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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.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Brunson's on Payne Avenue...Yes!!

I'd like to start by saying that today's meal was a completely vindicating experience.

Recently we were served 2 bad meals...in fact, very, very bad meals...one meal that made me ill...meals lost in time from an era when eating commercial processed food was the norm and such meals were considered 'great'!   That time is long past---at least for a lot of people who are thinking about what they eat, where the food is sourced, and what 'fresh' and 'food' really mean.   We like to eat food.

So, with that intro, let's talk about what made an absolutely delightful lunch at Brunson's Pub.

The old Schwietz's Saloon on Payne Avenue (that place was an institution) became Brunson's a little over a year ago.   The chef is from Mississippi, and that informs many of the choices on the menu.   But this menu is all about food.

We know we're in trouble when we want to order more choices than we could eat this week.  Luckily, there are some small plates and half-size dishes, so we could try more options.

We opted for:   1) the black eye pea hummus with veggies and crostini 2) the Hoppin' John warm salad, and 3) Watermelon Radish Salad (we'll work our way thru the menu in good time).

The black eye pea hummus plate--what a refreshing twist on a traditional hummus plate.  We love hummus.  We love great, warm pita bread.  We love
a drizzle of olive oil.   The black eye pea salad had NONE of these...so how could it be so good? 

The flavor of the black eye pea hummus is rich and complex, and you can couple it with the fresh veggies (for those avoiding gluten, this is the way to go) or nibble it on the very thin and crispy crostini or both.   It's a good size appetizer, so we thought ahead and asked for a box to take half home for later snacking : )

On to our main dishes for lunch.   The Hoppin' John warm salad achieves a new level of 'food'.   Now, you have to remember that we sold organic, vegan, gluten free, no added salt mixes at Marianne's...and
we made sure we had hoppin' John on the shelf for every New Year...the traditional time that hoppin' John is consumed...to make it easy to put this on your table.   We also served tons and collards and black-eyed peas, prepared using traditional methods, and sometimes with a current 'spin'.   The hoppin' John salad at Brunson's kicks this up another notch or two...or three!!

The collards are crisp tender.  There are gorgeous, flavorful pieces of house-specialty 'pulled bacon' plus black-eyed peas, rice (just enough), corn, grape tomatoes...all in a perfectly paired vinaigrette and served with corn bread (this was the overall weakest element of our meal--it needed either a kick or more sweetness on top).   The collards here are beyond wonderful---not tough, warm and perfectly dressed so that the true collard flavor shines through.   Everything in the salad is balanced....a fabulously updated spin on collards and black-eyed peas.

Now, let's talk about that watermelon radish salad.  Recently, we had lunch at Blackbird in Minneapolis---great food.   There, we enjoyed the butternut squash salad---a layering of wonderful ingredients--art for the eye and flavor for the palate.  The only drawback on that salad was that some of the roasted squash turned out not to be roasted--a distracting element from the overall nicely composed salad.

Brunson's watermelon radish salad achieved that final step to greatness!!!  Constructed, in much the same way that Blackbird's presentation was constructed, the fresh arugula created the main theme while each and every other element joined into a perfect harmony.  Fresh raspberries, edible-size pieces of fresh orange, the most beautifully thinly sliced quarters of watermelon radish---sliced to show off the beauty of this vegetable and to make them very approachable.  Add some goat cheese, toasted pecan pieces, red onion (these slices were just a bit too thick in comparison to their companions)...and add a citrus vinaigrette that ties the dish together in a way that you don't really taste the 'dressing'--you have a marvelous composition with each singer completely on key.

(this is where we took issue with our $50 dinner at the other place---there, wilted brown lettuce and aged cucumbers and a sprinkling of carrots were supposed to be doused with bottled dressing to make a 'salad'---sorry, but that's so 1950s; substitute iceberg and it WAS the salad at Hafner's Bowling Alley on White Bear Avenue or the long-gone rib joint near E Minnehaha and McKnight Road (in the 1950s-- I was there)--or even more recently, at Meister's in Shoreview (if you add croutons)).   These places have been left behind as 'food' becomes important and interesting.  If your favorite 'dressing' is ranch out of a bottle, you might as well not read any of our reviews--it won't turn out well.

We would rate the watermelon radish salad that we were served today at Brunson's among the best salads we've ever eaten.  We were sharing, so we each grudgingly passed that salad plate back across the table, in fair turn.  Luckily the other dish we were sharing at the time was the warm black eye pea salad--also an exceptionally good dish--so it was fairly easy to be 'fair' 😓

I am always looking for food.  It is still very scarce in many parts of the Twin Cities.   But without driving very far, excellent food is served at Brunson' Pub on Payne Avenue in St. Paul.     

p.s.   There are reports of 'slowness' in getting your meals at Brunson's.   We checked out the kitchen (there's a second prep kitchen--on another floor--so everything has to be carried up and down the steps)--they are turning out great food in yet another postage stamp sized kitchen which means you can't really fit a 'team' in there, and servers are running it long distances.   So, at busy times, expect a wait.   Today the wait was reasonable because it was Monday lunch (no rush)---we can understand how this may be a lot more challenging with a full house. Plan accordingly.



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