Category: Sandwich (Page 3 of 4)

I Tried Cafe 21’s Banh Mi

This past week’s spring break was a good example of how even the best laid schemes can go awry.

One morning, I planned to drive to the Twin Cities to visit a some friends. My last solo trip was interrupted by a blizzard and all of the major freeways surrounding Fargo-Moorhead were closed. This happens out here. They really close the freeways.

I was desperate to go to the Twin Cities. Spring break’s fluctuating weather left me stir crazy. Plus, I felt guilty for mistaking the date of a get-together I initiated. My friends were kind to rearrange their schedules and I wanted to attempt the drive. With nothing more than a soda and a backpack, I drove east on I-94, even though it had been closed earlier. I figured that as a seasoned Midwesterner with new tires, the roads couldn’t possibly be that bad. After all, the MN Department of Transportation traffic map categorized the roads as challenging and I am usually up for a challenge.

The road becomes icy and I witness a frightening car accident when someone pulls around my car to pass me. They whiz past me and I watch as they begin to spin in circles and tumble into the ditch. For the first time in my life, I call 911. I panic and my hands shake so hard I can barely hold the phone. The dispatcher keeps asking me to better describe my location and I can’t. Finally, someone tells me they found my location from my phone. By the time I turn around at the next exit, the police and tow truck are at the scene and it looks like everyone is OK. I drive home going 45 miles an hour, even though a plow has already sanded the road. Cars and semis pass me, clearly frustrated, and I don’t give a damn because they didn’t see what I just saw.

I spent my last weekend of spring break at home. Sitting on and brooding in my wanderlust.

On a nicer day (keep in mind that I live in North Dakota, so nice implies non-lethal), I returned to Cafe 21 to try the Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches they only serve at lunch. To my knowledge, these are the only regularly offered banh mi sandwiches in Fargo-Moorhead. I have found cold cut banh mi sandwiches at the Asian market but they look like they are imported from the Twin Cities. I’m not a fan of the mysterious deli meats and feel some of the freshness is lost in transit.

We’ve previously enjoyed a couple dinners at Cafe 21, especially liking their fresh spring rolls and spicy ramen. I found their version of pork bulgogi to be less spicy and sweeter than the fiery versions my favorite Twin Cities Korean restaurants serve, but I’d still order it again. On this weekday, I ordered two banh mi sandwiches ($7 each) to go. One for me and one for Jake, who unsuccessfully tried to order one on our first visit. Cafe 21 only offers a roasted pork variety, but this happens to be my favorite. The server kindly brought me a glass of water as I waited for my order and 15 minutes later, I was on my way home.

Each sandwich was packed with a serving of french fries and small cups of ketchup and soy sauce. Their size struck me as less than or equal to those offered at Jasmine Deli located along Eat Street in Minneapolis. Jasmine’s grilled pork banh mi also cost $3.75, but this is Fargo where Banh Mi are still a novelty.

I found a lot to like about this sandwich. The pork had a satisfying savory flavor. There were a lot of sweet and sour pickled vegetables. Strands of fresh cilantro and jalapeno. A glistening of mayonnaise and, best of all, a thick smear of pate. It looked like banh mi’s I have loved and tasted like banh mi’s I have loved. Unfortunately, I felt the size was a little small and the bread was too hard. The bun was overly toasted and crunchy like a crouton. I sustained minor damage to the roof of my mouth. 
The flavors were spot on and the fillings were fresh, but that bread. Overall, a good effort that’s decent enough to satisfy my banh mi cravings while in Fargo. 

Wedding Weekend: Heartland, Saint Paul Hotel, & Amsterdam Bar (again)

One week ago, on a sunny fall afternoon, Jake and I were married amongst the company of a small group of family and friends at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN.

Because we decided to get married with relative spontaneity, we kept the ceremony simple.  We look forward to hosting a wider reception in the spring so we can celebrate with many more of our family and friends.  We are humbled by the generosity and kindness of all who have assisted us and wished us well as we continue to share life together.

After the ceremony, we enjoyed dinner at Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul, MN.  The moment we arrived, I leaped out of my wedding dress.  It was beautiful and painstakingly altered.  And even with half the boning removed, it was still uncomfortable, so I changed into something that would allow me to enjoy dinner.

Photo by Pat Carney, The Carney Group, Minneapolis, MN

Upon arrival, I enjoyed sneaking bites of bread and cheeses and giggled as I watched some of the children discover their love for whole grain mustard and pickled watermelon rind. The chefs provided plump burgers for the children who preferred one.

Green salad with sweet vinaigrette, spiced nuts, and roasted cauliflower, crispy-skinned white fish with pickled onions on top of creamy beans, and apple tart with whipped cream and candied nuts.

As I said my goodbyes that evening, I used my fingers to swipe tastes of whipped cream and tender slices of fruit from my tart.  Then, we headed to the St. Paul Hotel for our one-day honeymoon where we were greeted by a man in a top hat.

This was our first stay at the Saint Paul Hotel and it felt like old-school luxury.  My favorite perks included access to the workout facility on the top floor and wi-fi for no additional fees. The service was polished and professional, though much involved tipping.  If you stay here, remember to keep some cash on hand. In the morning, we treated ourselves to a room service breakfast, a first for both of us.

Growing up, when we traveled as a family, we only stayed at hotels that included free breakfast. My parents outfitted us in fluorescent fanny packs in which we kept our lunches. I remember how we sat on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, and ate sandwiches and carrot sticks together.

We ordered a large pot of coffee and omelets filled with ham, green pepper, onion, and cheddar. Each came with hash browns and toast.  In addition, we ordered a fruit plate, having no idea each portion would be so large.

Although the price of this breakfast was astronomical (delivery fee & automatic gratuity, plus an extra tip because we weren’t sure if we were supposed to tip on an automatic gratuity?), the meal was made with care. The breakfast cart was covered in a white tablecloth. The omelet platters were not only huge, but satisfying. I was most impressed with the hashbrowns’ crispiness.  The fruit platter included yogurt and sweetbread and the assortment of fruit avoided being one of those crappy versions that mostly includes under-ripe melon.  We enjoyed choosing from the variety of condiments such as cream, butter, peanut butter, tiny jars of jam, ketchup, and Tabasco.

As critiques, the room did not include a coffee maker with complimentary coffee, although I may have been some in the lobby.  Our large pot of coffee, as overpriced as it was, tasted strong and freshly brewed.  Our room included a mini fridge, but it was only equipped to carry snacks for sale. We actually managed to eat most of our food, so I did not have to beg the hotel to ask the kitchen to store our leftovers, and we were full until the evening.

We spent the afternoon wandering around downtown St. Paul, stopping at Cossetta’s for a snack of small cannolis.  Then headed to the Amsterdam Bar And Hall for dinner.

The food was as good as it was when we dined there for my bachelorette outing.  We decompressed over drinks.  Jake was enjoyed ordering Trappist ale on tap and I sipped a tart cocktail made with lemon and apricot brandy.

We dipped the crisp fries in mustard and curry mayo and shared small boodje sandwiches on toasted buns.  I returned for the spicy calamari and shrimp salad while Jake chose smoked pork and spicy shrimp.  Surprisingly, our favorite sandwich was the most simple.  It was made with warm, herby cheese and a meaty tomato slice that tasted marinaded or roasted.

I’m not sure how I felt about the Dutch gin sampler.  It’s not that the sampler was bad, but more that I’m not sure I enjoy sipping straight gin.  Spicy curry + gin = burning.

We ordered creme brulee for dessert and ate it in bed.  I bypassed the room service delivery charge by ordering it from the Saint Paul Grill’s bartender.  Somehow, the kitchen managed to pack a creme brulee into a take-out container, crispy sugar crust and all.

Wedding, over.  Fall break, over.  It’s back to the grind.  Salad lab ends, baking lab begins and my five a.m. wake-up call resumes. . .

Special thanks to our family and friends, Central Lutheran Church, Heartland Restaurant, The Carney Group, and Elsa at The Wedding Shoppe on Grand Ave. 

A Mall Date & "Bachelorette" Party: Tucci Benucch & Amstardam Bar

Jake and I are getting married.

Not too long ago, we spontaneously picked a date and made it official.

In less than a week, we’re going to have a small ceremony with just our immediate family, with a reception later the spring.  What was supposed to be bare bones has become more complicated and large source of stress.  I can’t remember the last time I spent a whole weekend at our home in Fargo.  My weekends are spent driving to and from the Twin Cities after busy weeks of school, work, and writing.

Despite my most earnest intentions, I am wearing something white, shiny, and uncomfortable. I made the seamstress loosen my dress, twice, before I deemed it tolerable.  She commented, “But it’s your wedding. You won’t feel like eating much anyway, right?”  I wanted to punch her.

This weekend, I cracked into tears as we exited the car after our three and a half hour drive following a hectic workweek.  I felt dangerously close to a Jungian mental break.  Should this occur within the next six days, I hope I’ll at least have a Red Book to show.

Saturday afternoon, Jake and I grabbed some alone time.  The rare kind where we weren’t driving somewhere or watching 30 Rock on our couch.  Some may call this a date.  We completed errands at the Mall of America and had lunch at Tucci Benucch before our respective bachelor and bachelorette parties.  Before we moved to Fargo, we lived near to the Mall of America and occasionally went on mall dates.  We ate at Tucci Benucch a couple of times before they hired Asher Miller as their new Executive Chef (I’m not sure if he is still in this position).

Knowing that I did not plan to drink much that evening, I started with a mimosa, $6.99 while Jake ordered coffee which arrived freshly brewed, $2.99.

Our server brought us warm bread and garlic-flecked olive oil.

We ordered a starter of calamari, $9 to share.  For an entree, I ordered a half serving of Scottish salmon with lemon risotto and arugula salad, $13, while Jake ordered a half serving of spaghetti carbonara, $9. 

Upon delivery, the calamari smelled strongly of seafood but tasted fresh.
The texture of the calamari was very tender and was salted to the point of being almost too salty.  The breading remained on the seafood, though it seemed to have absorbed a little more oil than I would have found ideal.  Overall, we enjoyed nibbling at the calamari, but left some on the plate when the combination of the seafood and the aoli felt too oily.  

The half portion entrees were more than enough for lunch.  
The lemon risotto was, thankfully, subtly lemon-scented.  It was creamy and rich, though, it, like the calamari, bordered on almost too salty.  Since the small fillet was skinless, some of the salmon flesh was a little crispy-chewy where it was seared but the inside was moist.  The salmon, like the calamari, tasted fresh.  The arugula salad provided a needed bite and acidity.  I doused the dish with more lemon juice since the richness and saltiness of the risotto was making me dive for my mimosa. 
Jake’s carbonara was not what I had envisioned.  He said he enjoyed the dish. Even the runny egg yolk, which he has typically been wary of.  I liked the flavor of the rendered bacon chunks. While I didn’t feel the sauce tasted bad, I thought the dish was over-sauced and wondered what made it brown.  
Overall, we had decent meal, though the combination of the calamari and our entree selections were very rich.  Our server seemed overwhelmed with tables but was very pleasant.  
In the evening, the boys hit The Strip Club Meat & Fish while the girls met at Amsterdam Bar & Hall.

Jake raved about the meal and limoncello he shared at The Strip Club. 

We shared orders of Amsterdam Frites and dipped them in herb garlic mayo and curry ketchup. 
The skin-on fries were crispy and salted just right.  We enjoyed both dipping sauces, though the curry ketchup was my favorite.  I also enjoyed that the fries were topped with raw onion.  The others left most of the onions behind, while I awkwardly clamped bits of onion onto each bite of fry. 
I also ordered a small house salad with croutons, shaved Gouda, and house vinaigrette, $4, plus a petite dutch sandwich (broodje) with curried calamari and shrimp, $5.

All of the salad greens were pristine, the homemade croutons were full of umami, and the vinaigrette was lovely.  Tart in a well-balanced way, and flavorful.

The curried seafood sandwich was truly one of the best things I’ve eaten for a while.  It induced a moment where I just paused and reflect on how good it tasted. The bun was toasted and buttered. The calamari was tender, the shrimp were firm, and both tasted fresh. The creamy curry sauce was surprisingly spicy enough to induce a a sweat.  I couldn’t tell you what type of curry I tasted, my only clue being that the sauce was rosy-hued.  I used the bun to scrape every bit of sauce from the flimsy cardboard boat and am plotting a way. . . any way. . .to return for another sandwich, soon.

The rest of the evening matched my introverted style. Chill and conversation-centric.  In search of evening dessert, we bypassed Meritage’s hour long wait for Kincaid’s where a table of women applauded my bachelorette party hat.  I can’t describe the hat further than mentioning that the girls made me remove it when we inquired about tables at Meritage.  The evening ended over leftover smears of a fried waffle sundae and bread pudding with pear soaked in bourbon sauce.

Despite the stress, I remind myself as often as I can that our family and friends are doing everything they can to make this experience special.  It’s also hard to think my mom won’t be here, as she passed away in 2008.  For now, I’ll take one day at a time and enjoy the well wishes from friends and family.  

I-94 Is Delicious: Cafe 116 (Again) & White Horse

I continued exploring dining options off I-94, between Fargo and Minneapolis, on a solo road trip home this past weekend.

On the way to the Twin Cities, I returned to Cafe 116 in Fergus Falls, MN for lunch.  Even though I wanted to branch out in my roadfood stops, my first visit last Memorial Day was so lovely that I returned.  Cafe 116 strives to utilize local foods and suppliers.

Plus, it smells like butter.

With just two visits, Cafe 116 has already crept onto my short list of happy places.  These are places in which I find myself breathing easier and my shoulders relaxing.  Where the climate is controlled, chatter doesn’t echo, and the music’s not too loud or obnoxiously selected.  The light’s never to bright (or too dim), the tables are perfectly spaced, and the service is friendly.  Places where I feel comfortable pausing over warm beverages and better than average food.  You will rarely find me at coffee shops that serve terrible food.

I ordered a cortado, $2.75.  A couple shots of espresso cut with milk froth.

For lunch, I ordered the Hamden, a panini filled with ham, mozzarella, roasted red red pepper, thin slices of red onion, and pineapple, $7.50.  I upgraded chips to a generous pile of carrot sticks and pea pods and homemade Ranch for $1.

The panini was crunchy and I liked the salty and sweet interplay between the meat, cheese, and pineapple.  However, I liked the panini I ordered last time, better.  It was made from prosciutto, mozzarella, fresh apple slices, and red onion.

I ordered a chocolate chip cookie bar, $1.50, for the road.  It tasted surprisingly bland and dry and one bite was enough.  No worries.  I’m smitten with Fergus Falls and will return to my newest happy place for coffee and grilled paninis.

On Friday evening, I met some friends at the Imperial Room for a rumored, free mashed potato bar.  I know I’ve become accustomed to Fargo traffic when I ran into Target Field Twins Traffic and broke into a cold sweat.  Walking to the Imperial Room, I realized I was lost somewhere around Dream Girls.

We learned the Imperial Room no longer offers their complimentary happy hour mashed potato bar on Friday evenings.  We ordered happy hour specials instead.  Half-priced beverages and appetizers, and $5 treats.  The fried goodies were cooked with a deft hand.  I enjoyed a small plate of non-greasy walleye fingers and a thoughtful salad of crisp romaine accompanied by a bracingly tart vinaigrette.

Then, I got lost again on the way back to my parking ramp.

The afternoon trek back to Fargo included a stop at White Horse, a bar along the main street in downtown St. Cloud. I chose the White Horse for two reasons:

1.  It’s in St. Cloud
I went through a country music phase in 1995.  The second song I ever loved was “On a Bus to St. Cloud” By Trisha Yearwood.  And hence, St. Cloud, MN has become legendary in my mind.  Kudos to Trisha Yearwood for hosting own cooking show.  I’d still take her show over Ree Drummond’s, any day.  She joked about her chain-smoking grandma while her sisters looked embarrassed.  For some reason, this made me laugh.  Ree Drummond’s never made me laugh.

2.  The Thai Burger
I prowl the Internet for potential roadfood stops.  Yelp may not be the most reputable source for reviews, but it’s often the only source when it comes to small towns outside the metropolitan area.  One reviewer complained the White Horse’s Thai burger was too spicy to be edible.  “Ding Ding Ding Ding!  The bells went off in my head when I read the words “literally inedible.”

Sweet.

I know St. Cloud is in outstate Minnesota, but I was determined to try that Thai burger and hoped for at least a tingle.

White Horse’s printed lunch menu offers mundane bar food, with the expectation of the Thai burger.  However, the dinner menu offers surprisingly diverse dishes of Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese influence. The daily chalkboard specials included a soup made with eggplant and chickpeas and even homemade pho with shrimp.  The pho scented the bar with star anise which was unexpected and lovely.

The Thai Burger was the menu’s most expensive burger option at $11.  I upgraded the burger’s side of french fries to a salad for $2.50 (upgrading to a cup of soup was only $1).

White Horse delivered an above-average salad for the upgrade.  It was goodly-sized and made with high quality ingredients.  Crispy romaine lettuce, generous slivers of red onion (the more, the better), seasoned homemade croutons and dressing, and plush, ripe tomato.

I publicly admit that I have a thing for Ranch dressing.

The burger was spicy and flavorful.  For my tastes, it was spicy enough to induce a jolly sweat, though it probably wasn’t spicy enough for the most seasoned of chili-heads.

The meat patty was crusty on the outside.  I detected garlic and lemongrass while nubs of of Thai chilies and chili seeds were packed into the meat.  The sriracha aoli contained a pleasant kick and wasn’t overly rich or creamy.  Again, I swooned over the ruby-red, ripe tomato slices.  They were really beautiful, especially considering the mealy, orange abominations normally served elsewhere.  Finally, the brioche burger bun was above average.  It was toasted, buttered, and of the ideal texture to support a burger.

When I cut into the burger, I cringed when I realized I didn’t specify the burger’s doneness.  The patty was cooked all of the way through.  Thankfully, it was juicy, despite its doneness.  Considering the modest size of the burger and the salad upgrade, $13.50 plus tax and tip made a pricier than average lunch.  Overall, I enjoyed my meal and felt comfortable as a single, female diner.  The vegetables were especially lovely. Had the Thai burger had been cooked a little less, it would have been my version of bliss.

Service was fine with a tinge of apathy.  The “thank you for coming” chocolate mint sticks helped.

I-94 is Delicious Chronicles, restaurants on deck:

  • Albany Restaurant, Albany, MN
  • Palmer House, Sauk Centre, MN
  • Ackie’s Pioneer Inn, Freeport, MN
  • Mable Murphy’s, Fergus Falls, MN
  • Eagle Cafe, Barnesville, MN
  • El Portal, Melrose, MN

Jeni Finally Gets Her Sloppy Torta: Quick Trip Home & By More Taqueria

Two months away from home without a food adventure left me in a crazed state.

The other weekend, I wanted to eat a torta, a food that isn’t exactly commonplace around here.

The Fargo torta buck stopped at my Internet search.  I was only willing to go as far as Googling the sh#$ out of Fargo + Moorhead + torta.  I’d love for you to prove me wrong.

My torta craving grew to the point where I considered driving to Minneapolis for a sandwich.  Nothing more.  Just a sandwich.

Last weekend, we returned to the Twin Cities for a quick visit to surprise Jake’s mom for her birthday.  We left for the cities earlier than normal and greeted her when she returned home from work.  Both surprisers and surprisee seemed equally happy about the reunion.

We also visited the family for which I babysat and apprenticed last year.  I know it’s a tale as old as time, but the experience of watching a baby transform into a child that talks in complete sentences and zips around the sidewalks of Minneapolis on a Strider is fantastic and humbling.  We barely have the skeleton of a wedding in place, but we now have a ring bearer.

Speaking of wedding plans, we’re finally getting started.  Or at least, we’re thinking about it.  I’m more concerned about the food.  Can you recommend a vendor who could make a non-traditional wedding dessert?  Neither one of us is a big fan of cake, but we’re very fond of pie.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to go to the St. Paul Farmers Market.  I managed to get funneled into the world’s most treacherous detour, finally landing in a back parking lot, unscathed.  This summer, our CSA has supplied us with all of our vegetables.  The quality has been high, but the selection mundane.  Walking through the farmers market nearly brought tears to my eyes as I admired stands of melons, okra, eggplants, habanero peppers, and foraged mushrooms (I just learned about Probstfield Farm’s Old Trail Market in Moorhead, MN and plan to stop by this weekend).

I bought some treats to supplement our weekly CSA box and stopped at A Toast To Bread for the empanadas I used to enjoy each weekend.

Fortunately, I got there early enough to purchase one of each variety to share with the boys.

They were as delicious as I remember.  The first was filled with ground beef and veggies, the second with ground beef, olives and raisins, and the third with tuna.

For lunch, we took home spicy BBQ, baked beans, and collard greens from Ted Cook’s, per Jake’s request.

My rib tips were more dried out than normal and I had to toss about half.  Otherwise, everything else tasted the same.

Dinner was cloudy with a chance of these. . .

I like to occasionally indulge with meals accompanied by these.  For those who may take issue, my reply is the same as the one I gave to the man in the elevator this afternoon.  He sternly informed me that the cream cheese on my bagel was unhealthy, to which I replied, “I don’t care.

He may have been a client.  Oops.

On our final morning, I snuck out for a morning torta.  I knew that stacking a torta onto the weekend’s meals could result in trouble, but pressed on towards my goal.  After all, my life has led me down a path of uncertainly regarding when I will run into my next torta.  If I see a torta, I will indulge.  Plus, one can always transport food on ice.  We took home quite the haul.

Jake’s an East Saint Paul boy, through and through.  His parents live in the Payne-Phalen area and it took me until now to discover the restaurants that line Payne Ave. and Arcade St.  On Sunday, I stopped at By More Taqueria, located near the intersection of Payne Ave. and Phalen Blvd.  Someone on Chowhound had mentioned torta.

My one track mind zeroed in to the torta options that could be filled with one’s choice of meat.  I did not notice breaded beef milanesa, my usual favorite, but had plenty of other options to pick from.  Some, I could not translate, though I remember seeing fish, lengua, and possibly cabeza.  I don’t remember much of the illustrated menu posted by the counter, but recall seeing seafood soup and a daily meal special that included nopal (cactus), which I adore.

I asked the man at the register for suggestions, and he earnestly steered me towards chorizo.   So, chorizo it was.

As I waited for torta, I sipped a glass of horchata.  Both cost about $9.  The two employees were very friendly and made everything fresh as families trickled in for their Sunday lunches.

My massive torta was filled with a griddled layer of crusty chorizo and toasty cheese.  It’s toppings included a healthy slick of mayo, smushed avocado, refried beans, shredded lettuce, chopped onion, and tomato.  Also, the bun was nicely toasted.

My torta tasted exactly how I had hoped and I dug into my sloppy sandwich.  I paused to share half with Jake.

He agreed that it was delicious, though we both bit into small bits of something hard.  My experience wasn’t unpleasant enough to ruin the sandwich, though Jake’s bite left him a little jolted.  I wonder if it came from the chorizo.

In summary, I felt the flavors were really beautiful.
As I drove along Payne Ave, I made mental notes of places I’d like to try during future visits home.  The area’s restaurants rarely seem to be mentioned and I look forward to exploring its food possibilities.

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