Chef Shack brings curb appeal to summer eats

For two entrepreneurial chefs, street food means grass-fed bison burgers andtorched-to-order crème brûlée

Summer's signature creations, Indian-spiced mini donuts, are good enough to forget all about the health kick that brought you to the mostly organic, upscale market in the first place. Summer's single machine can hardly keep up with demand. "People are crazy for them," she says. The Eastern flavors add a certain sophistication to the state fair classic, but it's their pillowy texture, which Summer attributes to carefully calibrating the liquid based on the humidity, that makes them irresistible. Summer also makes a luxurious chocolate mousse with cocoa nib brittle, but her most stunning accomplishment, in my book, is making crème brûlée interesting again. Her version is topped with caramelized bananas, triple-chocolate coconut cookies, and softly whipped cream—and it was easily the best dessert I've eaten in months. Restaurants with actual kitchens: There's no excuse for using Reddi-Wip when a wee little trailer serves the real thing.

Summer says that "cooking whatever we darn well please" is one of the things she and Carlson like best about the trailer, along with meeting customers face to face. "The thing about being a chef is that you never really get to talk to the guests and get feedback," she says. "It's a treat and a pleasure to hand food right to the guests in the window. We get a lot of satisfaction from watching them eat."

In two short years, Mill City has become something of a holy day for the crunchy crowd. Compared to other Twin Cities' markets, its patrons seem less focused on getting a week's worth of grocery shopping done than having something to do on the weekend. They might grab a coffee, listen to some live music, scour a rack of locally made clothing, and stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge before it even occurs to them to pick up a carton of eggs or a bunch of cilantro. Some argue that these extraneous activities dilute the market's farmer-driven mission, but I think prepared-food vendors like Chef Shack play an essential role. They get people to see what they might actually do with a pound of ground bison, besides feeling warm and fuzzy about helping a local farmer for about two minutes, and then sticking the meat in the freezer and forgetting about it indefinitely.

Gourmet food, plastic forks: Carrie Summer (left) with bison burger and Lisa Carlson with crème brûlée
Jana Freiband
Gourmet food, plastic forks: Carrie Summer (left) with bison burger and Lisa Carlson with crème brûlée

Location Info


Chef Shack

Mill City Farmers Market, 704 S. Second St.
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)


Saturday mornings at the Mill City Farmers' Market and Thursday evenings at Marketfest

704 S. Second St., Minneapolis

4701 Hwy. 61, White Bear Lake

So far, Summer and Carlson have had little difficulty persuading Mill City patrons to pay whole-package prices for individual hot dogs. Their challenges have come more from convincing city regulators not to be nervous about made-to-order foods. I don't know about you, but I'd sooner bet my stomach on a seasoned chef working with raw meat than on a teenage carnie who's more concerned about texting his girlfriend than heating up a frozen Sysco patty.

Summer sees the Chef Shack as an "evolving art project" and hopes to incorporate entertainment with future culinary offerings. She thinks more street food would improve downtown culture by boosting civic energy and helping deter crime. She and Carlson say they'd love to be able to park the trailer at the Metrodome, Loring Park, or outside any bar at closing time, if they could get permission. In any case, if they're looking to add another spot to their list, I'd like to request my front yard. 

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