Giving and Takeout
There are those of us (the pushovers, the hyperresponsible?) who "do" the holidays for everyone else. Frantic good sports, we buy, wrap, bake, and entertain, though we have jobs and families too. Yes, we are adults, acting of our own free will. We could refrain from hosting the neighborhood party, baking five dozen cookies when one dozen was plenty, taking and sending photos of our children to relatives who just saw them at Thanksgiving. But Christmas, for me, crescendos like a spectacular movie train wreck with dramatic sound effects and soupy music: People, food, and presents collide, leaving wrapping paper, dishes, toys, candles, ornaments, aftershave, and dazed children behind. Come the New Year, we survivors pull ourselves up, brush ourselves off, look around, and ask, What the hell just happened?
A holiday veteran of 25 years, I've learned the hard way. January 1 is the day to stop. I don't shop or (God forbid) cook for at least a week. Let the fridge go empty and the cupboards go bare. It's a Zen approach, a mindful practice, this "not cooking." I pay attention to "takeout." Changing a habit isn't always easy, and cultivating the not-cooking mind requires discipline and patience. It means letting go of leftovers (i.e., no turkey-mashed-potato fritatta or pumpkin-pie gratin recipes). It means turning stale stollen over to the birds instead of turning it into French toast. If I breathe deeply, the urge to fill a hot dish will pass and I will be receptive to O.P.C. (other people's cooking). I can stumble into unlikely, unadvertised places--like Jamaica Island Cuisine on Bloomington Avenue.
I focus on the fast, fresh, easy, reasonable, and close to home. In winter, especially, I need parking. I want to call ahead--have dinner waiting for me, not me for it. The food must need little beyond reheating and plating to serve. It's got to be fresh and healthful (I can't carry another pound or any more guilt). And although I'm not looking for cheap, I don't want to pay sit-down restaurant prices (otherwise, we'd go out and let someone else do the dishes); so I'll expect to spend somewhere between $5.00 and $12.00 per head, including sides or desserts.
What follows is my own survival guide to urban takeout: It's by no means an exhaustive list, and I've focused on places close to home--which for me means mostly Minneapolis. This is simple, warming fare for the winter-weary that I might actually make myself, if I weren't practicing another mind-stretching discipline: sleep.
Sweetski's (3514 Grand Ave. S.; 612. 521.7401) can hardly keep its éclairs in stock. But beyond those cream-filled, chocolate-cloaked orbs of delight, you'll find homey soups (black bean chili, mushroom barley); crisp phyllo pierogis stuffed with ham and cheese, feta and spinach, or curried vegetables; fresh salads; and cookies you'd be crazy to leave without.
Gig's Café (824 W. 36 St.; 612.825.0818), owned and operated by B&W Coffee, a local, award-winning roasting company, serves soups with homemade herbed biscuits (carrot cashew, chicken coconut curry, Southwestern vegetable rotate) through the daily menu. Salads--broccoli Thai peanut, wheat berry (with dried cherries in a maple-soy vinaigrette)--round out the selection of hoagies and burritos.
Pho Tau Bay (2837 Nicollet Ave. S.; 612.874.6030), with its steaming bowls of noodle soup, traditional bún salads, wonderful fresh spring rolls, and grilled chicken and beef, is one of my Vietnamese favorites. It's seldom crowded, but call ahead.
Shuang Hur Supermarket (2710 Nicollet Ave. S.; 612.872.8815) Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish are spoken in the narrow aisles packed with huge sacks of rice and dried shrimp. Wander among the tanks of lobsters and crabs, the meat cases of pork ear and tripe. The Peking ducks (mahogany, crisp, hanging with heads on) fried chicken feet, and big slabs of barbecue pork make this place as much field-trip destination as takeout supermarket.
Jamaica Island Cuisine (3787 Bloomington Ave. S.; 612.721.0264) makes the most authentic Jamaican cuisine in Minneapolis: Eat it and dream of palm trees. The jerk chicken, brown stew chicken, and fried dumplings belie the restaurant's humble setting.
Strudel & Nudel (2605 Nicollet Ave. S.; 612.874.0113). This spic-and-span little place, with its tangy homemade rye bread and fabulous sausages, sandwiches thick with corned beef and slabs of dill havarti on poppyseed rolls, and the fat-noodle chicken soup, changed my attitude about things German. Don't leave without a pint of house-cured sauerkraut or German potato salad or braised red cabbage...or a real apple strudel or Sachertorte.
Sindbad's Café and Market (2528 Nicollet Ave. S.; 612.871.6505): Fire-roasted-eggplant baba ghannouj, hot lemony grape leaves, cinnamon and cardamom lamb and eggplant stew, baklava, and freshly baked pita bread make this an oasis of pungent, smoky, sour, hot flavors.
Bill's Imported Foods (721 W. Lake St.; 612.827.891) This place is a treasure trove of fetas (domestic Bulgarian, Greek, and French) and fabulous salamis, frozen specialties like spanakopita, fresh pita (two kinds), pastries, cookies, and more varieties of olives than anyone can name.
Fuji Ya (600 W. Lake St.; 612.871.4055). Order a sushi platter--six pieces of maki (special rolls), eight nigiri (the day's fresh fish over fingers of rice), and a cup of miso soup.
Passage to India (1401 W. Lake St.; 612.827.7518) serves up a continent of curries and tandoori, as well as Malaysian satay and nasi goreng (fried rice).
The Wedge Co-op deli (2105 Lyndale Ave. S.; 612.871.3993). So you need milk and juice and a vegan rock (chocolate-chunk cookies without butter, white sugar, or white flour) now that it's January and you're cutting back. There's a great selection of super-healthy and delicious sandwiches on just about any kind of bread, like Cajun tofu steak on honey whole wheat or turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on organic white. Kids will devour the Little Cheeser or PB&J with banana, complete with cookie and chips.
Birchwood Café (3311 E. 25th St.; 612. 722.4474). A former creamery in the heart of the Seward neighborhood, this place is renowned for buttery scones, homemade soups and salads, vegetarian burritos, and lovely baguettes.
Fat Lorenzo's (5600 Cedar Ave.; 612. 822.2040) award-winning pizza beats any of the chains any time.
Broders' Cucina Italiana (2308 W. 50th St.; 612.925.3113). With a Broders' panini and a jug of Chianti, you can unpack the Riviera and never leave your fireplace. Try the Genovese (tuna salad with sweet red peppers on focaccia), or a South Jersey hoagie or a Broders' Stromboli (the veggie with feta is fabulous). Boxed lunches include gourmet chips and a sweet treat.
Turtle Bread Company (3415 W. 44th St.; 612.924.6013) just keeps baking up the Cities' best bread (ciabatta, sourdough, potato dill), and the selection just gets more interesting and more focused. Four or five homemade soups change daily with pre-packed quarts to go plus sticky-crisp palmiers, great cookies, fresh pizzas, elegant napoleons, pretty chocolates, and imported tea.
Zumbro To Go (4302 Upton Ave. S.; 612.929.4742) wraps up its famous sandwiches on house-made focaccia rolls (try the pork loin with horseradish mayo) or salads (such as grilled salmon and rice noodles in lemon-ginger vinaigrette); you get a dark, dense brownie or big, buttery cookie, plus gourmet potato chips and a drink. They close at 4:00 p.m., so swing in for lunch and leave with dinner.
France 44 Liquor deli (4351 Ave. S.; 612. 959.3252) serves up crusty baguettes and marbled rye bread with boar's-head cold cuts, imported ham, salami, and sausage, and fiery spreads like wasabi mayo. Nice homemade soups, fancy chocolates. A great shop for wine as well.
Little Tel-Aviv (228 W. Lake St.; 612. 929.1111) is vegetarian, Israeli, kosher, authentic, and interesting, with mushroom blintzes and potato knishes that would make Elsa Kanengizer (my first boyfriend's grandmother) proud. Not to mention the classic hummus, Israeli salsa (oranges, hot pepper, mint, parsley, and garlic), and selections for children.
Surdyk's Cheese Shop (East Hennepin Avenue and University Avenue Northeast; 612.379.3232.) With the right bread and cheese, a little pâté, and a lot of wine, I can face another blizzard or my son's math assignment. The shop's deli serves up quarts of from-scratch soup, fabulous meat or vegetable pâtés, and beautiful salads. And next door is wine to go with it.
Emily's Lebanese Deli (641 University Ave. NE; 612.379.4069). Garlicky-good Middle Eastern dips, salads, tabbouleh, and kibbe.
In St. Paul:
Swede Hollow Café (725 E. 7th St.; 651. 776.8810). Take in the best view of the St. Paul skyline while the Swede Hollow folks ladle up thick, window-steaming split pea or vegetable soup. The pastries and cinnamon rolls are legendary.
Cafe Latté (850 Grand Ave.; 651. 224.5687), home of the famous turtle cake, serves up sourdough bread, a variety of pizzas, and thick stews and soups, all made fresh daily.
El Burrito Mercado (175 Concord St.; 651.227.2192). Great tamales, carnitas, and braised pork with green chiles and chicken mole.
Cossetta (211 W. 7th St.; 651.222.3476). Classic Italian-American, heavy on red sauce. The thin-crust pizza is terrific, the ziti authentic, frozen sauces and staples worth stocking up on.
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