Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why We Don't Usually Eat at Bars: A Conversation at the Herkimer

Judy: Hmm. I guess I'll have a coffee - wait, do you have skim milk?
Waiter: Sorry, ma'am, we don't have any milk.
Judy: No milk?
Waiter: No. We don't have any milk.
Judy: Well, what if I just wanted a glass of milk on the side? Could I just order a glass of milk?
Waiter (maintaining admirable patience): No. We don't serve milk.
Judy: What kind of a restaurant doesn't have milk?
Waiter (glancing meaningfully towards the bar): Well, we could give you a shot of tequilla.

Judy (many times throughout the meal and again whenever we mention the Herkimer throughout the week): No milk. I just can't believe that a restaurant doesn't have milk.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

In the Phone Book under "A"

A Baker's Wife Pastry Shop
4200 28th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55406-3123

I don't remember exactly how I discovered "A Baker's Wife". I mean, it's in the neighborhood, so I was probably just at the hardware store next door, when I smelled the deliciousness and had to stop in to see if the taste was as good as the smell. I like to think of that first visit, even though I don't fully remember it, because it represents a divide in my life. The time in my life before I knew about "A Baker's Wife" stretches behind me dark and gray and full of horrid Crispy Creme donuts. In front of me is a time when Saturday morning can mean really good coffee in styrofoam cups and pastry so good it makes you have to close your eyes for a second so you can get lost in the taste of it.

If you go, get the chocolate croissant. Or on second thought, maybe don't, because if you do, it will furnish you with all of the will-power you need to avoid eating chocolate croissants anywhere else in the world (even, possibly, France). You will never want to eat another one that doesn't come from Gary's inspired oven. I have a friend who doesn't eat Cheetos because he once heard about how good they were on the assembly line fresh out of the cooker, and when he gets a bag all he can think about is that he's having a second-class Cheeto experience. After your first bite of "Baker's Wife" chocolate croissant, it will be like that for you and all other chocolate croissants.

A safer order might be the creme brulee danish. Nobody else makes such a thing, so it won't ruin it for you at other bakeries. In fact, who would have thought of filling your danish with gorgeous creme and then browning sugar on top of it? I'll tell you who. A baking genius. That's who. When you order this danish, glance sideways at people around you. They will be nodding slightly, as if to say, "Good choice, my friend. You are someone who knows about this little Minneapolis secret."

Then again, you might just want a donut. Forget everything you know about cake donuts at bakeries, and bite into something that more closely resembles a mini-donut all growed up. They can give it to you plain, or they can roll it in cinnamon sugar for you. Either way, the outsides will crunch as they yield to your teeth, and the insides will melt in your mouth. You will wonder just how you could have bought a piece of perfection for so little money.

Money is the one thing I don't understand about "A Baker's Wife". Here they are serving the best pastries in town, and they charge about half of what anybody else does. You can go there with $2.00, and leave with a donut, a cup of coffee, and some change. Or you can splurge and spend $1.69 on your pastry and get the danish or the croissant. $1.69, really, what year is it? In my day and age, people would easily give you $2.50 for such deliciousness. But don't tell Gary.

There's a hand-drawn sign in the shop with two pac-man heads having a conversation. One of them says "Do you have anything low-fat and low-calorie here?" The other one says, "Water". In the corner, someone has written the words "True story". So don't embarrass me, after I told you to go there, and expect to stay on your diet. We're talking pastry here. Fabulous, cheap, top of the line pastry. We're not talking "Splenda" and "Olestra".

"A Baker's Wife" is under "A" in the phone book due to creative alphabetizing. It also receives an "A" from me for spoiling me on many dozens of weekend mornings. Oh, and it's closed on Mondays, just like the Walker.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Across the River and Over the Hill to Mill City We Go

Mill City Cafe
2205 California Street #102
Minneapolis MN, 55418
Phone: 612 788-6188

Years ago, we used to sometimes go to Mill City Cafe for breakfast. It was an unassuming coffee place with full breakfast, and the eggs are cooked on a stove and not steamed in the espresso maker, which is an unspoken requirement for all coffee-places-turned-breakfast-joints, at least for this overly-particular crowd. And, of course, when I say "unspoken", I really mean loudly repeated whenever one of us suggests a place with coffee or cafe in the name. Mill City also sports probably the best breakfast patio in town. Today, however, in our fair city, it's nearly 20 degrees below zero, and the patio played no role in our decision to try Mill City again after a long absence.

We were driven away from Mill City Cafe all of those years ago by live coffee house music. I'm not the best judge of the quality of music (listen to me sing all three songs I know all in the same one note with approximately the same rhythm, and you will know why), but I do know that in a place the size of Mill City, the music intruded on our conversation.

Today, the place was blessedly quiet. Mill City has also received a face-lift. It's classier now. A little less unassuming, and more like the kind of place you might bring a date. The menu is about the same though: Chorizo Breakfast Burrito, Biscuits and Gravy, and Quiches of the Day. Poor Fern wanted her usual breakfast burrito. We all saw it on her face, but she forced herself to get something else to prove to us that she didn't. Beau and Rachael both got it, and the two of them seemed the happiest of all of us with their meals. Judy and I got two of the quiches and we agreed that while the light, flaky phyllo-type crust was delicious neither filling particularly thrilled us (mine had artichokes and mushrooms and Judy's had asparagus and bacon).

The only really bad thing about the meal were the potatoes. They were sad little roasted potatoes, dry on the inside, and soft on the outside, even the few of them that looked brown. All of us who got potatoes left some of them behind. We're a family who cares about the quality of our potatoes, and I predict that we will not be back to Mill City until one of those rare summer mornings before the wasps come when we can eat on its lovely patio.

The group grade hovered around a B-. Not bad. Nice atmosphere. Nothing to write home about, but we did leave with full stomachs and we didn't have to wait for a table.