Friday, January 20, 2012

Mesa Pizza – Minneapolis, MN (Dinkytown)

D.Rough and I had heard about this “incredible pizza” place in Dinkytown from a number of people. Yes, this place had won a couple of awards for its food, but it’s pizza – how different could it be? But we were in that neck of the woods, so I surprised D.Rough by going there.

When you walk in, there’s a giant sign on the wall with all of the different kinds of pizzas they make there. It isn’t a normal pizza ingredient list. These people are very creative – and not in a bad way. They have enough different varieties (many with hilarious names) that you could go back twenty times and never try the same slice twice. As I was looking at the menu on the wall, the guy working behind the counter told me to just ignore that list and come look at what they’ve currently got out on the counter. He told me the one pizza they don’t have out there is the one I’m going to pick. I have no idea which one they didn’t have because it looks like they have them all. There are at least twenty different types of slices at any given moment – each one better than the last.

Mesa is a slice place. They do sell large 20” pizzas, but I am guessing they really make their money on slices, being in the bar district of Dinkytown (by the U of MN).Lots of student-aged people were rolling in and rolling out of this place, so it does a pretty good business, obviously. The slices re large, so D.Rough and I decided to each pick one slice and then we’d split them. The guy offered to split them down the middle for us, so I’m guessing this is pretty common.

Now to decide on one slice out of a TON of slices is no easy feat. In fact, it was difficult. We eventually decided on the Southern Gentleman and the Pepperoni-Salami slices. The guy takes your order and then whips around and finishes the half-cooked pizzas off in the many ovens he has. You pay and then wait for a minute or two and your pizza gets serviced to you on paper plates. The waiting for the delicious pizza is the hard part – standing there smelling everyone else’s pizza cooking is torture. It’s worth the wait though.

The Pepperoni-Salami pizza has pepperoni and hard salami slices on it, and the whole thing is drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Absolutely amazing. I’ve not had pizza with these toppings on it and I would highly recommend trying it. It was terrific. The slices are HOT, so you have to contemplate scalding the inside of your mouth or waiting in tortured anticipation while it cools – you decide. I suggest waiting, but I’m a delicate flower. You can taste the pepperoni and the salami and neither get lost in the mix. Awesome slice of pizza!

The Southern Gentleman is Cajun chicken, mashed potatoes, bacon, and cheddar cheese. I’ve had some backed and mashed potato pizzas before, but this was better than any I had tried before. It was pretty spectacular. The Cajun chicken was Minnesota-spicy, so not at all, but the flavor was quite good. The bacon was delicious and the potatoes weren’t overpowering like they sometimes get at other place. Seriously. Awesome.

It was a major struggle talking ourselves out of getting additional slice. We could have probably done another two each, but we had places to go and other things to do, so we decided against it. We will go back here, without question. I think you’ll figure out why people talk about this place. It’s proof you CAN actually do interesting things with pizza and pull it off with flare. Thanks for changing my mind about this particular topic.

Top 5 things about Mesa Pizza
1. Southern Gentleman
2. Pepperoni-Salami
3. Amazingly awesome menu
4. They’re open plenty late AND they deliver (with reason)
5. Really nice and helpful people

Bottom 5 things
1. You WILL burn your face off if you try to eat it right out of the oven
2. You may have to search a few tables to find the parmesan and red peppers
3. Not every pizza on the menu is available by the slice ALL the time (just mostly)
4. The menu is so huge, you WILL have trouble deciding
5. It isn’t upscale and I know people are expecting upscale pizza these days – get over it

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bacon–Wrapped Snickers Pastries – Brooklyn Center, MN

The Minnesota RollerGirls had their holiday party this past weekend at the Surly Brewery. Sadly for me, I don’t drink beer. But I DO eat. MNRG has a contest each year with a variety of categories to enter. There’s one for the best use of team colors (my amazing fiancĂ© won that competition with her five-layer 8-inch-high cake), one for the best use of Surly beer in a recipe, a healthy category, a non-designated category, and of course a dessert category.

One of the MNRG volunteers, Johnny Crash, is a fellow bacon lover. He threw together a delicious treat that had quite a few people talking. Once they loosed the crowd on the food, I grabbed a few tiny things at the main food tables and then headed straight to the dessert table to ensure I was going to get one of these things.

Here’s how Johnny described how to make it: You take Pepperidge Farms pastry dough and cook that up. Then pop the top off and finish cooking the inside. You freeze some Snickers candy bars and then fry up some bacon. Use a bacon press so you get it good and flat. Don’t over cook the bacon or you won’t be able to wrap it around the snickers bar. Once you’ve got the bacon wrapped around the bar, put the snickers and bacon in the pastry and re-cover with the top piece of pastry. Finish the dessert with a sprinkling of sifted powdered sugar.

Voila. Delicious. Thank you, Johnny.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Eggies – Minneapolis, MN

My friends M. and Trash Giant like to experiment with different culinary oddities. Sometimes it is candy. Sometimes it is crock pots. Sometimes it is a freakshow device someone gets as a gift for Christmas. M.Giant got a box of Eggies this year and after trying one himself, Trash decided I needed to experience the mysterical and wonderbang joy of Eggies.

The box exclaims “NEVER PEEL a Hard-Boiled Egg Again!” Focus on the “never peel” part for a moment. Yes, I DO find it difficult to get all of the shell of a hard-boiled egg from time to time. IS it enough to anger me to the point I’ll invent a device that actually adds steps to circumvent the dastardly shell that I so loathe? Probably not. But apparently, someone was enraged enough by this blood-pressure-spiking phenomenon to do just that.

So, we’re going to look at the normal process for boiling an egg and eating it first.
Step 1 – boil some water
Step 2 – drop in an egg (still in the shell) and wait a couple of minutes
Step 3 – remove egg from water and let cool
Step 4 – crack and peel the egg (THIS is the apparent bane of someone’s existence)
Step 5 – eat the egg

Hello, 2012. Nice to meet you. Who’s your new friend? Oh, hello Eggie! I can’t wait for you to save me the trouble of peeling a hard-boiled egg before I eat it. Show me how!

Step 1 – start a pan of water boiling
Step 2 – disassemble the four pieces of the Eggie plastic egg-shaped device
Step 3 – spray pieces with Pam or some other stickiness fighter
Step 4 – reassemble the Eggie, minus the top lid portion
Step 5 – crack a raw egg and use laser-precision to get most of the raw egg into the small hole in the top of the Eggie device while keeping the yolk intact
Step 6 – sprinkle in whatever flavorings you’d like to add to your hard-boiled egg into the small hole in the top of the Eggie. We used Cajun seasoning in our trial.
Step 7 - Tighten both the top screw-down enclosure AND the collar around the fat portion of the Eggie – this stops it from exploding all over your kitchen due to pressure build up
Step 8 – Swirl the ingredients you added to the Eggie to distribute the seasoning evenly. Do not shake
Step 9 – Drop the Eggie gently into the now boiling water with the loop pointing up and wait a couple of minutes
Step 10 – remove Eggie from water and let cool
Step 11 – loosen the collar of the Eggie and unscrew the pieces of the Eggie
Step 12 – turn the Eggie upside down and hope it slides out onto your plate. In our case, we had to coax it with a spoon
Step 13 – eat what appears to be a half of a hard-boiled egg with the mange (Trash’s term, not mine)
Step 14 – wash and store Eggie containers for when you re-gift them to some other sucker

Weird, since the big selling point on the Eggies box is it is a three step process – Crack, Boil, Twist! When do they do all these other things?

First things first: The egg, despite its appearance of having gone from an egg shape to a dome shape with a flat bottom and covered with disease, is delicious. Honestly, the damn things are fantastic. Probably helped by the Cajun seasoning we put in to help it. Seriously. It was a delicious hardboiled egg. Well-played, Eggie.

The egg is dome-shaped because the raw egg doesn’t completely fill the Eggie. The top portion is flat so when you flip it over, it looks like you’ve lost the top half of your egg. I assure you, it is still in there. It was, in fact, hermetically sealed in the Eggie container with the collar put on. I’m still not sure why it looks diseased though. Must be some sort of bubble issue or reaction to the seasoning, but it definitely does not have an appealing exterior. Just ignore those things and eat it.

Secondly, you’ve gone from a five-step process to a fourteen-step process. That’s a 180% increase in the amount of work you have to do to eat this. I’m no mathmatologist, but I THINK this is the fatal flaw in the Eggie’s intended purpose. Does it avoid the hassle of peeling the egg after it is cooked? Yes. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. However, there’s all this other stuff that you have to do that completely negates the aforementioned mission. [Editor’s note: Having just been to China, this may be the best invention for this country, since they love to add steps to processes to keep people employed – this could be a godsend (if they believed in God)]

Finally, this device exponentially increases the amount of time you’ll spend making hard-boiled eggs. Why, you ask? Because there are six Eggies in a box. Once your kids find out how miserable you are making leprosy-covered egg-domes every morning, they’re all going to ask for 2 or 3 each. You’re going to have to get up a 3am to make people eggs each morning. I’m sorry. Were you sleeping? I wanted a couple of Eggies, Mom. Thanks! See you in a few hours!

Thanks for allowing me to experience the Eggie, M. and Trash Giant. If I see them in some sort of re-gifted act of kindness for me, you will pay. You WILL pay…

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gold Nugget (again) – Minnetonka, MN

See? I told you this client likes to bribe me (completely unnecessarily). I’ve got another major project for him, so he’s buttering me up. He offered to buy me lunch today AND let me pick. I knew it was some sort of test. Picking a fancy place would tell him I’m high-maintenance and like to soak the company expense account. Pick a trashy place and he’ll know I like good food, but don’t like to eat at places with cloth napkins. I went with the perfect combo of both of these. The Gold Nugget. It’s upscale bar food on par with Granite City, but an independent restaurant, rather than a chain (I definitely didn’t want him to think I was a chain-restaurant eater). It’s the perfect mix of classy, delicious, mid-priced, and a varied menu.

I was already in the mood for a delicious burger, but they had a special, which I couldn’t pull my thoughts away from. The special was sort of a burger. It was two slider burger patties (see, still a burger) put on a cut biscuit and then covered with gravy. As soon as the server said gravy, I knew what I was getting. I also needed sweet potato fries. My client and I had just been talking about mac and cheese, so we decided to split an order of that between ourselves. I assured him it was some of the best around, since I’d had it a few times previously.

The food comes out really quick here. We didn’t wait long before delicious piles of food arrived. The burger was even more beautiful than I expected. I didn’t realize it was sausage gravy they had poured over the burger. Now, that’s what I’m talking about! I dug into the fries and they were fantastic. I really like how they season the sweet potato fries here. Really good and crispy without being burnt, as well.

The burger didn’t really lend itself to being picked up and eaten. It was more of a fork burger. It didn’t matter though – it was top-notch. Really a delicious burger and the gravy enhanced the flavor, not covered it up. I think I might start doing this at home with my burgers. I can’t think of anything I’d add to this burger (aside from bacon, of course) that could make it better. It was a really delicious concoction the cook made here. Sort of likes hamburgers and biscuits and gravy. Why WOULDN’T that be good?!?! I’d eat this again and again.

Finally, moving on to the mac and cheese, it was as amazing as it always is. Gruyere, Cheddar, and Parmesan cheese all mixed together and then the whole thing is covered with breadcrumbs and then baked for a really golden crispy top. The stuff is really heavy. I know there have been times where I haven’t been able to finish because of the mac and cheese. Thankfully, I was splitting it this day and was really happy to not leave any on the table when I left.

I won’t top 5 this one again, but it’s really good. You won’t be disappointed there.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tian Jin – Chanhassen, MN

A-Wow and I had a lunch date scheduled with Killsbury Doughboy, but the Doughboy was feeling under the weather. A-Wow and I decided not to go to his favorite restaurant without him, but instead did our usual thing where we find a Chinese buffet and do some damage. We picked Tian Jin, since A-Wow had the afternoon off work and could make the serious drive out to Chanhassen from his office.

It was set back off the road in a small strip club, but there were some cars out front. Always a good sign. We rolled in and were seated right away. We headed up to the buffet. It was a tad confusing because there were already plates on the table – do we use those, or grab the ones at the buffet, like usual? We didn’t know. We went with the ones on the buffet.

There was a fairly small selection of entrees, but what was there looked good. I grabbed as much as I could, but there weren’t any appetizers left after A-Wow went through and heaped his first plate up. I got what I could.

There was black pepper chicken, hot and spicy chicken, lo mein, beef and green beans, General Tso’s chicken, and a couple of soups. The soup was about average with the way-too-thick texture going on tat makes it difficult to slide down your throat – kind of like eating an ostrich egg raw. The other things were quite tasty, though. Really tasty, in fact. The best thing on the buffet was the Mongolian Pork. It had the best flavor of all of them. In fact, I went up and got a ton more.

The second time around, I got more of the same, but I got some cream cheese won tons, since A-Wow had raved about them. For good reason – these are the best cream cheese wontons I’ve had in the Twin Cities. They even beat out Chin Chin in West St. Paul – I didn’t think that could be done. There was a new item on the buffet I had grabbed – Chong King Chicken. I didn’t know that’s what it was until I went up for round three. It was the most bizarre texture and flavor of the day. I thought maybe it was some sort of seafood – it chewed weird, was extra salty, and had a very unique flavor. I won’t say it was bad, but it was VERY odd. Like I said, I had to figure out what it was by going back up to the buffet to read the sign.

Since I had to go up to read the sign, I grabbed another cream cheese wonton and a Chinese donut. The donut was a tad dry, but the cream cheese wonton still was amazing. I’m glad I went back for this one. It finished the meal off nicely.

There is a second (unused) buffet that had food labels on it. I’m assuming they use it for a dinner buffet or some other special buffet. I read some of the labels on the sneeze guard and they were pretty amusing. Some of the tofu ones said “no chemicals” on them – I’m assuming no MSG or other weird man-made things. Just an odd sign.

Overall, the food was quite good. I’m glad we went here. It is much closer to work than I even realized, so it won’t take much to get me to go back there on my lunch break.

Top 5 things about Tian Jin
1. Mongolian Pork
2. Cream Cheese Wonton
3. Black Pepper Chicken
4. General Tso’s Chicken
5. Hot and Spicy Chicken

Bottom 5 things
1. Which plate do you use?
2. Chong King Chicken super weird
3. Green Been Beef was a little overdone
4. Snotty Egg Drop Soup
5. I wonder how large the FULL buffet is

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Doritos from Taiwan

I have a client at work that I actually enjoy doing work for. He’s fun, personable, has a sense of humor, has high-visibility/important projects, and is realistic about workload and timelines. What more could I possibly want? Nothing, really, but he’s convinced I only work for bribes. I’m not going to deter him, either. He tends to bring me food or take me out to lunch, so I think he’s got me all figured out.

He brought me a bag of Doritos from Taiwan the other day, to convince me to help him with a project. Funny, I already get paid to do these kind of projects for him, and I’d probably do it for free, since he’s that nice of a guy (I hope he doesn’t ever find this blog). But fun things like food from other countries is going to win me over every time.

I busted open the bag, expecting to find odd chicken tongues or gelatinous goo or a random bone. (I’ve recetly been to China, where any of those things might appear in your food at any point.) I smelled that all-too-familiar fake nacho cheese smell that I’ve grown up with - tasty! And..., they tasted identical to American Doritos. Aside from not being able to read anything aside from the logo, they’re the exact same thing.

I know you all were hoping for something ground-breaking and odd, but these Doritos are just what you’d expect. Why am I writing about them, then? Two reasons. 1) If you ever find yourself stuck in Taiwan unable to recognize any food being killed in front of you and skewered in boiling soup and you're terrified to eat – you’ll be able to find a bag of Doritos and know they’re going to get you through the day. 2) It is a slow work day and I’m actually putting off working on this client’s project to type this blog entry. I’ll chalk it up to working on his project though. Makes it seem more work-related.