Good food is all about the present. Spend all your time geeking out about the MN55, the lovechild of a Honeycrisp and a MonArk and the next big thing coming from the poindexters at the University of Minnesota apple research lab, and you'll miss the seasonal flavors sweetening up menus across the Twin Cities right this very minute.
We've got a list of 10 nibbles and tipples to get you started on this quest for that teacher's-favorite, doctor's-worst-nightmare, doesn't-fall-far-from-the-tree kind of autumnal fruit that makes Minnesotans go wild.
10. Brie and apple panini Cafe Zentral, 105 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis
A cheffed-up version of your basic apple and cheese snack, this hot pressed sandwich served in a tidy paper pouch is equal parts tart apple, melted brie, and chewy grilled sourdough. Grab one at the skyway quick-service arm of Russell and Desta Klein's empire in the Soo Line Building in downtown Minneapolis. Cafe Zentral is just upstairs from the continental finery of Brasserie Zentral and the sophisticated Foreign Legion Wine Bar, a name that will make you feel the most important you've ever felt getting slightly sloppy on fancy pours.
9.Teacher's Pet Nightingale, 2551 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Apple sparklers don't have to be so tart they set one's teeth on edge, nor do they need to be palate-numbingly sweet. Nightingale's Teacher's Pet, made with Cedar Ridge apple brandy, cava, and house-made apple bitters, is a balanced fall cocktail, crisp like the first hint of frost, but mellow enough for a lazy afternoon.
8. New York, New York roll Origami, 30 N. First St., Minneapolis
The crunch of a fresh apple makes it an ideal addition to any maki, so it's beyond us why this fruit doesn't crop up on more sushi menus. Even this Big Apple-themed roll is only available at Origami's downtown location (sorry Uptowners). Make the trek for a sweet and spicy roll-up of crab and Granny Smith apples, topped with tempura flakes and unagi sauce.
7. Caramel Apple Cider Crisp ice cream Sweet Science (at Verdant Tea), 2111 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
We draw a straight line from the moment Eve took a bite of that apple to the moment we put a spoonful of Caramel Apple Cider Crisp to our lips. Totally worth it, Eve. Apple cider ice cream cloaks ribbons of caramel and bits of streusel for a one-two punch that's almost like our favorite Sweet Science flavors combined (salted caramel and berry crumble). It's a limited edition flavor, so get it at Verdant Tea while supplies last. Come next year, you might even find it at a stand-alone Sweet Science scoop shop. Though owner Ashlee Olds isn't making any promises yet, she's hinted at the possibility and suggests St. Paul would be the spot.
6. Caramel apple pie Power, Corruption, Pies Pop-Up at Hola Arepa, 3501 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
The flavors will change at this weekly pop-up throughout November and December, but the Salty Tart quality that baker Michelle Gayer brings to the table won't waver a bit. The caramel apple pie from the pop-up's first run is a classic, more of a straightforward apple pie than a caramel apple version. This round of butter, love, and sweet baked apples belies the pop-up's sinister name. On second thought, what's more American than power, corruption, and apple pie? [page]
5. Apple hand pie Bogart's Doughnuts, 904 W. 36th St., Minneapolis
If you can steal yourself away from your brown butter glazed routine at Bogart's bakery case, try a tart apple hand pie while they're still on offer. November is the last month for these brioche dough majesties, made with Granny Smith apples to "keep things from getting too sweet," says owner Anne Rucker. The result is a springy hand pie that's not cloying and not too heavy.
4. Scallop crudo teaser Tongue in Cheek, 989 Payne Ave., St. Paul
If one bite of fall is all you seek, the scallop crudo teaser laced with wasabi and tossed with tiny chunks of Granny Smith apples will fit the bill. Supple scallop and crunchy sweet apple get a powerful jolt from wasabi, but the whole item comes off like the perfect reminder of how invigorating autumn can be.
3. White chocolate green apple macarons Spoon & Stable, 211 N. First St., Minneapolis
We realize we're putting the cart before the horse a bit with this one, but the bright, seasonally sound macarons pastry chef Diane Yang dreamed up for the Spoon and Stable preview had us simultaneously pining for the November 16 opening date and ruing the day that fall and apple season comes to a close. With these one-bite desserts, bright green, tart, and chewy meringue plus a creamy white chocolate center makes for a little pop of orchard meets creamery.
2. Apple and Camembert Heyday, 2700 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Technically, Heyday has two apple dishes worthy of a visit. We popped in first for the sprightly apple and Camembert salad, composed of thin-sliced cross-sections of a whole apple, watercress, very mellow radish, ethereal Camembert foam, and toasted hazelnuts. Simple in ingredients, complex in form, this light salad is a blend of earthy, sweet, and nutty flavors befitting a fall table, but it was actually the almond cake that stole our hearts. A dense, rich almond cake encircled by poached apples and topped with caramel foam and toasted almonds is enough to make a nuanced postre, but the kitchen elevated the experience further with the addition of a small reservoir of tart apple gel at the bottom of the bowl.
1. Pig and Apple Haute Dish, 119 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis
Let your apple journey culminate at downtown Minneapolis's Haute Dish, where a playful romp through fall flavors awaits with the Pig and Apple. Think of the board game Mousetrap, with its lengthy set-up time, the moments of awe when its tiny pieces all fit together for one elaborate, multi-dimensional table-top playground. The Pig and Apple is like that, except that all the pieces are edible and no one — we repeat, no one — will get bored halfway through and decide to busy themselves with something else. Let your fork twirl from succulent pork chop to house-made skillet-seared bacon to a campfire-smoky boudin noir with purple cabbage, cleanse the palate with a matchstick-cut salad of apple and Gruyere, and dive back in for a tiny ring of baked apple filled with Gruyere crème or a tangle of crispy spaetzle. It won't come cheap, but if the quintessential flavors of fall strike your fancy, you'll want to spring for this one.
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