In this culinary age of myopic attention to seasonality and sourcing, rarely do we see signature dishes. We might have our favorite dishes, but our cravings can be dashed at a moment's notice based on the whim of the chef: Maybe he didn't like the eggplant today so to hell with you and your baba ghanouj. A place might keep a crowd-pleaser around for the fact that it's a money maker -- signature burgers tend to stick around, as well as pizzas and sandwiches.
But rarely do we see a place continue to duplicate a dish over two decades, a real estate change, a concept change, and the changing of undoubtedly dozens of chef's hands.
The Loring Pasta Bar's Artichoke Ramekin is about the only thing that calls forth the old Loring Bar -- that bohemian's paradise of International Night, Russian dudes in white pants, above-it-all servers, and the "cross between a cabaret and a Jewish wedding," which is about the best way I've heard it described, in a 2000 Star Tribune article.
These days, the Loring Pasta Bar is a little less boheme, though its rough-around-the-edges shabby-chic vibe is charming (though not as charming as the original). Rather than Yiddish folk singers and crowds circle-dancing, you're more likely to see co-eds taking their folks out for a "nice" dinner on campus.
When we found ourselves inexplicably dining at the LPB (the food is solid, but we'd rather hear a band and just drink there), we just had to order the artichoke ramekin. Of course, just like you, we've eaten dozens of artichoke dips in the years since the original Loring shuttered. Everyone's soccer mom serves one at the potluck, every caterer has it as a crowd-pleaser somewhere in their repertoire, there are decadent ones with crab and lobster and lowbrow ones from queen of mayo Paula Deen. And they're all good. Anytime you put this much animal fat into one bowl you're likely not to lose.
So when we ordered this thing, this special mouthful from our past, we expected one of those. Fine, but just a loose interpretation, something with cheese, something with mayo, call it good enough and drop us the bill.
But one bite and we were back in college, ordering an underage glass of wine and flirting with a handsome Russian on a tattered couch, overlooking Loring Park.
There's something special about the Loring's version. It's more than just the sum of its parts; it actually tastes like something instead of just a blast of fat straight to your lizard brain.
We asked for the recipe, but were told it's a closely guarded Loring secret.
The interwebs are littered with loving reminiscences of the dish, including stabs at duplicating the recipe. One, from a former Loring bartender and waitress says, "the one thing we were known for was the artichoke dip."
While that's potentially overstating things a bit, the sentiment is pertinent. Upon closer inspection, her recipe was reprinted from a recipe in Bon Appetit from a Cafe Bliss in Michigan, though the inclusion of sour cream, paprika, and garlic powder might not be off base.
We of course know it contains artichokes, but also red bell pepper, garlic, probably roasted to quash abrasiveness, Parmesan, and maybe a little sour cream to enliven the mayo.
We looked deeper still.
Local blogger, Missy the Marketing Mama, waxing poetic about the dish, says that she embarked on a massive internet search for the original recipe and found a 1997 article with the original recipe printed within. If true, the secret ingredient seems to be canned chiles, both green and red. She says she gave it a whirl, and it came out just like the original.
We're going to print it here, because she says that the chef is quoted as saying they themselves got it off the back of a jar of mayonnaise, so I think we're safe:
1 C mayonnaise 1 C Parmesan 2 cans artichokes, drained and chopped 1 can red chiles 1 can green chiles 1 T minced garlic 1 T pimentos (roasted red peppers)
Mix, bake at 350 until hot and bubbly. Serve with garlic toast points. And remember, this is "ramekin." Please don't call it a dip.
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