Midwest Sushi at Birdhouse Eat & Drink
Back in the office holiday potluck days, I would try to outdo myself by making an elaborate cake or gourmet quiche, something I thought would subtly “win” the otherwise totally uncompetitive festive gathering. Then there was a year when I came up with my version of mac and cheese – with lutefisk. I was so sure that the ingenuity of this one would amaze my colleagues. Inevitably, my dish sat there with barely a shine removed, while the real star of the party, the first plate to be wiped down, was always the Midwestern sushi, aka the pickle roll-up.
Not being from the Midwest, it took me a few years to discover the simplistic deliciousness of a breadless burrito. Now I know no picnic is complete without it.
Ironic versions have popped up on restaurant menus here and there — there’s even a pizza topped with a Wrecktangle-wrapped pickle spear. But the Birdhouse, a charming neighborhood restaurant with a few arcade games and a shelf full of kids’ activities in the back, stays true to the classic, only spicing it up with a sprinkling of herbs. A plate of $6 crossover pickles, rolled in dill cream cheese and ham, looks even better thanks to the vintage-style stoneware it’s served on and the retro wallpaper that accompanies it. It’s the perfect companion to other nostalgia-filled menu items, including the pot roast, the Tater Tot hot dish, and a sample dessert bar. This place would win the potluck every time. (Sharyn Jackson)
4153 Broadway Ave W., Robbinsdale, 763-205-9668, thebirdhousemn.com
Bootleg at the grocer’s table
Another Minnesota tradition I missed is the Bootleg. Fortunately, this has been rectified. Like rolled pickles, this summery cocktail that starts with a mix of mint and citrus puree reads more homemade than upscale. But why not have it both ways?
Grocer’s Table, Wayzata’s downtown market, cafe and wine bar, recently added cocktails to the menu. And they’re made by top bartender Katy Dimick, formerly of Hola Arepa. Fruity and luminous, the drinks use the flavors of passion fruit, lemongrass, hibiscus and blackcurrant. In the case of Grocer’s Bootleg ($14), there are no surprises. Just mint, lemon, lime, your choice of gin, vodka or tequila, and a little soda water on top, served in a canned jar.
The best part of having a market in the middle of a restaurant? Almost everything on the awesome shareable boards (the smoked fish board, for $22, was a knockout) can be bought to go. Just like Bootleg Mix ($16), in a bottle printed with make-at-home instructions. I caught one before a weekend, poured my own Bootleg and made up for lost time. (S.J.)
326 Broadway Ave S., Wayzata, 952-466-6100, thegrocerstablemn.com
Prosciutto and Asparagus Pizza from Log Home Wood Fired Pizza
Spring comes late to Duluth and that makes it all the more fun to find those fleeting spring ingredients on menus. It’s even nicer to find these ingredients on a food truck.
Log Home Wood Fired Pizza, the work of Rick and Nancy Herman, has been serving the North Country for eight years. Nancy has a background in graphic design and marketing, while Rick was a longtime teacher. That is, until the pizza bug bites and it starts to work hard at perfecting a crust that’s both airy and light while still retaining some chewiness. It also worked to tame a fire, because that charcoal on the edge of the crust makes all the difference in building superior flavor.
The truck offers a surprising range of pizzas, but for the lingering spring, it had to go for the asparagus. A Bianca sauce was a garlicky backdrop for the charred leafy asparagus, and the prosciutto gave a creamy, salty pork and fatness to every earthy, fresh bite. There was also one with homemade BBQ sauce and bacon which I have drawings to order on my next trip. Most pizzas are $10 and generously serve one person.
I found the truck outside a brewery in Lincoln Park, but Log Home Wood Fire Pizza is available throughout the north. They’re at the farmers markets in Grand Rapids and on their way to Baxter. Also, there’s a whole restaurant at McGregor, which seems like important information for cabin travelers heading that way. (Joy Summers)
242 highway. 210 W., McGregor, 218-768-7992, northwoodspizza.com
Grumpy Claude’s Jerk Pork Wrap
Minnesotans are making the most of the hot summer days, knowing that a 30-degree temperature swing could be imminent. So when a perfect day presented itself, we took advantage of it and not only worked in the yard, but also reduced our Star Tribune Iconic Eats summer bingo card. And we did two in one session: Discovering a new food truck and raising a glass on a terrace at the source.
The food truck is courtesy of Trinidadian chef Claude Alkins, who cooks up Caribbean and American flavors — and big smiles — in his busy mobile kitchen. We left the well-appointed burger and spicy wings and fries ($10-$13) to the hungry teenagers and branched out into Caribbean flavors with the roast and jerk pork wrap ($15). The roti, available in both chicken and vegetable, was tender, flavorful and served with a hot sauce meant to be bottled. But the jerk pork wrap — a large tortilla is stuffed with red beans, rice, and melt-in-your-mouth seasoned pork before being kissed on the grill — was by far my favorite. Only one regret: not having bought the chicken version to take away.
Fortunately, Alkins doesn’t hold back the spice, making Grumpy Claude a great brewing companion. We happened to be at my local brewery, Giesenbrau Bier Co. in New Prague, where the beer was flowing (Hildy’s Helles lager to my heart), live music was playing, and the patio was buzzing. A perfect summer night in Minnesota. (Nicole Hvidsten)
Find Grumpy Claude’s schedule on social networks at facebook.com/GrumpyClaudes
Vanilla/Chocolate Twist at Conny’s Creamy Cone
There are three summer rites of passage for St. nights where bedtime goes unnoticed because the sun refuses to set and a trip to Conny’s Creamy Cone.
The stand operated as Creamy Cone for generations, owned by Conny for 25 of those years. It offers 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream, shakes, hot dogs, and a long list of goodies, and it’s only open during the warmer months. It’s a stand, with a few benches and a few picnic tables that seem to stand the test of time.
Queuing at Conny’s is an opportunity to savor the rich tapestry that makes up the city. Kids dot the line, sporting different shades of melanin and matching summer knees. They huddle with friends riding bikes or stand next to their adults, craning their necks to see how long the line is. Clutch dolls or small metal racing cars. Some melt, others collapse. We all stand there, circling along the sidewalk along Maryland Avenue, watching the cars, each other, and the towering ice cream cone atop the building.
When we get to the window, the flavor choices are almost overwhelming – all that waiting can trick the mind into imagining new flavors, like the lime just added. Normally I’m a vanilla girl with chocolate dip, but that night I went with the kids. We ordered twist cones ($2.39-$3.49), with sweet milk chocolate blending into a vanilla milk. We sat on one of the red painted picnic tables and watched the sun stretch into the shadows – missing bedtime altogether. (Joy Summers)
1197 N. Dale Street, St. Paul, connyscreamycone.com