Reporter Briana Bierschbach on the politics of the taco salad
Briana Bierschbach, a staff writer for Politics in Minnesota, considers the Capitol building in St. Paul a second home during the legislative session, which explains her poetic tweets about the Capitol Cafe's taco salads. When she's not weighing the cost of too much shredded cheddar on her salad, Bierschbach is sitting in committee or assessing appointees in the new administration.
1. What's the food like at the Capitol Cafe? We've heard you're a big fan of their taco salad bar... The Capitol Cafe food is surprisingly good for an operation that's only open half of the year. It has a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu, and you can get anything from a meatball sub and tuna casserole--which is topped with potato chips--to fancier dishes like oven-poached salmon or a vegetable egg white omelet. I go mostly for the taco salad. They offer pretty standard ingredients as far as taco salads go--cheese, hamburger, chips, and all the fixins--but something about sitting in committee hearings or watching the House and Senate floor session all day long makes it so much more satisfying. In a new development, one can actually get taco salad two days a week around the Capitol: Tuesdays in the Transportation Building down the street and Thursdays in the Capitol Cafe. It was only offered on Tuesdays during session last year. We can all thank a considerate Capitol cook for that welcome change.
2. What's the biggest salad you've ever created there? Are the politicians as excited about the taco salads as you are? I was a little wide-eyed the first time I crafted a taco salad at the Capitol. I thought I would be charged a flat rate, so I just kept piling the ingredients into my Styrofoam box. Instead they weighed my salad and priced it, and I think it came in around $12. Rookie mistake. It's amazing how fast it can add up. All it takes is a little too much sour cream, or a heavy hand on the cheese, and you're out of milk money for the rest of the week. I can't speak for the politicians, but I know several of the Capitol reporters and some of the Republican media folks enjoy taco salad Tuesday (or Thursday) very much.
3. As a reporter, can you approach politicians while they're eating for interviews, or is that bad form? Absolutely you can. Often the only time you can catch a legislator is when they're in the sandwich line or sitting down to eat. As a matter of courtesy, I usually wait until they are done chewing before I ask them how they're going to solve the $6.2 billion budget deficit.
4. Covering the session can mean some seriously long days for you. Do you rely on takeout for meals, or are you still slapping together meals yourself? I'm a big Campbell's soup at hand fan, although you have to be careful when microwaving anything in the Capitol basement press corps area. There are two microwaves, and if they are both running at the same time you will knock the power out. Our office also has a bin of various crackers and cookies that we dip into quite frequently, and the vending machines across the hall offer a wide variety of stale sandwiches and aging candy for those long after-cafe hours. I'm also told the Pizza Luce on Sibley is a good place to grab a slice if you find yourself at the Capitol past midnight.
5. What are your favorite restaurants near the Capitol? I'm told Little Szechuan on University Avenue is a good place to go if you're craving dan dan noodles, tea-smoked duck or some slimy eel. Babani's, a Kurdish restaurant on St. Peter Street, is another favorite, but Vietnamese restaurant Mai Village seems to be all the rage for Capitol folks. The ambiance created by dim lights and the goldfish pond, I'm told, is a nice contrast to the political bustle of the Capitol.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Minneapolis & St. Paul dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.