Sunday, September 30, 2007

I Didn't Mean Hell in the Literal Sense

It was early and already things were getting weird. The hostess was pissed and I could see it in her eyes... we weren't getting anywhere any time soon. My esteemed colleague took his place at the bench. Waiting, patiently. Waiting for what would prove to be the question.
"Look, miss, I don't have a lot of time here. I am a very busy and important person. This man here is my attorney - I think he's from St. Paul - but that's not important! The situation here is I have a powerful lust for some sausage toast. I will require coffee... lots of it. And a knife to cut these limes. So you see... we're at a crossroads here. This situation could turn on a dime."
"I'm sorry ma'am, but the wait for a table is going to be 20-25 minutes."
"I see..." This disappoints me, because I should have called ahead. We should have had a plan! Fine... I looked around, my compatriots stood there, eyes glazed over watching the swooping and tumbling black birds. Yes, I will wait. With this buzzer thing. Time to be patient. Keep my cool. I thumbed through the days Target ad wishing I was on my way to the races. Or maybe I was.
People dashed around in pajamas, carrying trays and jostling patrons. It was going to be a very long morning.
I would need vodka... copious amounts. Perhaps a martini? I looked at my watch - 10:30 a.m. Jesus, God, that's early. Plenty late to start drinking, though.
Finally, a young man, resembling Kenny G brought us to a table and delivered the coffee to calm my jangling nerves. It had been a long night. I vaguely remembered a movie staring Carmen Electra and a chimpanzee.
"Can I get you anything else to drink?"
"I have a powerful lust for sausage bread! And I must have it! No other substitutions will do - and get me a bloody Mary while you're at it. Don't skimp on the booze, man, either. I'm a professional."
The wait continues. Long cavernous hallways fluttered with black gauze and an old man with a feather in his hat stacked skewers with olives and shrimp. A warm shrimp. Had the little bastard just crawled from the gulf of Mexico? Shit man, that can't be good. They were out to get me! Had they followed me here?.... Did they know?
My attorney fingered his mustache and let out a terrific belch.
I've heard of better service at a back-alley abortion clinic than with this miserable place. What was this? And where were we going?
I would try to eat something of substance before the serious drugs kicked in, but this would prove a difficult task. An hour after being seated, there was a danger of losing any sort of a good morning buzz and still... no food.
Eventually, the cold potatoes came and more food missing than was delivered - I knew they were out to get me. Had they been put up to this? I eyed my friend Ralph on the wall. I had indeed stumbled into Hell, but this level of purgatory is more torturous than a Lawrence Welk broadcast. And where the hell was my toast!? The lemon-ricotta cake thing was tasty, and sweet Mary Jesus was that carmel roll good but what good does that do me without my toast! The scene had turned sour. We would need to get out... no one looking. My attorney carefully explored the inner cavity of his nasal passages while I searched for exits. Best not to tempt them.... Just give them the money and go.
Was that man looking at me? How the hell did they get their food so fast? What was this conspiracy? I slipped the money on the table and backed away. Ralph was still watching... It was the kind of place where if you stayed there long enough, you had the feeling that you just might run into yourself.
Things were definitely getting too weird. And when shit gets weird, the weird go pro. It was time to hit the open road.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm gonna be... a STAR!!

Okay, check out this email that I got today:


My name is Sarah McKitterick and I am on the casting team for The Next Food Network Star 4. We are having an open call on October 9th at the Chambers Hotel in Minneapolis and I wanted to pass along the information in case you think it is of interest to your readers.

Here’s all the info:


The Chambers Hotel

901 Hennepin Ave

Minneapolis , MN 55403


Date 10/9/07

Time- 10pm-4pm


Two photos (which we will keep)

A resume/bio

A completed application (downloaded from

What we're looking for:

-Cooking know-how: You can be self-taught or professionally trained or somewhere in between, but you should know the basics and then some.

-Personality that pops: Let yourself shine and show us who you really are. We are all about personality – show us yours!

-Teaching skills: Bring the world of food and cooking to life in your very own passionate and unique way.

If you need any further information or have any questions, feel free to contact me. Thanks for your time.


Sarah McKitterick

Casting Assistant

Next Food Network Star 4

CBS EYE too Productions

555 West 57th Street

8th Floor

New York , NY 10019


So, of course I first read it and think: SPAM from lurking on the site for Rachel Ray recipes that I will never make. But upon closer inspection there was this line:
"and I wanted to pass along the information in case you think it is of interest to your readers."

My readers!? You mean all those delightful folks who twitter away moments of their day reading MY moderately entertaining opinions? Why SURE!!! I'd LOVE to pass this on to my readers!
Readers! Look! TV open calls!
You know, this might even be fun to do. I've got personality to spare and some culinary skills. Some. My mom has more in her baby finger, but she's got a couple of years on me.
If you go - please let me know all about it! If anyone wants to go with me, email me and let me know. I might be persuaded just because I know I'm never standing in that ridiculous line for American Idol try-outs no matter how well I can throw down in the shower. Meanwhile, I don't even have my name in the telephone book. How else will I ever be somebody?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Old Chicago in DOWNTOWN - get it while you can

Oops, ignore previous post. I'm going to default to Nancy Ngo on this one. Chances are her sources are better.

Random: I knew a guy who was shot at the Old Chicago in downtown Mpls. He was... odd. I don't think that had anything to do with anything. But that's the most interesting story I have related to the Downtown Old Chicago.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Do ya Booya?

First, a confession. I went to Sweeney's Friday night and I ate some of their food. I hang my head in shame and prostrate myself on the alter of Decent Fries. What was I thinking!? I friggin' hate their food! And they did not disappoint me - it was so foul, so rank, that I continue to contend that anyone claiming their food is good should be hung by their taste buds in a Burmese fish market at the hottest hour of the day. RANK.
I'd gone out with my friend Candace and we were at the Independent for 2 for 1's - me hearty two for onsesy! Especially, when her boss was there and kind enough to pick up my drinks, too. Sweet. He was planning to go to Sweeney's, which is how I ended up eating "chicken fingers" which were really 3 chicken tenderloins battered in panko and dropped into the fishiest grease this side of Mrs. Paul's. Gack. So, not enjoying the food leads to a hangover.
What I didn't think about then, and I should have known, is that somewhere in the West 7th chapter of the St. Paul rule book it is stated that if you're starting the weekend with a hangover - best to just end it that way, too. Makes for a nice set of bookends, ya know?
Sunday was the Silver Fox Booya. Now, unlike the whole two other people who have talked about this particular booya on the internet - I know what the Silver Fox club does. Not much(maybe it's just that secret what they really do.) Well, there is the drinking. One of the guys that Matt works with is a member - as is Pete Skinner - owner of beloved Skinner's Pub. The rules seem to be that you have to have an exploitable skill (plumber, pub owner, bartender, etc.) and be able to hold your own after copious amounts of beer and liquor. They unnecessarily stay up for days stirring the booya pots, drinking and bonding in a way that men only can when the entire world surrounding them is just waiting to be peed on. (No! Not the food! It's in a park.)
We arrived early to take our place in line. A lot of people bring their own pots and bins, but we figure one or two bowls is a'plenty. I've had a couple of other booya's and I must say, the Silver Fox's is the best. Others are a little heavy handed on the cinamon and nutmeg. Theirs is just earthily spicy; not at all bland. It's as complex as it possibly can be considering that they've sort of boiled the shit out of everything in there and dumped in canned peas and green beans.
So, it's not top shelf dining, but the sun was gorgeous this weekend! The weather couldn't have been better. And there was BEER! So, why not roll with the punches and just have a few?
J.Lo showed up with her new friend and neighbor, and we convinced them that they outta have a couple, too. Lucky for us - our new friend is from Wisconsin - Luck to be precise! Why, indeed, we were in Luck.
I haven't had that much fun on a Sunday afternoon since I don't know when. And there was the buzz we were working on. Did you know that when even barely room temperature Miller Light smells exactly like my cat's urine? It's true! BUT, when quickly guzzled while still cold, it's dayum tasty.
(And YES - before you attempted defenders say a word - Cat pee is still better than eating at Sweeney's.)
Slowly the crowd broke up - we were FAR from the only drinkers in the crowd. In fact, I'd venture we were still amongst some of the more sober folks.
We headed down to Skinner's for a St. Paul specialty - sausage and kraut pizza, something I can only muscle down when I'm rocking a buzz. But, our boy Wisco dove right in! God bless the Wisconsinians! (Wisconsi-onians?) Beer everywhere, sausage, often covered in kraut and CHEESE! I'd move there if I wasn't afraid of the inevitable heart attack at age 35.
While devouring our pie of goodness, we had a couple pitchers of Schell's. I'm proud to report that Skinner's is now carrying TWO different varieties of Schell's, October Fest and the Schell's Dark (my personal favorite.)
As the Viking's game drew to an end the fact that the sun was still shining brightly started to get to me. Oh, no. I'm one of THOSE people. The ones that Matt curses every time he's stuck working a Sunday shift. ("It's gorgeous outside! What is wrong with you people, drinking in the middle of the day!?")
Plus, there's Laura's friend. What has he got to think of these booze-hounds that we've made ourselves out to be?
We stood, bid a completely sober and graceful adieu, ("You guys are AWESOME! Vikes suck!" "No Vikes RULE!" "WHATEVER!") We ambled on home. Can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I did it! I did it! I successfully parked close enough to Muffaletta without blowing a gasket and we ate there!
Saturday afternoon was one of those blessedly beautious early fall days. The sun was shining, the air was just a little bit crispy and I was ravenously hungry in the middle of the day. Matt's taking classes at the U St. Paul campus, so we were over there picking up some books for him. An aside? That campus is gorgeous! Seriously. Those FFA kids know how to pick a campus!
I decided that we should take one more pass by Muffaletta. This usually ends with me swearing about how does anybody ever get in there? There's no parking! AURG! And then I keep driving straight into a warehouse type area that looks like it'd be a good place to dump a body. I don't usually stop whining about it until we're damn near the Quarry.
But this Saturday was different! I turned! Yes, if you take a right accross the street from the restaurant, there's all kinds of parking on the street! And it's not even a left turn! It's a RIGHT. Who's afraid of a right turn? So, we parked and crossed the street. I've been wanted to get to Muffaletta for quite some time now. For one thing, it's the only restaurant owned by the Parasole group that I haven't been to and also, their patio looks just lovely.
We were able to get a sunny little spot outside. The woman at a table one over from us was sipping a glass of wine. That sounded just perfect to me! I ordered the reisling while we purused the menu. The bread basket was just like Figilio's, good bread, crackers and a roasted garlic puree served in a moat of olive oil.
It was really difficult to even decide on an entree, but I eventually picked the balsamic marinated chicken sandwich served with avocado, swiss cheese and balsamic red onion on toasted caraway rye. Matt ordered the Mac and Cheese.
I don't think we even really talked much while we waited for the food. The patio at Muffaletta is like a comfortable silence with the one you love. Safe, warm, beautiful.
I sipped my wine slowly as we waited and Matt enjoyed some light people watching, while I was spying on the jolly folks inside the restaurant.
"So, how was your night?" I asked. He'd been working 3 days straight and I hadn't seen him. The night previous he'd worked a private party attended by councilman Pat Harris to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. (A good family friend's daughter struggles with this disease.)
"Good, good. Everybody was there... Joe Bob and Harry started telling jokes and Dave Kelly told one that was so - " He broke off chuckling "It was SO bad that we had to stop." He laughed some more and shuddered.
"Like no one could top it?"
"Like no one would WANT to top it."
"Like worse than the Aristocrats?:
"It was really, really bad." He did the laugh/shudder thing no more and I understood why he didn't get home until four in the morning.
Our food arrived and everything looked amazing. The avocado was a little thickly cut, so it was hard to eat, but the flavor was amazing! I loved the little anis flavor of the caraway seeds, but Matt didn't care for them. My sandwich also came with some really good fries - well, not that the fries were outstanding, but the chipotle aioli served with them really set it off. I loved my sandwich. The charred chicken, sweet red onions, creamy avocado all blended into this gorgeous flavor like sitting on a back patio drinking fine wines with your best friends. Like what I imagine those parties captured by Gourmet must be like.
Matt's Mac and Cheese was not at all hard up for cheese. It was just swimming in it. The lardons had given all of their bacony flavor to the cheese and shells. My only complaint is that the shells were so big and a little over done that they were really difficult to eat. But, the flavor was intense, homey and effortlessly comforting.
Also, our service was flawless. Our waitress, Dana, was adorable and perfectly attentive. I was looking around and said, "You know, maybe we want to move over here..." I didn't hear any objections.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Weekend in Duluth

As a fond farewell to summer - you know, why does everyone say that when it's over 90 degrees today? Anyway, in honor of the long weekend, Matt & I decided to drive up to Duluth and spend time in my adopted hometown.
Loving a good road trip, Matt was up and ready to go with the rooster. I had a little difficulty because of some serious talking and bonding my friend Jeremy and I had done the night before. Nothing like getting ripped before the weekend with an old buddy who knows all your most embarrassing stories.
The road was glorious and the traffic was moving at a decent clip. The sun was shining and the soft air kissed our faces as we crested every hill. The day was ours! Just as we went under the bridge for the Cloquet exit, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. The closer we came to Duluth, the more ominous the sky. From the bottom of the big hill, we saw what we were driving up and in to. If you ever read The Mist by Stephen King you have a good idea what we were driving in to. There was a huge gray fog covering the entire Twin Ports area. As we crested the hill I couldn't see anything below us! I had to turn on the convertible's heat for the first time in a long time and huddled down into my seat. This was insane! Only Duluth. Of course it's 87 and sunny everywhere else in the entire state, but Duluth is 61 with 0 visibility.
Driving along the freeway to the Mesaba exit, I kept glancing up, hoping that my eyes weren't deceiving me and there were small glimpses of blue sky to be seen.
We were starving by the time we arrived, so we picked up my mom and decided to go in search of lunch. (Julie stayed home with a terrible sounding cold.) We went to the former Teran's market because we'd been hearing such great things. (My friend Emily, in high school, used to work at Taren's - it was really weird going into a former meat market and being greeted by a subdued coffee shop.) I'm not really sure what the real name of the place is. It seems that no one could really agree, so they just picked everything. It might be Sarah's Table or it could be Chester Creek Cafe, but the sign out front says Teran's. The space was charming and inviting. The smell of the place just puts you home, coffee, baked goods and toasty wood notes. Get me a bottle of wine that can mimic THAT.
We were quickly seated at an odd table. It was small and Matt had to sit on the end and stare at a blank wall. It was really a table for two with an extra chair. Mom and I ordered to split the GLBT sandwich (it was Pride that weekend - we're a very inclusive people) and Matt ordered the braised beef brisket sandwich. I was filling Mom and Matt in on an Overview of Agriculture in the US over the past century that I'd take for work recently, when I realized that I had covered most everything that I knew and still our food hadn't arrived. That's like a hundred years of farming! Were they braising the beef right now? What on Earth could be taking so long? Another 10 minutes crept by before the waitress showed up with our sandwiches. She looked at me, "Oh. I forgot you were sharing." And left. We waited. And waited. Screw it. I picked up my half of the sandwich and dug in. Matt was already trying to handle his messy beef. I had to use my napkin for a plate and gave her a bit of the ol' hairy eyeball as she delivered the food to the table behind us. I was almost done before I finally got a plate. I was alternately irritated and delighted because oh, my God was this sandwich is a flavor wonder. The ciabatta was just a little chewy, not that tooth-tugging stuff I get at the grocery store. It was SO fresh and so perfect. The avocado was delicately seasoned, the bacon was thick and smokey and the tomato was obviously not the grocery store variety. But couldn't she have at least said something once she DID drop off the plate? Any sign of life what so ever would have been welcome. Perhaps she was just having a really, really bad day and could not get it together enough to even smile or make eye contact or something. We weren't the only people that noticed. The table behind us sent back one of their dishes and refused to get anything else, just wanting to leave. I could tell by the girl's face, who was facing me, that their afternoon had just taken a bummer road due to this dining experience. It's really a shame, too, because the food's really got something. Matt's sandwich was also good, long roasted beef with pickled red onion and a horseradish aioli. His was good - but ours was out of this world. When she EVENTUALLY brought us our bill - it wasn't even ours. It was for another table altogether. Even though the food was outstanding, I don't know if I'll be going back there. For one thing, I don't live there and secondly - I was really peeved by the time we left. It's a shame when something goes so horribly out of whack when the place is obviously trying so hard. They're big in the local food, small farms, sustainable growing trend. Especially after my Agri class, this is something I want to support. It's too bad.
For dinner that night, we stayed in and grilled steaks with portobello mushrooms and orange red bell peppers. The fog had finally lifted and the evening was glorious. My mom and I are the grill MASTERS. Matt has absolutely no self control when it comes to pouring charcoal into a grill and we nearly smoked out Mom's elderly next door neighbor and jazz enthusiast, Betty.
For breakfast we rose early and made Mom's old fashioned from scratch buttermilk pancakes. She's been getting eggs from a gal that assists my elderly grandmother that are just incredible! The yolks are so custard-y that the pancakes were yellow! The batter almost looked like lemon curd. They were light and almost creamy in texture on the inside. We ate them slathered in butter with our friend Judy's home made maple syrup drizzled over them. YUM.
While I was perusing the Sunday paper, I was startled to find the obituary for Russ Kendall. We love driving up the North Shore to grab some smoked fish from his place for summer picnics. We'd been planning to go that very day! We wondered if the place would be open. We knew the old man hadn't been running the store for some time, but it's a really small shop. The building is so interesting. There's the smoke shop - a little retail store front like an old fashioned market, there's an adjoining room that looks like a bunch of junk and then, past that, you can look in and see, there's a little bar in there! I love this place. I'm not even much of a fish fan and I love, love, love the succulent smoked whitefish. We decided to chance it and pack a cooler full of food. We had Prima Donna aged Gouda and a spicy sweet jalapeno and piquillo pepper cheddar. Thankfully, the place was open. The teenagers behind the counter didn't even blink when we said we were sorry to hear about Russ' passing. I'm guessing they weren't close.

We continued to wind our way along the scintillating aquamarine lake until we finally reached Split Rock lighthouse. We set out our food by Pebble Beach, which is really more a bunch of little round rocks from the giant, craggy cliffs surrounding the water. I managed to pick my way through the loose rocks and dip my toes in the icy waters of Lake Superior. The serenity of this spot is the kind of soul nourishment that I'm so rarely fed in the cities. The vividness of the colors escape any camera lense. The itnensity of the islands and vastness of this powerful body of water diminishes every blaring car horn ever sounded. I stood, soaked and savored this life.
Back in the picnic area there were a few too many flies and bees for easy dining, but still, the view, the food... it just couldn't be beat.
Afterwards we hiked up to see the lighthouse. This would prove to be a mistake. See, here's the thing, I don't really like "people." Persons are usually okay, one on one, I can usually make an argument for at least two thirds of the population. But, all muddled together a la the State Fair, or worse - tourist destination on a holiday weekend that's a magnet for the confused and the unsupervising their kids sect? I came close to elbowing a lady who kept backing into me taking a picture of what, for all I could tell, was NOTHING. She wasn't aimed at the lighthouse or the view - no this dippy is aiming at the museum parking lot! WHY was this shot so important that she needed to invade my personal space? The tour groups! Oh, dear God, I've seen herds of cattle with more personality. No. This was a really, really bad idea. Glasses clips flipped up, black socks and shorts, children who speak like Buckwheat's derelict cousin! NO!!!!
It wasn't long before Mom and Matt loaded me back into the car, wiping my brow and gently slipping some Andrew Bird into the stereo. Not on Labor Day. Never again.
It was a pretty light lunch, so by the time we met up with my friend Penny and her husband Scott, we were pretty hungry. I'd been looking forward to trying the Burrito Union since it had just been a rumor about the old Whole Foods building. (Which is right next to a Laundromat that has a whole bunch of little birds living in it - it's too weird to miss. Go check it out if you're ever in town.) Penny & Scott are new parents and still pretty much newlyweds - they just had their first anniversary on Friday! I was so happy to hear that Penny was ready for a little night out. I know it's got to be really hard to leave your new baby at home.
The Burrito Union was another list of pros and cons - the room is gorgeous. We got a comfortable booth and I envied the view the people sitting outside had. You can see right down to the lake. Again - we got the most incompetent server! This time, the poor kid appeared to have been really, really nervous. We speculated that he'd just gotten in trouble and this was his LAST CHANCE before getting canned. Therefore, he screwed up everything he touched. He was running around like a madman, not accomplishing anything, while the other two servers seemed to not only have their collective shizz together, but also were really calm, friendly and wonderful. I wanted to sit in their section!! Since our guy didn't have time to bring us our drinks, the other guy did asking, "Okay, so who's the boring person?"
He held up the pale yellow beer and cocked an eyebrow.
"Oh," Penny said, "That's mine."
"You mean to tell me that out of all the beers we make - you pick this one!?"
She laughed while I was pointing and yelling, "She is! She is the boring eater! Totally chicken nuggets and mac and cheese." I'm sure she appreciated that. I wanted to move to that guy's section.
My other gripe is that they ONLY serve burritos. Would it kill them to throw a taco or something into the mix? To be coming from the guys that run the amazing Brewhouse, I really expected more from the food. It was boring. The chorizo con queso tasted like hamburger meat in cheese whiz. My burrito was okay, after the 35 minutes it took to get to our table.
Our panicked server whizzed by saying, "There was a huge problem in the kitchen and one order was screwed up, so they're all screwed up!! I'm checking on your food right now!!!!" Then ran away. Dude. You're so lying! The whole room is open, so we can SEE him in the kitchen. He'd just forgotten to put in our order.
When I HAD ordered I said, "We'll start with the queso..."
"Okay, okay, so I just want to make sure... you want the queso to come out BEFORE the other food, right?"
"Yeah, and can I get this temperanillo/ garnacha blend?"
"Oh, so the Antigua Temperanillo?"
"Nooo, the other one, the blend, what's this say?"
"Oh... so you don't want this one - the Antigua?"

After the tourists, my rage had been sapped. This guy was lucky. I wanted to love the place so much! But, it was pretty disappointing. I did however run into Penny's old friend Adam Hansen, whose sister Miriam was a friend of mine and pen pal in high school. She's teaching children in Honduras right now. Can you believe this is someone I used to be friends with? It occasionally amazes me what people are capable of. She's making the world a better place and I'm complaining about nachos. I used to be such a hippie... Anyway, enough nostalgia - let's drink more!
We went to this new(ish) Irish pub called Carmody's. I loved it! The room is super casual, clean and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun. Again, we're out drinking on a Sunday night, so who knows if it's usually full of rowdy college kids doing Jag Bombs, but this night, it was a subdued, but boozy crowd, playing pub trivia and nursing beers.
I can't believe Penny & Scott were able to stand being out until 11, but it was a good time for us to call it a night, too. The sun and wind and fun was exhausting.
I do love Duluth and if you're ever going, I've got a long list of reliably good spots to go. I highly suggest you take yourself a road trip and go discover what all there is to see, drink, eat and scream at.