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When chefs Mike Ryan and Matthew Bickford left their fine-dining careers to open Be’Wiched, the restaurant community expected great things. After all, Ryan had held key positions in the kitchens of local power players D’Amico Cucina and Restaurant Alma, and Bickford had cooked at Solera and La Belle Vie. So their decision to do sandwiches at Be’Wiched was a bit of a head-scratcher. Sure, they were making a really good egg-salad sandwich, but people do not drive across town for an egg-salad sandwich. Reviewing the place was nearly impossible. What was there to say? Egg salad: better than usual! From a couple folks who you’d figure could pull it off.
Recently, however, Ryan and Bickford have turned their attention to making takeout dinners that have me wanting to trumpet the news from the rooftops. Here’s how it works: You call Be’Wiched during the day to find out what they’re making. Perhaps it will be turkey galantine (a turkey cut into fillets and rolled up around a savory filling). Perhaps it will be a pot roast. Perhaps it will be something that combines the intelligence and technique of a four-star kitchen with the down-home vibe of a sandwich shop, something like a deconstructed pastrami sandwich in which a savory bread pudding envelops chunks of house-smoked, house-spiced beef brisket.
If you decide you want what Be’Wiched is offering, you can swing by on your way home, add a salad, some soup, and maybe a treat like the Meyer lemon bars (little squares of pastry topped with the richest, freshest, liveliest, tangiest lemon curd imaginable and garnished with a sprinkle of even-tangier candied Meyer lemon peel). You go home, you pop the entrée into a warm oven and you bust out your nicest china and pour yourself a glass of wine. Badda bing, badda boom! You’re eating like you’re in a white tablecloth chef-driven restaurant—in your pajamas, if you please.
Be’Wiched is on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis, in close proximity to the I-394 entrance ramp, Highway 55, and I-94. Which probably explains why there are now a bunch of savvy Twin Cities food-lovers who have standing dinner orders: Every Monday and Thursday, say, they pick up dinner on their way home from work. These people, in other words, have managed to achieve all of the convenience of a personal chef—at a fraction of what Steven Spielberg pays for his.
What to Order: The “home-meal replacements,” such as roast pork with braised greens and borlotti beans; soups, like the spicy Cajun seafood bisque, made with lots of shrimp and chunks of white fish; and a spinach salad with smoked apple vinaigrette and spiced pecans.
800 Washington Ave. N.,Minneapolis
While I was working on this story, I ricocheted from one corner of the Twin Cities to another: tasting, questioning, and hunting. As I did, news of economic calamity just kept coming, and coming, and coming. It started to make me feel panicky, and every once in a while, I’d want to seize an old person by the shoulders and demand: How did you do it? How did you make it through the Great Depression, recessions, oil crises—all the bad times? Then I realized the answer was right under my nose. The secret to eating well—the secret to getting quality food made of easily understood ingredients when you’re working three jobs—is to explore your grandparents’ convenience foods: Our old-school butchers will set us free.
Really. A monthly stock-up stop at Minnesota classic butcher shops like Hackenmueller’s, Ingebretsen’s, Morelli’s, Kramarczuk’s, or Ready Meats can forever free you from the need for takeout. How? All these have freezer cases full of butcher-made comfort foods, like meat loaf or lasagna designed to rest happily in your freezer until you suddenly find yourself with nothing for dinner. And then: ta-da! The best defense is a good offense. All of these places also adhere to an old model of shopping: Namely you can often get in and out the door in 10 minutes, as opposed to the half-hour it takes to portage through the big supermarkets just to get to the milk.
I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite old-school butcher. I love Ingebretsen’s for the freezer case full of Swedish split-pea soup, herring, Swedish sausage, and famous Swedish-meatball mix. But Ingbretsen’s is well-known, so I direct your attention to the underappreciated, no less fantastic Hackenmueller’s, which I adore for their porketta roasts, smoked pork chops, frozen loaves of meat and ham, meat sauce and chili, chicken-and-dumpling soup, cream of chicken soup, pea soup with ham, stuffed cabbage rolls, lasagna, and incomparable potpies. Pop one of these pies, still frozen, in your oven, put a baking sheet or piece of foil on the shelf below to catch any drippings, and bake till crispy: You’ll be astonished—the crust is exquisitely flaky and the filling creamy and full of chicken. To me, they taste exactly like the childhood I never had, one filled with warm quilts, aprons, little snowman candy dishes and grandpa fixing the handle on my little red wagon. It’s pure American comfort, which is the same way I’d describe the feeling of having a freezer full of Hackenmueller’s sturdy dinners for when the day goes pear shaped.
What to Order: Chicken, turkey, and beef potpies; meat loaf; house-smoked sausages; porketta roasts; frozen quarts of split-pea soup with ham.
Hackenmueller’s Meat Market
4159 Broadway Ave.,Robbinsdale
For some odd reason, Americans associate Chinese food with takeout. This is peculiar because, generally speaking, Chinese food makes terrible takeout. Texture and color are huge concern to Chinese cooks, and takeout containers are the enemy of texture and color. They make crisp fried things turn gummy, bright vegetables become dull, and silky noodles sticky. But there is a way to avoid this: When you order Chinese, focus on soups, barbecued and smoked meats, braises, hot-pots, and other dishes that can be transported well; you will find the sweet compromise between the food you want and the food the way the chef intended it to be. Oh, and order Szechuan. All the best Chinese spots in Minnesota right now are Szechuan, and they are spicy, spicy, spicy. The numbing, burning, tingling ma po tofu—that silky dish of tofu cubes in a fiery pork sauce—is a must-order at any of the Szechuan restaurants. It’s great—and about as unchanged by the takeout experience as Superman is by bullets.
My favorite Szechuan place remains Little Szechuan in St. Paul, which also happens to be one of only two restaurants in all of St. Paul for which you will consistently wait for a table (the other is Casper & Runyon’s Nook). The food is phenomenal—and phenomenally hot. The people of the Szechuan province believe that there is a sixth taste to food, the quality of ma la, which translates roughly as “tingling and numbing,” which you may think of as “excruciating” or “delightful.” Some dishes at Little Szechuan are cloaked with a sauce that looks like tomato sauce but is in fact a thick purée of some of the hottest peppers known to man.
Get a takeout container of something hot, like the ma la fish fillet with tofu, pair it with something not at all spiced, like the stir-fried a choy (Chinese broccoli), and something rich, like the cumin lamb or house-braised beef brisket. You’ll have a meal that resembles one of those 1960s spiritual quests in which the hero eats mushrooms and wanders into the desert to experience talking dogs, flaming rainbows, and the meaning of life.
What to Order: Ma po tofu; ma la fish fillet with tofu; stir-fried a choy; cumin lamb or house-braised beef brisket.
422 University Ave. W.,St. Paul
GARDENS OF SALONICA
In January, New York Times health columnist Jane Brody wrote a series of stories on the current state of thinking about heart-health. In short, she found that everything we’ve been told for years is not quite right. Strict low-fat diets do little. Surgery is no panacea. The key to eternal life, however, may have been located, and it is in fact the Mediterranean diet, especially the Greek diet, in which lots of vegetables and fish are consumed with red wine and healthy fats like olive oil. Oh, and walnuts figure in there, too. I don’t know what other people got out of Brody’s wisdom, but I was thrilled: Greek food? I love Greek food!
King of the Greek takeout spots in Minnesota is northeast Minneapolis’s Gardens of Salonica. They sell all of their appetizers and salads by the pint and quart—like the classic green Greek salad with olives, feta, and pepperoncini, all made in the best possible way: simply, with good quality ingredients. Order one of those salads, add their garlic-rich, silky eggplant purée melitzana, their meaty fava bean purée, their marinated green-top beets, piaz (black-eyed-pea salad), some artichoke hearts, and maybe some braised octopus, baked cod, or pork skewers, and you have a feast that even your cardiologist could love.
What to Order: Salads, like the classic green Greek with olives, feta, and pepperoncini; eggplant purée melitzana; green-top beets; piaz; braised octopus; and pork skewers.
Gardens of Salonica
19 Fifth St. NE,Minneapoolis