The Love of Leftovers Lost
6501 Wayzata Blvd., St. Louis Park; (612) 541-9900
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday till 11:00 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.; bar closes one hour later than kitchen
4401 W. 80th St., Bloomington; (612) 831-0780
Hours: Monday-Friday 6:45 a.m.-10:00 p.m. (Friday till midnight); Saturday 8:00 a.m.-midnight; Sunday 8:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
335 University Ave. E., St. Paul;
Hours: Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., kitchen orders taken until 3:00 p.m. Saturday 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., kitchen orders taken until 2:00 p.m.
651 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul; (651) 698-0334
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Sunday 8:30 a.m.-8:00 p.m.
Uptown Bar and Cafe
3018 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.; (612) 823-4719
Hours: Daily 8:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., bar till 1:00 a.m.
114 Eighth St. S., Mpls.; (612) 333-1981
Hours: Monday-Friday 7:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Saturday 8:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Blue, blue, blue, I've been so blue lately, you can't even imagine. Or maybe you can. Picture yourself a wide-eyed child skipping around in a cornflower snowsuit, a turquoise Icee in one hand, a bouquet of bluebells in the other. The sky above is clear azure, and bluebirds flit about. Suddenly in drop the U.S. Marines, flinging bushels of ripe August blueberries before them in a hail of sweet, sweet vitamin-rich juice and healthful fiber. Shocked, you somersault into a ditch filled with a little bit of water and a whole lot of 2,000 Flushes toilet-tank inserts, and as you lie there, your Icee and the toilet-tank inserts running together in a neon haze, watching the paratroopers run by, you whimper up to the relentlessly blue sky: Why me, why me, why me?
Or something like that.
Unfortunately, there's no reason for these extreme blues. I know this for a fact, because just last week I brought my medulla oblongata down to Arkham Asylum for a quick fluff and fold and they said I had at least another 70,000 miles. No, my problem was more serious than a mere kink in the brain stem: I had Anticipatory Leftover Turkey Shortage Anxiety Disorder (ALTSAD).
See, due to the miracle of time travel (and press deadlines) I am speaking to you from the distant past, a full week before Thanksgiving, and there is not, as yet, any actual leftover shortage. But the mere concept has alarmed me from the top of my skull to the skin of my foie gras.
I'm fearful not just for myself and my own possibly inadequate sandwich supply: I'm Florence Nightingale in my selflessness, terrified for all denied adequate leftoverage. I fear for those whose girlfriends are vegetarians; those who were mere Thanksgiving guests; those who had to work on Thursday; and, of course, those whose golden retrievers snared the remains of the bird and had their way with it.
Wracked by ALTSAD, my every waking moment feverish with the rituals and tics that mark the disease (juggling eggs, stripping pipes) I knew the only way to exorcise my demons was to force these Twin Towns to yield up their best turkey sandwiches. These sandwiches--which, needless to say, had to be made from birds roasted and carved on the premises--would serve as substitutes should Thanksgiving fail to unfold according to my personal schedule: Complete Frenzy, Triumphant Holiday, Gentle Coasting Slope of Ever-Diminishing Leftovers.
My first stop on the road to treatment was the Lincoln Del, that citadel of sandwiches on 80th Street in view of I-494. It was a chill night when I stepped inside the terra cotta, beige, and burgundy confines of the gorgeously odd restaurant with the Nixon-era décor, full bar, and panoramic view of a thousand freeway lanes. "It reminds me of...what? Pulp Fiction?" I asked my dining companion. "Fargo," he said, and rolled his eyes. Of course the Del is too period-perfect and beloved to have gone uncelebrated, which is why on a Friday night bowls of matzo-ball soup--set, in that inimitable Del style, like watermelons in their saucers--were wobbling out to patrons all around me.
I ordered a Manhattan ($4.45), and it arrived with all the sting of wet gravel. The turkey club sandwich ($9.95) proved to be a beautiful thing--four inches high, made of freshly carved slices of meat, a triple layer of Del-baked bread, meaty bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and loads of mayonnaise. The Del fries alongside were better than I remembered--salty, toasty, utterly crisp.
But then the blues took hold of me. Was that portrait of the melancholy clown staring at me? And why on earth had I agreed to pay $3.95 for a knish? For $3.95, a knish should get up, march around the table, and recite Emily Dickinson. But this one wouldn't. And it was full of chives. Chives. Like it was trying to pretend it was some kind of steak-house baked potato. I'd show it.
There was also something not quite right with my hot turkey sandwich ($9.65): Yes, the mashed potatoes were buttery and good, and yes, the thick slices of turkey were hot and moist, and the bread was sweet and fresh. But the gravy. The gravy had an acrid, artificial hint to it. Was it mocking me? Sitting there silky and beige, allied with the chive knish, plotting?
The gravy glowered up at me. I glowered down at it. There was a tense standoff, then the gravy laughed triumphantly and slapped me across the face, sneering haughtily as it raced out, jumped in its convertible, and tore out of the parking lot in a cloud of smoke.
"That gravy, that pallid gravy is the color of despair," I muttered, holding my stung cheek. "Chartreuse is the color of despair," said my friend, and so we went to the Monte Carlo and made the bartender get out the ladder and ascend to the top shelf, where the Chartreuse is kept. Misery loves company. But then the couple at the end of the bar started to fight, and she told him he looked like a white Gary Coleman, and he told her she looked like Mama Cass, and I sobbed, "Can't we all just get along?" and beat my brow against the bar, and it was clear that there would be no joy in Mill City tonight.
Day Two was a bitter feast of gall and loneliness, begun in the morning and ending in what some call confusion and others call late afternoon. Driving on that great, endless highway toward the fruitful bounty of California, I ended up instead in St. Louis Park. Here, on a frontage road, was Shelly's Woodroast, or as I like to call it, Woodworld. And you will, too, once you've seen it: Wood pillars made of Lincoln Log-style stacks. Wood tables. Photos of woody trees. Wood floors, bentwood high chairs, a bar made of varnished stacks of birch logs, log pegboards, knotty pine wainscoting, exposed crossbeams, a log mantelpiece the size of a canoe, logs burning in the fireplace--in sum, a world of a thousand woods. This, I thought, settling into a sturdy wooden chair, is how a maple-sap plug must feel.
I was cheered by the appearance of a good glass of lemonade, made tart and lively with fresh juice. But nearly everything else was a mess: Complimentary popovers were overdone and not at all moist. An appetizer of "fire sausage" ($4.95), made of pork, chiles, and spices, was sweet and uninterestingly mild. A five-pepper beef brisket sandwich ($8.25) was reasonably flavorful, but tough and chewy and rather unappealing. The sandwich was unaided by the terribly dry wedges of potato covered with visible, but tasteless, herbs.
And the turkey? It was the best thing about the place--moist and mild and thick-cut. It could be had either in a sandwich ($7.95) with Swiss cheese and basil-garlic mayonnaise, or as a full meal ($13.95) with gravy, "smashed potatoes," and a crisp sauté of zucchini, yellow squash, and red peppers. But there was something terribly wrong with the yellow-flecked pile of potatoes: They tasted artificial, as if Butter Buds had gotten into the recipe. Worse, easy-listening boomer classics--the Bee Gees, Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young--saturated the space. Looking at all of that wood, eating my unpleasant potatoes, and listening to that unbearable whining about parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, or whatever the hell it was that should have been in the gravy but wasn't, I came to believe that what the wood was trying to speak to me, and what it wanted to say was: Get thee back to the city.
And so I learned a valuable lesson: Turkey is not turkey a priori. Should the turkey be overwhelmed by the ambiance, it will be transubstantiated into an evil form of antiturkey--and ladies, rend your garments when that happens. I drove off in search of an antidote, careening down I-94 toward St. Paul and the benevolent wizards at Buon Giorno.
Once inside I beelined for the counter and ordered the North Beach Sub, made with turkey breast, fontina cheese, bacon, romaine, tomato, and aioli ($4.99), plus a custom sandwich of turkey, lettuce, and mayo only ($4.59). I whiled away the wait sampling olives in the back and observing the clientele. The old and snappish, the young and awkward: that is who appreciates a real dry-cured sausage today. Recognizing a ready-made constituency, I began handing out literature, placards and cocktail picks in preparation for storming the state capitol to protest the possible leftover shortage. (Hey hey, ho ho! Lean Slices have got to go!) But right about then the counter girl called my number, and another promising movement fizzled in the politics of self-interest.
It was sandwich heaven. The fresh, chewy, big-tasting, house-made "torpedo" rolls, the big slices of recently roasted, very tender turkey, and the sweet, wet mayonnaise were good by themselves, and the North Beach got added dimension from the salty bacon and the snap of garlic in the aioli. But even as I sat in my car deliriously strewing crumbs, I realized: This was not the one. It was like meeting a gorgeous stranger and learning that he doesn't read: I had to face the fact that, much as I would have liked to, I could not get involved with Buon Giorno's chubby beauties. They were to Thanksgiving leftovers as linguini are to green-bean hot dish. Luckily, a man in a brown derby traded me some petrol for the remainder of my North Beach, and I sped off to Cecil's.
Oh, Cecil's. The possessive form of a name that mixes madness with desire; a name that now will bounce around my broken heart forever like a superball Krazy-glued with razor blades. In my delirium, I thought I remembered hearing that Cecil's baked their own turkey. Alas, it turns out that all the sandwiches, from the plain-Jane sliced turkey to the Monte Cohen (smoked turkey and white turkey, Swiss, and dressing on excellent grilled white egg bread, $5.95), are made with deli turkey cured off-site. And let me tell you, once you get used to the real thing, you can't even swallow that stuff. It just tastes brined and pallid. I consoled myself with some nice pickles and a pair of delicate little knishes ($2.25), more pastry than potato, and as I sat there I got progressively drunker with woe, pounding back shots of it straight up.
And then, like so many drunks, I found myself at the Uptown Bar and Grill. Grain Belt Premiums were ringed round me as I tried to wash down all that woe while awaiting my hot open-faced turkey sandwich ($6.85). When it came, I nearly wept with gratitude. Five slices of white meat turkey, thick and meaty and imperfectly carved--and that turkey was merely Pleasure Island in the Bay of Happiness, banked on one side by a mountain of moist, buttery mashed potatoes, supported on the other by a generous, glittering swath of cranberry sauce, bolstered by some beguilingly salty and buttery stuffing, the whole enormous ensemble cloaked with a satiny gravy flecked with sage and thyme and enveloped in a soft, cushy blanket of wheat bread. Whimper. Drool. Whimper.
Now this was a dimension I hadn't anticipated: Being able to reprise the actual experience of a raucous Thanksgiving with friends, the leftovers beerily set upon as the night lengthened. Yes, quibblers could point out that the gravy lacked depth--but hey, it was a good plate of food fit for two and costing less than a movie, which is close enough to a miracle in my book. (At the Uptown, turkey comes in any of the following ways: hot on a platter with soup, salad, or coleslaw, $7.25; in a turkey melt with Swiss cheese, $5.75; in a club sandwich, $5.95; in a pita with black olives, sunflower seeds, and cheddar, $6.55; or on a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, $5.25.)
My faith in humanity restored, I slept well that night, resting in preparation for the last turkey venue on my list: Peter's Grill. Going strong since 1914, Peter's is the sort of art-deco lunch counter where they serve pork chops on toast, and elderly regulars press a few coins into their server's hand with profound gratitude and the air of passing on a grave secret. I ordered, read the paper, and then it arrived--exactly what I had been looking for. A few slices of turkey, carefully placed on mayonnaise-smeared store-bought bread, cut diagonally to form two soft triangles, set in the middle of a modest china plate, lettuce peeking out from the edges, potato chips rounding out the plate.
At first bite, I nearly swooned off my counter stool. Immediately I was whisked back to my childhood post-Thanksgivings, hiding out in Aunt Esther's den, sitting on the hide-a-bed with the crocheted cover, the décor all wood and burned orange (not unlike the Lincoln Del, actually), my brother and I flipping the channel dial around and around, the click-click-click as we pushed past non-cartoon to non-cartoon to yet another non-cartoon. Sometimes we'd stop and watch Mr. Clean or the scrubbing bubbles, in the vain hope that those partly animated spots would grow into full-length cartoons, but they never did. Dissolute evenings would pass as we tried to get into the kitchen where the backup candy was stored (candy in the candy bowl was too well supervised), munched on pickles, and eventually witnessed the second siege upon the turkey, which yielded sandwiches. Sandwiches just like those at Peter's Grill: homey, modest, pure. Sandwiches with white meat that is the tiniest bit dry so it catches for a moment in your throat like a half-recalled memory, sandwiches that are available--just like at home--in white meat ($5.55) or dark meat ($4.95) versions, on tender wheat or firm white bread.
Seated at the Peter's counter, watching the waitresses zip around in their soothing nurselike uniforms, a big plate of decent fries ($1.50 with a sandwich, $2.25 on their own) and a big, sweet, lumpy slice of apple pie ($2.85) at my elbows, I was finally blues-free. Maybe it was some subtle effect of the moss, pewter, and maple color scheme, or maybe it was finding my perfect leftover simulation sandwich. Or maybe I was just sick to death of turkey, after six restaurants' worth in three days. And isn't that the whole point of leftovers?
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