Thursday, October 04, 2007

Jay's Cafe - I think I'm in love

Ahhhh.... Don't you just love fall? My whole life, this has been my favorite season. Growing up on Sunnybeach Road fall always brought the beautiful colors and the first freeze meant it was safe for me to go bounding through the woods without worrying about woodticks and mosquitoes. My family were all bird hunters, although by the time the tradition got down to me, it was a little watered down. My Grandma Gidgee (103 this December) would go out with my Grandma Duncan and bring back whole flocks of water fowl. Me? I went out once. With my mom, Dad and cousins - and our faithful Golden Retriever Sunny (gee - how did we ever come up with that name?) We flushed a grouse, Dad shot and got it. Sunny brought it back to him and that was all we had to show for about 7 hours wandering around in the woods. I'm sure at the time I was bored as hell. With the glossy reflection of time it feels more like something out of a Sam Cook column.
Eating wild game wasn't anything newsworthy up North and I've had all manner of furry beasts. Most, I didn't enjoy. I've come a long way and now I so desperately miss the deep, rich flavor of pheasant. Our hunting rifles are long gone as are Sunny and Dad and the only thing I've ever taken aim at, was a Mt. Dew can perched on a sapling.
Still, this season always makes me feel the most alive. Up at Andy's cabin last weekend I took the most amazing nature hike. Seriously, I saw God on this trip. A gust of wind blew a puff of colored leaves off a poplar tree and they fluttered to the ground like a burst of butterflies.
To eat locally and seasonally is all the rage right now, but shouldn't it always be the case? It's difficult for that to be possible for us, stuck up here in the frigid winters, but right now is the time to do it. Right now, there are apples dangling from trees like the biblical tale, tempting us with their supple flesh and sweet, crisp juicy flavor. Now's the time to crack through that skin and let the juices run down your chin. There are mushrooms popping up all over the place thanks to those heavy rains we've had. Nuts are dandling from trees (although - word to the wise - you should really pick hazelnuts with gloves on. Learned that the hard way.)
Now is the carpe diem moment of Minnesota, because God only knows how long we have before the arctic gales shutter us inside, stuffed under layers of blankets and polar fleece, watching the pot roast dissolve in the crock pot.
Last night I had that perfect fall meal. It was quintessential Minnesota fare and it was actually not at Heartland.
Since we've moved over to this side of the river I've been missing Barbette. I loved the locally sourced food from sustainable resources, but I also loved the little neighborhood cafe feel. The service can be spotty and occasionally something would land on your table and you'd wonder what the chef's were thinking, or if they were even paying attention. (Do they even CARE?) But, most of the time it was consistently lovely and when we sat in Danielle's section, everything was flawless.
But it's all the way over there. It used to be a 3 block walk. Now, it's a 20 minute drive and it's really not worth it. So, I was left to bemoan the fact that there are NO neighborhood cafes with all those elements in St. Paul.
I was wrong.
There is Jay's cafe, in the former Chet's Taverna space. I'd never been to Chet's, but I'd been to Succotash next door. The space always looked cute, but for some reason I never went in. After doing an extensive search for someplace for dinner, I stumbled upon their website. Now, this sounded like my kind of thing!
We were there relatively early - 6. I met my sweetheart right after work. He'd just come from a meeting with one of his professors and was lookin' damn fine. All buttoned down resplendent with sport coat and cuff links. God, I love this man.
The space is really small and they were empty when we arrived. We took the tiny table by the window and admired the art hung from the walls. Our service was flawless and our waitress was adorable. Then again, I would hope she'd be right there at all times considering the binkiness of the room.
We ordered wine and the mussels to start. The wine list is modest, but all sounded good and reasonably priced. The mussels were gorgeous. Really, the shells were a glistening slate color. they were swimming in a broth studded with diced, sweetly fresh tomatoes, leeks and just a little splash of cream. The tasted like a delicate sip of the sea. They were supple, soft and tender. The bread served with them was simply toasted and rubbed with a little garlic. It's a trick I use at home, but seldom find in a restaurant. Usually, they're all slathered in butter and studded with little bitter, sharp bits. Flawless, simple, clean cooking.
For an entree we split the braised pork. This little piggy grew up in a farm not far from here and we were promised he lived a happy little life until it was time for dinner. The meat just melted into the sweet broth. There were olives, local mushrooms and kale, too. In the center of the plate was a luscious pillow of creamy, Parmesan cheesy polenta. This all food just begging to be eaten. Every gorgeous bite dissolving into happy nutritious, sustaining deliciousness. Heaven. I was in heaven.
This is where I want to have every date night for the next 230 years with my husband. The only problem is that they are only open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Every other day they are available for breakfast and lunch. I'm sure that's good, too. But there is a void for an affordable evening out with terrific and ethical food. And did I mention that it is affordable? For two gorgeous, deep, dark cherry and chocolate tinged glasses of wine, two bright, crisp Schell's pilsners, an appetizer and an entree portioned enough to feed two, we paid $50. It's cheaper than Barbette, too! I'm already planning my next trip in. I must go there and go there often. The people at Jay's need to know there's a demand for what they're doing. And they need to be open Tuesday's because that's the traditional night Matt and I go out to eat (because of all the nights he's usually tied up at the bar.)
And I'll let you know how that goes. Until then - would you just look outside! LOOK! Those colors! Fading to yellow greens, deep rushing blues, maple trees vibrant and begging you to come hunt for leaves. Enjoy and cherish every second we've got left before it's time to batten down the hatches and endure the long, cold why-the-hell-do-we-live-here winters. Instead soak in the why-would-I-live-anywhere-else Autumn.


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