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[MSP] One-dish wonders

I've noticed (I think—I realize I’m still relatively new) a tendency on this Midwest board (more so than the San Francisco board, for instance,) to categorize restaurants as either "chow-worthy" or "not chow-worthy."

However, in San Francisco, while there were one or two exceptionally rare restaurants that many considered the entire menu to be chow-worthy, it was more common for people to recommend just one dish at a particular establishment--restaurant X for the house-made tofu, and anything made with it; taco truck Y for the tacos al pastor, but not the chicken or any other tacos; little shop Z for the red bean or green tea ice cream, but no other flavors.

I think it's rare when every item on a menu is chow-worthy, and I think we might be doing chow-selves a disservice when we disregard a restaurant just because the whole menu doesn't shine. Are there dishes you recommend at Twin Cities establishments that, in your opinion, rise above all other menu items or are a surprise to you? Maybe it's even seasonal, like a Friday fish fry during Lent? After all, there's usually some reason a restauranteur goes into business, Like the Mom or Dad that everyone to whom everyone says, "Your popovers/panang curry/sauces are so good you should open a restaurant."

For instance, Alice's (I think it was, forgive me if I'm mis-attributing) fries at the Black Sea on Snelling in St. Paul, come to mind although, I wouldn't say that she considered the rest of the Black Sea un-chow-worthy, just that she thought the fries were exceptional.

Anything else you'd cross town for?

~TDQ

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  1. This is a great idea TDQ. And thanks for the shout out.
    I can think of a lot of places that have a few top-notch dishes, but I can't think of any that have only 1. I guess Shuang Cheng has a great spicy squid dish. China Jen, while I love it, has some shortcomings, and I go there for about 5 dishes: Kung Pao chicken, soup dumplings, cold sesame noodles, Dun Dun noodles, spicy wontons.
    I wonder why the TC tend more toward the whole experience and are not as tolerant of one dish wonders. Is it the lack of public transportation here which makes a trip across town more of a trip, not to mention high gas prices? Is it the related higher level of sprawl? Is it that this is a bit more of a family place than, say, NYC or SanFran, and you have to be able to please more people? I am just wondering aloud.

    1 Reply
    1. re: AliceS

      Alice, those are good recommendations!

      And your speculation about "why" is interesting, assuming my observation is even true. Actually, I was initially thinking it was more because people in the "bigger" (for want of a better word) chow cities have many choices and have come to expect that they can be ultra picky. When you have lots of Mexican restaurants, for instance the way SF does, you learn can afford to be choosy. But when you only have one or two of a kind, say just a couple of Turkish restaurants, then perhaps you have more of a tendency to think well, it's our ONLY Turkish restaurant, or, well, I think this Turkish restaurant is better overall than that one... I was thinking it's just a way of thinking about chow once you've reached a critical mass in a certain kind of cuisine. The more choices you realize you have, the more you decide to be selective, right down to the individual dish. Eventually, that kind of thinking just become a frame of mind.

      For instance, I like the Cajun Lucy at The Groveland Tap in St. Paul (came up in another thread yesterday). Really, the Groveland Tap is a neighborhood bar, and as neighborhood bars go, I think it's a cut above the rest. But there are many neighborhood bars to choose from in the Twin Cities. Would I cross town (or the river) to go to the Groveland Tap? Perhaps not, except that I really like that Cajun Lucy.

      I really really like the cherry and peach cones at Connie's Creamy cone. I think it's just cherry or peach syrup mixed into to regular soft serve ice cream, but, still, it's enough for me to go out of my way for, even though there are lots of exceptional ice cream places in the Twin Cities.

      ~TDQ

    2. I too think distance has quite a bit to do with it. I also think that unique-ness in a variety of ways plays a part in how we deem a place chow-worthy.

      And since we don't have the quantity of restaurants I think we hold onto our favorites with a fiece stubbornness. How many Jucy Lucy discussions are really needed to steer an out of towner to your personal pick? Don't get me wrong, I have my favorites too that I'd be heartbroken to see fold but I don't see them as interesting to other and I could very well be wrong about that.

      For me there are a couple places I go to just for one thing. Campiello's truffle cake is one such item that turns me into the cartoon character Snuffles (who when he got his treat would float up into the air). It just makes me so dang happy!

      And if I had to eat just one food for the rest of my life it'd be Pepito's bean lupitas with sour cream, guac, salsa and a bowl of chips (which are needed as condiment delivery vehicles so it really is just one food in a cheat-y sort of way).

      Would I send people to those places just for those particular items? Probably not.

      8 Replies
      1. re: MplsM ary

        M ary, Campiello's and their truffle cake seems to have flown under my chow radar to this point. It seems like I'll have to seek it out. Is this the right info for it?

        Campiello
        1320 W. Lake Street
        Minneapolis
        (612) 825-2222
        6411 Shady Oak Road
        Eden Prairie
        (612) 941-6868

        On the topic of Pepito's, I am addicted to their salsa,which, I believe, they make themselves. I don't know why, exactly, but I can't get enough of it. It's just the right texture for me, not too watery, not too chunky, and the right combo of smokiness and spicyness.

        http://www.pepitos.net/

        I agree you might not necessarily send someone to Pepito's just for the bean lupitas, or the salsa, unless they specifically mentioned they were looking for just that, but I do think when Pepito's comes up for discussion, it's worth acknowledging that there are one or two chow-worthy things on their menu.

        Sometimes, I am sad when I see someone dismiss a restaurant outright because not every item on the menu is chow-worthy.

        As someone who is new to Jucy Lucy's, I do think it's worth recommending to out-of-towners who are interested in food in the "burger" genre simply because it's unique to the Twin Cities. When I visit a new city, I like to eat the foods that are unique to that area. But I might not expect someone to drive all the way over to St. Paul to the Nook (where my personal favorite jucy lucy is), when they are going to be in Minneapolis and Matt's may do.

        ~TDQ

        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Yes, that Campiello. It could be the way I order this dessert, too. We've probably had a wine with dinner and my oenophile friend almost always chooses an approprite, often subtle wine. I go for the big, bold, yowza reds and so I'll order a glass of whatever fits that category and my friend orders some French press coffee. In combination it is what i like to call a 'Chocolate Speedball.'

          I totally agree with your assessment of Pepito's salsa. When I make it I will do chunky but I adore their seed-ridden, spicy, smooth salsa.

          Should someone come up with a vegetarian Jucy Lucy I will gladly join the Chowhound fray next go-round.

          1. re: MplsM ary

            The truffle cake is worth the visit. When the scallops are on the menu don't miss them, they come with a sweet potato puree that makes you want to lick the plate.

            1. re: MplsM ary

              Birchwood Cafe has had a veggie Lucy recently, a black bean
              burger with gouda or fontina inside, I believe.

              1. re: faith

                Finally, thank you! I've been driving myself crazy trying to remember which restaurant I read offered a veggie lucy. They don't mention it on the menu on their website. The menu is really just an example, anyway.

                http://www.birchwoodcafe.com/

                How is it? Have you tried it?

                ~TDQ

          2. re: MplsM ary

            Distance also brings up an interesting counterpoint. A few weeks ago, an out of towner asked for recs near the airport. I suggested a couple of places within a few minutes of the airport, but was dissed for it because neither of them would be considered one of the top five of their kind in Minneapolis. Frankly, I thought that criticism sounded UN-chowhoundish. Admittedly, I would not drive across town for the green papaya salad or duck curry at Ketana's. But if I'm near the airport with limited time, they have darn yummy green papaya salad and duck curry. If you live somewhere and have the luxury of time, maybe it's worth driving to Chiang Mai Thai for their fried cashews and interesting wine selection. But that's not always the best option.

            I think the onus is on us (pardon the almost pun) to find the one or two most chowhoundy things on anyone's menu, either for that across-town trip that is worth the drive, or for the local dash because you don't have the time.

            1. re: Loren3

              You bring up an excellent aspect of this discussion -- sometimes we cycle & cycle on the same few recommendations without actually meeting the OP's needs. Sometimes the most respectful help is that which acknowledges the limits they present.

              If the person seeks good outdoor seating, or a spot near the airport, or someplace that can serve a group of 8 on a budget, then you're absolutely right that we locals have choices to make in posting our replies.

              If we know of a place that meets all their needs but has only a few delicious options, by all means post it and say which menu items are worthwhile.

              If we know of a place that doesn't meet all of their immediate needs but is a wonderful option for folks who seek the same food without the same constraints, identify that as such ... although I totally agree that not every thread should turn into a discussion of the best Twin Cities Thai.

              If we don't have a recommendation that meets their needs, there's no law that says we have to answer every single thread in order to be worthy today. In fact, that gets less & less helpful as it dilutes the ability to find a solid answer to the OP's question. My opinion only, of course!

              1. re: KTFoley

                I like your thinking on this, KTFoley! :)

                ~TDQ

          3. Being a huge east coast buffalo wing fan I will go to Sweeneys (dale ave st paul) for wings and only wings (and beer.) Sometimes I tell friends that & they didn't even realize Sweeneys served food.

            Crossed the river to Matt's for a JL - ok. Won't be going back for something that I can order closer..... (Nook, Groveland)

            Is Yarussos chow worthy? Great Dagos & Great baked ziti/moscotolli. (Payne in St Paul)

            What about Roosters BBQ/Takeout - best fried chicken. (Randolf, in St Paul)

            Can't think of anything else that fits the question.....But a good question for future thought.

            8 Replies
            1. re: St Paul Susie

              Sweeney's serves food? ;-)

              http://www.sweeneyssaloon.com/sweeney...

              According to their website, their fabulous flamingo wings are famous!

              Lots of fun ideas, Susie! I've been curious about Rooster's for awhile, but I always seem to be passing by it when I'm trying to get somewhere on time and no time to stop. Sounds like it's worth a stop when I'm in a fried chicken mood!

              Rooster's BBQ Deli 979 Randolph Ave, St. Paul; 651.222.0969

              http://www.yarussos.com/

              ~TDQ

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                My Rooster's experience:

                Dara (City Pages restaurant reviewer) wrote a column w/in the last year about the best places to get whole chicken for a quick dinner. Y'know, like the chicken in the plastic casket you can get off the warmer @ Cub -- except good.

                Roosters was one of the 3-4 places she recommended. Since it is 2 blocks off my homeward commuting route, I stopped in and got a whole smoked/roasted chicken. I was very disappointed -- the smoke tasted like it came out of a bottle.

                Nonetheless, I will have to visit again to try the fried chicken. I sometimes wonder if I've hit a place too soon after a good rec and they're struggling with the surge in business. Surely it will be better than the KFC in my neighborhood! ;)
                Kevin

                1. re: kcmarshall

                  Mpls St. Paul Magazine published a special "best barbecue of the Twin Cities" in March 2005 and gave Rooster's high marks for the ribs and fried chicken, but called the roasted chicken "dreadful." I don't think you're alone in your opinion, sadly.

                  http://www.mspmag.com/feature.asp?fea...

                  It would seem we're definitely one-dish wonder territory with the fried chicken.

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I agree witht e Roosters chicken review(the bad one). I saw Dara's article also and tried all the places in her review. Although I disliked Roosters bbq chicken, I really liked their "St Louis" pulled pork sandwich. "St. Louis" means that they put the cole slaw right on the bun.

                    You may want to try Rotisseria in Uptown. This was also reviewed by Dara in the same review as Roosters. Here's the link to the article: http://citypages.com/databank/26/1268...

                    If you go there, make sure they give you some of their homemade hot sauce. I don't know what it's called - but it's good - and their chicken is delicious and unique.

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      reply to bluesman 13 because there's no reply link on his post for weird software nesting limitations:

                      Okay, that Rotisseria in Uptown sounds amazing. Thank you for the link! I will have to go there. I was especially intrigued by your mention of the homemade sauce, and, now upon read the link, the fact that it's Peruvian. I wonder how many other "Peruvian" restaurants we have in the Cities? (Although, this one only serves roasted chicken and related sides!)

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Yep, this is a reply to TDQ's question about Peruvian restaurants.

                        We have 2 -- Rotisseria and Macchu Picchu.

                        Rotisseria serves just the peruvian-style chicken, and many of the restaurants who serve it in Peru specialize in just this dish. Last time I went I was disappointed not to find all three sauces that are usually served: a purplish one made with cured olives, a yellowish one made with garlic and aji, and a green one made with cilantro.

                        Macchu Picchu is on the northwest corner of Lake & Lyndale, about two doors up. It serves classic Peruvian dishes like lomo saltado (beef stir-fried with onions, tomatoes and french fries), escabeche (chicken in a creamy sauce made of garlic, peanuts and aji peppers), papas a la huancaina (potatoes in a regional peruvian style.)

                        Last time I was there, they also served peruvian soda (Inca Cola -- sugary enough to be a dental sin) and possibly some peruvian beers (Cusquena, for example, which is nostalgic for me but otherwise a lot like Bud lite).

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          TDQ's reply to KTFoley re: Machu Picchu (Inca Kola)

                          Wow, Inca Kola! Now, there's something I haven't thought to seek out. Inca Kola is bright yellow, sugary sweet (as you say), and tastes like bubble gum. My firm belief that it's an acquired taste that I haven't yet acquired. A dear friend of mine who had an Andean upbringing can't get enough of the stuff whenever he can find it. It's good to know I'll be able to lead him to some when he next visits!

                          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inca_Cola

                          I don't exactly crave Inka Cola, but, do you know if they serve empanadas/pastelillos at Machu Piccu? I love those little football, savory shaped pastries.

                          ~TDQ

                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                        We finally made it to Roosters. This is definitely a take-out joint, though they do have two small booths. And an Atari game and TV for while you wait. I loved the collection of roosters--cookie jars, S&P shakers, etc. We saw them carrying in the cole slaw and the fries in restaurant supply packaging , so we know those aren't made from scratch...

                        We ordered the 8 piece FLAVOR-CRISP chicken bucket with fries--$11.00 The wait was about 20 minutes. This chicken was deep/pressure-cooker fried, rather than pan fried, which is a bit of a different experience. I thought it was a bit salty, but otherwise a good experience. Also, I recommend ordering ahead and just swinging by to pick up as the oily smell stays in your hair and clothes after even only a 20 minute wait.

                        Next time, I'll skip the fries--they were hot, but the restaurant supply kind and I think maybe the oil was old or something. (Apparently, I didn't heed the "one dish" wonder part...)

                        A recommend if you like the "broasted" chicken and like your food salty.

                        But, was I supposed to get the Whole Barbecue Chicken --5
                        Hickory Roasted? Did I order the wrong thing?

                        Link to their website, by the way:
                        http://vanity.qwestdex.com/roosterbbq...

                        ~TDQ

                    2. //east coast buffalo wing

                      St. Paul Susie you just turned my dinner plans upside down! It's been ages since I had a buffalo wing anywhere near how they do them in upstate New York. Gotta go check this out.

                      Thanks!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: KTFoley

                        KTF - hopefully you enjoyed - I'm a wet wing gal and love theirs. But its not upstate NY or anything.

                      2. I actually to go a lot of places that only have one (or a few) good dishes. I hesitate to recommend them to others in case they don't order the same things.

                        A few that come to mind:

                        Vescio's in Dinkytown - Love the sausage dip, hate the pasta. And I confess a secret love for the retro, iceberg-only salad with Ma Vescio's dressing.

                        Famous Dave's - I kinda like the chopped pork sandwich. I avoid the sides like the plague (some say the beans are edible, but I don't like 'em).

                        Chiapas - A wonderful little place with great carnitas and guisados and special soups, but really awful rice (topped with colby cheese?!?) and mediocre beans. As an aside, I especially love this place because the cooks are often singing - loudly - in the kitchen, which makes up for the rice.

                        Byerly's fast-food sushi - It's better than McDonald's or BK, anyway. I stick to the no-raw-fish varieties, like the tofu-skin pockets and the veggie rolls, and I love the edamame.

                        Anne

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: AnneInMpls

                          Anne, Lots of neat ideas, thank you! You know you're a secure chowhound when you recommend a chain, even a local one. I have to echo your sentiments about Famous Dave's chopped pork sandwiches. And I'll tell you what, if you ever need to have something very casual catered--say a backyard party in the height of summer when you can't bear to cook-- Famous Dave's does a cheerful and efficient job. For $25 fee, they will bring all the food and utensils, plates, and napkins over and set it up for you. You just have to return their chafing dishes to them a day or two later. Also, there's a Famous Dave's in the Metrodome, if you ever find yourself in need of some chow during a Twin's game.

                          http://www.famousdaves.com/

                          http://www.vescioscucina.com/index-1....

                          I haven't heard of Chiapas! Another one for the list.

                          Chiapas - 2416 Central Ave NE Mpls

                          http://www.byerlys.com/stores_locatio...

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: AnneInMpls

                            Vescio's -- I couldn't agree more about their pasta!

                            I used to work @ the U and was walking distance from Dinkytown. I hit Vescio's nearly weekly and _loved_ their Meatball Sandwich Supremo. Maybe not East-Coast quality but all good to me!

                            If 'hounds want to try out Vescio's fare w/o a trip to Dinkytown (and the parking adventures), visit their food stand at the State Fair. You're gonna be there anyway, right?

                            Kevin

                            1. re: AnneInMpls

                              Agreed on Vescio's! One of the grandkids was my first grade-school boyfriend.

                              As corny as this may sound, I was pretty impressed by Famous Daves. I thought it stood up to much more expensive, critically lauded NYC 'cue. The portions were a bit much, though.

                              1. re: erikka

                                I agree w/famous dave's. It was more of a one-dish wonder when they ran their monthly specials - smoked turkey, smoked salmon caesar salad, etc. I miss the specials.