Friday, June 25, 2010

Chef Shack @ Mill City Farmer's Market

On a recent gray Saturday, I made my way over to the Mill City Farmer's Market. Parked fifteen miles away and still at a meter, I was starving by the time I met Eric there.

Yeah, he was excited, too. And hungry. We tried hunting around for ingredients, duck eggs, lamb steaks, beautiful goat cheeses and early pinky green strawberries with grumbly tummies. We couldn't ignore the half mile long line in front of the Chef Shack
. I'd been looking forward to trying their food after reading a bunch of their positive press in the local media.

(this lady only looks cranky because she isn't eating donuts.)

Like little kids at the county fair, we discussed the various menu options and our best strategy, convinced we were starving enough to eat it all. The benefit of the long line was that we had the chance to watch everyone else walking past us with their steamy treats. A young girl clutched her paper boat captained by a soft shell crab and asked her mom, "What is that?" pointing at a little green curly hat perched on what used to be his little crabby head. Her mother's brow furrowed, "I'm not sure honey." I had to hold my hand down to keep myself from shaking it around in the air, jumping up and down, "I know! I know! I know! FIDDLEHEAD FERN!!"

We decided we must get one. We'd get the nachos, soft shell crab sandwich and the donuts. I could smell the sugary, fried little nuggets beckoning us like the tickle of a little crab claw under my nostrils. Must.Have.DONUTS.

We got our food and sought shelter from the spitting rain under the long, blue arm of the Guthrie theater. The nachos were dressed with smokey pulled pork, vibrant tomato salsa, black beans and creamy luscious guacamole. The chips were warm and crispy. I shoveled a couple into my mouth before making a greasy fingered grab at Eric's sandwich.

This was a little piece of heaven on a bun. The crab actually tasted crabby. We both marveled, realizing that we'd never actually had a soft shell crab that we really liked before. Usually, they're difficult to eat, greasy, gritty with cornmeal, or a soggy disappointing heap. Often, the most appealing this is attempting to gross out your dining companions by eating something so similar to a giant sea insect. (I get the same effect by eating calamari when out with my friend Andy, and making the little tentacled bits dance on the edge of her plate. It's a wonder I have friends.) This was the antithesis. The crab was lightly battered, crispy and tasting of fresh sea water - jolted to life with the zing of the pickled ramp tartar sauce. The grilled fiddleheads were a grassy, earthy flavor anchor. The charred fresh bread was crispy on the outside, plush on the inside. It was pretty much the ideal sandwich. Eric had to yank it back before I finished it off.

Then we got going on the donuts and that was pretty much the end of me. I couldn't talk or function properly until the bag was empty, drained of all donuts and the sugary coating leftover at the bottom. They were sweet, cardamomy (one of my favorite spices) and with just enough salt on them to ensure that they are utterly addicting. We ate the whole bag and had to get in line for more. They were fried crisp, crunchy and irregularly shaped, encapsulating the just sweet enough dough and kissed with the crackly sugar, spice salt mixture. Hot, fresh and wonderful.

I couldn't even tell if the rain was still falling. I was sucking on the wax paper bag when Eric jumped up, like being suddenly awakened from a wonderful dream. "Meter! I'm 10 minutes late!" We raced back to our respective cars. Well, I'm assuming he raced. I trotted for a bit before giving up. I am not a runner. I shambled up to my car, now sporting a soggy white envelope tucked under the wiper. I was still on such a happy food high, the $40 ticket didn't even phase me. I carefully licked my fingers again before touching the offensive little spitwad and chucking it onto the floor of the car. I closed my eyes and went to my happy place full of jaunty little crab sandwiches and dancing donuts.

I've since been following Chef Shack on Facebook and was delighted to see that they've been approved for serving food on the streets of Minneapolis. Follow them and find out where they're headed next - either to 5th & Hennipen on Monday, today at MPR, tomorrow at Mill City - just do it! You'll thank me. I'll happily except all kisses of gratitude in the form of little fried circles of spicy sweet yum yums.


At 4:37 PM , Anonymous DonutCoop said...

If you like donuts - check this out:

Local farm sourced donuts, hopefully on their way to MPLS!


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