Bryn Mawr Star

In which Dara discovers a gem in the bottom of the mailbag

Dear Dara;

Now, I never thought I'd write that there is great sushi in [redacted], but it's true. I'm sure you've got a big list of places to review, etc., but I recommend you try [redacted] sushi. I ask this for purely selfish reasons: I don't want the great sushi that is so close to home to disappear. I've been there five times and each time it has been easily just as good if not better than typical Downtown/Uptown sushi.

A satisfied customer (who has no part of the business....)

--Scott, in Plymouth

 

Dear Scott;

You are so high. You are as high as a kite flown from the garbage pile on top of Everest by a very, very, very tall sherpa--that is how high you are. High. I went to the aforementioned place, which is way too small and way too vulnerable for me to unload upon it in the way I dearly wish to, but, high-boy, you have a few things to learn about the world. Like how I spent nearly $125 at said new sushi crypt, and everything I had seemed like it had been prepared by children with ADD using plastic knives. Or possibly plastic mallets. I do not know. Butchered, queasy-smelling piles of mangled fish drizzled with orange concentrate--neither my cat nor I call that food. Grilled mackerel smelled like something that dogs try to roll in on the lakeshore, and had a more unpleasant consistency. Between the drive, the price, and the post-traumatic stress disorder, I'd call this the worst meal of the decade.

Except that I've had nothing but bad luck lately. In fact, I'd say that since the beginning of December, I've been on the worst roll in my seven years on this beat. Those of you familiar with this column know the standard ethics of reviewers: Newsworthy restaurants get either negative or positive reviews, but you don't give a negative review to a restaurant no one's ever heard of--it's an abuse of the reviewer's power and a waste of the reader's time. Finding good restaurants that no one's ever heard of, that's the trick. And usually, I have decent luck, averaging maybe a prince for every five frogs. Except not lately.

Lately, I got to tango with the damned at the St. Paul Mediterranean joint where plates of oiled iceberg lettuce will run you $9 and get you dirty looks. The sub shop near the Big Top that tried to hide cheap, and possibly spoiled, meats under an ocean of hot Miracle Whip--and you know, hot Miracle Whip, unlike beauty or wealth, does not cover a multitude of sins. I'd even say it enhances them. If you ever wondered why no one appears for his or her criminal arraignment covered with hot Miracle Whip, now you know. The proudly independently owned Uptown bar that served a hundred things that tasted like they had been gently warmed after they fell off the Sysco truck. The delusional south Minneapolis coffee shop and bakery where they think they make the best croissants in town--yeah, lady, and you want to know what else? You can fly around the room if you only think about birds. There was the chef-driven bistro that I gave a lackluster review to that changed chefs, and on revisiting it I found a lamb shank so dried out that it looked like it had been dragged in by Louis Leakey for carbon dating.

Oh, and on a personal note? If you are the line cook in the open kitchen whom I noticed, upon glancing up at the conclusion of a perfectly adequate meal, if you are that line cook whom I found wiping your nose on your forearm and coughing on your plates--please know I cursed roundly the entire week I was laid up with your cold. And another thing: Remember how you cut yourself that one time? Well, it was me that did it. And from now on, every time you find a parking ticket on your car, gum on your shoe, or knock your shin upon the coffee table, please know that these things are happening to you because I have wished for them. You rat. You stinking rat.

 

Dear Dara;

I am writing to you after a sub-par experience at [redacted]! I am not a gourmet and to tell you the truth I'm not that adventurous when it comes to food. However, I love pizza. I co-own, with my father and uncle, and operate a small pizzeria and deli in Bryn Mawr....

--Brooke Anderson,
Bryn Mawr Pizza and Deli

Dear Brooke;

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard it all. But answer me this, Brooke: What fresh hell is in store for me over by you? Whattaya got? Men in gorilla suits wielding crossbows? Bring it, buddy.

So I went, in about that spirit. Cute little hole in the wall right off the Penn Avenue exit from Interstate 394, on the corner of Penn and Cedar Lake Road. But the sign outside doesn't say Bryn Mawr anything, it says Fast Freddies. Okay. Walk into the three stools and otherwise-takeout counter and there's a kind of two-story cutout of a man that serves as the door betwixt cash register and kitchen. Cute. Decoupaged newspaper heads decorate the menu board. Very cute. And so, for no good reason, on my first visit I ordered, of all things, a tuna melt, a meatball sub, and a roast beef sandwich.

And paint me red and call me a fire hydrant if they weren't some of the best corner-deli sandwiches you could hope to find. The tuna melt was inside a roasty toasty sub and featured some nicely gooey tuna salad under a healthy spread of tomatoes, real melted cheddar, and some leaf lettuce that was perfectly fresh in the middle of all that meltiness--eureka! The Meatball Deluxe ($5.44 for a hoagie) was little marbles of sausage resting in a rich, spicy tomato sauce and tossed together with fine calamata olives, fresh chopped red onion, real house-made roasted red peppers, and both melty mozzarella and tangy feta. A weird meatball hoagie, as it technically didn't have any meatballs, but more importantly it reminded me of one of those idiosyncratic bits of kitchen genius that cooks come up with and eat where the customers can't see them: weird, but great.

I got the roast beef on a toasted onion roll ($2.99), and when I peeled back the foil and tasted the real beef, toasty onion, and fresh fixings all together I knew that the place was a great find. Not necessarily a drive-in-from-Shakopee find, but definitely a quick gourmet stop if you find yourself dashing along I-394 and hungry.

And this was before I tried the salads. Yeah, I said the salads. There's a spinach salad there that comes with a generous handful of sweet candied pecans, lots of fresh-cut strawberries, cute little buttons of mozzarella and red onion, and once you dress this with the little plastic cup of basil, orange, and ginger vinaigrette it comes with--a miracle! It's fresh, sweet, light, beguiling, in the same spirit as the cooking at Dayton's Oak Room, but 10 seconds off the freeway, and available till 11:00 most nights. At $5.75 an order they'd be a genius thing to bring to a potluck, too. The garlicky homemade crouton Caesar is better than most of the ones I see in restaurants, and at $4.50 doesn't cost much more than salad in a bag.

A cook named Jeanine Webster is responsible for the salad treats and makes a very genuine, crumbly, properly-heavily-textured cheesecake, and I blow her, as well as all the Andersons, a thousand kisses. The pizza isn't quite my cup of tea--when I tried it the crust was thicker and doughier than I prefer, almost focaccia-like--but hey, I know a lot of you prize those thicker, sweeter pizzas, so if you like pizza in the noble tradition of Fireside or Broadway Pizza, this is better than those. And if you live in the delivery area, you should have this place on speed dial. (Bryn Mawr Pizza and Deli, 404 S. Cedar Lake Rd.; 612.377.5501)

And I especially have to thank Bryn Mawr Pizza, or Fast Freddies, or whatever you want to call it, for restoring my faith in the path, the search, and for once again proving that it is indeed the trials in life that allow you to experience the simple joys keenly, most keenly.

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