5 best things our food writers ate in the Twin Cities this week

From babka to banana cream pie, here’s a rundown of our dining diaries’ greatest hits over the past seven days. What were your top eats of the week? Share the details in the comments section.

Apple cider doughnuts at Sweetland Orchard

After 10 years of practice, Gretchen Perbix clearly has apple cider doughnut production down to an art form.

At the picturesque orchard she owns with her husband, Mikeit’s a 40-minute drive southwest of downtown MinneapolisPerbix keeps several doughnut-making weapons at her disposal.

First, she fashions a concentrated version of the orchard’s vivacious apple cider, which perfumes the doughnuts ($1) with a hint of gently sweet fruitiness. Second, her frying vehicle of choice is lard, an extravagance that results in an ideal texture: firm, almost crispy on the outside (which is tantalizingly browned and twinkling with sugar), yet wonderfully tender and caky on the inside, and nary a trace of grease.

Perbix seems to have a somewhat aw-shucks attitude regarding her stellar achievement.

“There’s nothing too magical about the ingredients, but with doughnuts, everything matters,” she said. “The batter temperature matters, the oil temperature matters, the mixing time matters. I wanted to make a scratch doughnut because that was something that I could be proud of.”

If I were Perbix, I’d be bursting with pride, because I’ve never encountered a more impressive apple cider doughnut. (Rick Nelson)

26205 Fairlawn Av., Webster, 651-252-4337. Open 3 p.m.-dusk Fri., 10 a.m.-dusk Sat.-Sun., probably through October. “As long as the weather is pleasant to be outside, we’ll be open,” said Perbix.

Banana cream pie at Pie & Mighty

My friends laughed when I showed up to a picnic, bragging that I’d “won” this pie in a lottery. To clear things up, I won the chance to buy the pie, not the pie itself. Anyone who’s ever attempted to purchase one from Pie & Mighty knows what an achievement that is. The wildly popular pies from co-owners and spouses Rachel Swan and Karen “Ratchet” Mattison are notoriously hard to come by, so much so that they had to implement a lottery rather than a first-come-first-served model once their weekly stock was selling out in less than five minutes.

“We just want to make the best pie we can for as many people as we can,” Swan said.

Each week, recipients of their newsletter (it’s call the “Pie Loop” — sign up here) have about a day to enter the drawing and choose what they would buy. Randomly selected winners get the thrilling news over e-mail, and pay for their pies via Venmo. At the moment, Swan and her team are turning out about 200 pies a week; they get requests for more than 1,000.

“It’s the electronic equivalent of the bingo ball tumbler,” Mattison said.

Luckily, my number was called. I selected two of the three pies available that week — fragrant pear cardamom in a gluten-free crust, and this beauty of a banana cream pie in a sweet-and-salty graham cracker crust. To make the filling, Swan steeps bananas in milk and cream for up to two days. It’s Swan’s favorite “special occasion pie,” but jacked up in flavor.

“I have a thing — is it banana cream pie? It should have the flavor of a real banana. Not imitation banana or Jello-O banana pudding. Banana.”

Before she immersed herself in the world of pie, Swan’s background was in front-of-the-house hospitality. One of her positions was general manager of Pizzeria Lola, and having worked in pizza before pie, “I have this theory about round food,” she said. “Basically, you’re getting people around the table. Looking at each other, talking to each other, sharing moments that you can’t purchase.”

When Pie & Mighty went brick and mortar earlier this year, the goal was to expand the offerings. The shop opened March 14, Pi Day, “and the world shut down the next day,” Swan said.

It’s now operating as a walk-up window until the standing-room-only space can safely welcome guests. Get there early to try for a slice or whole pie before they sell out. Or just enter to win. (Sharyn Jackson)

3553 Chicago Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-2132. Takeout only, 3 p.m.-7 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 9 a.m.-noon Sat.

Green’s chocolate babka

After 25 hours without food (it was Yom Kippur), this was what I wanted to break my fast. The Brooklyn bakery Green’s has been churning out babka — that’s the Eastern European yeasted cake swirled with gooey chocolate or cinnamon filling — for decades. I always devoured their chocolate babka at holiday gatherings with my family in New Jersey. Not being able to be with family this year, I really, really wanted the babka.

The day before the holiday, I stopped in to Cecil’s Delicatessen and found it the freezer case, along with bags of frozen rugelach; I got one of those in the cinnamon variety, too. (I also grabbed a jar of pickled herring and a can of Dr. Brown’s diet black cherry soda, because clearly I was in a mood.)

I was skeptical that a babka, mass produced in a New York production bakery and shipped frozen in a plastic bag to Minnesota, could live up to my imagined hype. It did. It hit all the texture marks: chewy, flaky, mushy, crunchy. Flavor-wise, it’s not so much chocolaty as it is decadently sweet. It took me a while to work off the sugar-on-an-empty-stomach jitters. It’s not an everyday treat, but after a day without food, that babka was worth praying for. (S.J.)

Sold at Cecil’s, 651 Cleveland Av. S., St. Paul, 651-698-0334. Delicatessen open daily 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Chicken TV dinner at Saint Dinette

I’ve been a member of chef Adam Eaton’s fan club since the day this Lowertown hot spot opened in 2015, not only for his obvious culinary talents but also for his sly sense of humor. Both attributes are readily apparent in Eaton’s current menu, an affectionate ode to Midwestern cooking that’s wittily named “Ope.”

Of course, while he finds inspiration in the Banquets and Swansons of the frozen food aisle, Eaton’s refined versions ultimately resemble their supermarket counterparts in name only.

Fried chicken, the centerpiece of Eaton’s nostalgic take on the frozen TV dinner ($19), is a perfect example. After an overnight cure, the chicken is battered with buttermilk and eggs, dredged in flour that’s lightened with cornstarch and baking powder, then carefully fried until it achieves a tantalizing crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on the-inside contrast.

Green beans are lightly pickled in apple cider vinegar to give them a jazzy pop, and pasta shells get the mac-and-cheese dream team treatment with a sauce made from, yes, Velveeta (“Liquid gold,” said Eaton with a laugh) blended with equal parts cream cheese and finished with a two-year aged Cheddar, “So you can get some funk in it,” said Eaton. It’s fabulous, as are the tender Parker House rolls.

Then again, everything I sampled on the “Ope” menu was a treat. For example, I was practically raised on tuna hot dish, but my late mother would not have thought to cure albacore tuna and then confit it in garlic and olive oil, or rely upon an anchovy-forward pop of bagna càuda to ramp up the oceanic flavor.

Next time I’ll brave the Snickers salad, a church cookbook staple that I inexplicably managed to ignore, despite my current predilection for inhaling every sugarcoated complex carbohydrate within reach.

“In the end, it’s kind of a crème caramel custard base that we load up with textures and goodies,” said Eaton. “Right now, we’re just thinking of fun and playful ways to survive.” (R.N.)

261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-800-1415. Takeout only, 4-8 p.m. Thu.-Sun.

Strawberry fruit leather at Twin Cities Berry Co.

Wait, locally grown strawberries, in October? Andrew Petran is making it happen.

On a few rented acres near Northfield, Petran is putting into practice the agricultural methods he championed in his doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota.

“Instead of becoming a professor, I decided to give my mom a heart attack and start a farm,” he said with a laugh.

Berry-craving Minnesotans should be thankful, because Petran’s considerable efforts have a gigantic payout in the form of juicy, fragrant, ruby-red, just-picked berries, long after the traditional and painfully brief midsummer growing season.

(His technique involves covering plants in finely meshed nets, a win-win situation that eliminates the use of pesticides and increases yields).

To maximize revenue, Petran has branched out into a few value-added products. While the farm’s A-grade harvest is reserved for farmers market shoppers (as well the produce department at the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis), any less-than-pristine berries don’t go to waste. After educating himself via YouTube how-to videos, Petran has become a jam maker, and a recent gift of a dehydrator has him branching out into fruit leather ($10).

The formula is simple: puréed berries, a small amount of sugar, a splash of lemon and an eight-hour shift in the dehydrator yields a chewy, not-too-sweet, vividly colored snack; no store-bought fruit roll-up that I’ve tasted has ever matched such an intense wallop of berrylicious flavor.

Petran introduced his fruit leather last week, and their immediate popularity is one reason why he has become a farmers market believer.

“It’s the direct feedback from grateful customers,” he said. “As a farmer, that sort of moral reinforcement is so nice to receive. The idea that I’m creating something that’s valuable enough for people to pay for it is personally satisfying, because I know that I bet on myself, and I won.” (R.N.)

Mill City Farmers Market, 750 S. 2nd St., Mpls., Open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat.

 

 

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