When I went to the Chef Shack at the Mill City Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago, it was an almost suspiciously wonderful experience: My baby fell asleep in her stroller as we approached the market, there was a line of perhaps a scant three or four people in front of me—compared to the 50 hungry souls who commonly stack up—and they weren’t out of anything, so I ordered just about everything. Then I parked the baby in a shady spot and sat with my three-year-old on those steps behind the Guthrie and gorged on bison burgers, big sea-salt-flecked, earthy, perfect French fries, goat’s milk ice cream and much, much more. (Check out the September issue of the magazine, out next week, for more on that theme.)
As I sat there though, things got even more suspicious. A couple of women sat in front of me: “I’d eat every meal of my life here, if I could,” announced one.
Two men and a woman sat on a lower step from us: “This is the only restaurant worth going to in Minnesota,” trumpeted one of the men to his out-of-town guests.
I wanted to stand up and announce that this was overkill; the little-trailer-that-could was impressive enough without seeding the stands with ringers!
Later I called up Lisa Carlson, chef of the Chef Shack with her partner Carrie Summer, to get some details on what I had been eating. The conversation turned to Bacon Ketchup, the fabulous and unique condiment that turns the Shack’s grass-fed dogs into destination fare. And then she offered me the recipe for the blog! To which I cry: Uncle! Yes, fine. Chef Shack is the best restaurant in the history of creation. Catch it Saturday mornings until October 17 at the Mill City Farmer’s Market and Sunday mornings at the Kingfield Farmer’s Market until October 25. Then, when November arrives and you are shaking with misery and withdrawal symptoms, make yourself a batch of Chef Shack Bacon Ketchup and wait for spring’s return. Of course, keep in mind that Carlson has a Michelin-star-studded background (she cooked at London’s L’Escargot when it had two stars) and that like all such chefs, she operates by palate, not just measurements. She tells me that this recipe is where she starts but that she often adjusts salt, vinegar, sugar and spice quite a bit to taste. Still, I can’t believe we got it at all.
Lisa Carlson’s Chef Shack Bacon Ketchup
1 medium onion, diced into small pieces
10 raw garlic cloves, diced into small pieces
1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 32-ounce can Muir Glen whole peeled plum tomatoes, strained and chopped
4 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, destemmed, and chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
5 pieces of nice thick bacon (Carlson uses local bacon from Tim Fischer’s farm in Waseca.)
1) Saute onion and garlic in a tablespoon or two of oil until tender and caramelized.
2) Add brown sugar to caramelized onions and garlic, and cook a couple of minutes until well integrated. Add tomatoes, roast bell peppers, paprika, bay leaf, and fresh thyme. Simmer about one hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add balsmic vinegar at the end. (This will balance the sugar.)
3) Preheat oven to 350. Place bacon strips on a baking sheet in the oven until they are crispy all over. Drain on paper towels and dice into small pieces; fold into ketchup.
4) Done! Serve with hamburgers, French fries, grilled cheese, or anything else you wish had some bacon on it.