By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Okay, you insist on being distracted by the pizza slices? It's understandable, as they have both plain old eye-catchers like pepperoni ($3.50), and snazzy gourmet ones like fresh roasted mushroom finished with truffle oil ($4). Other hot foods include pastas, including a penne with mushrooms, pine nuts, and raisins in a gorgonzola cream sauce ($4.50 small, $8.50 large), and hot hoagies made with things like Molinari salami, on crisp New French bread (giant hot hoagies are $6.75). Still, you're with the slices of pizza? Okay, I give up. Just know the trattoria also sells whole take-and-bake pizzas, starting at $7.50, and you can have them customized any way you want, using all the glories that its deli case has to order. And yes, you can have a slice for the car ride home.
Farm in the Market
I wrote about this two weeks ago, but, to recap: fresh, straight-from-the-farm meat, eggs, and dairy, owned by two couples, one that farms mainly chickens, the other that raises bison. They take turns running the place, and there's no fresher, better meat in town. Cooking the products sold here is just like being a chef in a fancy restaurant, with everything you make accompanied by a little parentheses telling you just where it came from. Knowing where your food comes from, you may know, is the ultimate luxury in today's terrifying world, and with this I'll end, lest I write another million words on the place.
The Produce Exchange
Have you ever stood in the grocery aisle, dumbfounded over the difference between Champagne mangoes and regular ones? Are they Champagne mangoes because they're better? Because they grow in bottles in caves? Because you have them on New Year's Eve? Anyone? So you ask the guy stocking the cilantro, and he shrugs uncomfortably, and retreats to the back, and emerges 15 minutes later to tell you that his boss says the difference is that they are different varieties? And then you want to smoosh a mango on that person's head, Three Stooges-style, while demanding back those 15 minutes of your life? Of course you have! You live in Minnesota, where the disconnect between grocery-store floor and mango producer is enormous.
But you know who does know about produce? Produce wholesalers. Those are the people whose job it is to work the phones all day getting the best price on mangoes, cherries, lemons, lettuce, and papaya and, having gotten it, move it hither and yon. The Produce Exchange at the MGM is what happens when a wholesaler, in this case St. Paul-based J&J Distributing (www.jjdst.com), opens its own store, cutting out the middleman. The Produce Exchange occupies a large area of prime real estate in the center of the MGM, and if you care about fruits and vegetables, you need to give the place careful scrutiny.
The prices are often fantastic—I've frequently paid $2 a pound for organic strawberries—and the selection vast. Sometimes there are as many as eight varieties of tomatoes or four sorts of peaches hidden in little pockets throughout the area. They also get local farmers' vegetables: I've gotten beautiful spring onions and radishes when the season was high. While everything at the Produce Exchange isn't necessarily as flashy and prime as one of the jewel-box produce departments at the co-ops, the price, variety, and staff knowledge about the produce make it my current favorite in town.
Republic of Fish
Nothing's as healthy as produce except fish, right? I watched this space eagerly for months, but, sadly, as of this writing it wasn't yet open. I hope it will be by the time this hits the stands. In any event, this looks to be the Twin Cities' first premium fish market that takes issues of sustainable fisheries, PCBs, and other seafood issues seriously. All the fishes will be labeled to let you know about the health and sustainability of the population they hail from, and such. (The information is based on the work of a Santa Cruz, California-based nonprofit called Sustainable Fishery Advocates, which has a program called "FishWise"; www.fishwise.org). I write about food for a living and I can't even keep the various sound-alike fish straight (striped bass, sometimes called rockfish, good; actual rockfish bad) so I really look forward to this place opening.
No global eating tour would be complete without those all-American classics—burgers, fries, and malts. Happily, the Midtown Global Market has some stand-up versions, as they have a satellite location of St. Paul gem Andy's Garage. Never been there? Then you obviously don't have rugrats, as the real hand-cut fries, real ice cream malts, and real wholesome fun of the place make it a prime stop on the dining-with-little-ones circuit. At the Andy's Garage at the MGM you can watch them cut big old russet potatoes into big old fries right before your eyes, and when the hot brown beauties arrive, you're transported to old-fashioned America with every bite ($2.75 as a gargantuan basket, $1.85 as a half-basket, or for an extra $2.40 alongside any sandwich, with coleslaw or pasta salad). Burgers are forthright, tender, and good (from $5.25, on beautifully light and tender grilled buns). Malts are giant and made before your eyes with real ice cream ($3.25 small, $4.25 large). Eight kids' meals, priced from $1.95 for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to $4.65 for a junior California cheeseburger with fries, mean you can partake of all the kids' activities on the main stage without breaking the bank.