The Heavy Table's latest project began with a simple enough question from illustrator Robb Burnham to editor James Norton: "Hey, do you ever drive down Central Avenue and want to check out every single place on the street?"
As it turns out, Norton had thought the exact same thing — so they scouted the street from Interstate 694 in Columbia Heights to Broadway Street in northeast Minneapolis and drew up a literal checklist of 52 independently-owned restaurants that they've been working their way through.
The Heavy Table team has visited about 40 places so far — everything from an Iraqi bakery to a Korean cafeteria to an Ecuadorian dance club to the VFW — and they hope to have the last of the stories published by the end of September.
Norton says the project is about more than just the food. "The people we've met — chefs and owners and waiters and waitresses, neighbors and more — have been a real highlight for us," he said. At a now-closed Chilean lunch counter in a gas station, the owner insisted they stick around and try some of the salsa he sells at the Minneapolis Farmers market.
So why Central Avenue? As Norton explained, "I really feel like Central Avenue is a window into the entire American immigrant experience. You've got everything from 100 percent authentic first-generation restaurants to bars serving pizza and macro brews to totally '80s fun-Mex restaurants serving chimichangas and watered down margaritas. It's an incredible cross section."
While they're still working through their Central Avenue Checklist, Norton said that The Heavy Table is thinking about exploring St. Paul in a similar fashion next.