I don’t know if I’ve dropped this bomb yet, but I’m two weeks in on a stage at the Grand Cafe, which is a bistro in south Minneapolis. What that means is that I’m working on a volunteer basis in order to learn how to work in a restaurant kitchen. It’s been a really positive experience so far, and I’m glad to have this opportunity. In exchange for my labor, John, the chef de cuisine, invited me to have dinner at the cafe for free!
What can I say? The meal I had last night blew me away. As each course came out, I immediately noticed little things that I had played a part in: the shredded duck, julienned pickled peppers, little leaves of frisée. It was a great feeling. I’ve never been so proud. The supreme icing on the cake was a last round of vodka shots in the Grand kitchen with the chefs. Bliss.
I didn’t take pictures, but here’s my recollection of what we had (I scribbled these down last night when I was drunk so NO GUARANTEES):
ocean trout tartare w/ truffle oil on a house-made cracker
seared scallops on a squash puree
spicy shrimp w/ pickled peppers and cheesy grits (paired with Pabst Blue Ribbon!!!)
blue cheese tart and duck confit salad
ahi tuna w/ leeks/escarole/bacon and potato puree
duck breast w/ potato gnocchi
pumpkin creme brulee
It’s a blustery day in Minneapolis, but I’m glad to be here and not at the farm, where all of my former coworkers are frantically harvesting every single fruit (i.e. peppers, tomatoes) in the field in preparation for tonight’s frost. To ease my transition into civilian life, I’ve been biking a lot to try to familiarize myself with the city. It’s definitely a pain in the ass with 27 mph winds farting in your face the whole time, LET ME TELL YA.
I worked up an appetite so I cranked it over to France 44, a huge cheese and wine shop in Edina. Owned by a fellow NYC transplant, it stocks lots of artisanal products from Brooklyn and also got really good reviews from Citypages and Chowhound. Like any good cheese shop, it has a really appealing repertoire of sandwiches that feature both novel and classic cheese + stuff combinations.
The girl working at the counter was really knowledgable and friendly — she’s even going to apprentice at a cheesemaking farm in Vermont! I stupidly forgot to introduce myself, but maybe next time. Is it weird to want cheese-loving friends? I just want to meet someone with whom I can munch on cheese plates! Is that so much to ask?!
The sandwich pictured above (set against a tumultuous Lake Harriet) is their house special, “The Cheesemonger.” It features sopressata salami, provolone cheese and a pepper & onion relish in a six-inch piece of baguette. And with the student discount (hehe) it was only 5 bucks with change! The verdict? Fuck yes. They’ve got it down.
Before you read this, you should probably check out Sandwiches You Will Like, a pretty cool (despite its tepid name) PBS documentary about the regional sandwiches of the U.S. The editing can be incomprehensible at times: Rick Sebak will flatly ask a question like, “So what’s the cheese to put on a philly cheesesteak sandwich?” and the editors will throw in 4 shots of snaggle-toothed Philadelphians exclaiming, “Cheese wiz!!” Sometimes they’ll mix things up with a “Definitely, wiz.” COOL!
Inspired by the IMDB summary of the movie, I decided to make like Slick Rick Sebak and try the Jucy Lucy on a recent trip to Minneapolis with my friend John. Is the Jucy Lucy Minneapolis’ official contribution to the regional sandwich pantheon? My dudefriend Chris, who introduced it to me, really seemed to be into the idea. In some aspects, it could serve as a somewhat snarky portrayal of Minnesotans — or at least, my stereotype-laden perception of them. The burger is, at first blush, just a straight-up burger. It’s distilled to its purest elements: a pillowy white bun, a beef patty, and maybe grilled onions if you want to be fancy. The gimmick is that the patty is filled with cheese, which, upon grilling, forms a molten core of dairy-based fat inside of the burger. There really is no other way to describe it: “molten” is a word that gets tossed around a lot in regard to this sandwich, and it fits. Biting into this sandwich hastily is like biting into Satan’s ass; it will napalm both the inside and outside of your mouth. So are Minnesotans, who are so gosh darn nice all the time, hiding a molten core of hatred for yourself and your loved ones underneath all that flannel? I wouldn’t be surprised.
In the end, this is just a burger filled with cheese. Even so, I think it’s a fitting official sandwich, given the region in question. I mean, come on, if Iowa’s bag is a pile of loose ground beef on a bun, let’s not sweat the small stuff.