Local eateries score with homegrown ingredients


Seven local restaurants’ links to nearby farms are highlighted in the new Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, produced by the organization Renewing the Countryside and published by Voyageur Press.

Restaurant Alma, Brasa, Birchwood Café, El Norteño, the Red Stag, and Spoonriver each get a piece of the limelight in a cookbook that belongs on a coffee table as much as in the kitchen. It’s one part compendium of recipes, one part photo essay and one part storybook that tells how area restaurants rely on local producers for the fresh ingredients that make their dishes great.

It’s also so good-looking, it should come with one of those countertop cookbook holders that offers plexiglass page protection. The photographs are particularly well-done and generously leavened with landscapes and farm scenes that put the food in its place.

And place, as much as food, is what the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook is about. The book surveys what the state has to offer across six regions, including the Twin Cities, where nearly a third of the eateries featured are within The Bridge’s coverage area.

In his introduction, Garrison Keillor recalls the boyhood ecstasy of eating “sweet corn 10 minutes removed from the stalk … This lovely book gives me hope that something beautiful that I thought had passed away has actually come full circle,” he writes, “and that other people in Minnesota share this same longing for fresh food.”

For Bridge readers matching that description, here is a taste. (All quotations are from the book.)

Restaurant Alma
528 University Ave. SE
600 E. Hennepin Ave.
Recipes: fennel gratin, sweet corn flan and a seasonal greens souffle

At Alex Roberts’ two Marcy-Holmes neighborhood restaurants, Restaurant Alma and Brasa, he strives to offer food of a freshness to match Keiller’s childhood recollection — a memory shared by many of Roberts’ customers in their 70s and 80s, who, he says in the book, tell him: “This is the way I remember food tasting as a kid.”

Roberts buys from his father’s farm, Otter Creek Growers, as well as others not far away, such as Cedar Summit Farm. “I grew up with food from the garden, good whole foods, and that’s what I serve,” Roberts says. (In news too new for the book, Roberts was recently nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award.)

Red Stag Supper Club
509 First Ave. NE
Recipes: chicken wings in barbeque sauce, Dijon mustard vinaigrette and Black River blue cheese dressing

Last year, Kim Bartmann, owner of the Bryant Lake Bowl and Barbette, opened the Red Stag, a contemporary take on the classic supper club and the state’s first LEED-certified (environmentally friendly) restaurant. Bartmann’s environmental concerns dovetail with her desire to serve healthy food. A van powered by vegetable oil from Bartmann’s kitchens picks up food from local growers too tiny to make deliveries.

In the book, Bartmann confesses to “preaching to our customers,” for some of whom “the idea of local or organic is still a bit of a barrier.” Still, “most of them want to know where their food comes from,” she says. The chapter highlights Moonstone Farm in Montevideo, Minn. where Bartmann buys grass-fed beef.

Birchwood Café
3311 E. 25th St.
Recipes: roasted pumpkin hand pie, farro carrot cakes with fennel kumquat pistachio salad and carrot coulis, and strawberry rhubard cobbler.

At the Seward neighborhood’s Birchwood Café, owner Tracy Singleton treasures the connections her restaurant creates between diner and farmer. “When you have that connection with a sense of place, and you know where your food comes from, I think we’re all better for that,” she says.

Much of the Birchwood’s food comes from Riverbend Farm in Delano, Minn. The Birchwood, which takes its name from the family-owned dairy business the restaurant building used to house, also lists Hope Creamery, Wild Acres and Whole Grain Milling among its suppliers. “Cooking with local seasonal ingredients helps ground and connect us to the earth,” Singleton says.

El Norteño
4000 E. Lake St.
Recipe: enchiladas suizas

Sisters Clemens Serna and Estella Guitana credit Tim King — a food activist and farmer who wrote many of the entries in Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook — with helping them find local sources for ingredients of the authentic Mexican food at their East Lake Street restaurant. King steered Serna and Guitana to the more than 30 family farms that make up Whole Farm Co-op in Central Minnesota.

El Norteño is the only Mexican restaurant on the Whole Farm delivery route, and Clemen feels freshness sets the food apart. “If you know what fresh food is, you know the difference, you can taste it,” she says. “We know what fresh Mexican food tastes like, and we make it here.”

Gardens of Salonica
19 NE Fifth St.
Recipes: fasolaki arni (lamb and green beans), tourlou, rizogalo (rice pudding)

The food at this restaurant — rated by Zagat in 2004 as the country’s second-best Greek eatery — originates at Hill and Vale Farm in Wykoff, Minn., and Zweber Farm in Elko, Minn., among others. “There is barely a food-service ingredient used at the restaurant,“ states the cookbook.
Boughatsa, a house phyllo pastry specialty, comes with such fillings as leek-skordalia, mushrooms with kefalotyri cheese, and custard and apricot. Anna Christoforides’ vegetarian moussaka is so good, her husband Lazaros (with whom she started the restaurant in 1991) promised her, “People will beat a path to your door for this!”

Spoonriver Restaurant
750 S. Second St.
Recipes: East Indian potato and pea pastries, veggie burgers

Some restaurateurs in The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook make frequent shopping trips to local farmers’ markets. Brenda Langton, owner of Café Brenda in the Warehouse District, brought the farmers’ market to her when she started Spoonriver Restaurant and the Mill City Farmers’ Market, in the plaza just outside Spoonriver’s doors. (The farmers’ market opens May 10; see story, right.)

Long known for her vegetarian fare, Langton now serves “farm-fresh” chicken, “reasonably harvested” seafood and “grass-fed” beef along with whole grains, beans and seasonal vegetables. Langton lauds the state for its preponderance of community-supported agriculture (CSA) —produce-purchasing arrangements between city folk and their country cousins. “One week you’ll get strawberries and asparagus; later in the year, tomatoes and squash,” she says. “It forces you to think outside of the grocery-store-box mindset.”

The cookbook is available at most of the restaurants featured, as well as at bookstores and online booksellers, or from www.voyageurpress.com or www.renewingthecountryside.org.