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.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Good Vietnamese Dining in New Brighton

Names can be deceiving.  The Mirage Bar and Grill sounds much like many sports bars with bar food that come and go and it appears that the bar and grill did go.  Fortunately the south half of the building at 400 Old Highway 8 in New Brighton offers quite good Vietnamese fare.

Pork Chop with Broken Rice
Marinated Pork & Eggroll Salad
Now if you are looking for atmosphere, which is often a cover for less than good food, you are not going to find much.  This is definitely a re-purposed space and parts even look like demo or re-construction in-process.

We are always looking for 'good food in the burbs' and this is a nice gem.  Linda ordered the 'pork chop on broken rice.'  The pork chops were delicious, marinated and delightfully moist throughout, grilled to perfection.  One of them ended up in the 'to go box' given the generous portion.

John ordered the marinated pork and egg roll salad.  Likewise portioned the pork was generous and flavorful.  The egg roll, while not up to our egg roll standard of Pink Flower,was good and large although flavored a bit more toward Chinese than Vietnamese.

The service was attentive and prompt.  Language issues were well handled on this and a subsequent visit with a numbered and pictured menu.  As we finished our meal we had a nice conversation with three young men, who like us, always put University Avenue's Cheng Heng near the top of Asian dining.  They, like us, felt that the Vietnamese experience at Mirage Bar and Grill to be a great value and worth regular visits.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

iPads & Bad Dining

Most of our customers have heard our line about in-cafe WIFI.  "We don't have WIFI.  We're about conversation."  Too many times we've watched (at other dining establishments) families eating with each member texting/searching/watching away.  Apparently that's where you find answers to the questions "how was your day?" "what do you think about whatever in the news today?" and so on.

Often the theme in these blog posts is "finding something to eat" and that was the challenge last night.  After debating which Asian restaurant had the best noodle salad and deciding that the closer (and less appealing salads) was not an option we headed to White Bear Lake to one of our favorite establishments.  This review is not going to mention the name because every once in a while everything goes wrong on the business side and that's what happened.

They offer a remote "get in line" application.  John had recently updated the operating system (IOS for your geeks) on his iPhone and thought that to be the problem with the app not working.  We pulled over and did an application update.  It worked fine, took our name and party size (2) and special requests (none) and then said our request could not be processed but told us the wait was 15-30 minutes.  Getting in line remotely is cool but it failed and we decided to go the old fashioned way and just go get in line.

At the restaurant the first clue was two people at the reception desk with iPads (or comparable tablets) trying to figure our what was going on.  The simple approach to seating is a map of seating options, a wax pen and a list of people waiting.  Unfortunately we were witnessing a tablet/paper system meltdown.  Text messages were being sent, hostesses were walking around with slips of paper looking for people in line, empty tables remained empty and vacated tables remained uncleaned.

As owners we recognized a meltdown in process and should have just left but we sat and waited our turn, watching the bonfire.  Finally seated amid numerous empty uncleaned tables we waited extensively for our watron and noted that no food was coming out of the kitchen.  Of course patrons and off-duty workers were joking and talking with the kitchen staff in the open air kitchen.  It should be noted that these people had their drinks above the food prep area (food preparation violation #1). 

Apparently the watron who stopped at our table was not our watron.  We appeared to be 'off the grid' of the establishments iPad service system.  It should be noted that by this time the manager was walking around with his iPad looking at tables and poking at the iPad, not talking to his staff or patrons.  It reminded us of the families dining with their iPhones and not talking.  We were witnessing a manager not talking to his staff and providing directions but sending messages and looking at tablet icons.  He may have been legitimately working to change whatever icons he had from one color to another but talking might have been a good first step.

We ordered drinks and dinner.  John's beverage did not arrive for fifteen minutes.  Actually after fifteen minutes the watron showed up and said they no longer carried that beverage (it was a primary reason for the visit). Ordering the salad to share and side dish we waited.  The uncleaned tables around us remained uncleaned for 45 minutes.  John, frequently on the 'clean the tables' task at Marianne's Kitchen, kept looking around for cleaning supplies.  The manager walked through three or four times with his iPad, poking away, probably sending messages to the absent busboy to clean the tables.  Maybe too many people were watching movies and their bandwidth was staturated.

The salad was overdressed by a factor of three.  Linda ended up with a pool of dressing on her plate, far more oil than what would be needed to cook the next meal or dress the next three or four salads.  The bread was under-baked, a real dough ball and the peppers and onions of the peppers, onions and sausage, a real delight in previous visits had spent enough time over a flame that they were without flavor, mushy (that's a technical food term) and indistinguishable.

The watron did stop and ask how we like the salad and food.  We responded that it was not up to their standards.  She did correctly offer to bring another salad and another dish but when a meltdown is in process what is the point.  We asked for the check.

Openly visible kitchen space is fun.  You get to watch preparation and cooking and presentation and the dynamics of a fine-tuned staff...sometimes.  Waiting for our check we noted that the two people doing salads were doing it bare-handed.  You will never see us do bare-handed food preparation and Marianne's Kitchen.  The food guideline  is that you cannot touch food barehanded that is not going to be cooked before it gets to the consumer and obviously you cannot touch it after it is cooked either.  We all wear gloves when touching your food.

We stood up and went to the hostess desk since our bill was not appearing.  On the verge of leaving the manager finally showed up and said "I understand there was a problem with your meal."  We responded affirmatively and then pointed out the two salad guys were were bare-handing the ingredients and alternately whiping their hands on their aprons.  The manager responded that that was fine and that they washed their hands between each operation.  We noted that that had not happened during our hour there.  The manager turned and walked away.  This was an opportunity for him to say "I'm sorry we did not meet your expectations.  Here's your card back.  Please come join us again another night."  He just walked away.  After a few more minutes the watron showed up.  We paid and left.

It's difficult to find staff and sometimes you are short of help, you run out of food and supplies, equipment falters, etc.,  but as managers and owners you have the opportunity to communicate with people waiting in line, customers waiting for their food, check in with those eating and personally thank them for coming.  It's all about communication, just as sitting in that West St. Paul kitchen of Linda's aunt was all about talking.  "Dinner will be done in a few minutes."  "How do you like the soup?"  "Let me help!"  We don't have any iPad service applications at Marianne's Kitchen and other than a register application we never will. 

As always, we'll ask what you want, make recommendations, check-in during your meal and personally thank you for coming.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Oasis Cafe / Stillwater

Oasis Cafe Mexican Breakfast Salad

Marianne's Kitchen was closed on the 4th of July.  Linda was working on new products, Anne was at the beach with her family and John decided to clean the garage because...the garage should be used for storing a vehicle.  The garage cleaning took it's toll and a short 'drive' was order.  We headed east toward Stillwater.  Apparently everyone was going there for fireworks and we were looking for something to eat and headed south out of town.

The Oasis Cafe was quite a greasy diner the last time we stopped.  Time does fly apparently we'd not been there for five years.  The new owner has done a great job of updating the cafe and the menu.  John was tempted by the prime rib with mac 'n cheese but settled on the Mexican Breakfast Salad.   The spinach, avocado, sausage, cheese, basted egg and pico de gallo was artfully presented in a very generous portion.

Linda was going to have the Mexican Breakfast Salad but John butted in and ordered first (bully) so she had the avocado omelette with hash browns and cinnamon toast, also artfully presented.

The Oasis Cafe obviously offers breakfast all day and also serves beer and wine.  A delightful conversation with Craig,the owner, and his family concluded the evening.  He showed us the draft of the new upcoming menu which included a Korean Barbeque Wrap.  This is the flexibility and innovation of a locally owned business.  The staff was attentive and pleasant.  We'll head back on an evening when there are no fireworks over the St. Croix, although that would have added to the Stillwater adventure.

Locally Owned / Corporate Franchise

Asia's Finest Restaurant Versus Noodles & Company
The SE corner of HW 96 and Centerville Road has been a destination for quite a while.  Asia's Finest Restaurant is locally owned.  I've been partial to their egg roll salads.  The retail space to the right in the image was formerly a PDQ store.  PDQ had very good baked goods and a delightful staff.  Holiday remodeled their store directly east across Centerville Road and raised the bar on food and service.  PDQ is gone.

Ownership is often difficult to define.  When one sees a standalone single retail outlet it's probably locally owned.  Marianne's Kitchen is a good example.  We have one location on the planet.  When you visit Asia's Finest Restaurant you can ask for something special or talk to the people responsible for the food.  It's possible that this Noodles & Company is locally owned, perhaps a franchise.  Franchise operations pay a significant percentage of revenue to the corporate entity who also defines the menu, specifies the suppliers and trains the staff.  Most corporate food franchises are set up so you really don't have to know anything...and that usually shows.  The food is often prepared elsewhere, items are pre-portioned and it does not take much more than a high school teenager to put the product in front of you.  Most food venues are lucky to have a 5% profit after expenses.  Franchises pay from three to twelve percent of revenue to the corporate organization.  The only place to make up that fee is in food quality and labor costs.

This is also an opportunity to show why small business is a challenge.  Really, who would put a quasi-Asian restaurant next to an Asian restaurant?  Usually it comes down to money.  Undoubtedly Noodles & Co. signed a long term lease and they have deep pockets and the building owner probably followed the money.  Hopefully patrons will continue to patronize Asia's Finest Restaurant.  It's not much different than Caribou which started here in the Twin Cities.  They had some money and located where the independent coffee places had shown market the demise of most independents.  At a point Caribou sold out to a German company which was good for the Caribou stockholders and now locations have closed.  If your are looking for a locally owned coffee place I can recommend Limu Coffee in New Brighton.

And so it goes.  We have a good relationship with our building owner and it's unlikely that we've have competition in the same building.  Quite a few corporate food outlets have opened just north of us on Lexington (Noodles & Co., Pot Belly, LeeAnn Chin, Five Guys, Chipotle and soon Raising Cane's).  It's fine that people go there.  We all eat different things to keep life interesting, but we change it up all the time, we work to learn your names and we personally thank you because we really do care.  We can't franchise our special customers and we can't franchise what we do.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Bayport...great windows and Great BBQ

The Twin Cities is fortunate to have a great, innovative window manufacturer in Bayport.  Thursday evening after closing Marianne's Kitchen at 7:00 PM we started out on our recurring quest to find food other than our own (which we truly like) to eat.  With no particular destination we headed east on HW 36 towards the St. Croix chatting about the days when St. Paulites headed east to the river to escape summer's heat.

Turning off southbound HW 95 onto the the one-block downtown of Bayport.  Next to a closed Mexican restaurant which always meets John's interest in finding a good taco was a 'BBQ' sign.  Parking in front we walked in and met by the owner, Chris.  Bayport BBQ is warm and inviting and along with great barbeque is also a wonderful blues venue.

They close at 8 PM weekdays so we focused on eating.  Food is offered up in a short buffet line.  All of the meat options were just fine.  Our single pass through the buffet line included pulled pork, beef brisket, pork spare ribs, sausage, coleslaw, baked beans, potato au gratin and yellow squash and onion.

We've heard that Bayport BBQ will soon be featured on Triple D by Guy Fieri.  That will created a long, long line to get in so you may want to go now.

Bring cash or checks (no plastic) and enjoy a delightful family-owned and operated meal.  Chris, his wife and three teenage kids are the staff.  We're
going back one of these weekends for a meal and blues!