Unrelenting snow and sleet have made late April feel like February, and that means a seemingly endless winter for local diners who seek out seasonal food from our region.
James Norton, editor of The Heavy Table, discusses how local restaurateurs and chefs are sneaking a little spring onto the plate.
Tom Crann: Is this cold weather having an impact on what local restaurants are able to put on their menus?
James Norton: Absolutely. I got a meal at the Corner Table in south Minneapolis last week, and their chef, Thomas Boemer, popped out to explain how they have been trying to do local seasonal spring-evocative food under the current Arctic conditions.
[Boemer] said the weather has made it difficult because diners, on the first warm day, come in the doors with the expectation that they will get food to match the weather. So, they have to be creative and lighten up the food without a lot of the things people associate with spring even necessarily being in the ground yet.
Tom Crann: What are they serving to accomplish that?
James Norton: Among other things, Corner Table works with local farmers for greenhouse ingredients like pea tendrils and pea shoots; they're very sweet, very vibrant and have that amazing taste of spring. And they're teaming them up with the taste of spring lamb, which is quintessentially spring.
Tom Crann: In terms of changing menus over to spring, it must be spring somewhere, right?
James Norton: Exactly, and I know that some chefs who push seasonal produce reach beyond the borders of our region to freshen things up for spring, regardless of what the weather's doing.
I talked with Don Saunders, the talented chef behind In Season and The Kenwood, and within the last two weeks, he has reached out to suppliers in the Pacific Northwest for wild-foraged ingredients like morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, wild-foraged greens and things like that; and to people in California for English peas. From Michigan, surprisingly, wild ramps are emerging.
He loves the quality of Minnesota and Wisconsin morels and ramps, though, so he will change over as soon as he can.
For dessert, you can get a sweet-pea ice cream at In Season with candied peanuts, caramel corn powder and buttermilk sauce that Saunders said is incredible.
By the way, if you're a fan of In Season like I am, go there soon. It's going to close this summer and Saunders will reboot it this fall as a three-nights a week, tasting menu only concept restaurant.
Tom Crann: Are caterers making adjustments, too?
James Norton: For sure. I talked to Heidi Andermack at Chowgirls Killer Catering, a local company that takes a lot of trouble to connect with the seasonal and local, and she said that among other measures, they've extended some of their more popular winter items, such as their smoked gouda chard hot dip.
[Andermack's] main concern right now is rhubarb. She said that last year they had a hit cocktail with rhubarb syrup and tequila -- the Rhubararita that she really wanted to serve this year at their Mother's Day Brunch and during Art-A-Whirl, both during mid-May. But the constant cold means they are going to have to go back to the drawing board for a new seasonal drink for both events.
As for peas, Andermack said that Chowgirls is considering juicing greenhouse-grown pea shoots from local farm Bossy Acres to mix with frozen peas for our spring pea puree to impart a garden-fresh flavor note.
Tom Crann: Has the indefinite freeze had an impact on the street vendors and food trucks?
James Norton: For sure. Street food thrives on sunny days, and the opening of the season has been pushed back for many trucks and carts.
We talked to the team at Hola Arepa, and they said that the lack of spring has set back their opening from early April to a delayed opening last week with some days closed because of the snow storm.
They're going to roll out some new arepas (flat, round, unleavened patties made of corn meal) with spring flavors once it warms up - they're making their own sausages these days, so they'll debut a spicy chorizo sausage arepa with rhubarb compote, homemade queso fresco, black beans, and shredded green mango.
So take heart - spring is coming. Eventually.