The Dish for December, with three mini-reviews

Samosa Tater Tot Chaatdish


Openings and closings

We usually start with these, as they have been numerous in the upheaval since 2020 (and were even pretty frequent before then, due to economic chaos). But things seem to be leveling off, so I may drop this practice. The only notable closing is the original Caribou Coffee in Edina, which will close Dec. 12. For openings, there are a few, but not in our neck of the woods or interesting enough to get excited about.

News for home cooks

I followed the links in a weird local food-related tweet I read: “This recipe was featured in The New York Times in January 2020 because my congresswoman Ilhan Omar made it for a hot dish competition against my senator Amy Klobuchar and I CANNOT EVEN with this information.”

Cornbread mix competition

Ilhan Omar is my congresswoman also, although I wouldn’t call Amy Klobuchar “my” senator, since we all have two of them, and I very slightly prefer Tina Smith. But that’s irrelevant. The dish is called Samosa Chaatdish (Indian Tater Tot Hotdish). This sounded intriguing, and I was originally planning to “test kitchen” it before sharing it, but after reading the recipe I decided that, although I love the concept of mashing up very Minnesotan Tater Tot Hotdish with pretty spicy samosas and chaat, and I love the wordplay of “chaatdish” which almost perfectly rhymes with hotdish, I wasn’t really taken by the actual recipe. But here it is, and you can decide for yourself:
Bon Appetit did a “Best Boxed Cornbread Mix” competition. Local favorites Betty Crocker, Krusteaz, and Trader Joe’s were all slammed for something and placed somewhere in the middle. Hippie, health-foodie favorite Bob’s Red Mill came in dead last with the withering headline “A Hard No.” Ouch. Martha White, a Southern staple along with Jiffy, came in somewhere in the middle as well, but all the things they criticized it for – gritty texture, requires to be cooked in cast iron, has a crust but doesn’t rise much – are what characterizes classic cornbread in my book. But then I grew up in the South, although I am not and never have been a “Southerner.”
I was rooting for Jiffy, just because it’s so cheap and working-class and I practically lived on it as a college student. It came in third, and I was sort of devastated to learn (I’m sure I used to know this but forgot) that it has lard in it! Some fancy brand I’ve never heard of placed second. The top one was the anti-hippie, health-foodie nemesis, Whole Foods, albeit their low-cost basics brand 365. Points were awarded for having more cornmeal than wheat flour (most of them did not!), for “actually smelling like corn” as it came out of the oven, and for its good texture, having a mixture of tender, gritty, moist, springy, and crumbly without being too much of any of those things.
I’m still reeling from the lard though. I actually have a box of Jiffy in my cupboard, but I may give it away.

Handsome Hog in St. Paul

Mini-review #1 – Handsome Hog

I went to Justin Sutherland’s flagship upscale soul food restaurant for an early birthday dinner when my sister Cindy was in town. She was my designated pork eater and got ribs. I got fried chicken and a waffle, something my son loves and raves about (not from Handsome Hog, he’s never been there, but he lives in Atlanta where they have chicken and waffles nearly everywhere). The chicken was definitely some of the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant. The waffle was just a waffle, but it had real butter, real maple syrup, and some sort of spicy cooked apple stuff. I tried some of my sister’s cheesy grits, which I always love. The slaw was shredded very fine, I think just all cabbage, with a piquant vinaigrette dressing.
The house special old fashioned was delicious and I am so unused to drinking that I got drunk (on just one) enough to start reciting poetry. I haven’t been like that for well over a decade. And no hangover! A combination of my powerful Irish liver and sticking to the expensive stuff.

Garlic fries from Modern Times

Mini-review #2 – Modern Times

Pre-pandemic, I probably went to Modern Times more or less weekly. Post-pandemic, I have only been three or four times, and this visit in early November followed a six-to-eight-month gap. I got “Egg on a Bun” (really egg and cheese) with avocado extra, and garlic fries as a side. Oh! Garlic fries from MT! How I have missed you!

Mini-review #3 – Heather’s

This was another meal I had with my sister. It was a big hit with both of us. It was my first time having brunch at Heather’s and also the first time I tried out their capacious, elegant, toasty-warm covered

The warm and cozy patio at Heather’s

patio, which I recommend. It was a raw, damp, and cold Sunday morning in late October, but we were fine. I had what may be the single most delicious brunch item I have ever had anywhere. (And brunch items are what I live for, so that’s a high bar.) It was called Autumnal Hash, and consisted of shredded sweet potatoes, minced sweet onions, and shaved Brussels sprouts perfectly seasoned and sauteed until melty and crispy and then topped with two perfect over-easy eggs. OMG.

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