The Pig Ate My Pizza (MSP) – No He Didn’t…I DID

photo (27)I was disappointed when I heard that one of my favorite restaurants, Travail, had closed. This was an incredibly creative group of chefs that consistently amazed me with their talent. But then I discovered that they were just modifying their approach. Of course the normal order of progression is moving from crudos, braises and burgers to pizzas, it is a perfect transition. Happens all the time. I questioned by sanity during the 12 mile drive that took 40 minutes, but my desire to see what this culinary group were cooking far surpassed the movement of Mickey’s hands on my watch.

bl piggieI sat at the bar and the bartendress pushed the Cider Ham Rules pie pretty hard to all the guests but I first wanted a carnivore’s delight so the first pizza was the Piggie Pie. Normally served with a thick brioche crust, I opted for the thin-crusted alternative. The toppings included large slices of prosciutto, pepperoni and lots of sausage hidden under the cheeses. The flavors were outstanding. Each was delicious on its own with the saltiness and spiciness of the meats perfectly complementing the sweetness of the tomato sauce. Not to be outdone, the chefs at TPAMP used a cheese blend of provolone, parmesan, Asiago, and Gouda (plus one that I forgot) that created an incredibly delicious combination. But the kitchen still had a few tricks and flavors up their sleeves, they finished the pie with a little basil oil and then perked the flavors with a few baby oregano leaves. And let’s not forget the crust. It brought great flavor and texture.

bl hamWith one down and my hunger not yet fully satisfied I acquiesced and ordered the Cider Ham Rules. Fortunately the restaurant was more filled at this point and the timeframe before #2 arrived was sufficient to regain some internal space. When it arrived, it was not as expected; it was more fully covered than the Piggie Pie. Adorning this pie were compressed apples, a fried apple chip, waffle fries, oyster mushrooms, and various cuts and renditions of pork. As much as I wanted to love this version to the same degree as the first, the sweet-savory combination left the sweet as an “also-ran” component. The flavors of both renditions of the apples were completely lost and the waffle fries were a cute addition but from a taste perspective, not to my liking. The rich, deep flavors of the pulled pork, chunks of pork, hoisin sauce and oyster mushrooms were outstanding and absolutely delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed the savory aspects of this pie, but not as a sweet-savory combo.

The staff and service were still Travail quality perfection. Knowledgeable, friendly, always available for a question and were spot on in each aspect of the service. Minneapolis now has another great pizza joint (the fourth on my list), when four years ago there were none.

Pig Ate My Pizza on Urbanspoon

The Juicy Lucy @ 5-8 Bar (MSP) is a Big 0-0 for Me

photo (28)-001OK, maybe it’s me, but I just don’t get it. After several discussions and disagreements in the office on where to enjoy the best Juicy Lucy, I ventured back to 5-8 Club to see if I could be convinced that their burger was a great choice. This may be heresy to some, but this was not a meal that would make me rush back, in fact, it is more a DNR.

Let’s get to the positives. I think the joint is an incredibly friendly neighborhood watering hole. It is separated into two rooms, one with a bar and the other entirely tables, with the walls teeming with relics of the 40s 50s and 60s. I sat as a solo diner amongst single dads taking their young kids out for a bite, elderly couples splitting French fries and soccer moms racing to that open table. I was now firmly ensconced in pure Americana…a smile came to my face.

photo (29)-001The waitress arrived, an energetic and incredibly hard-working high school / college teenager working for car money, college money or just entertainment money. She was great. The menu stated that the JL was 8-ounces, a pretty good sized patty, so my order was a JL with bacon and American, some fried onion straws, which I adore, a hot dog and an Arnold Palmer.

The fried onion straws were excellent. A huge mound of thinly sliced, deep-fried onions (enough for multiple guests) was crispy and perfectly salted. They were so good that there was no need to dip in any ketchup.

Good news over…

photo (30)-001Now let me be honest about my view on the JL…the patty was just horrible. There is absolutely nothing positive I can say about the meat. First the size…the menu says “8 ounces” and I would be hard pressed to believe it was more than five ounces. Then the kitchen cooks the doneness to greater than super well done, bordering on incinerated, losing all chance that it will retain any juiciness. And the flavor was tasteless. So the burger meat receives the trifecta, three zeros on taste, preparation and size. And the bacon was a perfect complement to the burger, two meager slices of overcooked bacon. On a slightly positive note, I did like the American cheese, really well melted and with just a touch of pungency. The pickles slices were also a positive; the roll was a pretty basic, what was to be expected in a bar.

photo (32)-001Now onto the hot dog. For full disclosure, I am a fan of a Kosher, natural casing dog so this was definitely not in my comfort zone. The hot dog was in the same category as the burger; an oversized, badly prepared  “Ball Park” imitation; it was barely warm, and also served on a basic package roll. One bite and I was finished.

With so many other choices for great burgers in MSP, I would be hard pressed to place this on a top-25 places to have a burger.

5-8 Club on Urbanspoon

Piccolo (MSP) – Food was Great; Staff was Dispicable Thee

bl pic cheek 1I was incredibly excited when I finally secured a reservation at Doug Flicker’s Piccolo Restaurant.  I entered with great anticipation for enjoying the creative genius of one of the most highly regarded chefs in the Twin Cities. The restaurant is small by comparison to many in the area, the front room seats approximately 24 guests primarily in banquettes that fill two of the walls. There is a large painting plus a mirror overlooking the area creating a warm, yet open environment.

bl pic eggThe menu requires a little explaining. It is broken into five sections, with three choices in each. You can choose the five-course fixed price culinary adventure for $52 (one from each of the sections) or choose from any of the options to create your own individual experience. The portions are incredibly small, borderline Lilliputian; I would guesstimate a few bites would finish each of the dishes. The server does make mention of the size but even with that advanced notice I found them even smaller than I assumed.

I decided on three-courses that included (a) Soft poached duck egg with hazelnuts, smoked bacon, foie gras and pine cone syrup; (b) Dungeness crab “parfait” with hearts of palm, French breakfast radishes, crab butter and sea salt; and (c) Braised pork cheeks with figs, truffles, potato and lardo (different than the on-line menu).

bl pic breadAs I waited, the server brought four slices of pumpernickel and some butter that was topped with a touch of sea salt. The bread was room temperature, not warmed prior to delivery, disappointing that such a simple step is missed. The flavors of the bread and butter with the touch of the sea salt were very good.

bl pic egg 2The duck egg arrived. From a visual point of view it was beautiful, but I was surprised there was no aroma; after one bite I understood. The egg was served at room temperature. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and that was the intent, but when I order a poached egg, I assume it would be served warm. When opened, the egg exuded the creamy yolk, but there was no seasoning at all on the egg; it was a bland, cold, previously poached egg. The hazelnuts were a good complement for both its texture and flavor but the miniature rasher of bacon was the only ingredient that I really enjoyed. This was a badly executed dish.

I was a little concerned about all of the positive press after this introduction, but the next two courses changed my view completely.

bl pic crabThe “Parfait” was fantastic. A creamy custard lined the bottom of the jar with several pieces of Dungeness crab sitting atop and then a few slices of hearts of palm and radishes finished the glass-enclosed presentation. The dish was a decadent interpretation of creaminess and flavor. Dungeness is one of my favorite varieties of crab and this was perfectly prepared, moist, with delicious flavor; the chef did this mollusk justice. Not as pleasing was the crab butter and radish combination. I loved the breakfast radishes, it was a first for me, but the crab butter was very off-putting to the palate and reduced the enjoyment.

bl pic cheek 2The “pork cheeks” was delicious. It was not multiple “cheeks,” but a small piece of a single cheek. Sitting next to the cheek was a small cube of potato and sitting atop were two small sections of the fig. All of these items were nestled in a creamy sauce. The combination of these ingredients was divine. The cheek was moist, flavorful, succulent and full of richness. The sweetness of the figs was a perfect complement and the texture of the potato added yet another level. Then the creaminess of the sauce offered and incredibly soothing addition. I only wish it was larger as this was one of the best dishes I have ever tasted. As an aside, I struggled to find the truffles or the lardo, but this was delicious with or without.

Unfortunately the service and staff were the polar opposite to the brilliance of some of the preparations. As much as my server was pleasant, the lightning pace of the meal was unacceptable. The three courses were delivered in less than thirty minutes. There was no time to savor, no time to contemplate, no time to reflect and no time to relax. It was get him in and get him out. I mentioned this to the server, who checked the tickets to confirm my point, and he apologized, stating it was his fault. This was the professional response.

Then my overall dining experience was completely destroyed. When I mentioned this to the manager (he approached the table), instead of a professional response or an offer for a relaxing cup of coffee or dessert, he confronted me, and his final words were, “I will just refund your money so you never have to come back.” His actions were totally uncalled for, entirely unprofessional and completely out of line. There is no reason for me or anyone else to be treated in this manner.

As much as the last two courses were some of the best cuisine I have ever experienced, there are too many great restaurants in the Twin Cities to eat…places who treat their guests with respect, and who understand good customer service. Piccolo’s staff needs some significant training before I would recommend or return.

Piccolo on Urbanspoon

Eat Street Social (MSP) – Great Potential

bl eat exteriorLocated on the north side of West 26th Street just west of Nicollet Avenue South, Eat Street Social is a very cool and hip restaurant with a good deal of potential. There is limited parking behind the restaurant and if you cannot find a spot in their lot, the parking is difficult. Once inside you are met by an eclectic staff who were extremely friendly and freely offered opinions on their favorite items. Most importantly they did not try to steer you to the most expensive items on the menu.

bl eat menuThe interior is very well done with a small dining area in the back right quarter with a small bar, and a large u-shaped bar and dining room with small stage to the left. Through the latter is a patio that contains both a lattice-covered pergola plus additional tables with umbrellas. The chairs are comfortable plastic strapped wrap-around and seat approximately 50 guests.

bl eat sausage 2The server informed me that the night’s Grilled House-Made Sausage was pork, potato and rosemary. The dish was served with whole grain mustard and buttered and grilled slices of baguette. I ordered this for my appetizer plus the Wild Acres Pan Seared Duck Breast with rainbow carrots, white bean puree, sugar snap peas, pea tendrils and topped with lemon plum vinaigrette for my entree.

bl eat sausage 1When the two sausages arrived they looked different from each other. I sliced one (it was the potato version described) and it was delicious with a good spice level and a moderately dense texture. Unfortunately both the potato and the rosemary were overwhelmed by the other bold flavors. From a textural point of view the small dices of potato softened the texture of the sausage. When I sliced into the second link, it contained an abundance of diced tomatoes and no potatoes. The flavor and texture were also very different; a milder rendition from the potato version with a slightly denser texture, not benefiting from the diced potato. I asked both the server and the MOD what type the second was and the former was surprised that there were two varieties and the MOD told me there was only one type of sausage that evening. Sorry but there were two variety. Nonetheless I enjoyed both varieties, especially with a little dab of the whole grain mustard.

bl eat duckThe Pan Seared Duck was an interesting dish. It was as if two different dishes were randomly combined. Was this a salad with the duck as the accompaniment or vice versa? The salad was composed of grape tomatoes, sugar peas, roasted garlic, several varieties of baby carrots, onions and chestnuts. The flavors and textures were outstanding, and the addition of the chestnuts was brilliant. The inclusion of the white bean puree was also a great idea; it added an earthy and creamy element. Unfortunately it was over-dressed, which detracted from the enjoyment. This salad, by itself would make for a great vegetarian entrée. The duck was nicely seared, finished to a medium rare and then topped with the lemon plum vinaigrette, which was more lemon than plum. The dressing brought citrusy back-notes to and complemented the richness of the duck meat. Unfortunately my duck breast was tough and the white tendon was still present throughout the breast, creating a difficult cutting and chewing experience. It is rare that I enjoy the salad much more than the protein, and this was one of those times.

Service was delightful. My server was spot on, water glass was constantly topped off and she checked in after the appropriate time. My only comment would be that neither the server nor the MOD knew that there were two different sausages on my plate and neither offered to check with the kitchen. When I discussed my thoughts on the duck with the manager he was extremely pleasant and we had a pleasant conversation about the dish.

Overall this was a very good restaurant with great potential. I would definitely return to try other dishes.

Overall – “Strong 7”

Eat Street Social on Urbanspoon