustomed to inspecting.

"So they ask me, 'How are you going to get rid of this?' she said, gesturing to her hand-ladled, natural rind cheeses, which were aging on cedar boughs and blanketed in mold. "And I say, 'By charging more.' " (R.N.)

Find LoveTree Farmstead on Saturday (7 a.m.-1 p.m.) at the St. Paul Farmers Market, 290 E. 5th St., St. Paul, stpaulfarmersmarket.com. LoveTree (lovetreefarmstead.com) also makes regularly scheduled appearances at Kingfield Farmers Market (neighborhoodrootsmn.org), Fulton Farmers Market (neighborhoodrootsmn.org) and Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market (northeastfarmersmarket.com).

A selection of croissants from Edelweiss Bakery in Prior Lake.
A selection of croissants from Edelweiss Bakery in Prior Lake.

Nicole Hvidsten • Star Tribune

Croissants from Eidelweiss Bakery

Choosing a pastry from this sunny corner bakery is like picking a favorite child. You love them all, and although one might rise to the top today, you know tomorrow might be different.

I didn't get past the top row of the bakery case, which was filled to the brim with croissants. I've been married into Norwegian heritage long enough to know that anything with almonds is a must, so I started with the almond croissant ($3.15). Crispy and flaky on the outside, the classic croissant is filled with almond frangipane cream and finished with a splash of almonds and powdered sugar. Divine. Ditto the chocolate croissant ($3.15), which is rolled around a ribbon of chocolate, with a drizzle of chocolate on top for good measure.

I went back a second day (don't judge) because I passed on the ham and cheese croissant ($3.95) the first time. A win for breakfast eaters who don't like their morning meal too sweet, the croissant is wrapped around ham and Swiss cheese — and I think I detected a hint of mustard — for a deliciously portable option.

If croissants aren't your thing, there's a wide selection of pastries, from danishes and cereal-topped doughnuts to classic cake and raised doughnuts and long johns. Move over to the second bakery case and you'll find a beautiful assortment of desserts, such as churro cupcakes, bars, éclairs, tortes — the list goes on — including several gluten-free options.

The Prior Lake bakery is owned by Laurie and Joe Lin, the force behind Cocoa & Fig. (Prior Lake happens to be Laurie's hometown.) Edelweiss also serves hot breakfasts, think sandwiches and quiches, and a respectable list of sandwiches — more croissant opportunities! — and salads for lunch. Time your visit for a Saturday morning and you can catch Skillet Joe's food truck, also owned by the Lins, and, starting May 8, the Prior Lake Farmers Market. (Nicole Hvidsten)

16186 Main Av. SE., Prior Lake, 952-440-2773, edelweissbakery.net. Open Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 7 a.m.-1 p.m.

The Star Bar at Estelle.
The Star Bar at Estelle.

Rick Nelson • Star Tribune

Star Bars at Estelle

Chef de cuisine Nathel Anderson was test-driving a new chocolate dessert, and it uncharacteristically flopped, big time. Looking for an alternative, she surveyed chef/owner Jason Hansen and their colleagues, asking what they liked to eat, chocolate-wise.

Their overwhelming response? "Candy bars."

"I'd never made one, but I have lots of confections experience from John and Josh," said Anderson, referring to her former bosses, Patisserie 46 chef/owner John Kraus and chocolatier Josh Werner. "It was a few days before Halloween and I thought, 'Let's make this happen.' "

Did she ever. Inside the bar, toasted peanuts are laced with caramel, and more crunch comes from a coffee-almond flour streusel. The nougat ("Shout out to Milky Way," said Anderson) is composed of whipped egg whites, sugar, maple syrup and pops of milk chocolate. Given the kitchen's lack of an enrober machine, all of that meticulously composed goodness gets dipped — carefully — in dark chocolate.

"I have to MacGyver my way here," Anderson said with a laugh.

Glistening flakes of Maldon sea salt provide an ideal finishing flourish. Kudos on the approachable price ($5).

"It's a candy bar, so I'm not going to charge more than that," said Anderson. "I like to have desserts that people can afford and enjoy. And I like desserts that don't look complicated but turn out to be a lot more complicated than they look." (R.N.)

1806 St. Clair Av., St. Paul, 651-330-9648, estellestp.com. Open for dine-in 5-9 p.m. Tues.-Thu. (with drinks to 10 p.m.), 5-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. (with drinks to 11 p.m.), 5-9 p.m. Sun. Open for takeout 5-8 p.m. Tues-Sun.

The crabcake basket at Sea Salt in Minneapolis.
The crabcake basket at Sea Salt in Minneapolis.

Nicole Hvidsten • Star Tribune

Crabcake sandwich at Sea Salt

If it's possible for summer to have a taste, I'm pretty sure it's on the menu at Sea Salt. Take the eatery's lively seafood selection, a sunny day and a backdrop of Minnehaha Falls, and you have a day that is hard to beat.

While you can't go wrong with anything on the menu, I never turn down crabcakes, so the crabcake basket ($12.95) it was. A plump, housemade ¼-pound crabcake is lightly drizzled with a sauce that tasted like a cross between tartar and rémoulade, and served on a grilled bun garnished with lettuce and tomato. (The online menu shows it served with a fresh corn salsa, which would be a welcome addition.) Accompanied by coleslaw and cantaloupe, it made for a top-notch lunch.

A close second was the shrimp po' boy ($13.95), and go ahead and treat yourself to a basket of tender calamari ($11.95) to celebrate making it through the world's longest winter. There are plenty of other options, from fish or scallop tacos and an admirable selection of sandwiches and dinners — enough to have a rotating cast of favorites over many summer visits.

Sea Salt has COVID safety measures down pat. Currently it's patio dining only, and signs direct traffic flow through the restaurant and onto the patio. (Don't worry, the beer truck is back in the pavilion, too.) If the weather isn't cooperating but you're craving fish tacos, watch their Facebook page — online ordering has been available during inclement weather.

Owners Chris Weglinski and Jon Blood opened the falls-area favorite in 2005 after working together at Coastal Seafood. Clearly they know seafood well. (N.H.)

4801 Minnehaha Av. S., Minneapolis, 612-721-8990, seasaltmpls.com, open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.