Greeting Text

Following twenty years of farmer's markets selling locally grown vegetables, native fruits, and local honey Linda created Marianne's Kitchen in Shoreview, MN, an oasis of good food, conversation and laughter in a suburban food desert. Operating from 2011-2017 the cafe offered home made soups, fresh bread baked daily, great sandwiches and treats and a complete line of gluten-free soups, pickled products, jams, jellies, salsas and locally sourced soups, honey and grains.

The Marianne's Kitchen of sharing, conversation, and learning continues with ongoing commentary, food reviews and food finds as we grow, cook and eat our food and sample local restaurants.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

New Roseville Pizza Venue

Pizza Luce - Roseville

Visit #1 ...  we always visit places multiple time

Pizza Luce Mostaccioli Not Good Review
Mostaccioli...not as delivered

She says... He says...
Was so hopeful, 
now SO sad, 
Food at the new Pizza Luce was REALLY BAD!  
(so, the 'burbs are still a dining desert)
After several attempts to visit the new pizza/pasta venue we visited on a Tuesday event.  Often I'm looking either for a 'good taco' or 'a slice of good pizza' and we debate 'fast' options.  Walking in I noticed a 'to go' display of pizza by the slice.  It looked much like pizza by the slice at the now gone (appropriately) and neighboring Z it's best time was far gone.  This was a warning.  My thought was to depart but you have to try new options.

Pizza sounded good but I was turned off by the 10" price at $14.99 especially after viewing the 'to go' options.  I settled on the Focaccia Katrina with Goat Cheese, a featured appetizer.  Accompanied with a generic red sauce it was overall, unremarkable.

My partner ordered the Mostaccioli.  Once in a while when I head up north to the cabin I get some sort of Stouffer's frozen pasta and stick it under the broiler and then ponder why I eat such fare.  Bottom line was that the Mostaccioli was a major disappointment, sort of Stouffer's-like, and that's not good when the goal is properly prepared pasta, a featured sauce and mozzarella cheese appropriately melted. 

The server visited our table numerous times without any apparent intent or training.  When offered our comments on the meals the server responded "I'll tell someone."  OK, I guess.

We'll give it another try in a couple of months when they have their sea legs in order.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Big Marina Deli

On a recent evening, we pondered where to have dinner.  Big Marina Deli is always a favorite (across the street from Stanley's in North East).  We wondered if they had encountered any difficulties in the current politically charged environment because they serve a large Muslim population, have 'Halal' info in the front window, and clearly have names which many people seem to fear, like Mohammed.
Marianne's Kitchen Big Marina Deli

We don't know.  But on this weeknight evening, we were the only customers for most of the hour we spent enjoying the always-delicious food.  Chef Adel greeted us warmly as we entered and thanked us many times for coming in...both as we entered and as we were leaving.  

This is our go-to place when we can't think of anywhere else to try.  It's always worth the drive....just for the hummus and the eggplant salad if nothing else.  I think I could survive on those 2 items every single day.

But, of course, there are the ribs....and the okra.....and the taboulleh.....and the potatoes and greens.....and various other meats...and the perfect spicing on every dish...and the fabulous baklava...and on this night, a banana, too (I miss the
Marianne's Kitchen Big Marina Deli
Sunshine Cafe-they always served a banana)...maybe I had the banana because I was thinking of how welcoming they had been when I ate at their cafe.

This night was no disappointment.  The food was all fabulous and, gee, no line at the buffet!  We watched some soccer on the big screen TVs, shared the dining area with the staff (since there weren't any customers to serve), and had a wonderful time.

After a hard day of serving others, it's always a welcome change of pace to enjoy the great food (prepared by someone else) with wonderful flavors and spicing at the Big Marina Deli.  Hope we see you all there sometime soon.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Yup, I was freakin'...

Yup, I was freakin'.....

I've managed to avoid 'corporate food' for days and days and days.  But it's Sunday night, I've been baking for hours, I need to make a quick grocery store run because I have run out of yeast...

Okay, I'll grab a quick veggie sandwich, mail my overdue letters, and hit the grocery store.

So, I thought I'd go to that place that wants me to be 'freaked'.  Well, I was, but probably not the way they wanted me to be.

The sandwich picture on the wall is so....ummm....artsy.  Overflowing with full the bread doesn't even close.


Then, food reality.

As I've said, "texters" are no longer able to carry on human conversation.  My hypothesis was supported in the following exchange.  

I walk up to the counter:

Young man: "What can we get for you?" (or whatever the exact line is that they're trained to say) 

ME:  "A veggie sandwich and a regular size soft drink."

Situation becames hopeless.

Young man:  "What?  What kind of sandwich did you want?" 

Me:  "A veggie."

Young man:  "What?"

Me:  "A veggie."

Young man turns to his co-worker

Young man:  "Where's that on the register?"

Co-worker:  "It's a number 6."

Young man:  "Where's that on the register?"

Co-worker points.  

Young man pushes the key.

Young man:  "Do you want anything to drink?"

Me:  "A regular sized soft drink."

Young man:  "Do you want regular or large?"

Me:  "Regular."

He rings in the total (which is when I realize that Marianne's Kitchen is cheaper than the 'freakin' place), hands me the change and walks away without giving me a drink cup.

Ah, but he has priorities.

As I grab my sandwich (and my own drink cup), I settle in for 5 minutes of time off my feet.

He has his own plan.  He's in charge of filling the chip racks.

Fabulous strategy.....go in the back, take out 5 bags of chips, carry them to the front of the store in your armpits, lay them on the floor, kneel on the floor and text your friends. (oh, but look up each time to make sure your manager/coworkers don't see you)



It was great entertainment while I ate my ingredient-less sandwich.  Unlike the beautiful picture, I can't see any ingredients when I unwrap the sandwich.....just a piece of kinda squished bread.  I don't look inside anymore, because frankly, then I might really 'freak'.

Last time I had one of their sandwiches, I actually brought it back and weighed the meat and cheese just to see because I couldn't believe how little was on the sandwich.  The meat and cheese together were less than 2 oz. 

You know, I love colorful things you can see stained glass windows.  But I never thought about it as a way to observe meat.  So thin I 'freaked'.   I've never thought about see-through meat.

So, once again I know why I avoid corporate food places where teenagers are in charge.   They may carry chips in their armpits and set them on the floor so that they have their hands free for texting.

The corporate places have all raised their prices....they are more expensive than we are....and we actually put VISIBLE meat and cheese on your sandwich....that you can't see through.

My recommendation:  save some money, come to Marianne's and get a reasonably priced sandwich full of fresh ingredients and topped with sauces that we make here.  ....and we never stock the chip rack using our armpits : )

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Bonnie's any small town cafe....only on the Green Line

Marianne's Kitchen Bonnie's
Bonnie's Cafe

As some of you know, I'm a researcher by trade.  More than 30 years of designing research studies & evaluations, developing research protocols and instruments, designing large databases, and analyzing data sets big and small.  My most current research gigs are in rural health.  So, between traveling to small communities across America and having a farm near several small communities in Minnesota, I've eaten at my share of local cafes.  Amy's in Sandstone, Nichols in Pine City, etc. plus places in Afton, WY (an arch of elk antlers greets you as you enter town), little places in Tennessee-where you can always get some sweet tea, places in IA, WI, MS, UT, ID, MT, rural CA (not quite like being in LA-the city, not the state).  But it's rare to find many local cafes with that small town feel around here (maybe the Columbia Heights Flameburger or Magnolia's in St. Paul).

So, this morning in my quest to again avoid anything close to corporate food and to give some
Marianne's Kitchen Bonnie's
support to another family business, it was off to University Avenue and Bonnie's Cafe.

Entering Bonnie's is like stepping back in time--I think it reminds me of a place in Wheaton or ???? (my pal and rural health traveling partner Jill could probably remember---we had lots of mosquitos the night we walked around town and she ran out of shampoo--oh, yeah, that town).

Green painted booths, 12 inch square floor tiles, and a beautiful row of green padded diner stools.....gotta love 'em!!!

This is the place to get a small town cafe that's what I ordered. 

Marianne's Kitchen Bonnie's
  Two eggs over easy and hash browns--but with a twist---Polish sausage, and an English muffin instead of the standard white or wheat toast (I always get the Polish at Magnolia's, too).  Yup, it was just what I imagined....except the Polish was scored on 1 side and grilled so it was crusty on the outside and juicy on this inside---an interestingly presented as 2 arches on the plate.  

The best parts of the experience were:  Mia, my server, who was cute as can be, friendly, and excellent at her job; the mix of customers was a melting pot of humanity; a small town meal on the Green LIne; and of course, I spent one more day NOT eating anything that was breaded, came from a deep-fat fryer, or was reheated by a teenager : )

This is not a meal you should have very comes mostly from the 'tan' food group....but that's all part of the small townish experience.  

Bonnie passed away 2 years ago, so one of her daughters is running the place.   It's great when a family member can pick up the torch and continue a family tradition.

If you came from a small town, haven't been back, and miss the local cafe....stop in at Bonnie's and relive your history.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Manana Restaurant y Pupuseria

Marianne's Kitchen Manana
Another day, another search for non-corporate food.   Off to St. Paul.....

Anne said the pupusas at Manana are pretty good.  Haven't had a pupusa since the place that is now Catrina's was still in business.  So off to Swede Hollow to give it a try.

This food of El Salvador is best described as a filled pancake, I guess.  Manana has pupusas, tacos, burritos, sopes, tortas, and more.

We circled the block on East Seventh seeking a parking place.  We came around the corner by the beauty supply store and there was one right in front....yippee!!!

When we went in, there were three other parties....two seated in the dining area and one picking up take-out. 
Marianne's Kitchen Manana
The facility itself makes Marianne's look like a's well worn in quite an old building.  It has colorful art on the walls.  There were 4 people working, so clearly that had been busier earlier in the evening.

We picked up a couple of menus and tried to decide which of the many choices to try.  Papusas for sure, but I also tried a taco...John is always in search of a good taco.  I ordered the veggie papusa, while John order the 3 papusas with beans and cheese served with rice and beans.  All turned out to be great choices.

The taco (al pastor) was a common double taco, but with a crispy grilled edge that added great texture.  It was topped with loads of onions and cilantro.

The pupusas were served with curtido (cabbage slaw that is slightly pickled with a little bit of heat) and a mild tomato vinegar sauce.  The pupusas were delicious and the curtido added a necessary crunch and enough spice to make everything extra interesting.  My pupusa was filled with cheese and loroco (a Central American herb/veggie.....I'd describe the flavor as close to cooked squash) and John's was stuffed full of beans and cheese.  His serving was so big that he couldn't finish the whole thing (trust me, I can always help with that).

We had a great chat with the owner, who would like to stay open later, but the street is just too dark.  If the City of St. Paul would like to help all the local businesses in the area, some brighter street lighting would be a giant plus.  The neighborhood is full of great places to the Cabana (family-run) and Taqueria Los Paisanos (both across the street) and the new bakery that we haven't had a chance to try yet.  Los Ocampo is just up around the corner on Arcade. 

Everything was delicious.  It was well worth the trip to enjoy the great food and warm, friendly service.  We had many great laughs...sharing stories about the foibles of running a cafe.

If you haven't been there, make a detour from corporate food and try something interesting and real. 

Marianne's Kitchen Manana

Hamburguesas El Gordo

Hamburguesas El Gordo

 "Hey, have you tried the new restaurant with the very limited food selection?

Front: Chicken Rear: Fat Man Burger
No, not that chicken place, but Hamburguesas El Gordo.

Step out of your suburban blahs, and take a chance.

Located in Plaza del Sol at 990 Payne Avenue in St. Paul (across the street from Tongue in Cheek), this newly established family-run place serves 2 things (hey, twice as much as the new local limited selection place)--a hamburger or a grilled chicken sandwich.

That's where any resemblance to a typical burger or chicken breast sandwich ends.   These sandwiches come with everything (ask for extra, extra napkins)....bacon, cheese, serrano peppers, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, the list goes on.  Gigantic would be an understatement (hence the name....fat burger or fat man burger).

We tried to figure out how to tackle these gigantawiches, each wrapped in a deli paper and served in a basket with grilled onions and a serrano pepper on the side.  I did better (no, really).  We shared, but by the time John handed me the chicken one, there was only a little bit of bun left....nowhere to get a grip.  I'll give him a break because there were 2 big pieces of grilled chicken on his sandwich, so they were sliding around a little when he took a bite.  I did better in keeping mine together, but juicy burger doesn't really capture the whole range of what juicy can mean.

This was really fun.  A cross-section of people, with lots of cute kids
 running around & playing with balloons (and
saying a sincere, 'I'm sorry' when their balloon floated on to our table), in a little mall with food stands.  The next stand (Frutilandia, I think) sold lots of interesting looking drinks with lists and lists of options.  And, it was nice to see parents buying their kids bananas to eat instead of french fries.

We love to support small local places, and this is certainly on the list of places we'll visit again.  The young woman who called our order was very sweet and so proud of her establishment.  Drop some dollars in the tip jar so that this family can earn a living and have a chance for this business to become established.  I'm not too worried, because they already have a pretty big following.  I'm glad we had a chance to get there before the lines are too long !

Donut Wars

In 1966, the Shrade family took over Tobie's in Hinckley from Mr. and Mrs. 'Tobie' Lackner, moving the cafe from downtown Hinckley to the current location on Interstate 35.  They added a gas station, took over the fast food across the street, and sold thousands of 'carmel rolls' plus oodles of other bakery.  Some of their recipes are from our friend Jim's family--including his family's world famous fruit cake, cardamom bread, and more.

Kwik Trip
In 1965, Kwik Trip opened their first store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.   Since then, they have grown to 475 stores in WI, MN, and IA.  They sell gas, have a convenience store model, and sell vast quantities of baked goods at bargain prices.  Last week they opened a store in Hinckley, MN, a block east of Tobie's.

We believe that donut wars have begun.

The world is changing.  Family-owned businesses have to grow and adapt in a world of big box stores.  Both of these companies are family-owned businesses.  One stayed in Hinckley.  The other built stores across 3 states.  Both make many of their own products.

Now, they are going to start a head-to-head competition for that category that has all but disappeared.....bakery.  Most family-owned bakeries are gone.   They fell victim to grocery stores who first expanded their in-store bakeries and then outsourced most of that baking or brought in frozen products from other corporations and thawed and baked them at the store (like all of those cheap pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving).  People started buying their bread and treats while picking up their hamburger and milk at the grocery store....even if the quality wasn't as good.  A small family bakery is a rare business today.

How will this play out?
Tobie's advantages--they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They bake items that aren't available at Kwik Trip--like Jim's family's fruitcake, they have a huge bakery display case where you can pick and choose.  They ship 'carmel rolls'. 

Tobie's disadvantages--their bakery products are more expensive, their staff has not received quality/customer service training, they don't have a system for who's next in line at the bakery.  They don't have self-service coffee or any grab-and-go bakery items.

Kwik Trip's advantages--they have lots of 'pick up and run' food items (like breakfast sandwiches and hamburgers (2 for $1 this week)--you can grab these plus basic food items (cheap eggs and butter, bananas, bacon....), get gas at the same location, and have mounds of really inexpensive baked goods pre-packaged and ready to go.  The staff has clearly been trained on customer service.  They have lots of self-service coffee and drink choices.

Kwik Trip's disadvantages--this is not the place you'd go for a sit down meal.  The bakery items are created elsewhere in a Kwik Trip baking facility.  There are fewer bakery item choices (Tobie's has the advantage for sure on breads).  The grab and go food is pretty standard, much like you'd find at Holiday, SA, PDQ, etc.

Both have nice bathrooms (something you think about when you're on the road).  Both have good locations.  Tobie's has the high-visibility location next to the north-bound exit. Kwik-Trip can be seen from the top of the exit and it's a bit closer to the casino.  

Kwik Trip states that they follow a low mark-up model; Tobie's follows a traditional pricing model.  Qwik Trip glazed donuts are $2.99 for a box of six.  During the grand opening they were priced at $4.99 for two boxes of six.  The Kwik Trip website has numerous in-store and coupon bakery (and food) specials.  Donuts at Tobie's are $1.75 each.  The Tobie's website has been updated and contains many appealing photos of their in-house bakery items.

We'll be watching with interest how this change in the' Hinckley doughnut economy' plays out.  As a statistician and researcher, I believe there will be a lot of 'indicators' from this doughnut war that will have predictive value.  To phrase it as I would have when I was still a research nerd, "the salient factors attracting retail customers, affecting pricing models, and providing competitive advantage will emerge through this natural experiment". 

In other words, we'll see what happens--and maybe learn from it : )

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Serial Food Disappointment on a Saturday Night

Uh boy.....why is it so hard to find any food on a  Saturday night??????

After our several recent taco disappointments, we thought we'd just head out for a quick taco at Catrina's in Oakdale.   On the way, John suggested we try the Market Grill at the HyVee since we didn't give it a try last time.  

It was just around the corner from Catrina's, so we thought, 'why not'?   Well, this is why not:

Strike #1
We walked in to a restaurant that was 3/4 empty.  We thought...great, not crowded....piece of cake.  Then we saw the hostess hand a beeper to the couple in front of us, and we smelled trouble.   But, since we haven't eaten there before, we thought....oh, this must be how they seat people here.  So we signed up and were told that we'd be seated in about 10 minutes.

Wrong again.  We watched as 2 tables were seated in the twenty minutes we waited, with servers standing around everywhere, leaning on tables, and clearly having nothing to do.  We saw 2 plates come out of the kitchen.  

Our 'we should leave now' radar started to kick in.  The manager came up to the hostess stand to take a call where we heard him apologizing profusely and offering a gift card.   So, when he finished his call, we corned him.  Good move on our part.

Apparently, they were lacking 'chefs' in the kitchen.  He said the hostess was supposed to inform the customers of this.  She didn't.  

So we made a hasty exit.  We named the 'place of our first disappointment' because: 1) they're a giant corporation so our opinion won't affect their biz a single iota, and 2) we'll probably give it a try again after they've worked the kinks out of their kitchen issues.

Off to Catrina's.....
Strike #2
Oh, if we'd only stopped here first.  Now it was 8:05 and Catrina's closes at 8 p.m.  If we had skipped the HyVee disappointment, we would have been chowing down on some Catrina food with a couple of interesting salsas.  But, it was not to be.

Strike #3
So, great memory that I have, I suggested the 'other' taco place that Jessica Fleming reviewed for the Pioneer Press.  I actually remembered the name and the general vicinity.  With the help of our electronic friend, the iphone, we drove up and, yes, they were open.  

We entered the colorful and interesting space.  Nice ambiance.  We were seated relatively quickly...the place was mostly empty.  But then we waited for a server.....and waited.   Then the hostess came and took our drink order and brought some chips and salsa.

The chips were tasty, warm, and salty.  The fresh tomatillo salsa tasted fresh....but mostly like raw tomatillos from a blender.  It was a poor contrast to the salty chips....we kept thinking we needed to add salt to the salsa.  Just a bad pairing.

The hostess then came back for our dinner order.  After I ordered, she proceeded to tell me they were out of 2 of the items.   Okay, back to the drawing board.  I chose some pork posole and a carne asada taco.  John had the alambre al pastor.

Well, JessFlem this is strike 3 for your recommendations.  Our rating on a 5 star system is 2.

The posole lacked salt and the pork was fatty, fatty, fatty.  Three quarters of that bowl just stayed on the table after we left.  No need for a 'to go' container.  The carne asada taco was nice on top, but with the classic soggy bottom.  Some of the meat was burnt and hard, interspersed with gristle.  So much for my second choices.

John's alambre had good flavor, but suffered from having burnt meat on one half and sogginess on the other half.  Some of the meat was a rock : (  The salsa rojas was pretty good, and the tomatillo salsa that came with his dish was the classic tomatillo with a little heat and not the raw stuff that came with the chips.  The hostess asked if he wanted a to go box, but we waited so long for it that we picked a few more pieces off the plate and left it and the to go box on the table.

Many staff, but mediocre service....only 4 parties in the restaurant...and probably the same number of servers.  Many of the staff were in the kitchen drinking sodas.   We heard the guy at the next table ask his waiter to take something off his bill....I guess he had some disappointment, too.

So, again we won't name this place because we can't say we'd recommend it.  But I've come to the conclusion that I'm right and should not follow the recommendations of the food critics (we don't put much stock in most food reviews unless they're based on a number of visits and don't seem to have some ax to grind).

So the taco search continues......

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Taco War #1...not a good experience

Sorry, JessFlem, that's 2 strikes
Add caption

It's seldom that I put much credence in food reviews, so they don't often guide our dining choices.

But, Jessica Fleming of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, said this place was really good (we won't name it because that's not what we do).  And,  John is always in search of the elusive great taco.  Sorry, Jess, but we respectfully disagree.

First, as you probably know, food safety is number one with me.  Most people don't pay much attention....until they are infected with salmonella (many, many people in a recent Twin Cities outbreak) or worse, listeria.  Then, when they're violently ill, they review where they've been.

Last time I followed one of Jess's recommendations, we sat in a downtown restaurant and I watched an employee handle raw eggs and then without washing his hands (he didn't wear the required gloves), put potato chips on a plate.  Unfortunately, it was the plate of a kid's meal....which means he exposed this little child to a potential food-borne illness through his carelessness.  Inexcusable.

So, tonight's visit was a disappointment from food safety to food tasty.  I'll give the place a break because when you're mentioned in a food column, you often get slammed with customers.  It wasn't really that busy when we went in.  So we ordered, based on some of the recommendations in the food review, and sat down.   

Twenty minutes into our wait, I was bored, so decided to watch the kitchen staff.  Big mistake.  One with a glove on, then his glove was off.  Then a guy walked in from the street, reached over, picked up some food (for himself?) and walked to the back of the kitchen.  Then he came back and prepared gloves, scratching his back between platings and, my favorite, rubbing his belly before patting down someone's lettuce.   Oh yummy!

The food itself was a big sloppy mess.   When you have messy food, don't serve it on a piece of paper.  Paper is not tasty and generally ends up as part of a forkful within a couple of minutes.

John:  "Linda told me to write add something to this review but my mother always told me that if you don't have anything good to say don't say anything at all."

Friday, October 23, 2015

Taco War #2 (it might be #3) Tavial Grill

We always say, try a place a number of times to see if it's consistent.  That was our experience with the Tavial Grill.

Visit #1 - OCT 16
Tavial Grill Carnitas Plate & Quesonga
So, undaunted by our not so great experience on our visit to Jess Fleming's recommended taco place, we again went in search of the perfect taco (or decent Mexican food).  This time we ventured to West Seventh Street to Tavial Grill.   We think this is in a former pizza place (can't remember what was there before).  We found the place to be in decent condition (better than we expected based on being another re-used facility) and it was VERY clean.  

This place turned out to be the opposite of that other taco place.  The guy at the cash register was clueless!  Too much texting seems to have challenged the upcoming generation.

Following the challenge of order things went smoothly.  We sat where I could gaze into the kitchen during food prep (that drives John crazy--but really, I don't tell him if his food hits the floor before it comes out, so I don't know why he gets his undies in a bunch over this).  I watched the cook skillfully use 2 spatulas to grill the food and carefully move it from grill to plate.  He was crisply dressed with an impeccable haircut....the kind of guy you want making your food because he's meticulous.

John had the carnitas plate and I had the quesonga or quesohonga (it was spelled differently on each wall)....but basically a cheese and mushroom grill with onions.  

Our number was called within 5 minutes and the food was attractively arranged on the plates, with steaming hot tortillas in aluminum foil.  John's carnitas was hot and juicy.   He didn't share any of the rest of his plate, so it must have been just as good.  He actually said the beans were delicious and he's not a big refried bean fan.

My dish was delish, but I wouldn't describe it as Mexican food.  Gooey cheese, lots of mushrooms, and lots of onions....all melted together into a helping of comfort food  (I kept thinking this would be a great Sunday brunch item).  I enjoyed every bite....a little Mexican flavor would have enhanced the experience, but it was tasty. The helping of grilled heaven was worth the cholesterol bump.

All in all a very satisfying experience.  We think this is a family-owned we like to give 'em some support.  Other than the need to knock the cashier in the head and wake him up, everything else was well-executed.  We know we could go back tomorrow and find another delicious dish from the menu that had many choices.  A nice way to end the week.

Visit #2 - OCT 23

Tavial Grill Chilequiles
Tavial Grill Choriqueso
Our first experience there was 5 star...excellent all around.  The guy making the food was nicely groomed, and followed food safety procedures.  The food was well-prepared.  This also resulted in a wonderful meal.

So we tried 'em again.  This time, not so good.

We order the chilequiles with beef and the choriqueso.   We noticed that the guy making food tonight was not quite so good.  Bare hands in the food bins.  Not so well-groomed.  Maybe not so good at food prep.

Our food rating was about 2 on a scale of 1 to 5; John said his choriqueso was about a 1.5.  If this were our first rating, we'd give it 2 stars and say it was overpriced for the quantity and the value.  The tortillas were the best part of the meal.....

So, our advice is the same.  Try a place several times to see if it's consistent.  Might be consistently good, consistently bad....or the worst....consistently inconsistent.  Then you never know what to expect.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Oakdale Adventure #2 - HyVee

HyVee Oakdale
We thought the huge crowds had probably subsided, so it was time to venture out to the new HyVee in Oakdale (of course John grew up in Albert Lea, so his family talked about getting 'three things' from the hot food section of HyVee for years).   Well, things have changed at HyVee since then!

Now, onto the main event.....the tour of HyVee. 

It's a little overwhelming from the minute you walk in.  A series of food stations on the left, with produce, bulk foods, and charcuterie sort of straight ahead.  John wanted to go left.  So we checked out all of the food stations, except we didn't go into the grille.  Asian hot foods and sushi, pizza, "American" like meatloaf and mashed potatoes (the HyVee of John's memory), plus a chef's creation station.

After strolling the whole row twice, we thought the Asian selection looked the freshest and most appealing.  The chef section was chaotic and was next to the 'prepared food case' where everything always tastes like the prepared food case : (  The ready to eat pizzas didn't look that appealing (but Minnesotans eat such lousy 'pizza' - it didn't look much different than the national chains).  The take and bake pizza and flatbreads actually looked a lot more interesting and maybe worth a try. 

Then we wandered to bulk foods.  DeLizious Food Communications said it was overwhelming....and it was.  I think they have everything that Bergin Fruit and Nut (a St. Paul institution) carries (if you haven't been there, check out Bergin's outlet room).   Chocolate nuts, dried fruits, mixes, and would take a while to look at everything.  I appreciated that they had a staff person working there who could 1) answer questions and 2) keep people's hands out of the bins (a pet peeve).  May have to check out this section in more detail on my next visit.

Then we wandered to the regular grocery and frozen/refrig aisles.  This became a much more typical grocery store experience.  They have a nice section of frozen organic and gluten free.  But we noticed that most people had carts filled with typical corporate products--stuff we don't eat (we don't have a death wish).   So it will be interesting to see if the more unique selections remain over time or if the assortment starts to look like any other corporate grocery dump.

We found the meat counter interesting...nice looking kabobs and some more unique selections.  The staff was pretty knowledgeable.  The cheese selection was interesting, too, and the person admitted she was in training, but did her best to help us find the Sartori Montemore and looked up the Milton Prairie Breeze to verify they stocked it, though none of us could actually find it in the cheese display.  But she was very helpful.   I'll be back there to check out other selections.

But, now, my favorite.  The charcuterie counter.  I died and went to heaven (not from the corporate food described earlier).  This counter had the largest, most beautiful selection of LaQuercia products I have ever seen in one place.  I was drooling on the counter (okay, I kept my drool to myself).  The staff member in charge could tell me about the different products based on the pig (Berkshire, Tamworth, etc) and what the pigs were fed...a veritable shopping dream experience.  LaQuercia pork is raised by family farmers without the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics, hormones, etc, don't use CAFO animals, and don't use animals who are fed other animals' body parts.  I just wanted to buy a little of everything.  Oh the beautiful pork.......

Many delightful products at this counter from other providers,, samples of soppressata and bacon...quite delish.  I'll be back here just to gawk at the case.

A final tour of the bakery area (way too much of the same junky bakery you find at every grocery store) with a few interesting looking items in the display case.  No time to try them on this trip--we'll give 'em a taste next time.

All in all, worth the trip.  The Asian food station looked a lot better than the local corporate option (although we're big fans of the small local China Express and of course, our all-time north suburban fave---Pink Flower).   The charcuterie case was a dream.  The fact that you could eat a quick meal before or after shopping, with a range of dining choices is a plus.  Eat first, spend less as you shop : )

...and, this was not John's mom's HyVee.  Lots to see and try.  We thought there were some hits and some misses.  But we own a business and we have our own hits and misses.  Overall, a fun little evening excursion.  I love food....eating it, looking at it, talking about

Oakdale Adventure #1 - Dining

We were off to check out Oakdale's new HyVee store which is getting rave reviews.  But first, we needed dinner to keep up our strength for our shopping/gawking adventure.  Sounded like Catrina's was worth a try. 

Great choice.  It was like Chipotle, only with flavor and without the heavily oiled white rice and pico de gallo from precut bagged tomatoes (how many ways can you say 'food safety risk'?).  Already Catrina's had a head start.   Then they posted on the plexi shield notices to keep your hands (and body fluids) on your side of the plexiglass.  Take note Chipotle...please!   I won't eat Chipotle because:  1)  no flavor, 2) they don't know what their own salsas are, 3) ewwww...who puts their hands on the filthy rail in front of the plexi (like everyone....ewwwwww), and 4) they never stop anyone who is either spitting or putting their hands over the shield.  Too gross an experience for such suburban pseudo-Mexican food.  Oh yuck.  Just my opinion.  But I digress.

Back to Catrina's.  Choose your own options (burrito, tacos, bowl, quesadilla) plus torta--only with interesting flavorful ingredients and lots more protein choices.  John chose a bowl and I picked a veggie quesadilla with a number of salsa choices.   The first thing John noticed was the white rice wasn't soaked in oil.   That cut the calories by 2/3 immediately and let the flavor of the other ingredients come through.   I tasted the spiciness of the fajita veggies-very flavorful.  Good start.

Salsa selections--here's where they shine (besides the fact that they obviously are all trained in food safety and know what they're serving).  I chose arbol and guajillo (based on 2 of my favorite peppers) and John chose tomatillo (his favorite).   Try saying the word 'tomatillo' at Chipotle and wait for the dumb looks---predictably laughable!!!!   I think I should have tasted the pineapple habanero and the ghost pepper, too.  But more about that later.

Complex flavors.  Layers of flavor in the arbol and in the guajillo.   Guajillo was definitely my favorite.  As we were finishing our meal, we had a nice chat with Caleb, who's working his way up to management.  Great spokesperson for the company.  I asked if these were the standard salsa choices and he said they had these plus they whipped up some other ones a couple of times a week to keep things interesting.  I say, 'keep it up'.   He noted that on the ghost pepper salsa, they did what none of the corporate (jump on the ghost pepper bandwagon) places seem to be able to accomplish.....give you some flavor....not just the heat of the ghost pepper.  By combining other flavors with the ghost peppers, Catrina's created a taste combo that doesn't just burn your tongue because it seems many people think heat = flavor.  Wrong!  Flavor comes from a great combo of ingredients.  Kudos to Catrina's on this.

So, Catrina's delivers on flavor and customer service (plus food safety, which for me can be a deal-breaker at many places where you can often witness 10 food safety violations in the first 5 minutes).  John loved the decor, based on Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead)...with the admonition to live life to the fullest each day.  Great staff.  Very willing to answer questions.  We hope they're a big success (especially since we picked up a punch card!) and since we've eaten at the last 2 or 3 places that were in this location and have gone away.

One of the more interesting adventures to Oakdale in my life experience.  Catrina's was worth the stop, if just for the guajillo salsa.  They had a great beer selection, too...Modelo and other Mexican beers plus Surly and other options.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Opening Today---Raising Cane's

Opening Today---Raising Cane's
 It was nice to meet the new managers of Raising Cane's today at lunch.  We
seem to have all the managers of new local businesses come and dine with us....thanks so much.  We appreciate the support for our little family business!  Great group of women....glad to meet all of you : )

Raising Cane's serves chicken fingers and fries.  So, I'll be there at least for my once a year deep-fried chicken fix.  Once a year is about my limit.....too much of the "tan food" makes me cranky and sluggish....and well, we have stuff to make and do every day.  But it's nice to have another option in Shoreview....last year when I wanted my one chicken finger/tender I had to wander to try to find one.  Maybe if I walk there and walk back to the cafe, I can have TWO chicken fingers.   We hope the slaw is good....we make a lot of slaw (usually vinegar with some cayenne)....but it would be nice to have someone else make it once in a while.  It's hard to find good slaw.  We'll be givin' everything a try.

I asked the staff if they were ready for the big rush tomorrow and they had a great upbeat attitude...."we hope so, but if not, we're still gonna sell some chicken!"   We love enthusiasm : )

So welcome to Shoreview Raising Cane's.  North suburban residents....give the Texans a little Minnesota love!

Of course, you probably all know that we have a fondness for foods of color--green, orange, yellow, pink--the colors of food not generally available in modern America (aside from ketchup, pizza sauce, and artificially 'fresh' bagged, sulfited iceberg lettuce).

For example, today we had 2 beet salads....beets (red) with quinoa (white) and arugula (green) and beets (red) with grapefruit (pink and white) and oranges (orange).   We like to see color on a plate (or in our case, in a bowl in a basket).   We also had 5 bean salad---many colors there, too.  

We don't eat much tan all tastes like what it is....breaded deep fried carbs or bad tasteless commercial hamburger buns.  Colored foods have a variety of flavors and textures and, since we eat with our eyes first, make you want to give each and every one of them a try.

More food options close by.  We like that.   While we usually eatatmariannes, it's nice to have some choices - veggie or not - for a quick dinner or a change of menu.