The boom of local food and drink in the Twin Cities area shows no sign of abating, and the growth isn't limited to the heart of the urban metro. New restaurants are popping up in the suburbs that offer important contributions to the area's mix of gastronomic offerings.
James Norton of the Heavy Table spoke with MPR News' Tom Crann about a few of them. Below is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.
TOM CRANN: As a food writer living in Minneapolis, how do you keep up with everything foodwise that's going on just outside of the Cities?
JAMES NORTON: I mostly work on a mixture of tips from our readers and prowling local food sites like Chowhound and Yelp. I try to move quickly, too. Finding the best hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants, particularly in the suburbs, is like chasing fireflies -- they're phenomenal for six to 12 months, and then there's a change in ownership or the business concept gets scrapped and reinvented and it's all over.
CRANN: What's one of your favorite recent discoveries along those lines?
NORTON: A new Sri Lankan restaurant down in Rosemount called House of Curry is serving up food with incredible brightness and depth of flavor. I've been a passionate restaurant eater for more than 15 years at this point, and of my favorite things about dining out is that I still find flavors and food combinations that surprise me -- there's always something fresh on the horizon.
Take for example the Pol Roti at House of Curry. It's three simple components: fluffy, dense, beautifully charred pieces of coconut infused bread; onion chutney; and citrus- and pepper-marinated tuna. Sounds simple. But taken together, they taste like nothing I've ever eaten before -- profoundly comforting and surprisingly complex.
We also loved the deviled shrimp, a stir-fry like preparation of shrimp, onions, peppers, and tomatoes with a lovely caramelized edge to it, and a sugary lacquer on the shrimp.
CRANN: And, I understand there's a new bakery that's caught your attention, right?
NORTON: Heading north and west of the Twin Cities to Maple Grove, the Patrick's bakery chain has put in a new outpost.
The specialty of the house is tarte flambee, a French dish from the province of Alsace that combines wood-fired dough, cheese such as gruyere, and other ingredients such as mushroom or ham to create something roughly approximating a haute cuisine pizza.
Patrick's is serving its tartes flambee in a big, chic mall-anchored space with a nicely crafted wine bar, and when we visited they seemed to be doing boffo business. The tartes themselves had a nice proportionate mix of ingredients and the crust was a good chewy-meets-crispy mix, but they were a little oily -- they felt like a likable bar food twist on the real deal.
CRANN: And the new Patrick's feels like a good fit for where it is?
NORTON: I think it's a great fit. Amid a sea of Red Lobsters and Cheesecake Factory-like chain restaurants, Patrick's is doing something different, and it's both high class and novel yet familiar and accessible, which is no easy trick.
CRANN: Finally, you've always had a soft spot for local cheeses, and you say there's a new shop that's been getting some attention.
That would be the Wedge and Wheel in Stillwater. Chris Kohtz, the owner, gave up a decades-long career in media (including at MPR) and also writes the cheese blog Wedge in the Round. As you might expect, he's a gifted storyteller. That helps when you're moving great local and international cheeses with prices that climb up to $30 or $40 a pound.
And that's not meant as a dig at the price -- great cheese is great art, and if the goats that gave the milk for a particular cheese are walked through the woods by a shepherd so that they can forage naturally, that's a detail worth pondering as you decide whether to buy a quarter pound or a wheel.
CRANN: So behind every great cheese, there's a great cheese story?
NORTON: That's been my experience. I love cheese stories myself, and there really isn't any lack of them around here, from the marvelous cheese caves in Faribault (which used to be brewers' caves, giving them a unique terroir), to immigrant cheesemakers like Marieke Penterman of Holland's Family Cheese who bring so much of their national stories with them to the Upper Midwest, to technological innovators like Bob Wills and his biological "Living Machine" system for treating waste water.
Chris knows his stuff, and seems to be meeting an enthusiastic reception -- folks in Stillwater are known to appreciate fine food, and cheese is as fine as it gets.