Fine Wine & Dine: Closer to Fine

Recently, there has been quite the hubbub over the fine dining scene in Minneapolis, in particular. What has been thought of as the crown jewel, La Belle Vie, is closing. Vincent A Restaurant will be done at the end of the year. People are talking, wondering, making last pilgrimages to La Belle Vie as one would visit a friend who’s not moving away, but moving on completely. You’ll find me in Vincent’s bar before every show at Orchestra Hall before the new year, ordering my usual: the Vincent Burger, poutine, and a mini-crème brûlée. This time last year, I was in this dining room for Restaurant Week, enjoying a more upscale entrée.

When I think of an evening out, rather than just eating out, I tend toward nicer places, with an emphasis on the middle. Much like the rest of my life’s style. Not black-tie formal, not super-casual, but business dress. Not an extrovert, not an introvert, but an ambivert. Not so fancy to be out of my element, not too humble to be less-than-remarkable, but a comfortable, quality in-between. Such meals are my spin on fine dining, which is hardly on point. So, I have to wonder, what is fine dining? What’s considered fine dining in our metropolitan area in particular? And, in a more useful tone, what would be considered the finest wining and dining to be found in some of the menus around the towns? I asked and I received some great guidance from some knowledgeable voices of people with a great breadth and depth of experience. I hope you find it to be engaging and educational as well.

6Smith. Photo by Hubert Bonnet
6Smith. Photo by Hubert Bonnet


At this moment in time, under these circumstances in the restaurant scene in Minneapolis, I’m grateful to have consulted with the ever-gracious Chef Tim McKee, the man behind La Belle Vie and the development of other restaurants such as Libertine, Chino Latino, Manny’s, Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ & Pirate Bar, Barrio, Sea Change, and Masu Sushi & Robata. Being a James Beard Award Winner and the man whose restaurant just auctioned off its final meal for $37,000 to benefit the Share Our Strength charity that works to end childhood hunger, he’s a good one to ask about what fine dining means. No, there will not be one set definition of the term, but his definition is a good place to start.

“One thing is that we talk a lot about fine dining and what it means; fine dining to a lot of people is misunderstood,” McKee explains. “A lot of people’s definitions would fall into the fancy dining categories. For me, I have a pretty specific understanding of what fine dining is and this is through years of experiencing it throughout the country in different ways.”

And here’s where we split the hair, leaving us with food, service, and style that all create the total fine dining package. “When you’re talking about the upper end of dining, it’s not just the food. Having exceptional food is part of what makes the experience, but you can have exceptional food without it being fine dining.” McKee clarifies, “It has to have an elevated style of service. The appointments of the dining room have to be finer. A lot of what we call fine dining is casual dining, done exceptionally well.”

Randy Stanley, owner of 6Smith on the waterfront in Wayzata, agrees with the assessment that fine dining is defined by a high level of quality, and the execution of the three elements that make a restaurant a restaurant: food, service, and atmosphere. “For a fine dining establishment to be considered fine dining, the foods should be creative and on point with the concept, raw products should be the finest, and likely, most expensive available, both perfectly and consistently executed. The service should be flawless and seamlessly delivered by experienced, well-trained employees committed to the industry. The atmosphere should be upscale, refined, and luxurious.” 

Many of us draw on memories from our childhoods when we set our expectations for fine dining. In the case of Olivier Vrambout, owner and chef of L’Etoile du Nord in Bayport, his childhood was in Belgium, and his family ate at many “old castles and Michelin-star restaurants where the waiters would wear white gloves and hold your chairs as you got up to leave. The decors of the inside were stark, and almost museum-like.” Though that was 25 years ago for Vrambout and dining is more casual now, he acknowledges that “there are still some places where you would need to dress the part to feel comfortable in the environment. And, I think dressing up is a part of showing respect to the chef or owner — who dedicate themselves to the harsh working hours of the business.”

Much of what fine dining involves is what we as diners come to expect. What do we want to experience, above and beyond a tremendous meal? “Fine dining diners expect an ambience with soft lighting, linen-covered tables, fresh flowers, candles, and beautiful china and glassware,” says Michelle Jensen, general manager of Café & Bar Lurcat next to Loring Park in Minneapolis. “Fine dining service requires an exceptionally educated staff. On the floor, they are confident and showcase points of service that you won’t see in our neighboring restaurants. Synchronized service, swarm clearing, giving the guest the right of way — we acknowledge and welcome every guest that walks past us, fold their napkins when they leave the table and before they return, carry beverages from the bar to their table for dinner, as just a few examples,” Jensen offers. “Our seasoned staff takes great pride in their craft.”

Josh Duffy, general manager of Campiello in Eden Prairie, echoes the sentiment that fine dining has changed over the last 10 years. “The atmosphere of the fine dining restaurant has been relaxed a little; however, one of the things that separates fine dining restaurants and other restaurants would be the attention to detail. For example,” Duffy explains, “we may not have dress codes any more, but we make sure our servers are serving and clearing with the correct hand from the correct side of the guest. We also refold the napkin if a guest excuses themselves from the table so the table looks perfect at all times. These are the types of little things that guests with a lot of fine dining experience notice and appreciate.”

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Masu Sushi & Robata. Photo by Mike Hnida
Masu Sushi & Robata. Photo by Mike Hnida

Blurred Lines
Will Selin, corporate executive chef at Masu Sushi & Robata

When I think of fine dining in the Twin Cities today, I think of Piccolo, Tilia, and Restaurant Alma, among others. Of course, they don’t have the same focus as La Belle Vie with linens and service, etcetera. You don’t have that experience of being awed and intimidated when walking into the dining room. There were more restaurants like that in the ’50s and ’60s. Today fine dining is more approachable. The lines are more blurred between fine and casual dining. Today fine dining is defined more by the chef’s finesse, and farm-to-table conscientious consumption. It’s about chefs that spend the time to do their research, take the time to perfect their craft. They make a point to stay current with food trends and ingredients. In this town, we expect the guy whose name is on the door to be the person who is actually cooking the food.

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So what is the future of fine dining? “The closing of La Belle vie speaks volumes,” says McKee. “People, at least in this region, aren’t as interested and don’t value fine dining as much as they once did. That’s been on a decline in this market and it has been for quite some time. We saw the 510 come and go, Goodfellows come and go, D’Amico Cucina come and go. Evidence of the decline. But we also saw the proliferation of the casual restaurants that don’t have the formality or pomp and circumstance of fine dining. They’re not as imposing as fine dining should be. You have to have a lot of experience to be truly comfortable in the fine dining restaurants and there’s a cost that comes with it. Nationally, the trend is prevalent. There’s not nearly as much focus on fine dining nationally as there is the exciting new, accessible restaurants. You could go to these restaurants every day.”

And many of us do. When I think of how simply wearing what I donned in the morning for a day of work and pulling out my smartphone to make a reservation on an app can mean I’m going to have a high-quality meal at a mid-range price this evening, it’s just that easy. I had to do nothing to prepare myself for a fine meal by people who know their craft and their audience. Like spinning a globe and seeing where my finger lands, it has to do with being open to a bit of adventure, within the limits of what’s available. And we have a nice, full set of options here.

“Fine dining revolves around the overall experience — a culinary adventure,” says Ryan Cook, chef de cuisine at Sea Change. And in that vein, we have fine dining in spades.

Eric Dayton, owner of world-renowned restaurant The Bachelor Farmer, is familiar with the evolution of dining in Minneapolis. As said by Dayton, “I think fine dining today emphasizes the quality of food and service, just as it always has, but without the formality that defined it in the past. The Minneapolis restaurant scene has come a long way over the past 10 or so years and will only get stronger, but I think you’ll find that white tablecloths are going to become increasingly rare.”

As an innovator in the food and drink scene with The Marvel Bar holding its own beneath the blue-and-white-gingham tableclothed restaurant, Dayton is now developing a more casual eating space that will house a niche both literally and figuratively in their set of buildings in the North Loop. Having moved their flagship Askov-Finlayson store and offices to the building next to The Bachelor Farmer, there will now be space between the buildings for a food and drink garden. It will be a one-stop destination for formal and casual fare, with the option of checking out some Warby Parkers to boot.

As Vrambout observes, “Today I think people want to enjoy a great, creative meal in more of a come-as-you-are manner. Decor now is livelier, more open, more inviting. Menus are more balanced between a combination of fusion and cultural ingredients. Ingredients are more about their source. The ingredients tell the story, a know-your-farmer, know-your-food kind of thing.”

A less starched-collar environment lends itself to authenticity of experience. By being relaxed, the diners can take in what’s coming to them. Jensen tells us that the folks at Café & Bar Lurcat consider it to be a “very approachable fine dining experience versus the uptight feeling that some guests feel when dining in a place that doesn’t feel comfortable and welcoming because of the stuffiness stigma.” One that they hone to be as versatile and welcoming to many different people.

Wise Acre Eatery has perfected the art of knowing itself, its place, and its people. On Nicollet Avenue in South Minneapolis, it’s a restaurant owned by a farm, led by a chef with Southern roots, and “falls smack dab in the middle of formal and casual dining,” says general manager Caroline Glawe. “The building is an old gas station filled with chunky wooden tables built from salvaged wood. The floors are concrete, the walls baked enamel. Staff wear clothes reflective of their personal style. They do not crumb tables. They do, however, offer freshly cracked pepper, are knowledgable about the wine list, can speak of the farm where most of our food is grown, and sincerely care about the customer experience.”

I can attest to this personally as I’ve shared many a meal there with friends, eating out of jars and admiring just how attentive a staff can be without an ounce of pretension.

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Wise Acre Eatery. Photo by Isabel Subtil
Wise Acre Eatery. Photo by Isabel Subtil

Morphing Through Time
Caroline Glawe, general manager of Wise Acre Eatery

I think fine dining, dining out in general, morphs over time. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the trend was nouvelle cuisine with an emphasis on plating and presentation of food prepared in a lighter, healthier style. By the time the ‘90s hit, the nouvelle cuisine movement finally hit Minneapolis and you saw restaurants like Lucia’s excelling at food simply prepared and exquisitely plated. Molecular gastronomy was on the heels of nouvelle cuisine, bringing its science, and pushing the boundaries of what we understood food to be. Currently, the conversation involves local farms and farmers, who are often highlighted on the menu itself.

At one time, fine dining demanded white linen tablecloths and napkins, book-size wine lists, and formally dressed back waiters at the ready to crumb tables. I think we as an American people have found great comfort in casual. We no longer dress up to board an airplane, bedroom slippers are accepted foot attire for grocery shopping, and the dress code for dining out is comfy casual. Friendly, knowledgeable service trumps snooty pretension. Fine dining rings of special occasion.

These days, we (thankfully) see more women leading the kitchen, proving that leading a kitchen is not a gender-specific vocation. Sadly, we also see chefs following the casual theme song. Yoga pants and holey jeans replace professional chef attire, leaving one wondering when we will see nurses and firefighters working in their play clothes.

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Many of the experts I talked to mentioned the shift in not only where and what we prefer to eat, but how we prefer to dine. The meal becoming more of a group activity is being seen more and more at the high-quality restaurants. As Chef Tim McKee says, “How do I like to eat personally? La Belle Vie was one expression of that. At Chino Latino, I like to try a lot of little things. I like to have a lot of different tastes. A communal dining experience — look at what we did at Solera. I don’t need a 21-ounce steak. Instead, my preference would be to take six people to go to Libertine and pass plates. It’s like the question: what do you have in your refrigerator? I always get asked that, and I always give a different answer.”

Randy Stanley of 6Smith concurs: “The coolest trend that I love in dining out right now is seeing a group of people order a bunch of appetizers, share a couple of entrées, a few cocktails in the middle of the table and then finish it off with three to four desserts. It creates an instant party and a bond with all of the people you are dining and sharing the experience with. Maybe that is the new standard for family dinner?”

And Michelle Jenson at Café & Bar Lurcat chimes in that such a group dining experience is “a trend that our staff enjoys because it gives us an opportunity to encourage guests to try new things. We all agree that this style of service and ordering is what we restaurant enthusiasts enjoy when we get to dine out.”


As someone who’s not a food professional, I want to ask the experts what to eat. I prefer to skip places where I order at a countertop and get a number for my table, unless it’s a casual, low-context meal. What I want is to learn from the server, glean from them what’s to be known about the menu. I’m the one saying, “Okay, between these two completely different entrées, which one would you pick?” And I’m always happy. Order what I order and we’ll both be gloating about it later. So, I asked the professionals about their menus and they answered.

Eric Dayton, The Bachelor Farmer
We don’t do set tasting menus at The Bachelor Farmer, but I often create my own by starting with an appetizer, then having a toast course, and then an entrée. Or you can just come in and have a single dish and a beer, and I think people appreciate that flexibility. In terms of specific dishes, our menu changes so frequently with the seasonal availability of ingredients that if I recommend something now, by the time this story goes to print, it’ll probably be gone and our chefs will be on to something new.

Michelle Jensen, Café & Bar Lurcat
Chef Adam King and his talented team rolled out the new fall menu on October 15, which has a number of highlights. Starters: duck and foie gras wonton soup; braised Nueske’s bacon with hoisin brandy and compressed Asian pear; apple, cheese, and chive salad (of course). Entrée: adobo-marinated Berkshire pork tenderloin with apple, hazelnut and cheddar bread pudding; rabbit with Riesling and roasted winter vegetables over house-made egg noodles; Chilean sea bass marinated in miso. Vegetables: caramelized Brussels sprouts; roasted cauliflower. Desserts: dark chocolate profiteroles with salted caramel ice cream and spiced pecans; hard cider caramel cheesecake with apple walnut crumble.

Josh Duffy, Campiello
A well-rounded fine dining-style meal at Campiello would come in three to four courses. First, it would include an order of calamari and/or bruschetta to share for the table. I would then recommend our house salad that has been a staple at Campiello for years, though you really can’t go wrong with any of the salad options. I would then recommend the balsamic-glazed short ribs with spaghetti or the pork porterhouse chop with fruit mostarda for the entrée course, with at least one side item to share (I recommend the Brussels sprouts). To finish, I feel like the best dessert on our list is the butterscotch budino. 

Ryan Cook, Sea Change
At Sea Change you’ll find seafood that you won’t find anywhere else. I’d recommend starting with oysters from the raw bar and move on to the abalone. I’d pair it with something sparkling.

Caroline Glawe, Wise Acre Eatery
Every dish on our menu is well thought out by Chef Beth Fisher. Each element made from scratch in a kitchen void of corn syrup (nothing from Sysco!) and filled with the highest quality ingredients. Whether you come in for a bowl of chili at noon or a multi-course dinner on a Saturday night, you’ll get a meal made by cooks who care that they are using ingredients from our farm, a farm farmed beyond organic, which is pretty fine.

Olivier Vrambout, L’Etoile du Nord
At L’Etoile du Nord our menu can change two to three times a week based on what ingredients are coming into season at the local farms. Currently on our menu, I would consider the rabbit terrine with dried cherries and stoemp potato croquette a great fall dish to be enjoying right now.

Will Selin, Masu Sushi & Robata
Sit at the sushi bar and order the omaka se from Chef Asan Yamamoto. Omaka se is our chef’s choice sushi assortment, and Asan is easily one of the best, if not the best, sushi chef in town. You can see your meal being prepared, and you get a real appreciation for the thought, creativity, and passion that go into your food. It’s both great food and great entertainment.

Randy Stanley, 6Smith
Most of the dishes at 6Smith have a degree of difficulty in execution which raises them above the norm. Most guests can’t tell you why something is better than down the street, but it is noticeably better. You can pretty much order anything and both see and taste the difference.

The Bachelor Farmer. Photo by John Reed Forsman
The Bachelor Farmer. Photo by John Reed Forsman


The drink scene has its darlings and, while it’s been focused on craft beer and microbreweries in the past and is recently doting on new local distilleries and cocktail rooms, wine has been a constant. Perhaps people are returning to the multiple layers of alcohol that seemed to accompany the fine dining of yore, dipping into a number of the categories of drink.

My grandfather was big on taking us to the golf club and moved from afternoon beer on the golf course to pre-dinner martinis, to dinner martinis, to an after-dinner grasshopper, to end with a brandy and bénédictine to round out the evening… and I loved catching a taste of every float of that drink parade. It was ritual and rite all rolled into one that seemed to occur whether we were at the golf club in Litchfield, Eddie Webster’s in Bloomington, Manhattan Beach by Crosslake, The Safari South in Spicer, or even the Mai Thai in Excelsior (okay, the Mai Thai also usually included a flaming volcano drink with long straws). If more had been available to him, he would have likely still stayed the course on the usuals. But, today, the entrepreneurial spirit of invention and imagination that has been applied to beer, wine, and spirits means that our tastes can be staid or trend toward flights of fancy as we please. So what pleases the professionals?

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Too Much to Say About Wine
Olivier Vrambout, owner and chef of L’Etoile du Nord

There is too much to say about wine in general, and it’s a matter of preference. I prefer to drink — and serve — wines that are biodynamic, organic, and sustainable or made in small batches, and tell a story.

Some old grapes are starting to come back. I am a big fan of Burgundy and pinot as well as others, such as chenin blanc. I think wines from New Zealand, South Africa, and Croatia are slowly carving a small market on the wine shelves.

If I had to say, my favorite red wine right now would be Ken Wright Cellars pinot noir out of Oregon. It’s a beautiful, well-balanced wine. It’s an ideal fall wine, perfect for the cooler evening temperatures, and it doesn’t overpower just about any dish. A great, really fun white wine that I just discovered is from Fausse Piste winery. It’s a blend of chardonnay, pinot blanc, and sauvignon blanc out of southern Oregon. Fun, fun, white wine. Another is Chateau d’Orignac Pineau des Charentes. It’s a French apéritif made from a blend of cognac and red grapes aged in oak. It goes especially well with chocolate, pâté, duck, and cheeses. I would have to say that would be my absolute favorite.

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Tim McKee
It depends on my mood. It depends on what kind of experience I want to portray. It’s pretty complicated. I can’t tell you want kind of wine is my favorite wine. Sometimes I’m really interested in Proven
çal wines. Or cabernet sauvignon. Or Spanish wines. It’s really as much my mood as what would be the perfect pairing. The cocktails? That would be different as well. If I’m interested in pairing, I’d rather pair my food with wines. Sometimes I just want something refreshing to pair with what I’m eating. And sometimes I just want a cocktail. We have an explosion of amazing bartenders doing amazing things and I want to take that in. While I love a lot of them, it’s rare for me to say that “this is my drink and I’m going to have it every time I come in here.” And there’s always Grain Belt.

Eric Dayton, The Bachelor Farmer
I’ve really been enjoying chardonnay from the Jura region of France recently; it has a flavor that almost resembles sherry. As the temperature outside cools, I start to prefer richer white wines along with red wine. And then down in Marvel Bar, this is old-fashioned weather in my book.

Michelle Jensen, Café & Bar Lurcat
We have rolled out the new cocktail and wine list as well. We are so excited to feature so many wines that you can’t find just anywhere. Our bar managers are so proud of the new additions. Featured white glass pour: falanghina, Alois, Caulino, Italy 2014. Featured red glass pour: blaufränkisch, Hopler, Austria 2010. We are also excited to offer the super Tuscan, ‘promis’, Tuscany, Italy 2011 by the glass as well as new cocktails.

Josh Duffy, Campiello
Martinis, Manhattans, and bourbon; white wine should be an arneis, while recommended reds are barbaresco, brunello, and super Tuscan.

Ryan Cook, Sea Change
At Sea Change we make barrel-aged cocktails; we currently have an orange Manhattan that I think is pretty cool.

Caroline Glawe, Wise Acre Eatery
My current wine feature is The 7% Solution, a group of renegade California winemakers making wine from grape varietals outside of the same eight grapes that 93 percent of California vineyards are planted in. All are either organic or biodynamic. Skin-fermented whites (orange wines). A fabulous Petulant Natural. And we have great wine cocktails. I love my list right now.

Will Selin, Masu Sushi & Robata
At Masu we offer a sake tasting flight and recently introduced a whiskey flight that gives you the choice of three different imported, artisanal Japanese whiskeys served neat with a glass of ice. They’re two great, entertaining ways to introduce yourself to, or learn more about, these categories. I’m personally a huge bourbon and whiskey fan. I have a private collection of several hundred bourbons at home that I’ve collected over the years. My dad and I have established a father-and-son tradition of going to Kentucky two to three times a year to sample the new whiskeys and bourbons. In addition, later in October, I’m part of a team from Masu that is going to Japan, and we’ll be studying food trends and touring several Japanese whiskey and sake breweries. Specific domestic brands I’d recommend are Heaven Hill, Elijah Craig, Thomas H. Handy, and Evan Williams, which is a nice, approachable option.

Randy Stanley, 6Smith
I am particularly fond of the wines from small producers and families around the world. They are a particular value in most cases, and you can’t beat that handmade quality only found in small production wineries. My favorite wine is any wine in my hand right now.

What can we conclude about fine dining? It’s changing. It may still exist in some semblance of what we remember from the past, some etiquette and pomp and circumstance may remain. And it’s changing. Diners are more engaged and restaurants are more transparent in their operations and sourcing. Fine dining might now be fancy dining which might actually be high-quality dining which might truly be the restaurant on the corner whose chef we run into at the grocery store. Get out there and stay educated and engaged. Explore and learn. Wine and dine.

Sea Change. Photo by Hubert Bonnet
Sea Change. Photo by Hubert Bonnet



The Bachelor Farmer

Cafe & Bar Lurcat

Eden Prairie

L’Etoile du Nord

La Belle Vie
See also Parasole,

Masu Sushi & Robata

Sea Change

Wise Acre Eatery

From the Editor: Send Pastries

Oh, the 2014 Holiday Gift Guide. It’s a fun issue to put together; I really enjoy seeing what the columnists give us for wish lists and must-haves. There is so much to find out there, so much to see, for different price ranges and interests. And, to cap off a wonderful inaugural year of introducing Lav.fash to the consumers of Lavender Media (both magazine and online), we have a wonderful 14-page section of fashion and style for you, in time for the holidays and new year. I want to personally congratulate and thank Justin Jones and Brandon McCray for not only conceptualizing but also executing a whole new style and fashion section for us, bringing in tremendous talent like Kyle Lieberman as photographer and Hollie Mae Schultz as subject and collaborator. They have developed their presence through the year and have polished their product with aplomb. I can’t see what next year holds for Lav.fash.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Always. Still. As usual. It’s how I operate, particularly during the holidays. There are people to see, events to enjoy, dishes to cook, presents to wrap. Our Editorial Calendar Year (ECY2014) is coming to a close and I’m looking at ECY2015 as being yet another one of growth and greatness. It’s a bit of anticipation to add to the chaos.

One of my usual cries for help when I’m frazzled is, “Send pastries.” Like the Bat Signal, I send it up when I really need to acknowledge that things are a bit crazy. Or, like a big WARNING sign, it’s a way to tell people to just stay away from me while I get things under control. Rarely does it actually result in someone sending me pastries, but it has actually happened, just as if Santa had beat up Krampus. The holidays tend to be stressful, whether self-imposed or not. So, I take matters into my own hands and make my own damn pastry. And it is glorious.

What pastry? I make my Great Grandma Bergquist’s Swedish Kringla.

I have the recipe committed to memory, but I still open the Dassel Home Circle Cookbook, first published in 1960, for Grandma B’s words (though they were attributed to Mrs. Arvid Bergquist instead of Sara Bergquist, before rural feminism). It’s a ritual. And, about whether it’s “Kringla,” “Kringle,” or “Kringler,” I don’t care.  I’m sure there are cultural implications about one being Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, or “other,” but I still don’t care.  If Sara says it’s Kringla, it’s Kringla.

In a nutshell, this version of Kringla is basically a choux pastry puff on pie crust slathered in icing.  Simple, huh? If not, feel free to find this article on the Lavender website for step-by-step photos. Be sure to send up the Pastries Signal if you get stuck.

Swedish Kringla

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup Flour

1/2 cup Butter 

1 T Water

Pastry Ingredients:

1 cup Water

1/2 cup Butter 

1 cup Flour

1/2 t Almond Extract

3 Eggs

Icing Ingredients:

1 cup Powdered Sugar

1 T Butter 

1/2 t Almond Extract

2 T Half & Half (or Milk…something

creamy that makes it more spreadable)

Sliced Almonds



Put all of the crust ingredients in a small bowl.  Sara’s directions say to make it like a pie crust…this means that you should cut the (really cold) butter into the flour and add the (ice cold) water slowly as it’s needed. I decided not to follow Sara’s directions entirely and used room temperature butter and threw the water in right away. Rebel. I use a pastry cutter to mix it together, but two knives held with a fingertip between them could do the trick, too. Or a fork. Or a food processor. See? We kind of fudge the rules these days and it all usually turns out just fine.

Kringla 1 Kringla 2 Kringla 3

Mix together the crust ingredients and split the dough in half, rolling each half into a ball.

One ball at a time, press the dough into two strips that are about 12″ x 3″ on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. Set it aside.

Kringla 4


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the water and butter in a medium saucepan over HI heat.

While waiting for it to come to a boil, get the rest of the ingredients for the pastry out and ready to go, including a spatula and an electric beater.

As soon as the water and butter start to boil, pull the pan off the burner and immediately throw in the cup of pre-scooped flour. Mix with a spatula until flour is incorporated.

Add the first egg and use the beaters to blend. Add second egg and use beaters to blend. Add third egg and use beaters to blend. Add almond extract and use beaters to blend. This entire add/blend process might take about a minute or two.

Kringla 5 Kringla 6Kringla 7

Take the spatula and split pastry batter in half. Scoop the first half onto one of the crust strips and spread it out. Try not to leave too many peaks or valleys as that’s how choux pastry tends to bake…what started as a sharp little peak will remain one, albeit brown and a little too crispy. The point is to place the pastry on top of the crust, not to cover the crust in pastry like frosting. Get the difference? Like how the creamy middle of an OREO sits on the chocolate cookie without completely covering it. Do the same with the second half of pastry.

Kringla 8

Place sheet in oven and set timer for 55 minutes.

Check in on the baking pastry…it should puff up and be unattractive like brown crusty pillows.  Don’t worry–it needs to puff to cook the egg mixture inside. It’ll calm down.

Kringla 9


While the pastry is baking, make the frosting.  As you’re doing it, it may not seem like it’s making much…but believe me, the flavor packs a wallop.

Throw all of the ingredients into a bowl and blend with the electric mixer.  Scrape down the sides with a spatula to make sure it’s all blended in and scoop your finger in for a taste.  Yum.  Almond joy.

After you take out the pastry, let it sit for 5-10 minutes before spreading on the frosting. Then, spread half the frosting on one, the other half on the other. Sprinkle some sliced almonds on each, I used about 1/4 cup for each Kringla.

Kringla 10

Kringla 11

Kringla 12

Cut your Kringla into slices at an angle…or straight across, whichever you prefer. Leave them as larger, longer pieces or cut them in half to be more the size of bars. I recommend eating the batch within a day or so as (even in an airtight container) the icing tends to harden and then seep liquid after a while. Plus, warm pastry atop a buttery flaky crust smeared in almond icing deserves to be consumed while at its best. Fresh.
Enjoy the holiday season, enjoy each other. Enjoy the pastry.

With you and with thanks,

From the Editor: Culinary Arts

Dinner and a show. I grew up with the romantic notions of what life must be like as an adult, getting to go to dinner and a show. Raised in the country about an hour from The Cities, I envisioned magical places like the Orpheum, the Guthrie, and the Ordway being set in the clouds somewhere. Getting to go to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres was the cat’s meow, something I didn’t get to do until I was in my thirties. Today, in my late thirties, I still dress up for a night at the theater, I still get excited by the lights and the curtains, and I always look forward to dinner and a show.

I was 16 years old when I saw my first stage production in The Cities. I’d saved up my money and made the plans with my friends, Rachel and Sherry, to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Ordway in St. Paul. We ordered our tickets and got them in the mail. An ad for Forepaugh’s was included with the tickets; it said that we could ride a free shuttle to the Ordway if we dined there before a show…we made reservations with relief that we didn’t have to figure out how to get there ourselves. Somehow, Sherry drove us in her parents’ Taurus to St. Paul in rush hour, got us to Forepaugh’s in Irvine Park, and the night was ours. I remember that I ordered veal medallions in a cream sauce that I spilled on my blouse and tried to cover (probably unsuccessfully) with my mom’s necklace that I’d borrowed. We felt so fancy to be shuttled to the Ordway and everything was so bright and exciting. I sat in the center of the third row and was aghast with delight as the famed chandelier soared above my head, accompanied by the hammering organ chords. It was a night I’ll always remember.

Still in high school, I had a few other memorable opportunities to see big stage productions. When we were juniors, my friend Anna and I got tickets to see Miss Saigon at the Orpheum (on OPENING NIGHT!) and dined at the Nankin before making our way through protesters to the red carpet (RED CARPET!) and through the gold doors to the opulent lobby. Years later, I laugh about the Nankin but still take very seriously any protesters who dislike the portrayal of particular cultures in what we call our Western Canon. As a senior, I somehow won tickets to the Guthrie and my friend Sharayla and I went to Dream on Monkey Mountain at which I not only saw my first play (I was a musicals buff), but my first dancing naked man (again with the buff). Talk about the arts opening us up to new experiences; we were pretty shocked and had to try hard to maintain our decorum and not giggle ourselves out of the theater.

Now, at more than twice the age I was then, I see more than my fair share of shows. I pinch myself, because going to the theater is part of my job, even. My experiences have grown to include smaller venues and more obscure productions that have only broadened my horizons. I’ve figured out my beaten paths so that I always know where my Jeep is parked, no matter which theater I emerge from in the dark of night, in a standing-ovation stupor. I’ve even figured out that sometimes it’s easier to do a show then dinner. What? A late supper? Only fancy people do that! But when work runs late and there’s bound to be a line of cars to get out of the parking ramp after the show, why not spend that time noshing at a nearby establishment?

Looking at this issue, our Food & Dining Pairings have me dancing with anticipation. Some people look forward to brackets and fantasy football, I look forward to plotting shows and meals. And, since I live on the Green Line in St. Paul, this new light rail method of transportation puts a fantastic number of venues within walking distance of mass transit—it’s a game-changer. I’ll choose Zen Box Izakaya or Sanctuary to pair up with shows at the Guthrie via the Green Line’s Downtown East stop; Meritage or Pazzaluna or Saint Paul Grill for shows at the Ordway or Park Square Theatre via the Green Line’s Central stop; Black Sheep Pizza or Sawatdee for shows at The Fitz or the History Theatre via the Green Line’s 10th Street Station, or pretty much any downtown show and restaurant via the Green Line’s Warehouse District or Nicollet Mall stops. The opportunities are rich and plentiful…and easy.

We have such talent in the Twin Cities. I’m not only speaking of the theaters and actors and directors and writers and singers and artists, but also of our culinary stars. I’m a person who values experiences more than gifts and, in terms of what we have here in our midst, our arts scene is a gift. Take advantage of it as best you can.

Best of luck to the stars of stage and kitchen as we start this Fall Season of theater. Thank you for enriching our lives as you do.

See you in the seats,


Slice: Wisconsin’s Pizza Harvest

Fall food made with just-harvested vegetables on a farm is a delicacy. Though there are now a number of “pizza farms” near the Twin Cities that serve pizza made in outdoor ovens throughout the summer and into fall, I always choose to wait until fall to go to what I consider to be the original, AtoZ Produce and Bakery, just across the border in Wisconsin. I could just give curt instructions for getting your grub: Check the menu, place your order, watch for your number to be flipped to, and wait a matter of five minutes for your piping-hot pizza to be sliced and handed to you as you pay your bill. Find a place to eat and take your garbage with you. I’m a bit too wordy for that, though. Through the years, I’ve gathered a few more tips to share for making your own trip to the place where pizza grows in country idyll.

Leave Early and Know How to Get There. AtoZ Produce and Bakery (aka, the “Pizza Farm”) is closest to Stockholm, Wisconsin. Every Tuesday they make pizzas from 4:30 to 8:00 at night which means that people can leave their 9-to-5 job, travel through rush hour traffic, and make it to the farm in time for pizza, but I’ve done it and I wouldn’t recommend it. If possible, leave a couple hours early and give yourself time to get through the East Metro with as little frazzle as possible. Depending upon your start point, the trip could take an hour or two. I usually take I-94 East through St. Paul to US-61 South, and the cross over to Wisconsin on US-10 East. Then, once across the river in Prescott, Wisconsin, I immediately turn right onto WI-35 South, the Great River Road. Follow that famous road all the way to Stockholm and take in the scenery. Once you’re in Stockholm, it’s a good idea to either use a GPS or printed directions to the address of AtoZ Produce and Bakery. Those methods have never let me down and always bring me directly to the country road with the Liberal Catholic Church on it, which signifies that I’ll be seeing the Pizza Farm next.

Pre-Order Your Pie and Plan for Ambling. Stockholm, the town closest to the Pizza Farm, is located on the Great River Road of Wisconsin. Low in population but high in charm, Stockholm has a variety shops and welcomes the GLBT community with open arms. I always visit the art and home gallery, Abode Stockholm, and get some coffee (while my friends pick and choose their beer) at Stockholm General, owned and operated by Alan Nugent and Steve Grams. Ingebretsen’s has a charming store in a historic building and I also swoon over kitchen wares at The Palate. We called ahead to the Stockholm Pie Company and ordered two pies to pick up on our way to the Pizza Farm, a chocolate cream and a apple-berry cardamom crumble pie. You won’t regret incorporating that step into your trip. Then, since the stores close around 5:00 but we didn’t want to get to the farm until later, we went up the hill to Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery for apples, wine, and cheese. Find more information at

Pack as Much Ambience as You Want and Pick Where You Want It. You’re going to have dinner on a farm. Some people choose to do it picnic-style and bring blankets to sit on with paper plates and plastic utensils, which is a fine way to enjoy your pizza supper. I’ve seen people bring a dîner en blanc with them, wearing all-white clothing and dressing their table and chairs in white linen, all of which paint a romantic picture against the country setting in the twilight hours. We had a little drizzle this last time I was there, so we went directly to the one building with chairs and tables, The Coop, and found two tables that could be pushed together to accommodate our nine-person party and, though we weren’t out under the stars, we very much enjoyed our dining experience in the warmly lit coop. These fall nights when the sun goes down early call for lighting, so bring your own flashlight or candles. Do not do as I did and carefully prepare and bring a centerpiece of mason jars with lovely green candles in them that were scented–nobody wants spiced pear competing with their pizza fragrances.

Appreciate the Process and the Product. This is a working farm with real animals and crops. Care is taken to provide an attractive and environmentally friendly gathering place with well-kept buildings and a composting restroom. The beauty and draw of the Pizza Farm is the fact that we’re eating pizza on a farm with food that was grown there and baked in an oven right before our eyes. Something I just learned this last time I was there is that to get the oven hot enough for baking our pizzas with speed and efficiency on Tuesday nights, it’s lit on Sunday. And on these chilly fall nights, it’s nice to hover by that fire watching the pizzas emerge, bubbly and hot, aromatic and crisp.

Order a Variety of Pizza and Watch the Magic Happen. When you approach the buildings on the Pizza Farm, the one with the oven is where you should aim. Just this year, to comply with Wisconsin laws, the Pizza Farm no longer allows people to carry in their own alcoholic beverages, but you can buy beer and wine in the same building as the pizza oven; enjoy the local favorites at reasonable prices. There’s a large chalkboard with that night’s menu on it and, though the pizzas run a little high in price, they are of great quality and flavor. The pizzas are the destination, so plan to savor them. Instead of a tomato sauce, sliced tomatoes are incorporated with the toppings and then roasted atop the pizzas as they bake in the hot ovens. These are not your cheese-monster gooey slices of pie as found in traditional pizzerias, but are artisan-style in their carefully chosen combinations of flavors. My favorite version of all time incorporated slab bacon, but all of the varieties have proven to be popular with the pizza eaters in my parties through the years. Squash, beets, lamb, pesto, olives–all sorts of flavors can be found at the Pizza Farm. Order a number of pies and share liberally. Our party of nine had three pizzas this year…but a party of four scarfed four a few years ago. It all depends on what else you bring for side dishes and how ravenous rush hour or shopping have made you.

Follow the Rules. No pets. Bring cash or check, no plastic. Don’t touch the electric fences, consider all fences to be electric. Park where the signs indicate. It’s an operating farm, not a petting zoo. Don’t go tromping through crops, stay on mowed paths. Mind your children and your unruly friends. And, most importantly…

Pack It In, Pack It Out. Bring a bag for garbage or recycling because everything you bring that has packaging has to leave with you, as well as your new pizza boxes that your meal comes in and the bottles of beer or wine that you buy. We split up the garbage and recycling between the people in our party and each took some of the waste home to continue our Pizza Farm experience by being environmentally responsible.

Mostly, Eat Slowly and Breathe Deeply. You’re away from the city and rush hour and obligations. Put the smartphone down (or Instagram everything like I do), just make sure you relax as you’re doing it. It’s a sensory experience, so use your senses and actually experience the farm as a last hurrah before the snow flies.

AtoZ Produce and Bakery (the “Pizza Farm”)
Tuesdays, early Spring – Thanksgiving
N2956 Anker Ln.
Stockholm, WI  54769