Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dakota Jazz Club – Minneapolis, MN

(Warning, when we eat fancy, I tend to get wordy in my reviews – this is a lengthy commentary…)

King David and I don’t spend enough time together. There I said it. I’m a terrible friend. So when D.Rough suggested we go check out the Dakota Jazz Club, I immediately thought we should double date with King David and Queen Rachel. King David has some considerable skillz in the jazz saxamophone area and I thought it might be of interest to him. Somehow all of the stars aligned and all four of us had the same evening off – unbelievable!!! They also had their niece staying with them for the summer, Princess Perfect, so she would be joining us, as well. D.Rough checked out who was playing and from the look of things, the Dakota Jazz Club does expensive shows during the week (like Max Wienberg or Doc Severenson) and then less expensive shows on the weekends. They simply tack on the cover charge to your bill and you pay for the show with your dinner. It wasn’t anyone on the national circuit, so we were going to get an awesome show from Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants.

The Dakota used to be in St. Paul and I have heard a ton of people say they hadn’t been to the new location (even though it had been years since the Dakota moved) on Nicollet Mall downtown. The venue/restaurant is really nice inside with an open air seating patio out front so you can watch jazz across the plaza or turn around and watch jazz on the stage.

I got to the restaurant a little earlier than everyone else, so I got our table – upstairs on the mezzanine with a great view overlooking the stage. I also ordered a 14 year Oban, since I had had an awful day and needed to wind down. I perused the drink menu while I waited for everyone and found they had quite a few awesome girly drinks and martinis. When everyone showed up and introductions were made, we set about deciding on drinks and appetizers for people (plus I needed another scotch – I TOLD you I had a bad day). The waitress was extremely helpful when we started firing questions at her. Basically, you can ask the staff to do anything (legal) and they will find a way to accommodate you.

We saw they had poutine on the menu but not as an appetizer – only as a side to one of the main entrees. Once D.Rough and I explained what poutine was, we had all of them hooked (except for Princess Perfect, who is slightly less adventurous with her food and spice level). We asked the waitress if we could get pountine as an appetizer and an order of regular fries for Princess Perfect. The waitress explained what the Dakota’s poutine is all about – they take the fries and throw on some cheese curds, but instead of the usual gravy, there’s a Tabasco/molasses sauce drizzled on the top. Plus, it came with a béarnaise sauce to pour over the top of all of that, so it sounded amazing…

To continue the special ordering of things not exactly on the menu, we asked our waitress if we could get the non-alcoholic fruity drinks with rum or vodka in them and she said she could make it happen. The fruity N/A drink descriptions looked quite good, so D.Rough and Queen Rachel ended up with some kick ass high-octane drinks.

This is the point in the evening where D.Rough and Princess Perfect began scoping out other people’s plates to see what they might be interested in ordering for dinner. From our mezzanine perch, we had a good view of everyone’s plates and at one point, we asked our waitress to verify what people had ordered – she was quite good at this game and was invaluable the entire night. We were way off on some of the dishes, so we were glad we had her around to help.

Deciding on food was extremely difficult. There are all kinds of combinations you can get or you can simply order a regular entrée. The “Blue Note Menu” allows you to order an item from the appetizer list and the entrée list and the dessert list, if it has a special blue note next to it. You can kind of upgrade this and add wine pairings to each of the courses for an up-charge. Or you can get the higher level combo of any appetizer, any entrée, and any dessert. Then finally, there’s a special chef’s prix fixe menu (and an additional wine pairing option).

Then, the waitress then came and told us what the chef’s cut of the day was and screwed everything up. Hahaha. I was in the mood to eat (and apparently spend a bunch of money), so D.Rough and I went with the any ap/entrée/dessert combo. D.Rough got the Lobster Vichyssoise and the chef’s cut, which was a Top Loin Steak. I decided I wanted the Beef & Basil Carpaccio and Caribbean Spiced Prime Rib of Pork (I’ll explain all these things later).

The poutine came out and was absolutely delicious – the second best poutine I’ve had. (The first is still Forepaugh’s.) The zing of the Tabasco was fantastic with the sweet molasses and the béarnaise creamy sauce was possibly even better than gravy (never thought I would say that, did you?). I think we have some new converts to the poutine team. I love getting people hooked on the national dish of French-Canadians.

The appetizers then came out looking delicious. D.Rough’s Lobster Vichyssoise was really quite good. It was a pretty little piece of lobster with some flowery accoutrements and then the server poured cold potato and buttermilk soup around the pile of tasty in the middle of the flat bowl. The lobster was light and didn’t taste fishy and the chives gave the dish some texture and more flavor, since the soup was pretty mild. Delicious but mild. This dish was quite good (ad I’m not even a seafood guy).
My Beef & Basil Carpaccio was also quite good. It is sliced rare beef and spicy beef tartar with some basil mixed in. It looked like little shredded piles of meat and basil. Each one was a forkful and really wasn’t as spicy as I had hoped. It didn’t have much zing, aside from the basil (which isn’t spicy), but the flavor was fantastic. I know some people get weirded out by raw meat, but this is the way to eat it, if you didn’t know. It’s a great dish (even without the spice).

By this time, Big Walter Smith had shown up and played some popular songs that we all knew and also some originals. He kept mentioning the band had CDs (as in kept mentioning it between EVERY song they played) and would name a different title each time – apparently Big Walter’s band has about 200 different CDs by our count. The band was really good and Big Walter is quite the showman for being such a slow mover. Great voice and had fun on stage – which is all I ask.

The main dishes came out next and looked like they were going to be incredible. Sadly, they had turned down the lighting because the band had started playing – my apologies for the darkness of the photos, I was fine with the lighting until this happened. I had ordered a glass of Malbec to go with dinner, and was happy to see a nice large sized glass of wine, not a thimble-full in a small glass.

Anyhow, the food - The Caribbean Spicy Pork again was not spicy – what is wrong with your palates, Minnesota? However, it was really tender and deliciously juicy cuts of meat. There was one big chop standing up and then some sliced pieces of pork sitting on a delicious black bean rice cake. There were small drops of banana-habanero salsa around the plate and I don’t think I found what was supposed to be the “Diablo sauce” – nothing was really spicy on the plate at all. However, don’t think this dish was at all bad – just not spicy. The flavor was there and the interesting mix of the banana and meat was really quite delicious. The dish is really quite good and, for a Minnesota palate, it’s probably stellar.

D.Rough’s Top Loin Steak was much better than my dish. The top loin steak is a large piece of really juicy meat (twss) with a pat of blue cheese on top. The steak was very tender and had a perfect flavor, especially when paired with the blue cheese. I would recommend this if they offer it again. It comes with mushrooms soaked in red wine, some pureed spinach, and potatoes gratin – but the gratin wasn’t like any I’ve had before. It must have been a unique cheese or seasoning (D.Rough is pretty sure it is sage), but whatever it was, was perfect. I loved it. I really did like D.Rough’s more than mine. I’m convinced, sometimes she out-orders me out of spite, but I don’t mind, since we share well.

We had additional tough decisions when it came to dessert time. I’m not usually a dessert person, but I found Peach Blueberry Upside Down Cake on the “tonight-only” menu and D.Rough had a hankering for the Dark Chocolate Soufflé. Princess Perfect got the Chocolate Crème Brulee and King David got the Berries & Frozen Chevre Terrine. I’ll review these quickly, for those who have made it this far in the review:

The Peach Blueberry Upside Down Cake was good, but not amazing. A tad dry, but the flavors of the fruits were very vibrant.

Dark Chocolate Soufflé – extremely rich dark chocolate, but with the Elderflower cream poured inside the hole made in the top, it was really quite tasty. D.Rough was a little disappointed she didn’t get to crack through the crust of her own (she DOES enjoy smashing things), but the server was really quick on the draw.

Chocolate Crème Brulee – Made with Valrhona white and dark chocolate and Fleur De Sel Shortbread, this was probably the best of the four desserts I tried. Very flavorful without being gut-bustingly heavy or rich.

Berries & Frozen Chevre Terrine – with pistachio brittle top and lemon conserve, this desert was a lot like cheese cake (probably was cheesecake, but not presented that way) and was really awesome. A close second to the Crème Brulee.

We finished the meal with everyone quite stuffed. Conversation waned as we all settled into a nice food coma and were lulled by Big Walter. When all of us realized we had better get moving or they’d be scraping our sleeping bodies off the floor when they closed, we said our goodbyes and headed home.

All in all, a really delicious meal. We had fantastic service and our waitress was top-notch and didn’t complain at all about our special orders or questions. I’ll try to remember her name and put it in the write-up. Dinner was amazingly pricey, but I’m sure a couple of scotches and the cover charge for Big Walter didn’t help either. It’s a really nice place to go hear some music and have a bite to eat. But just be prepared for the bill – I thought I was, but I wasn’t. hahaha. Bill aside, it was a fantastic night with awesome people. We will do this again soon!!!

Top 5 things about the Dakota Jazz Club
1. Chef’s Cut Rib Steak with Blue Cheese
2. Beef Carpaccio & Basil
3. Poutine
4. Spicy Caribbean Pork (just not spicy enough)
5. Hanging with King David and Queen Rachel (and Princess Perfect, of course)

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s P-ricey!
2. There’s always some d-bag in a straw hat and flowery shirt being a moron
3. You have to pay for parking in a parking garage or hope to get lucky with street parking near Nicollet Mall
4. If you’re close enough to see one of the big screen jumbo-trons on the walls, you’re close enough to see the band
5. Some of the menu items online aren’t on the actual menu (drinks AND food) – although, now that we know they are good with special orders, they might have accommodated us. I should have asked.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Uptown Market – Minneapolis, MN

For those of you who didn’t make it to the Uptown Market last year, you need to at least check it out. Last year, the inaugural year for the market, the market was held one Sunday a month. This year, it’s every Sunday in the Lake/Lyndale area (behind the Ballentine VFW hall and Herkimer) on West 29th Street. I could go on and on about how awesome it is, but since I have friends who are big-shots on the Uptown Market board, I’m a little biased.

You can get all kinds of fresh farm-grown produce from the vendors there, as well as a handful of art/merchandise/craft booths, and some of the most amazing street food ever. I’ll throw out a couple of food items I tried today, just to whet your appetites.

I knew I was hungry, so I started with what I like to call an “appetizer brat”, just to get my digestive juices flowing. I headed to the Chef Shack van and had to decide between a duck egg hash or a bacon beer brat. I think we all know which one I went with: The Bacon Beer Brat. I wasn’t even sure what to expect with this one. I was actually hoping for a brat entirely wrapped in bacon, but instead got a brat with bacon pieces inside it. They also have bacon-infused ketchup for you to put on it as a condiment – brilliant!!! The brat was really good, as you’d expect such a thing to be.

I walked the length of the market and checked out the other food booths. I was hoping to find the booth that sells almonds coated in different flavored magic dust of some sort. I was told the almond people would be back later in the summer, but they had a few other obligations with other street fairs – keep an eye out for them. They’re super good.

I also stopped at the Magic Bus Café, which is a big purple school bus converted into a mobile food vendor with two booths for eating on the bus. The people that run the thing are really nice and when I couldn’t decide between two different amazing-sounding hot dogs, they offered to do a half and half dog for me with both things. The special dog was a “Buffalo Springfield” – a hot dog with buffalo sauce, blue cheese diced celery, and sour cream. The other dog was a Pig Pen. I ate the special dog half first. The blue cheese and buffalo sauce were a fantastic combination on the hot dog. The Pig Pen side of the dog had pulled pork and psychedelic relish on it – an odd but super tasty combo. The place has a bunch of different hot dogs and small items that I intend to check out. You won’t be disappointed with this café, no matter what you get.

I was tempted to stop at Foxy Falafel or the Ethiopian place, but I didn’t want to press my luck with my intestines. A friend mentioned I should stick with one theme (in this case buns and casing) for today’s lunch and next week maybe mix it up a bit with the different ethnicities. Excellent idea.

If you get a chance, go support local farmers, artists, and musicians. It’s a good time and they’re good people there. Uptown Market is every Sunday from 11-5. See you there.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wampach’s – Shakopee, MN

I needed a drive at lunch the other day – somedays you need to be far from the office to maintain sanity, right? I decided to cross off another Shakopee restaurant from my list. I found a couple on the list were closed when I drove past, but I knew Wampach’s was still open. It’s one of those old-timey staples of a community that’s been there forever – or so I assumed from all the write ups and photos online. I wasn’t far off, actually.

It’s a pretty small diner kind of place. But it’s been updated more than a lot of local diners Iv’e been to. It was homey without being crafty of chinsy. I got seated right away by a super nice kid who looked like he was doing about three jobs. I sat and took a look at the menu. It’s basically a meat and potatoes kind of diner, but some of the dinner specials looked pretty delicious. They serve breakfast all day, but I wasn’t in the mood for that right now. A very nice waitress came over to check on me and see what I wanted. I had decided I was in the mood for a sandwich, despite the fact that Meatloaf was the special of the day and everyone I heard around me had ordered meatloaf. Maybe next time.

I ordered the Dagwamp –which is their take on a Dagwood. It’s basically a ton of meat and cheese on a sandwich. Ham, turkey, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and salad dressing on toasted pumpernickel bread. I had to get it. The sandwiches come with a side or with soup, so I asked about the soup. Cream of Potato soup – I was curious.

The soup came out pretty quickly, and I was very impressed. It was delicious. Big chunks of potato, celery, carrots, and ham. Very flavorful, without overloading it with salt and pepper. I was very happy with this soup, even though it was pretty basic. They did well!

The Dagwamp was also really good. Not the best sandwich I ever ate, but it was really exactly what I needed right then. Really serious sandwich toppings. Great meat flavor (Especially the bacon) and the dressing that was on it perfectly complemented the meat and pumpernickel bread. I loved it. If the cheese weren’t American cheese, it might have been a stellar sandwich, but as it was, it was just really good. Maybe a nice sharp cheddar or provolone would have been nice. Still, it was tasty!

There were a couple of construction guys sitting next to me talking about the days when they drove redi-mix cement trucks. They were complaining that now you can’t drive anywhere with a cooler of beer in your car and drink on the job. Stupid DUI laws and such. Really a hilariously frightening conversation – they were dead serious.

I’ll likely come back here. It was homey and comfortable and the food was delicious. It’s probably worth checking out if you’re close, but maybe not worth a special drive for date night or anything.

Top 5 things about Wampach’s
1. Potato Soup
2. Dagwamp
3. Super friendly staff
4. Very homey atmosphere
5. I think they had Dew, but I was all sugared up at that point, so I passed

Bottom 5 things
1. Not a huge menu, but enough to find some good home cookin
2. Lots of sad and lonely old people sitting around me
3. Loud obnoxious redimix workers complaining about drinking laws
4. It’s not close to anything, unless you live in Shakopee
5. Still don’t know how to pronounce the name…

126 1st Avenue West
Shakopee, MN 55379

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shamrock’s – St. Paul, MN

After driving by the place we were REALLY hungry for (Chris & Rob’s Hot Dogs on 7th) and seeing it closed, D.Rough and I ended up deciding on Shamrock’s on 7th in St. Paul. I’d been to Shamrock’s before, but only for a drink and hadn’t tried any of their food. It’s the sister restaurant to The Nook, so if you’re familiar with that place, it’s basically the same menu, just about 5 times larger. There was a live band (two guys, so not really a BAND) playing guitar and singing, but we only caught the end of the last song before they were done for the night. It was pretty slow inside, so we got seated right away and got some menus.

Like I said, it’s The Nook’s menu, which I am familiar with, so it didn’t take that long to get it narrowed down to 15 things I wanted. We started by ordering 8 Buffalo Zingers to begin the meal. 8 Boneless wings with buffalo sauce – D.Rough told me the sauce has kick, so don’t order the spicy ones unless you like to cry – I’ve now have heard horror stories. You do get your choice of sauces you can get, but the buffalo sauce sounded good to both of us.

They have LOTS of sandwiches, all of which look and sound great. D.Rough wanted the Triple B-Bacon Bourbon Burger. I finally decided on a burger and then the waitress came over and told us about the burger of the week – a Taco Burger. It is a beef patty tucked in a hard corn taco shell, and lettuce, tomato, and cheese on the side. How could it be bad, right? I also got an Iron Horse Root Beer to check that out, as well.

The Buffalo Zingers came out and I’ll be honest with you – these were really good boneless wings. The sauce DID have serious kick to it, D.Rough was right (she loves it when I admit that). But it was a really awesome bite. Great pieces of meat with perfect amount and spice level for sauce. I loved these things. Next time, we’ll split a large order of Zingers and just drink.

The burgers came out pretty shortly after that. The taco Burger comes with tortilla chips and a small container of salsa. I ate some of the chips first to let the burger cool – simply plain tortilla chips, and average salsa. Nothing to write home (or on a blog about). The burger needed to be assembled since most of the toppings came on the side of the plate. I put it all together and was kind of surprised by the height of the sandwich – it was serious. But you can’t be deterred by mere physical limitations. I went for it.

It’s really awkward to eat due to the height of the burger vs the opening in my face. It would have been much better if the burger patty had taco seasoning in or on the meat, but it was a decent burger. Still about average and I wish I had ordered something else or at least had enough salsa to put on my burger (I had used it all on my chips). But overall, it was just fine. I was actually a tad let down, since she made it sound way more awesome than it really is, but I guess sales/wait people have to do that. Sigh…

The Iron Horse Root Beer was just ok. Not very carbonation-y, so I liked it better than a lot of them with too much sting on your tongue. It was fine, but it wasn’t Sprecher or A&W, sorry.

D.Rough’s Triple B-Bourbon Bacon Burger was pretty good as well. It had cinnamon brown sugar bacon with cheddar and bourbon sauce. It normally comes with fries, but D.Rough got onion rings that were delicious. The burger was good but not stellar. It also was really tall, but you were able to smoosh it down to fit it into your mouth. I liked her burger better than mine, but it was obviously because there was bacon and some sort of liquor sauce on it.

Sadly, D.Rough never got the Strongbow she ordered, but thankfully, it wasn’t on the bill either.

I think we were just in the mood for fun and ingredient-heavy hot dogs and nothing was going to live up to the expectation of that. The burgers were fine and filled us up, but they weren’t what we really wanted. We’ll be back since we know the food there is pretty good most of the time, but mostly when you’re in the mindset for it. I should probably wait to post a review until I’m in the mood for a burger, but I can’t wait that long. I’m not that patient.

Top 5 things about Shamrock’s
1. Buffalo Zingers
2. Really large menu to choose from (and it’s the Nook menu, so it’s good)
3. Onion rings were really tasty
4. Normally there’s live music, even if we missed it
5. There’s lots of room inside and they opened up another side it looks like

Bottom 5 things
1. Never got the Strongbow D.Rough ordered
2. Taco Burger was just ho-hum (could have been our mood, possibly)
3. Triple B Burger was also ho-hum (our mood, likely)
4. Iron Horse Root Beer – just not up to snuff
5. Kind of slow service for it being dead in the place


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hyland Ski Hill (Morty’s) (Again, Again) – Bloomington, MN

Yes, I’ve reviewed Morty’s recently, so think of this as a review of the sandwich I went to Morty’s for, this time. Every week Morty has a handful of new sandwiches, wraps, and salads, and they’re always tasty and unique. I now get Morty’s menu e-mailed to me every week so I know if I need to go there for lunch – the answer is usually YES.

This week, they had what is called the Tater Burger - a third pound ground angus cooked medium and topped with garlic mashed potatoes, smoked bacon, chives, sour cream and cheddar cheese on a fresh grilled bun with lettuce and tomato. I had to have this burger, so I called some former co-workers (including DawgMan and PageantLady) and met them there.

The burger is difficult to eat – that’s where the bad stops. Lots of stuff squished out onto my plate when I bit into it, but I got most of the ingredients into my mouth (twss) in every bite. It was delicious. The garlic in the potatoes really came through and the cheddar cheese melted down nicely and also stood its own ground against all the other flavors. It was one of the better burgers I’ve had here. Well played, Morty.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mr. Pig Stuff – Shakopee, MN

I sometimes sleuth out BBQ places when I’ve got unbridled access to the Internet. I had heard about a BBQ place that had either just opened up or just closed in Shakopee, it was difficult to tell from the descriptions on the Internet. I wrote down the address (and a back up place to eat if it was the latter), and headed to check it out. The restaurant was just opened (as in two weeks ago) and is now called Mr. Pig Stuff. (It’s in the old Taco Loco building, according to the infallible Intarweb.) Apparently, Mr. PS has run a catering business for the past few years and enough people told him he should open a restaurant/food stand that he finally did. I’m glad he did.

The place is new enough that they’re still working on signage, but there is a nicely done computer generated sign taped to the inside of the window with prices and such on it. It actually works just fine and there’s no reason to drop a bunch of cash on a fancy sign when this thing works perfectly well. The guy in front of me in line was giving me the scoop on the whole operation as he had just hammered the kid behind the counter for information about the place. There hasn’t been any advertising for the place just yet – in fact, there is a large sign out front and a small sign taped to the back of the owner’s pickup truck out back. That’s all the advertising they have right now. I’m going to do my part to spread the word.

The talkative guy in front of me told me he had just gotten a sample of the pulled pork and it was delicious. There went my easy “get a half slab of ribs and move along” strategy I had been planning. So I got both. Yes, I’m an idiot, but a hungry idiot. I got a half slab pork rib basket (with two sides and cornbread), a pulled pork sandwich, and a root beer (no Dew at this place). The guy behind the counter put the thing together and handed me a couple of bags full of food. Next to the ordering window, there is a table where you can put your own sauces on: Regular BBQ, Spicy, and Extra Spicy. I got some of each, since I didn’t know what I wanted just then.

In the parking lot next to the building are a couple of picnic tables so you can relax and enjoy your food. There is also a small counter railing on the side of the building to enjoy your food if it’s raining (but you‘ll have to stand). I went over and scored a picnic table and set about devouring some tasty BBQ.

I’ll start with the sides: The Mac and Cheese was pretty outstanding. There were flecks of some seasoning – likely some black pepper and something else I can’t put my finger on – that made it awesome. I should have gotten a larger size of this to bring back to work with me. The baked beans were also good. Not stellar, but above average, especially for a place that doesn’t specialize in baked beans. Well done on the sides, Mr. Pig Stuff.

The pulled pork sandwich was pretty darn good. The meat was a tad dry without sauce, but a simple dousing of any of the three sauces I acquired made the meat much better and really tasty. Plenty of meat on this sandwich, as well. They don’t want you to go hungry at this restaurant. The sauces are all good in their own right. The regular sauce had great flavor and was probably my favorite taste-wise. The spicy was a little bit spicy and was sweet and tangy, also very good. The extra spicy was like a thick smoky chipotle spice that packed a decent amount of heat to it. I ended up combining the extra spicy with the regular to make a better sauce for my palate.

The ribs themselves came in a heat-insulated bag which was kind of unwieldy to eat at the picnic table. I’m glad I saved the to-go container the sandwich came in so I could dump out the ribs into the black styrofoam. There was a lot of meat on these ribs. They had sauce on them (I know some people like them dry and tough, but I like my ribs both ways) and they were really juicy. They fell off the bone really easily and were really easy to eat with a fork (I say that, and I still managed to get sauce all over my dress shirt – hahaha). The rib tips were a bit on the fatty side, but the rib meat itself was really quite good. By the time I finished these ribs (and the awesome sweet cornbread that comes with the ribs), I was bursting and ready for a nap. Stupid work, cutting into my nap time…

So you know, Mr. Pig Stuff is located across from some sort of train yard grain/malt factory with noisy trains loading and unloading. If that doesn’t bother you (it didn’t bother me at all and in fact gave me something to watch while eating), then you should go here and have yourself a little picnic. The picnic area is shady and nice and the staff that work at Mr. PS are super friendly and made sure I got the hook up. There are free refills if you eat there in the picnic area, which is nice even though I rarely need a refill on pop. I’m hoping to spread the word on this off-the-beaten-path BBQ place. The food is really good and I’ll be looking forward to the next time I can go there and bring some friends. Next time, I’ll get either the ribs or the pulled pork – not both… so sleepy…

The question now is… do we include Shakopee in the Rib Quest 2010 challenge? Are they too far away? What’s the food radius for this challenge? I’ll take a poll and if I need to revamp the list, I will. For now, let’s just leave it at “better than average white-guy BBQ”.

Top 5 things about Mr. Pig Stuff BBQ
1. Mac and Cheese (really)
2. Pork Ribs
3. Pulled Pork sandwich
4. Super staff
5. Fun outside picnic area

Bottom 5 things
1. Needs some advertising so this place gets crazy huge on the rib circuit (is there a circuit? If not, there should be!)
2. It’s not by anything at all
3. Could get a little noisy due to train and truck activity across the street
4. No Dew
5. Not thrilled about the rib bag, but it worked. Would be better off with the to-go package

www.mrpigstuff.com (and they will be updating their site soon with new information on the new restaurant location…)

Mr. Pig Stuff
835 1st Avenue W.
Shakopee, MN 55379

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dragon Café – Shakopee, MN

I knew there were other restaurants in Shakopee for me to try, so I did some research and came up with a list. I picked one at random today and ended up with Dragon Café. I read some reviews and didn’t see a ton of complaints. I also didn’t read anything about a buffet, so I had to check it out for myself. Sometimes buffet-less Chinese places have better entrees, right? While driving there concerned about how long lunch would take with this long drive, I got stopped at some train tracks at the beginning of the train – wonderful.

Dragon Café is in a strip mall area, so I had some high hopes. I walked in and saw about a hundred photographs (yes, the actual photographs) taped to the window of the lobby. They had numbers on them, I’m assuming which corresponded to the numbers on the menu I hadn’t seen yet. The food looked pretty good, again, keeping my hopes up.

I got seated immediately even though the place was much fuller than I expected it to be for Shakopee. I was given a lunch menu which had quite a few things on it. A LOT of really cheap lunch specials. I decided on the Kung Pao Chicken and an eggroll (a lunch combination of some sort). I stuck with water, even though I saw a guy with a can of Dew on his table – will power, people.

The food came out amazingly fast (and yes, I know it takes almost no time to whip up most Chinese food), which also meant it was going to be brutally hot. I wasn’t thinking about that when I bit into the egg roll and immediately regretted it. Once I got feeling back in my tongue, this egg roll was pretty good. Just a faint hint of cinnamon in it and the vegetables tasted pretty fresh in it. No complaints on the appetizer portion of the combo.

The Kung Pao Chicken was honestly really good. One of the better ones I’ve had. You could taste each of the vegetables like they were freshly stir fried, as opposed to sitting in the same vat before cooking so they all tasted the same. The dish was also super hot, but I was smart enough to let this one cool down. There was celery, water chestnuts, onions, cashews, chicken, pea pods, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and peanuts in the Kung Pao. The flavor was really good, even though it wasn’t at all spicy – as the menu indicated. There were lots of onions in the fried rice, but I powered through anyway. The whole thing was really quite good.
While waiting for food and eating I noticed there were a lots of white people. LOTS. And in fact, many of them were what you’d call “hill people” or serious rednecks. I was amused through the entire lunch. There were soooo many conversations that started with things like, “I ain’t never…”
and used phrases like “get on up” (not in the cool James Brown way, either). I’ve also never heard so many people order their food with no vegetables. Wtf?

I was pretty pleased with my meal at Dragon Café, although with this large list I need to work through, it might be some time before I make it back there. If you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll get a good cheap meal (My meal was $6.15 and I got plenty full).

Top 5 things about Dragon Café
1. Kung Pao Chicken
2. Egg Roll
3. REALLY cheap
4. Plenty of lunch specials
5. They have Dew

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s a significant drive for a lunch-time drive-by
2. I wonder if it is frowned upon to check the menu and then go back into the lobby to check the photos?
3. There was a door/hallway filled with boxes and vacuums and other junk right inside the main door and then a table in the front covered with stuff that looked like it would have better off hidden out of sight in back somewhere. Are these people hoarders? hahaha
4. Clientele need to take some grammar or English classes (and learn to eat vegetables)
5. Cash only

576 Marschall Rd.
Shakopee, MN 55379
(952) 445-9615

Friday, June 11, 2010

Big Daddy’s BBQ – St. Paul, MN

It’s probably about time to resurrect the Twin Cities Rib Quest that HotGirlsBrother and Low-Vee and I started last year. We were trying to find the best ribs in the Twin Cities and would randomly descend upon various rib joints and compare and contrast them. We ate a lot of ribs in 2009. One place we kept meaning to go was Big Daddy’s BBQ. This place used to be called Big Daddy’s Saturday BBQ and was only open on Saturday – which is a brilliant work strategy for those of us who prefer to work about 10-12 hours a week. HotGirlsBrother and I had eaten here a couple of years back, but we needed to pit it against (get it? PIT is against… nevermind) the other rib places in the Twin Cities.

D.Rough and I found ourselves hungry on a Saturday recently and because we’re of like mind, we both thought we needed to eat at Big Daddy’s. She was concerned that I didn’t have my usual rib partners to partake in this venture (well not THAT concerned), but I assured her, as good as it was last time, I’d be THRILLED to eat there twice in a short period of time. No worries at all on that front. We had already sleuthed out the location since the old building where it had been had been torn down. They moved across the street to a much smaller, but cleaner operation. There’s a small front area where you order your food and there is even a small railing/counter where you could stand and eat your lunch, unlike the previous location where you HAD to leave to eat your food.

We walked in checked out the menu. Simple, but to the point. Pork Ribs, Pork Rib Tips, Southern Style Beef Ribs, whole or half chickens, and some sides (collard greens, potato salad, and cole slaw). After a great deal of deliberation, we decided on a half slab of beef ribs and a half slab of pork ribs. Each half slab comes with a Ziploc bag of bread (white or wheat), so we scored that as well. A couple of drinks (strawberry pop – dur) and a side of potato salad and we had our order in. Most of the food is pre-made (meaning smoked for hours and hours) before you get there, so it’s super fast to get your food. The guy and girl working the counter are really fun people. They genuinely appreciated we were there and had some fun with us (especially when I couldn't decide on things). These people are great.

We grabbed our food and headed home for a little living room picnic in front of the television. We jumped right in. The beef ribs were really awesome. Very tender and came right off the bone with a fork. They’re served dry (without sauce - not technically "dry"), but they give you your choice of hot or mild bbq sauce – we went with the hot. The hot sauce is a sneaky one: it starts out really flavorful and you comment that it’s really not that hot. Then the minute you stop eating for a tiny bit, your mouth starts to feel the burn. I love this kind of spicy sauce burn. The beef was perfect paired with this sauce. The pork ribs were a little tougher than the beef ribs. They took some maneuvering to get the meat off the bone, but it did come off mostly intact. While the pork was a little tougher than the beef, it wasn’t bad by any stretch. None of the ribs went to waste. I didn’t get a verdict on the potato salad, so I can’t vouch for it, but I’m not a potato salad guy. We finished up the meal with pieces of white bread (mainly, that was stop our mouths from bursting into flame when we stopped eating).

Seriously, Big Daddy’s has some awesome ribs and I will be back. I’m looking forward to my Rib Quest partners to go there with me as well. I know they’ve been to the same places I have so I’m curious as to how they’ll rank these ribs against the others in the area. I’m going to rank them pretty high. I don’t think they’re going to beat out Lee and Dee’s, but I still think Big Daddy's is up there really close.

Here’s where the Twin City Rib Quest ranking stands right now:
1. Lee and Dee’s
2. Big Daddy’s Saturday BBQ
3. Ted Cook’s 19th Hole BBQ
4. Rudolph’s
5. Rooster’s BBQ Deli & Catering
6. BBQ Carwash (J.J.’s Ribs)
7. Scott Ja-Mamma’s
8. Cap’s Grille

RIP: Mr. B’s
Still to try (let me know if I’m missing one): C&G Smoking BBQ, Market BBQ

Top 5 things about Big Daddy’s BBQ
1. Beef ribs
2. Pork Ribs
3. Spicy Hot BBQ sauce
4. Super awesome staff there
5. They’re open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday now!!!

Bottom 5 things
1. Can’t eat inside very easily (though there is room to stand with a railing now – great idea)
2. There is nothing else bad about Big Daddy’s – they do everything right.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chiang Mai Thai – Minneapolis, MN

My boss was in town this past week (her office is out of state), so a coworker (did I mention Trash is now my coworker? It’s awesome and I love it!) and I decided to take her out for some Thai food. I won’t even go into the long story about how our boss told us she’d be ready at 1:30, so we should skip lunch and then when 5pm rolled around, none of us had left the office and were all complaining about it… I won’t do that. We tried to figure out which Thai restaurant to go to and Chiang Mai Thai is always near the top of the list. I guess I haven’t been there in a while, so I’m glad I got to write this one up.

The inside of Chiang Mai Thai is very modern and Asian-inspired. Cool colors, lighting, bar, and ceiling make this a fun place to bring out of towners for quality Thai food. We checked out the drink menu and since it was happy hour, the other people got cheap drinks – I knew the boss was paying, so I got a full-priced girly drink called the Fruit Loop. I don’t know what’s in it, but it’s red and fruity and I love it. (I checked the drink menu online – it’s Absolut Peach Vodka, Stoli Raxberi Vodka, Absolut Mandarin Vodka, with orange, cranberry, and mango juice – brilliant!) The other two got drinks and then sent them back for taller glasses filled with more liquid, since they felt the drinks were too strong. Really.

I will also mention our waiter looked like Bull from Night Court (yes, I’m dating myself, but the resemblance was uncanny). Super nice guy and really helpful, so I’m not making fun or mocking. I’m just sayin’…

We checked out the appetizers and since the boss wasn’t familiar with Thai food, trash and I ordered some appetizers for us all. Trash was angry at the boss for making us skip lunch and since we both knew the boss was buying dinner tonight, decided to run up the bill a bit, just to teach the boss that Trash is not to be trifled with. It really didn’t matter that much, since it was happy hour and the appetizers were on special. We ordered Fresh Spring Rolls (vegetarian, since Trash is of that persuasion), Fried Cream Cheese Wontons, and Fried Cashews. Well played, Trash.

I always want about 10 things on the menu. I usually get it narrowed down to about 5 by the time the waiter shows up. This time was no different. This time, I also was able to decide on my own without the help of the waiter. I went with the Pad Sri Racha. I should have read the description of what I was getting – all I knew was it had Sri Racha (which I love) and it had two fireballs next to it (which I also love).

The appetizers came out pretty quickly. The Cream Cheese Wontons were really good and crispy with lots of cream cheese inside. The Fresh Spring Rolls were also quite good. I think they’re even better with some shrimp or pork in them, but they were quite tasty, regardless. I love these things, so I’m terribly biased about thinking they’re always awesome, but I do think they’re great at this place. But the best and probably the most simple appetizer is the Fried Cashews. They are stir fried in oyster sauce, salt, chili, and cilantro. They’re almost caramel-y and have some zing. They’re awesome. I always forget how much I love these until I have the first one.

Our food came out pretty quickly after that. I don’t think I read the menu right because I thought I was getting some sort of spicy Pad Thai. But what came out for me was not that. I wanted to complain, but it was really good after I had the first bite. I thought it would be a noodle-filled dish, but it was a stir fry of broccoli, carrots, peapods, spinach, mushrooms, zucchini, and napa cabbage stir fried with Sri Racha chili sauce and special spices. The whole thing is served with a bowl of rice and oddly enough, is vegan unless you order it with Chicken like I did – heh heh heh. The spice level was definitely up there – I loved it. The flavor was very fresh and not everything tasted the same. Great textures and heat. This is a fantastic dish, despite not being at all what I thought it would be. I’m glad I got it, after all.

Everyone else seemed thrilled with their dishes as well, so I’m assuming this dinner excursion was a complete success. This is one of my top three Thai restaurants in the twin cities, so I will be back here pretty regularly. And they have an outside seating area that’s pretty big, so I know D.Rough will want to go there with me.

Top 5 things about Chiang Mai Thai
1. Pad Sri Racha
2. Fried Cashews
3. Fresh Spring Rolls
4. Deep Fried Cream Cheese Wontons
5. Fruit Loop (girly drink)

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s really difficult to decide what to eat here
2. We didn’t get to eat outside – not the restaurant’s fault
3. You have to pay for parking ($5)
4. They don’t take reservations past 5:30 – and they didn’t get any sort of rush until about 7
5. I forgot to soak the boss’ expense account and only ordered the one drink – stupid, stupid, stupid


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Black Forest Inn – Minneapolis, MN

My small department at work decided to head out to a nice dinner. Since there were people from out of town (some people work remotely), we steered clear of chain places (despite a couple of protests) and eventually decided on Black Forest Inn – a nice German place on Nicollet. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it, especially the patio, so I thought it would be a good place for a group of eight of us to sit outside and enjoy some awesome German food.

Even though the skies looked like they might not cooperate, we opted to sit out on the patio. We were placed at a larger table in the corner underneath a tree-d canopy. Even if it rained, we might get a couple of drops, but it should be fine, right? We ordered a couple of drinks and set about making some menu decisions.

Right about here is where we noticed all kinds of random sticks, leaves, and bugs falling on our table and in our drinks and in our hair. Some of the ladies were freaking out, but I managed to hide or flick off the table the largest and grossest of bugs before they could see them. I managed to swat a couple of larger bugs out of my boss’ hair before she noticed, but she eventually wondered why I kept swatting her hair out of the way periodically. I wondered how dinner would go with the rain of bugs we were seeing.

No one was really feeling an appetizer, so we just set about deciding on the entrees. I love German food and had to decide between a couple of different schnitzels, and a sausage combo plate. I flipped to the back of the entrees page and found Hasenpfeffer. For those that don’t know, that means rabbit. I’ve had rabbit stew in Rome and it was delicious. So I finally caved and ordered it. As I was ordering it, I realized my boss was sitting right next to me. Yes, my boss who has a pet rabbit at her house (not her kids, HER). Named Houdini. Whoops.

The waiter brought out some bread (simple but tasty) in baskets with those tiny individual plastic tubs of butter. So we chomped on that to soak up the various libations we had ordered. We waited a while longer than I thought we might have to, but the food eventually came out.

I wasn’t sure how this would be served, since I’ve never ordered it in the US before. Frankly, I think I could have passed it off as chicken, but my boss was intrigued enough that she had to ask. So I had to tell her. She was less than pleased. She watched me eat it and asked how it was. She even said she was tempted to try it, but would be afraid she’d like it and then would look at her pet different after that. The meat was very mild and not gamey or anything. It didn’t taste like chicken, despite how it looks on the bones. It does taste a little like pork and is pretty much which meat. It was delicious. It was covered in a brown gravy and served over spaetzle, so I was in heaven (even though I had to keep picking bugs out of my food – really). Despite my hatred of high labor foods (it’s VERY much like chicken bones), this was a pretty good dish. I don’t know that it was phenomenal or anything, but I really enjoyed the flavor. (It’s probably too much to ask for deep fried rabbit strips, isn’t it?)

Right at the end, while everyone was sitting around gabbing, the skies opened up a bit more and the one person sitting under the thinnest part of the leaved canopy got a little bit wetter than she felt comfortable with. So we bailed shortly after that. Not a big deal at all.

All in all, we had a great meal. I heard a lot of people say they really liked it (though a lot of people got stroganoff – the spaghetti of Germany). People were pretty happy with drinks and service, so it’s likely I’ll be back. I know there are a couple of other German places I need to try before I come back here though.

Top 5 things about Black Forest Inn
1. Hasenpfeffer
2. Service was pretty good (even though our waiter was pretty quiet)
3. I heard the Beef Stroganoff was good (that’s not saying much, I guess)
4. Very diverse menu to choose from
5. They have their own parking lot – cha-ching

Bottom 5 things
1. A LOT of bugs dropping from trees on the patio (we weren’t under the covered part so that might have changed things)
2. I had no idea they had breakfasts here or I would have gone here sooner (I should put this in the “good” section, but I’m bummed in a bad way, so here it stays!)
3. Not the most comprehensive girly drink menu I’ve ever seen
4. I hope the whole “rabbit thing” doesn’t end up on my review…
5. Did I mention the bugs?


Monday, June 7, 2010

La Grolla – St. Paul, MN

We hadn’t been out for a special food night in a while, so we felt it was about time we did. We like to eat outside on various patios and D.Rough had been talking about these amazing scallops she had had at La Grolla. I also know TheDoctor recently went there on a woo-ing mission, which meant it was a pretty nice place. Thankfully, there was room on the patio for us to sit and it was a beautiful night.

We quickly perused the wine list and found a suitable bottle for the night. It was a white wine kind of night, so we asked our waitress about a section of the wine list called “Unique White Wines”, hoping for something out of the ordinary and stellar. She thought about it for a second and then told us the wines on that section weren’t all that unique and we should pick another one. I was already glad she was our waitress – we have super good luck with awesome waitresses. Ask for Tina the next time you go back here. She was awesome. We ordered a Pinot Grigio that we kept coming back to when we’d scan the list. The waitress came back after a short while and told us they were out of the one we wanted, but she upgraded us to a nicer bottle which she would give us at the same price as the original one we ordered. Awesome by us. It was Bafi’s San Angelo Pinot Grigio and it was really amazing. We would get this again (many times, in fact) – we asked her if it was her trick to get people hooked on the better more expensive bottles so they’d order that when they returned – she just smiled.

We decided we wanted an appetizer and after some deliberation between salad and crab cakes, we finally decided on the crab cakes. I’m not really a seafood guy, but I can eat a crab cake or two if I have to. D.Rough normally doesn’t like to order nice things that I’m just meh about, but the description of these crab cakes was enough to make me think I’d be more than meh about them. We got them and were surprised when they came out 3 minutes later. They are filled with fresh mozzarella, red and yellow peppers, with a jalapeno and cayenne citrus sauce. It also had a small “mesculin salad” which was a couple of purple and green leaves that complemented the crab cakes very well. These were the best crab cakes I’ve ever eaten. While I don’t claim to be a connoisseur of seafood or crab cakes, I’ve had a couple of boring ones that didn’t impress me. I was not at all meh about these. They were fantastic, light, and not very fishy at all. Get these.

We scanned the menu, but D.Rough was already sure of what she was going to get – the Capesante. It is an appetizer, but enough to fill a person up. That meant I was on my own. I had it narrowed down to three things after about five minutes. I had to choose between Tortellini Prosciutto e Piselli (cheese filled tortellini with ricotta, romano, and parmesan cheese with ham, peas, and alfredo sauce), Filetto di Maiale al Pepe Verde (pork tenderloin wrapped with Italian pancetta, seared with green peppercorn brandy sauce), or Veal alla Capricciosa (breaded veal cutlets, pan seared and served with tomato, mozzarella, and basil). Seriously, one of the toughest decisions in my life – I may have debated longer about this meal than I did moving to Minneapolis.

I did what I usually do in these situations – I let the waitress help me decide. This way, if it sucks, then it’s all their fault and they feel terrible and it ruins their entire night. But generally, they get it right after they talk me through various things. And I knew she’d be up front with me, based on the wine recommendation. She said I should go with the Veal alla Capricciosa. … Which I did.

We didn’t really wait that long for our food to come out. It was an appropriate amount of time. I wasn’t worried about food being microwaved or undercooked, but we weren’t waiting forever, either. Sometimes I worry about that when it’s too fast or too slow. And the best part is it looked amazing.

My veal was actually two large cutlets breaded and covered with the cheese, tomatoes, and basil. It came on some insanely hot plate which was still too hot to touch near the end of the meal. I’m not sure if restaurants in St. Paul are allowed to use asbestos plates, but I’m finding a number of them retain heat for hours. Simply brilliant. The meat was fork tender, but I still used a knife, since I have couth. The edges of the cutlets were perfectly crispy and none of it was greasy or gristly. It was perfect. The cool tomatoes and tasty cheese were a great complement as well. There was a small pile of purple cabbage and some squash-like veggies which were also awesome. I would highly recommend this dish.

D.Rough’s scallops were nothing short of stellar. No wonder she ordered these as a meal and wasn’t intending to share. However, because she’s super nice to me sometimes, she surrendered more than a couple of bites (I’m sure only so I could write an accurate review – thanks, lady). I’m not a seafood person at all, however, I can do things that aren’t terribly fishy, in a pinch. These scallops are wrapped in angel hair pasta and then deep fried and come in a warm pool of lobster sauce and basil oil. Holy balls, Batman, these were amazing! The scallops were firm, but not chewy or tough. The flavor of the deep fried pasta just added to the whole awesome texture and the lobster sauce made everything wonderfully heavy.

The bummer was we didn’t have any bread to dip into the lobster sauce goodness. We asked for some and D.Rough mentioned it usually comes out on the table when you start your meal. So they must have forgotten to bring it out. When it came out, I was bummed even more because it’s really light and flaky bread. We sopped up as much of the lobster sauce as we could handle and then dipped the rest in olive oil and balsamic that was already out on the table.

We laughed when we saw some of the waiters dumping people’s remaining water on the plants on the patio, but then we realized it’s a pretty good idea to do so, what with conservation and green-ness and all. Well played, La Grolla. We did it, too!

This dinner was really nice. Much better than I expected it to be. It wasn’t cheap by any stretch (that happens sometimes when you get a bottle of decent wine), but it was worth it. We were both quite full (not bursting full), so we were glad we missed our window of opportunity to go to Café Latte and order cheesecake for dessert – then we would have suffered (it might have been worth it, but we would have suffered, nonetheless).

Top 5 things about La Grolla
1. Capesante (the deep fried sea scallops)
1. Veal alla Capricciosa (they were both number one, honestly)
3. Crab cakes
4. Super awesome waitress and staff
5. Fantastic wine for what we ate and for being outside on the patio

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s pricey if you get a bottle of wine
2. They forgot our table bread (super minor deal, we don’t even care)