BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Openings and closings
A sad closing happened in late July but didn’t make it into the August Dish – Pie & Mighty on Chicago Avenue. We are so sorry to see them go. Another big favorite that closed recently, not so close to home, was Mort’s Deli in Golden Valley.
Racket had a great piece about the recent surge in BIPOC-owned coffee shops. Read it here for the details I don’t have space for! racketmn.com/a-wave-of-bipoc-owned-coffee-shops-are-changing-the-face-of-twin-cities-coffee/
One of the places mentioned, Abogados Cafe in Como Park, has an interesting backstory and is a place I want to visit soon. A second, Mocha Momma’s, is another I was looking forward to checking out, and finally got to visit a couple of weeks ago. It’s in the old Dunn Brothers space in the Minneapolis Central Library. A third one is Forreal Coffee at George Floyd Square, which is covered in the Chicago Avenue section in this month’s Powderhorn issue of Southside Pride.
Racket also did a deep dive into all the new foods at the State Fair this year, ranking them Scarf, Shrug, or Skip, while the Sahan Journal (sahanjournal.com) focused exclusively and positively on the new Hmong foods at the State Fair. The Beer Dabbler (beerdabbler.com) has a piece highlighting seven local summer brewery debuts.
Finally, not a new place or a new concept, but a new product announcement from Bebe Zito, the innovative ice creamery in Uptown. Due to the recent legalization of non-medical THC, Bebe Zito has mixed Delta-9 THC gummies into their “Pineapple Express” pints to become the first local supplier of weed ice cream. I have no idea what Delta-9 means nor how you get THC into a gummy; I’m just trying to keep up with the cool kids here.
Unionizing at more Starbucks and a Trader Joe’s
More Starbucks stores announced upcoming union elections or elections held and mostly won, and as we go to press on Aug. 30, the unionized (but no contract yet) store at 4712 Cedar Ave. is holding a one-day strike to protest Starbucks’ retaliatory tactics. The latest one was to give raises to all the non-union staff while freezing wages on the union members. Don’t cross the picket line if you see one in the future, and pass the PRO Act to improve protections for workers.
The Trader Joe’s in downtown Minneapolis became just the second TJs in the country to vote for unionization. The vote, in the second week of August, was 55-5! The online newspaper minnesotareformer.com has more details about the Trader Joe’s drive:
“Workers in Minneapolis will be represented by Trader Joe’s United, an upstart union created by workers at a store in Hadley, Mass., who
became the first to unionize a Trader Joe’s [in July 2022]. Workers at a Trader Joe’s in Boulder, Colo., have also filed for a union election but with an established union: the United Food and Commercial Workers. The UFCW represents grocery store workers across the country, including in Minnesota at Kowalski’s, Cub, Lunds & Byerlys, [several food co-ops] and other stores.”
Vegan food celebrations
August and September see a fun celebration of vegan food in the Cities presented by the animal rights organization Compassionate Action for Animals (CAA). Throughout the month of August, restaurants across the city participate in the Vegan Chef Challenge. Restaurants, whether vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, present one special vegan dish as an entry in the challenge. Diners who try the dish fill out review and voting forms, rating the dish on a scale of 1 to 5. They also share their thoughts and pictures on social media and each rating or share constitutes one entry in the daily draw for free meal coupons. The restaurant with the highest vote total wins the yearly award.
Then in September there is VegFest. You could call it VegFeast just as well. It’s an outdoor festival featuring free vegan food, with information booths from many vegan product makers and eateries. This year’s Fest is on Sunday, Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Harriet Island Park in St. Paul. Get more info at www.exploreveg.org/events/twin-cities-veg-fest-2022.
Mini-review – three Vegan Chef Challenges
I had big plans for the Vegan Chef Challenge. I was going to try 10 dishes, and post pictures of each one with a comment and vote on them, but I only made it to three.
The three vegan meals I sampled were:
• Parkway Pizza’s Philly Cheese-Fake Pizza.
• Tiny Diner’s Sesame Glazed Tofu.
• Reverie’s Korean BBQ Mock Duck Tacos.
Parkway Pizza actually has a number of vegan specialty pizzas already, as well as a number of vegan “meat” and “cheese” options for BYO pies. A friend and I split the pizza, and even then didn’t finish it. The pizza was slightly disappointing, but I took some home, so I must have liked it at least a little. There was nothing really wrong with it, but it was a little blah. Very reminiscent of the “real thing,” the cheese-steak sandwich, which I also consider blah.
I asked our server what kind of vegan cheese and vegan ground meat it was, and she said it was from Herbivorous Butcher. This was an understandable mistake, because most of the vegan options on their menu are from HB, but when I later saw a more complete description of the Philly Cheese-Fake, it said the “meat” was Impossible Burger and the “cheese” was Cross Your Heart. I am strongly partisan pro-Beyond Burger in the vegan burger wars, so that may account for my being underwhelmed.
I also had what purported to be a “Strawberry Daiquiri” cider from Sociable Cider Werks, but even though it was pink in color, there was no detectable flavor of strawberries, just a strong dry-cider flavor with a hint of lime. Pleasant enough, but not as advertised.
Not as advertised sums up my experience at Tiny Diner too. Again, it wasn’t bad, it was just less than what I was expecting. The name of the dish was Sesame Glazed Tofu. I expected the tofu to be glazed,
i.e., have a shiny or sticky coating with sweet-sour flavors and
sesame seeds clinging to the surface to add a nice texture. The tofu cubes were not glazed. They were very well-browned
with no perceptible coating and no alluring flavors. The sesame seeds were raw and just scattered over the dish as a garnish. In addition there were lots of noodles and a minimal amount of vegetables. It should have been fairly high in protein though, because two of the vegetables were mushrooms and edamame. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t finish it. I have had much better dishes at Tiny Diner, even much better vegan dishes. I don’t really think their heart was in this competition.
My final Vegan Challenge dish was from the all-vegan Reverie Cafe and Bar. Their dish sounded weird but turned out better than anticipated in the execution. Korean BBQ Mock Duck Tacos sounded like a fusion too far. In execution, it was like a low-carb banh mi. The BBQ was Korean style, with lots of heat, but not overpowering. The tacos were the soft variety. In addition to plenty of mock duck, they contained the usual crunchy and leafy bits you get in a banh mi – radishes, carrot shreds, quick-pickled cucumber and cilantro. I had it with a side of fries and vegan aioli and an iced herbal tea. I scarfed up every speck and was perfectly satisfied.