BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Openings and closings
Most of the interesting new openings right now are in St. Paul. There are three that catch my eye, although some have been in the news for a couple of months already. The first one is Juche, a newish Korean restaurant and bar on Payne Avenue. It has both classic and innovative fusion Korean favorites, and the bar serves makgeolli, a Korean rice wine that’s hard to find anywhere in the Midwest. The second is yet another branch of the wildly popular Centro, this one being Centro Highland Park on Cleveland Avenue. And finally, Justin Sutherland’s promised egg sandwich restaurant has opened on Grand Avenue. Named Big E (after Biggie Smalls), it also pays homage to other favorite musicians of Sutherland’s, such as having a sandwich on the menu called “When Doves Cry.”
A significant opening in Minneapolis, right in our front yard, is the Indigenous Food Lab at Midtown Global Market. See the mini-review below for my take on it and some details. Another Minneapolis item is the re-opening of Jasmine 26 as Jasmine 26 Hot Pot Restaurant and Bar, at its old Eat Street location.
News bits galore from the food and drink world
The James Beard awards finally dropped on June 5, and as expected, Minnesota got bupkis. We had only one finalist in the running – Shawn McKenzie (of Ceres) for baker and/or pastry-maker, a nationwide award – but she lost out to Margarita Manzke of Los Angeles.
One of my favorite online magazines these days is Bitter Southerner. I cannot rave enough about this lo-o-o-ong but totally worth it piece about the nostalgia for spaghetti interpretations by U.S.-resident Indians, Filipinos, Ethiopians, Jamaicans, and dozens more immigrant communities and families. I learned from this piece that mosques have potlucks, or at least 20 years ago in a college town in North Carolina they did, and the congregants included immigrants from scores of countries, plus native-born Americans of all races. Talk about a food trip! Read it! bittersoutherner.com/feature/2023/immigrant-spaghetti
A similar, and equally good article, though not as long or as intimate, is local critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s piece on the new generation of Vietnamese chefs (“The New Vietnamese Scene,” Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, June 11, 2023).
The food world, both nationally and locally, is heaving with labor discontent right now. You know whose side I am on. In the week of writing this, Unfair Labor
Practices (ULP) are causing it, but the scene may well change in the week before we print. UFCW Local 663 may decide to stage brief ULP strikes in order to get a contract renewal from Lunds & Byerlys and Kowalski’s that doesn’t axe their health care benefit. Also staging a cascade of short strikes across the country is Starbucks Workers United, in their case to get initial contracts in unionized stores and to stop and remedy retaliatory firings, discipline and withholding of benefits.
Mini-review #1 – lunch and shopping at Indigenous Food Lab
In early June, I went to Midtown Global Market to get my chin threaded
and check out some things, one of which was the Indigenous Food Lab (IFL) whose food market had recently opened. I ended up having lunch there, which consisted of a bottled healthy drink, my first ACV tonic, though it was thankfully more fruit-forward than vinegar, and tepary bean chili with pulled turkey as my add-on protein selection. It was an excellent value at under $10 for the meal. The one thing that would have made it perfect was a little corn cake on the side, or some kind of bready, cracker-ish thing to go with the chili.
I also bought some stuff from the market. I got a liter carton of chocolate oat milk, the chocolate being a product of a single-source grower in Peru, some loose-leaf herbal tea from Anahata Herbals of Duluth, and an educational card game that teaches you Ojibwe. All of the products in the market are from Indigenous producers.
From the drinks refrigerator, I also got a half pint of a sauce or dip that I am still eating on everything and it’s so good. This was IFL’s own brand of salsa verde, and it’s pale green and creamy, with tomatillos, cilantro, serrano peppers and blended pumpkin seeds being the major ingredients, plus hints of sour, pungent and sweet.
Mini-review #2 – revisiting J. Selby’s under its new ownership
In late June, I visited J. Selby’s for the first time since it has been operated by the Herbivorous Butcher sibling-owners. I was expecting it to be as good as ever, and I was not disappointed. I decided to go for a full-on carnivore’s challenge this time (even though that’s not my favorite kind of vegan food; I generally prefer vegan food that disrupts rather than imitates old foodways, but I am flexible about it). So I had a steak sandwich, with seasoned soy curls, aioli, bok choy, sautéed peppers and onions on a toasted hoagie bun. It was huge and the side of fries was even huger. It was phenomenal.