Category Archives: Around Town

My Interview with Andrew Zimmern

Andrew Zimmern eats his way around the world . . . and all the way back home again to Minneapolis-St Paul

As host of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Food and now Bizarre World, Andrew Zimmern gallops across the globe for more than half the year eating a litany of food many of us wouldn’t consider edible. His journey, however, is not about his ego, exploiting a culture, or culinary conquest. It’s about you, me, and that guy half way around the world and how a shared meal has the power to bring us all together. Zimmern is not so much a refined bon vivant as he is a culinary democratizer.

In September, Random House released his first book, Bizarre Truth, in which Zimmern joyfully tells the stories of the people meets in his travels and the food that brings them together. As I read the book, I asked facebook friends what they think about Zimmern and I got these replies.

“I wish I had his sense of adventure!”

“I would love to have dinner with him, anytime, anywhere. I would even eat something bizarre if he were at the table with me.”

“When I actually did have cable, his show was the ONLY show I watched.”

“I have cleaned countless fish, but wasn’t till I took a cooking class from him that I ever thought to eat their roe.”

“His show is fabulous and he seems like such an enjoy-life type of guy. Except he smacks when he eats. And the mic is right there so you hear every second of it.”

I caught Zimmern in a rare moment of downtime at home. I asked him about his book, his home life, and what he thinks about healthcare, tater tots, and Rice Krispies.

Can you talk a bit about your work and travel schedule and how busy it keeps you?

I’m rarely home, which is the saddest part of what I do. I’m traveling about 30 weeks a year in support of the show. The rest of the time when I’m home I’m working on all the other things I’m involved in—managing editor of our website, blogging, writing books, doing interviews, events—all the types of things that come with the job. It’s really really hard. I don’t have days off and its challenging to keep the balance in my life.

Given how busy your work keeps you, especially being away that long from your wife and son, what makes it all worthwhile?

It’s moments like when I was in South Africa about four months ago taping a show. We were in Johannesburg in these horrifically depressing three-story barracks used as housing for conscripted Zulu and Kosa men, women, and children who were taken from their villages and put to work in the mines. Basically, they were made slaves in their own country three generations ago. The buildings are a testament to the misery of the human condition. They’re also extremely dangerous. The police won’t go into them, and if there’s a violent outbreak or a riot, they basically let everybody shoot it out and then the army goes in days later and does a clean-up operation. It’s the scariest place I’ve ever been in my life.

One Saturday night, we decided to go in to the basement of one of these buildings and hang out with a bunch of the older men. They were teaching traditional dance and music to a younger generation who had lost a connection with their familial traditions. We ended up going in and sharing our story. Over the course of the 4 or 5 hours we were there, it became a transformative experience. We had to walk through a lot of fear to get there. We were able to show up where not only had people never seen a white man in their building before—some of the younger kids had never seen a white person period. And they were very curious about us, not only sitting on the sidelines and shooting something documentary style, but actually experiencing their culture with them collaboratively. In the end, it took forever to leave because of all the bon ami and hugs in the room.

What do you make of experiences like these?

The central theme of my life these days is that we really can change lives by sharing a meal. The best way to share our cultures with each other is over a plate of food. I’m firmly convinced of this. To have a moment like that is so sweet, to show these men and women that the outside world is interested in what they have to say, think, and feel—well, it was a thrill for me.

The larger sweetness is that it all airs later on TV. A lot of people aren’t able to visit the republic of South Africa, as wonderful a country as it is. Sharing cultures like this is about as fulfilling and magical of an experience as you can ever have in doing what I do. I want to show people that the world is a broad, roomy, and inclusive place with many things that look different, smell different, taste different, and appear different from what we are used to—but, in fact, we all share a common humanity.

I’ve been really enjoying your book. I love how it reads like a colorful collection of stories you might tell over a table or at a bar—it’s just so entertaining. But I think you are at your finest when you are talking about your father because those moments are so sweet. You said you didn’t grow up in a “food as fuel” kind of family. What role did food play in your dad’s life and how did that rub off on you?

My father was a food freak. I’m a paler version of him. We would pursue incredible food in the farthest corners of the city, which in New York meant a lot of adventurous dining on a lot of different ethnic cuisines—and enjoying ourselves tremendously while we were doing it.

My father and mother also loved to cook together and entertain at home, so there were always people in our house who were interested in food. As I became older, 8 to 12, I started traveling with my father to exotic places, and he and I found ourselves in sleepy little seafood places, in Madrid and Florence, and those places . . . you know, they don’t serve chicken nuggets. Nor was I interested in them. I would come home from these trips and rave to all my friends about all the strange foods I ate.

Now, I’m more or less continuing that same spirit of evangelism for those food experiences I had as a kid. I did that when I was a chef in restaurants with young cooks and I continue to do that on TV. It’s a direct reflection of my father’s spirit in our home.

Are you also sharing these traditions with your son—and what would you most like him to learn about food?

We already started. He was 10 years old when he was eating stir-fried crispy noodles with black bean sauce. He eats tongue tacos when we’re in Mexico and he’s the first one to grab the little Mexican crickets out of the bowl. Kids in this country don’t avoid this stuff because it doesn’t taste good, but because they’ve received cultural messages that tell them we don’t eat those things.

Everyone is conditioned in some way. I wanted to ask you about that on a local level. You’re probably familiar with Barbary Fig on Grand Ave, and Haj, the wonderful, charismatic owner?

Yes, of course.

I went to his restaurant to have a tagine. Specifically, I wanted to have what I felt was an authentic experience like I had in Paris, with the whole tagine, pot and all, served to you—and that cloud of aromatic smoke that comes out of it once you take the top off at the table. Unfortunately, though, the tagine was served on a dainty little plate. It was terribly disappointing, even lifeless. So on my way out, it was late and all the customers were gone, I asked Haj about it. It turned into a 45-minute conversation about local customs, food politics, and his earnest way of running his restaurant. He kept saying, “Look up and down Grand Avenue. All you see are hamburgers and French fries. Hamburger and French fries.” So, of course, he is disappointed, too. He felt keenly aware of his compromise and obviously rather resigned to it.

Haj’s customers won’t support the tagine in that particular restaurant at this particular time. That does not mean that if he closed that placed and opened up a small restaurant over at, say, 50th and France and served the tagines that people wouldn’t think it was the most fantastic thing in the world.

The dilemma here in the Midwest for people in the restaurant business is the one of art versus commerce. Haj’s artistic and cultural sense tells him how he should serve it—you mound everything up in the tagine, put it on the stovetop or in the oven, lift the lid, and eat out of the bottom base. That’s how it’s done all over northern Africa where the tagine is from. I think it’s sad that Haj can’t package and sell the tagine the way it really exists. I believe in honest, authentic cooking that retains a people’s culture. I want to see the real thing served here, but he has employees and responsibilities to his family—and he needs to make money. Putting it on a plate and making it easier to eat with more recognizable ingredients is something chefs in the northern part of the Midwest have to do to sell a product. For better or worse, we don’t have a fully emerged food culture. We have a growing food culture here in the Twin Cities.

Do you ever get wistful when you think about outdoor global markets with all those fresh, wonderful, and sensual foods?

Yes, I love it, but I get to go to those places. I just came back from Mongolia and Tokyo, and coming up in the winter I’m going to Argentina, Mexico, Laos, Cambodia, and Africa. I don’t have that romantic sadness because I get to experience it through my work. By the same token, I came home from Mongolia last week and my wife made tater tot hotdish, which I adore, and the whole family plowed through a huge portion of it. It was heaven.

Do you find that people aren’t talking about food enough—and that we can do better when it comes to giving food the importance it deserves in this country? You listen to Obama’s healthcare reform speech, but you rarely hear a mention about how fixing a broken food system will help us lead healthier lives. Food almost seems to be the obvious missing link.

I’ll tell you right now, the healthcare debate is probably more important than the food debate, even though the two are inextricably linked. You know it and I know it. But people still don’t want to talk about it. You turn on the local news and the first seven stories are all about the weather, a local crack bust, and a goose trapped in someone’s attic. I don’t think any of those stories are important. I think what’s important is the idea that we have scores of people going hungry in this country—and that we have a food system that is trying to kill us instead of nurture us. I think those are the most important stories of our day of our time.

With Traditional Chinese medicine, you eat certain foods in certain combinations for health and wellness at different times of the year. You use the benefits of food and diet to help keep you healthy. If we just did that in our country, everyone would have the potential to live to be 99 or 100 years old—if we just changed our diet. If everybody ate healthier, a certain percentage of our “treat the disease” model of healthcare would literally disappear in a number of years. And imagine what that would do for the national health conversation. We have a broken system in this country and I don’t know what it’s going to take to fix it. Smarter people than I am I trust are working on this problem.

Do you ever miss working in a professional kitchen?

All the time. Yeah. It’s something I’ve taken a break from and I’m not sure I’ll be able to return to. But of course I miss being in a professional kitchen. In the meantime, I try to cook at home and in my show as much as possible. I’m also working very hard, so it is nice to come home and have dinner on the table. My wife is a wonderful cook.

Since I love grocery shopping, I have to ask you your favorite places to shop locally for food.

Despite the distances, I use the European model. I’ll go to certain stores, farmers markets, and co-ops, and between all these trips I cobble together our food life. The cheese store for cheese and the bread store for bread—we do Premier Cheese, Surdyk’s, Turtle Bread. I’m not a supermarket guy. Of course, I do have a family, so we make a trip once a week to the supermarket for our staple items. I am not such a terrible food freak. We have rice krispies in our house. Life is too short. Eat rice krispies!



Happy Birthday Boho

Living in the bohemian woodworker’s house has been a mysterious and wonderful experience. Last week, a woman stopped by to discuss the ins and outs of rentals and leasing — and just when I needed the advice. Before long, she invited me over to see her home and left a lovely orange persimmon on my counter.

A few days later, another woman came over with pumpkin cupcakes and buttermilk scones from May Day, a bottle of red wine, and a gift… for me. The jacket of a vintage paperback edition of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. She knows how much I love Mrs D, so when the jacket fell off of her own book, she put it in an antique gold frame and gave it to me. I was disarmed by her thoughtfulness.

Tonight, I went to a movie and dinner at Salut with friends. On my way home, jostling my things on the front walk while looking for my keys, I heard a woman shout “Excuse me! Excuse me! Don’t you just love Nathan’s house?”

I turned around and saw a lovely woman approaching me. She introduced herself as P from the salon down the street and told me how much she appreciates Nathan and his artistry. She was elegantly dressed and carrying wrapped packages as though she could be Mrs. Dalloway lost in thought walking home by herself from a party.

“Are you a teacher,” she said? No, but perhaps I have a way about me. I don’t remember how, but the conversation turned to food right away. She was happy to say she recently won a guacamole contest hosted my some official circles in town. She told me about chefs she knows, the restaurants she loves, and that she prefers Chilean and Spanish wines. We said we’d probably see each other again and I went inside to check out some of the things she had told me about.

Appropriately enough, this weekend marks the 50th birthday of this charming guy Nathan who brings so many people together. A party was being held and I was eager to see who would be attending. Since I had so little extra time to cook anything, I made one of my favorite no-cook appetizers.

  • cucumbers
  • mixed pitted olives
  • feta cheese
  • fresh mint
  • lemon zest garlic, oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes


Cube the feta and mix it carefully with the olives, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, sea salt, pepper, crushed garlic, and olive oil. (Mix the oil and garlic separately so the garlic will be evenly distributed.)


Soak toothpicks in water to take the edge off. In the meantime, peel the cucumbers, slice them in quarters horizontally, and draw the seeds out with a spoon. Chop the cucumbers into pieces roughly a centimeter thick. They’ll be a squat U shape, which is the perfect resting spot for  the plump end of an olive. Push a toothpick through a cucumber, mint, and olive, being sure to leave just about a half centimeter of space at the end of the toothpick. The feta needs to hang on, but just barely. If you push the toothpick in too far, the feta will crumble.

Pardon me and my silly iPhone picture. I was in a hurry!


Rather than placing all the spears in an organized and circular fashion on a platter, I haphazardly placed them in an old enamel bowl I got from Savers.


And that was it. I brought it over to the party with a card, a bundle of flowers, and three beautiful peacock feathers.

This House Still Needs a Name

I’d rather be writing about the wine shop I discovered in my new neighborhood today, curated carefully by a guy who calls himself the Cork Dork. Or about the perfect grocery shopping route that occurs between my house and the Seward co-op. Or about my new proximity to the May Day Cafe and their trays full of pastries, foccacia, and scones. Or about the delightful exchange that transpired over an empty box of All Clad cookware in the alley behind my house. But that’s not how it is tonight. As my friend Stefanie would say, I’ve had wine, and who wants to concentrate when they’d rather unwind?

Since I last wrote, I moved to Minneapolis, resolved a terribly frustrating housing situation, competed in a cooking contest, and took a trip to the Badlands of South Dakota. I also made an appearance on the Fox 9 morning news (of all things). I was invited to walk through “my” quiche recipe to promote Julie and Julia--you know, the quiche recipe I toiled over for years and faithfully submitted to the cooking contest to finally reap my well-deserved rewards. Truth be told, I never even MADE a quiche before I was asked to do it on the morning news.

Before getting to that, let’s take a photo tour of the last few weeks. I said goodbye to my lovely old flat in St Paul.


The apartment feels such another world now, like a different version of me must have once lived there.


I did that whole Fox 9 news thing. If I could figure out how to stream a video, I would. Please go here _ to watch me pretend like I knew what I was doing.


I practiced the two dishes I cooked at the Mall of America’s Julie and Julia contest.



Here’s the view from my cooking station at the mall. Those are my fabulous friends in the front row cheering me on. Everyone thought I was going to win–and so did I. Despite all my wittiness, stylish sauteing, and waxing poetic about local food (I bought all of my secret ingredients at Cossetta’s and Caspian Deli), I ended up in second place. Given that the event was about promotion and not about food, however, I’m not going to think about it too deeply. Besides, I was sent home with a 5-piece set of All Clad cookware and had a wonderful time.


So as I unpack, explore, and generally try to land squarely on my two feet again, I hope to be writing again very soon, but only after I furnish my new kitchen with a stainless steel island and a hanging pot rack. I think those things will make this house a home.

Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Quiche

Check it out — my quiche recipe is done! I’ve been cooking all weekend to prepare for the Julie and Julia contest and for my appearance tomorrow on Fox news. I stopped by my local cooking store, too. Cook’s of Crocus Hill is getting on the Julie and Julia bandwagon with a display of everything you might need to cook like a grand dame. I took this as an opportunity to pick up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.


I have to say, it’s a weird (although charming) world in there. You don’t come to this book to eat. You come to it to learn. Food in MAFC isn’t distilled down to a sexy recipe and full-color photo on glossy paper. It is, to quote T. S. Eliot, pinned and wriggling on the wall. It’s dissected and explained. Given all the time Child spends discussing her mentors in the intro, I’m not surprised. She makes you feel like you’re right there with her when she first moves to France and begins learning from the masters.

Here is my rendition of a classic French quiche. I used Child’s pastry recipe and adapted it to how it worked for me. The rest of the recipe, inspired by goat cheese, is mine.

Heirloom tomato and goat cheese quiche
Carrie Obry’s entry for MOA’s Julia and Julia contest

In this recipe, the wonderful flavors of a classic quiche complement tangy goat cheese and meaty heirloom tomatoes.

Pastry pans come in all sizes – from 3-inch party-sized shells to 11-inch entrée shells. If you are making quiche for the first time, consider using a modest 8-inch pan. It’s a little easier to handle the dough for a smaller pan.

Don’t be turned off by the list of instructions. Making quiche isn’t difficult, but it takes many words to describe few steps. Before you start, I recommend watching instructional videos at YouTube.

Pastry Crust (Pâte brisée)
Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Makes enough dough for an 8- to 10-inch crust. See MAFC for additional ratio instructions.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into smallish cubes
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons ice water

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt and pulse. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.

  1. With the machine running, add the ice water in a slow stream. You will know when it’s done because the dough pulls together to form ball in a corner of the bowl. The dough will take shape and be slightly sticky.
  2. For the fraisage (or “final blending”) stage, flour your clean counter. Put the dough on the counter and dust with additional flour. With the heel of your hand, press down on all areas of the dough until the dusting flour is incorporated and the dough forms a silky ball that doesn’t stick to your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. When ready, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and brush the inside of the tart pan.
  5. Quickly roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 2 inches larger than the pie pan. To lift the dough, fold it in half and then in half again, transfer to pie pan, and unfold inside the pan.
  6. Being careful not to stretch the dough, pick up the edges and drop the dough deeper into the corners of the pan’s perimeter. Gently press the dough into the pan in all areas. Trim excess dough by rolling the pin over the top of the mold.
  7. Line the pastry with a generous amount of foil and fill with pie weights, uncooked rice, or beans and bake for 8 to 9 minutes. Remove the foil, poke the base of the crust 2 or 3 times with a fork (or else it will balloon up), and bake the shell again for 2 to 3 minutes.

Carrie’s Goat Cheese and Heirloom Tomato Quiche

  • 2 medium (or 1 large) round red heirloom tomatoes
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 plump cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons basil chiffonade
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8-inch pastry shell


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut tomatoes into slices about 3 millimeters thick and remove the seeds.
  3. Line the bottom of the pastry shell with tomatoes in a pinwheel shape. Save the top of the tomato for the middle of the circle. If the top isn’t good to use, cut a tomato slice into the proper shape to fill the hole.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the milk and cream. Add the goat cheese in small pieces and whisk until incorporated. After a few minutes, the cheese will get smooth.
  5. Add the eggs, herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper to the mixture and whisk until incorporated. Et viola! You have custard.
  6. Pour the custard over the tomatoes, being careful to leave about a half centimeter of room. (Do not use all of the custard if you have extra.)
  7. Slide pastry into the oven and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown on the top. (Feel free to place it on a cookie sheet for easy transferring.)
  8. Keeping the quiche in the pastry tin, let it sit for 10 minutes on a cooling rack.
  9. Slice the quiche and serve with salad greens and a glass of cold Lillet.


Pizza the Way Nature Intended

The last time I wrote, I was busy recovering from my apartment farewell party. While doing dishes, scrubbing the grill pan, drying stemware, and generally putting my place back to its original position, I also had to drink the remaining Chardonnay and do something about all those leftover Banh Mi. I had so many of them! Over the past three years of cooking for big groups of people, I’ve learned that the hardest part isn’t cooking, cleaning, or hostessing. It’s knowing how much food to buy.

I bought 25 baguettes from Jasmine Deli. They were relatively short, so cut in half, I had 50 small sandwiches for 20 people. I thought that everyone would have two with a few people having a few more — but somehow this math didn’t work. Even after eating them myself all weekend, there were so many leftover I had to bring a bunch to work. Most people put bagels, donuts, and cookies in the spare cube. I put roasted beet and tomato salad, minted watermelon with pineapple, and lemongrass pork and tofu Banh Mi. I suppose every office has someone like me, right? (Don’t answer that.)

Thankfully, I had an opportunity the following week to share the leftover beer and baked chickpeas with my friends at the Pizza Farm in Stockholm, Wisconsin. Yes, it’s true. If you don’t know it already, there is a fantastic gem of a farm an hour and a half out of the Cities that serves hands-down the best pizza around.

The couple Ted Fisher and Robbi Bannen along with their kids open up their own farm to pizza lovers every Tuesday night throughout the year. They grow all the ingredients to put on the whole wheat crust, which is made from their own home-grown, hand-ground wheat. The crust is thin, the ingredients fresh, and the pizza kissed by the flames of their wood-burning oven.

There are no signs leading to the farm. In fact, there is only a series of dirt roads that make you wonder why you are driving a hour and a half to what feels like the middle of nowhere just to order a pizza.


Once you get there, it becomes exceedingly clear. The farm is beautiful and so are the people. Everyone brings what they need to create a night of fine-dining under the stars. It’s not uncommon to see a full setting with a tablecloth, chairs, wine, and a candleabra.

I had a bit of a geek out moment when I was standing in line to order. Brenda Langton, the chef behind Cafe Brenda and Spoonriver, walked by, which of course I had to declare to anyone within earshot of where I was standing. The girl taking our order said she heard the rumor earlier and asked me to point out Brenda. For better or worse, she disappeared into the crowd as Aaron and I made up things we could have said to start a conversation.


The chalkboard menu has quite a few pizzas and unique ingredients.


Orders are taken and you’re given a number. My car arrived at 5:30 and we had to wait an hour for our order. The last car in our party arrived around 6:30 or so and had to wait an hour and a half. You’re given a number as they are ticked off one by one.


In the meantime, you can drink wine and order a loaf of the farm’s own bread. You can wander around and pet the goats, cats, and cows, strum a guitar, lay around in the grass with someone you fancy, and catch up with your friends.

Angela and Courtney


Stefanie and Sarah’s daughter Elizabeth




Aaron and his paddle. If you bring your own pizza conveyance device, I think you save a buck. Aaron brings his paddle and asks people who are done eating if he can re-use their box.


I wonder how many pizzas can fit in the infero at a time.


When your number is up, the beautiful lady in the flowered apron cuts it up and takes your cash.


And you’re left to sit in the grass and enjoy the food.


I’d love to hear more people’s opinions about the Pizza Farm. If you haven’t gone, check out this article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for more details, or send me an email if you want tips on the best way to enjoy the farm.

Uptown Market’s Big Debut

This weekend, we all have yet another reason to be excited about living in the Twin Cities. A brand-new UMposteroutdoor market is opening that is all local, all volunteer, and driven by the power of a few great ideas.

Roxie Speth, founder and visionary of Uptown Market, proposed the idea of a European-style street market to her neighborhood council in February of this year. Five months later, it has become a reality, with the first market kicking off this Sunday.

The Uptown Market is located on 29th Street between Lyndale Ave S. and Dupont Ave S., easily accessible by public transportation and close to the Greenway bike trail. The market will empower and enliven the neighborhood by giving artists, craftspeople, small business owners, farmers, cooks, bakers, and neighbors a place to come together to sell their goods. Given that this is a grassroots, all-volunteer market, Roxie and her team are starting with four dates: June 21, July 19, August 16, and September 20 between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. You’ll find produce, prepared food, fine art, crafts, antiques, and vintage clothes. Roxie says it was challenging to bring in farmers for a market that doesn’t happen every week, but in time, she hopes to establish the market as a local weekly institution, which should draw a standing mix of diverse vendors.

Roxie’s inspiration comes from her own love of community gathering and vibrant neighborhoods. On a trip to Seattle, she and her friend Jess Horwitz fell in love with the Fremont Market, a fantastic year-round street market with over 150 vendors. And as an artist herself, she’s always craved an accessible venue to sell her work. Once she got involved in her neighborhood council, she met Brendan Jordan, a program manager for the Great Plains Institute who helped make it all happen. “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish once you take action,” she says, “and how much support you get–not only from friends, but also from your community.”

As for food, we might just have to wait to find out what’s there. Roxie mentioned coffee and corn roasters and the purple hot dog vendor known as the Magic Bus Cafe that sells psychedelic hot dogs, vegan tofu pups, popcorn, and baked goods. If you or anyone you know are interested in being a vendor, please contact Jess Horwitz, the market’s vendor coordinator, at See you there!

Living Bread

In my wandering around town, heading to the market, the laundry, or the pub, I suppose, I perked up when I saw that the superette on the corner of Selby and Dale closed its doors. One moment it was full of soda, cigarettes, chips, sunglasses, and all kinds of mismatched junk peering out the front windows. The next it was empty as day. This place is across the street from Mississippi Market and Paisano’s and in the same building as Muddy Pig, and it’s really attractive, with big windows and a prime location that would let people inside sit contented and watch the world go by.

In the fantasy version of my life, I have a ton of cash and I rent the space to create what I’ve always envisioned, in my clever but idea-overloaded mind, as “my cafe.” It’s called Flâneur, serving high-class bohemian food with excellent coffee, tea, and a collection of apéritifs and digestifs. Flâneur encourages extended periods of flânerie, loosely defined as the strolling of urban streets. But a flâneur is also a connoisseur. He (or she, as the flâneuse might have it) has a keen understanding of where a good experience might lie, whether it’s following the most interesting street or stumbling into the best cafe. In the spirit of it, at my counter, you might order a sandwich and a pastis — liqueur that comes with a small carafe of water, a brilliant pairing that can make your drink last for almost as long as you choose. To use Cafe Maude’s language, my cafe would be a spot of civilized leisure.

For better or worse, Flâneur must remain a fantasy, at least at this address. The space has been rented. A sign in the storefront announces a June 2009 opening of Living Bread, which the Internet tells me is a store that promises to put “Catholic life at your fingertips.” This strikes me as odd still. I can’t imagine a shrine to Catholica in such a prominent intersection. Aren’t religious supply stores usually, I don’t know, not so . . . obvious? As a good flâneuse, though, I’m thrilled that it isn’t a national sandwich chain, and that my neighborhood will soon have yet another storefront to amble into. And maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll even be able to replace my broken Jesus nightlight.

Town Talk Diner

My favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities (or anywhere, for that matter) all have a certain something that isn’t so easy to define, like how Barbette oozes with atmosphere or Meritage makes you feel like you stumbled into a corner of France. Town Talk Diner is on the top of that list. Let’s call it my je na sais quoi list, because, you know, everything is more intriguing when you say it in French.

My je na sais quoi list, now that I decided I have one, is all about synergy, I suppose, the way in which the elements of a restaurant come together to create something greater than their individual parts. I love how this ineffable quality can be just as nourishing as the food. In the words of author Ray Oldenburg, I would call these restaurants “the third place.” What Oldenburg means is that most everyone has two places: home and work. But on top of it, to finish the triangle and make us complete, we all need a third place, defined by as “a place other than home or work where a person can go to relax and feel part of the community.”

Town Talk is not only a place to get a meal. It is also a perfect third place. Town Talk is classic, authentic, and well-designed. It is a comfortable modern space that brings a vintage diner carefully back to life. I think this has to be one of the reasons why it has such great karma. The positive atmosphere buzzes with life. Part of me doesn’t even want to call it a restaurant. Town Talk is more like a party or an ongoing conversation, a place where you can always go to have a great meal, a perfectly shaken cocktail, a malt, and a conversation with your server or a stranger at the bar. The only thing you need is good timing, of course, because it can be awfully hard to get a seat.

I’ve been to Town Talk many times, but last week I went to have a few drinks on the bar stools bar with Nathan (aka, the Bohemian woodworker). He’s busy completely remaking a darling Victorian he rescued from foreclosure, so we met at his house-in-process in Powderhorn. After the grand tour, we went to Luce for pizza and a few beers, then we headed to the main course, the cocktails at Town Talk.

One of life’s great disappointments is wasting 10 bucks on a mediocre cocktail, so I like to spend my drinkin’ money at a bar that will never let you down. Town Talk is one of those places. Their cocktail list is carefully crafted and delightful in its attention to detail. I’m a fan of absinthe, so I asked for The Green Fairy: Zen Green Tea liquer, St. George’s absinthe, vodka, lemon, sugar, and egg white.

Green Fairy

I know. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me because you know how hip absinthe is. It doesn’t matter. It’s great stuff, and this has to be one of the best cocktails I ever had. Seriously, it was that good. The bartender shook it up for what seemed like 10 minutes, sifted it into a glass in front of me, then added a generous dose of St. George absinthe with an eyedropper all around the face of the cocktail. He even gave me the bottle to admire. St. George is the good stuff, with excellent design.

St. George

Nathan got the Jackson Pollock: Bombay Sapphire, grapefruit-lime sour, sparkling wine, and basil oil. The bartender drops the basil oil into the bottom of your cocktail glass. As he pours in the contents of the cocktail shaker, the oil bubbles to the top and looks a bit like something Pollock might haphazardly drip off of his paint brush.


My only complaint about Town Talk is that the wine used to be cheaper, a lot cheaper. I liked how 3 and 4-dollar glasses set the wine list apart and encouraged a healthy glass or two to go with your meal. Nathan’s only complaint is that the cocktails are too small. The gimlet he ordered was served in a dainty glass.

On one of the many occasions I’ve been to Town Talk Diner, this song was playing as I walked in the door. Even though I didn’t know the song at the time, it got lodged in my head because I thought it summed up the spirit of Town Talk in a way I couldn’t explain: the ice cream drinks and cocktails, the friendly bar, the buoyant atmosphere, and the happy din of the place all seemed to come together in this jangley Jim Noir tune. Both of them seem to exuberantly go on and on . . .

Town Talk Diner on Urbanspoon

It Was the Best Meal I Never Had

Oh, my. Where in the world have I been? I took a trip to Gotham, it’s true, but I didn’t mean for it make me as mute3229336914_40f8602678_b for nearly three weeks. Add on the mounds of work I faced when I got back and the nasty cold I acquired just as I was getting on top of things, and you can see why I had to hit the pause button and go underground for awhile. I’m better now and doing a little dance, not only because it’s Friday, but also because Edible Cities just creaked over the 5,000 viewer mark. Who are all of you interesting people? Are you all in love with food too, or are you just looking for Cafe Boy as much as the next girl and guy are?

It’s with a satisfied sigh that I report about my trip to New York City. One of my authors was invited to be on the Today Show, of all things, and since her travel partner couldn’t make it, I tagged along as both paparazzi and porter. This is Ronelle Coburn, a master hand analyst who uses the unique markings on your hands to peer deeper into your soul than your mother, grandmother, or best friend can. It’s true. She peered into mine and now she knows more about me than I do.

Truth be told, I didn’t expect to be all that involved with the Today Show experience. I was looking forward to updating my facebook status while eating a free bagel in the green room, and that’s about it.


I was surprised when the page invited me to join them in prep, but off I went to see what there was to see. The hair and makeup stylists converged on Ronelle and spruced her up for TV in what seemed like a few minutes.


I waited in the wings, taking pictures whenever it seemed appropriate.


Next, I was invited by Danielle, the producer, to hang out on the set while the segment went live. The whole thing was surprisingly fun and casual. Ronelle was mic’ed and built up a bit of a rapport with Lester Holt before they went on air…


…while I nosed around the kitchen-set…


…discovering what cook books the Today Show people deem worthy enough to keep in the kitchen.3229104454_3c03019da4_b


Someone yelled, waved, or grunted, I’m not sure which, and suddenly the cameramen snapped into formation, the segment was taped, and we were quickly congratulating Ronelle on handling her first national TV spot with such grace and skill. Way to go, my friend, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of such an important experience.3228471673_46a68ec909_b

During the rest of the trip, I also reconnected with three of my closest friends, saw Jamie’s new apartment in Park Slope, danced to some top-shelf music way too late with Shawn on a Sunday night, and smoked a hookah loaded with Double Apple hash.

I stumbled into a literary reverie in the West Village and got lost in world class art at MoMA and the Met. I walked for hours at a time without a subway map, doing my flaneurian thing, capturing moments as I love to do.

I ate oysters for the first time at Angel’s Share with Earl-Grey-infused grape vodka to wash it down.


I walked 20 minutes out of my way for a killer cup of coffee at 9th Street Espresso.


I ate a cheese puff (or two) from Murray’s.


I ate a cheeseburger at Market Table.


I ate a long-awaited tagine at Le Souk with Shawn. This place was so fantastic I can’t even get into it here.


I ate a 17-dollar architectural appetizer at Brassiere 8 1/2.


I ate a mushroom fritter at the Met.


I ate a mezze plate at Kashkaval with Kallie.


There’s more, of course, but you probably understand what I’m saying. I was anxious to see the somber face of Manhattan again, which always makes me feel a rush of exhilaration. The stories that led me there ten years ago welcome me back to the place where my mind feels free.

Yummy Yummy Citrus Boys

Five-year-old Julian Kruesser gets his own cooking show called Big Kitchen with Food. It’s a long video that’s worth every minute. Embedding doesn’t seem to work, so please go here and watch the cute boy teach us how to bake cookies.

Chef Julian says funny things like this:

“Be sure to use local stuff because that will make the cookies good for you. Nice and good cookies to eat.”

“I would mix this up because that’s how you make a batter. You can’t make a batter without mixing it up.”

This one he says with great precision and authority: “Now. Take your cookie cutter. Make some men.”

I hear ya, Julian!