Top 10 Local Cookies! And One Heated Coffee Lover

I’ve been busy researching the best local foods available in grocery stores for an upcoming issue, and in my travels I brought home some sandwich cremes from Eden Prairie’s own Country Choice (they’re basically organic Oreos), and my kids were ignited by a firestorm of cookie passion. Not that we haven’t had cookies around before, but they’ve been mostly or entirely indifferent to them before. Now I’m constantly peppered with requests like: “Can I have a black-and-white cookie as an appetizer?” (Um, no, but you can have one as an amuse bouche.) All of this has got me thinking about the essential nature of cookies.

A good cookie must be: Above all, shelf stable. A cookie must be able to sit on a shelf for a couple days and enhance every day life. If you need to eat it within a day, it’s being a pain in the neck and it’s defying the spirit of cookieness. It should be interesting enough to catch your attention, but not so interesting that it requires your full attention—if a sugary little thing has so much going on that you can’t read a magazine article in its company, that’s not a cookie, that’s pastry. A good cookie should be so fantastically delicious that you really, really, really want one. Perhaps even as an appetizer.

In the Twin Cities, what cookies meet this criteria? I talked about this on the radio, on Facebook, and on the Current’s blog this week, and thus present to you a critic-curated, crowd-sourced view of the best cookies in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro:

1) The Bittersweet Chocolate Cookie from Rustica
Black as midnight, rich as George Soros, but easier to fit in a cookie jar, these cookies are nigh about perfect, so chocolatey, so rich, so decadent, so cakey, so tender… No one who has ever tasted them can resist the power of the Rustica Bittersweet! Available at Rustica, but also at various wholesale locations including the Surdyk’s cheese shop.

2) The Crack-eroon, or Coconut Macaroon from Salty Tart
How does Michelle Gayer make these macaroons so light, so sweet but not cloying, so coconuty and perfect? No one knows, but after you eat one you can’t ever take lesser macaroons seriously. The Salty Tart—soon to open a super-secret second location in the west Metro—also makes tart cherry oatmeal cookies and occasional variations in shortbread that have various cookie fans around town swooning.

3) The Chocolate Sea Salt Cookie, Lucia’s
I don’t know how I missed this one all my life, but no one else in the Twin Cities has this. Chocolaty, salty, from Lucia Watson, the great local chef, what’s not to like?

4) The Chocolate Chip Cookie, Birchwood
Obviously the contest for the best chocolate chip cookie is going to be a tough one – lot of people are saying Birchwood is best, though. I’ve never had them, I’m always drawn to the Birchwood’s irresistable pies, but maybe now I will.

5) Snickerdoodles, The St. Paul Classic Cookie Co.
Peanut butter cookies, snickerdoodles, and classic iced cookies are all specialties at this little St. Paul shop which tweets which cookies are fresh from the oven.

6) Frosted Malted Cookies, Two Smart Cookies
This St. Paul cookie specialist takes cookies seriously, with ambitious flavor choices including lime coolers and Mexican hot chocolate.

7) Macarons, Sweets Bakeshop
The inventive flavors at Sweets (now in South Minneapolis and also at the original Marshall location) make this the most spectacular of all hostess-gift cookies; I would walk 10 miles in the rain for the salted caramel, though I also love the rose, and the basil-mint.

8) Chocolate White Chocolate Walnut, Bars Bakery
Bars has made a name for themselves using good local Hope butter and taking homey treats like bars—and cookies!—seriously.

9) Ginger Snaps with a Real Kick, France 44
After hearing from several impassioned local citizens about the excellence of the spicy ginger cookies at France 44, I called to find out if they were available every day. “I was wondering why you didn’t mention us [on the radio],” said the nice woman who picked up the phone. “People are addicted. They’re the best.” She added that they also use their “Ginger Snaps with a Real Kick” as the outside of an ice-cream sandwich made with local Sonny’s ice cream. That sounds like perfection.

10) The Rest of the Best
In my search I also got votes for cookies from a few co-ops—especially the Wedge (Black Angus cookies) and Linden Hills (shortbread)— Patisserie 46, Patisserie Margo Common Roots, St. Paul’s PJ Murphy’s, French Meadow, Franklin St. Bakery, Surdyk’s, the warm cookie at the end of the meal at Ike’s, Sweet Martha’s, Butter Bakery and Café, Gigi’s Café, Cake Eater, Patrick’s Bakery, Dunn Bros, and the molasses cookie at Turtle Bread. Now who’s missing? I may turn this into a bigger story for the magazine, so if you’ve got a pick, let me know!

In other news…

How much coffee do you drink before you send off an angry letter to your local critic? Here’s the open letter I got this week, which both raised some interesting points, and made me laugh:

Dear Dara,

As a Twin Cities resident and a professional in the specialty coffee industry, I feel the need to write this letter regarding my experience with the dysfunctional marriage coffee and fine dining has in the place I call home.

My introduction to specialty coffee has allowed me to expand my palette and more fully appreciate all elements of flavors and culinary arts. Coffee can be as intricate and complex as a fine wine when treated right from seed to cup. What do I mean by seed to cup? Coffee begins as a small bean inside of a beautiful coffee cherry growing on trees around much of the equatorial world. After raw specialty coffee selectively is picked and processed, it is then exported and sold to the many roasters around the world.

We have several people in the Twin Cities that are currently roasting incredible coffee, and several more that are showcasing the talents of some of our nation’s best roasters with a multiple roaster model. The specialty coffee scene is just beginning to flourish in the Twin Cities as it has in many other major cities including Portland, San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago to name a few. A beautifully roasted and properly prepared cup of coffee or shot of espresso can change someone’s conception of what coffee can and should be. After tasting an excellently prepared coffee, it is hard to go back to the ashy tasting cups that many establishments are calling coffee in the Twin Cities. We deserve better.

This open letter is to bring up the notion that our local food critics may consider beginning to properly educate themselves with coffee. As our fine dining scene in the Twin Cities seems to expand and grow, and more incredible local restaurants are getting the city’s attention, I have found it is extremely rare that a food critic ever mentions the final note on the meal, the cup of coffee. That final note is a deserving part of the dining experience whether our critics and chefs want to acknowledge it or not.

Why have we as a major metropolitan city seemed to just ignore this much celebrated part of the meal in many other cities?

Is it acceptance of overly roasted and poorly extracted coffee as the norm? Is that just what we have come to anticipate and expect?

Why are we not speaking up and demanding more focus on this element of fine dining?

I can say that it has been my experience that even the best Twin Cities restaurants with the world’s best pastry chefs serve a cup of coffee that forces one to immediately reach for the cream and sugar. We as a food culture will pay premiums for high quality food, wine, and liquor, but why do our chefs feel like people will not pay that premium for an unbelievable coffee experience? My experience shows that they have and they will when offered it.

To me it seems simple. Food critics critique restaurants, and those restaurants grow and develop based on many of those critiques. If our food critics begin to give coffee the attention it deserves and critique restaurants for their roaster selection and coffee preparation, then our fine dining restaurants will be urged to improve. Without this critique, what motivation do they have to improve? If no one speaks up for good coffee, why change anything?

Noah Namowicz
Café Imports
Barista Guild of America Executive Council Member
United States Barista Championship Certified Judge

All right Noah. First of all, I’m reasonably educated about coffee. I used to write for a single-topic magazine all about coffee called Coffee Journal and have gone to enough cuppings to satisfy me for a lifetime. I’ve written about coffee for USAToday. I’ve also written about plenty of developments in local coffee lately; if you subscribe to the magazine you’d have noticed recent articles on the rise of third-wave coffee specialists like Dogwood, and my thoughts on Angry Catfish. Why don’t I talk about the coffee every time I write about a restaurant? Because I typically have about 1,300 words, at best, and there isn’t room to mention everything in the world. I leave plenty of things out. You sell coffee. Obviously you have an interest in coffee. I’m sure local cheese-makers and cheese importers would rather I focused more on the cheese. I know for a fact that local interior designers wish I would talk more about the firms that design the restaurants’ interiors, and local servers wish I would spend more time telling people how to be better customers. I personally could easily devote a couple hundred words of every review talking about the wine, but there isn’t room, so I can’t. Here’s what I can do: Would you like to write a story about the best and worst local coffee? If so, I’ll publish it here! Deal?