Best Of :: Food & Drink
Being a vegetarian in the Twin Cities requires a lot of hard work, constant vigilance, and a good dose of paranoia: Some restaurateurs simply don't seem to believe that there are people who don't want chicken in their food. But there's no need to be defensive at the Birchwood. Just sit back in the minty-fresh Fifties décor and munch happily as plate after plate of zesty salads, interesting specials like chickpea croquettes on a summer-squash sauté, or vegetarian pizzas whiz your way. Carnivores may think that vegetarians lead lives of difficulty, denying themselves the table's tastiest treats. But the Birchwood proves them wrong with lushly indulgent desserts like moist pineapple-upside-down cake, ethereal banana cream pie, and spicy fresh peach pie. And since the cafeteria-style setup directs you to dessert first, be advised that all of the aforementioned also make great appetizers.
Even though some of us are still bitter about last year's demise of Rick's Ol' Time Café, Victor's is garnering a larger following with each passing month. There's plenty of standard yanqui breakfast fare, but the Cuban entrées are the real reason to get out of bed to beat the crowd to this trailer-sized neighborhood fixture. You can have your eggs accompanied by black beans, a nippy creole sauce, fried yucca, sweet plantains, toast with guava jam, Cuban steak, mango pancakes, and a whole host of other tropical tasties--and you'll rarely spend more than $6 for your morning boost. Owners Victor and Niki Valens have painted the interior a pale yellow so sunny and cheerful that, even with winter coats draped over the ends of the booths, it actually feels like breakfast at the beach.
Yeah, okay, this Best of the Twin Cities pick isn't in--or even really near--the Twin Cities. But cut us some slack: Emma Krumbee's is worth driving a few miles out of the way. Set on 45 acres about halfway to Mankato near scenic Belle Plaine, this operation has all the amenities you'd expect: wagon rides, cider sampling, homemade apple pies, and a great pumpkin patch. And oh, those apples! Arrive in August for Connell Reds, that sweet, ruby-red Minnesota breed. Or come later in the autumn, when you can pick your own McIntosh and hard, tangy Honeygolds. If you wait till October, you'll still be able to take home a bushel of tart Honeycrisps--the perfect flavor to compliment a glorious and fleeting season.
Make your own maki? United Noodles sports ten varieties of nori. There are aisles of cookies, crackers, and canned goods, plus Asian seafood and produce you won't find anywhere else in town. The staff is pleasant and helpful--which comes in handy when you're in no shape to discern one kind of noodle from another, or to gauge which rice-paper wrappers are best suited to your first foray into spring-rolling, or even when you're idly wondering what one might do with a baby duck egg. While you're at it, there's a well-stocked herbal medicine counter and a small acupuncture clinic, for whatever ails you.
Bagels aren't that complex a foodstuff, so why are there so few good ones west of the Hudson River? A bagel lover in these parts must simply make do, taste-testing the local offerings, compromising, always compromising, and then, inevitably prevailing upon a loved one who's traveling to New York City to bring back the real thing. Then along comes Big City Bagels and gives us hope. While you're still better off going to New York, the price of a Sun Country ticket is admittedly a little steep when all you want to do is nosh. These Big City bad boys are big, sufficiently odd-shaped, tasty, and yes, even somewhat chewy. Grab one, slather on the cream cheese, add some lox, and feel the joy.
The more widely we taste of the world's bread, the more convinced we are that Turtle Bread isn't merely the best bakery in town, it might well be one of the best bakeries on Earth. Case in point: Last fall we were in Paris and had the chance to swing by Poilane, widely reputed to offer the best boule (a wild-yeast bread) in the world. The world! And while it was an amazing bread, it wasn't all that far ahead of Turtle Bread--and Poilane didn't have the yummy little cookies, addictive olive crackers, buttery Danish, fantastic fresh-fruit pies, or breakfast-perfect cardamom coffee bread we've come to swear by. Don't buy it? France awaits...