September 28, 2021

Canadiannpizza

Cooking Is My World

The 5 best things our food writers ate in the Twin Cities area this week

8 min read

Afghan chicken korma from Ariana Kabob & Gyro Bistro

Yamah Sadozai’s parents, Jamila and Farid, grew up in Kabul. When they came to the U.S. 35 years ago, they became a part of Minnesota’s tiny Afghan community. The family, which runs a St. Louis Park restaurant devoted to Greek-style street food with a touch of Afghanistan, is once again seeing turmoil in their homeland.

It “definitely takes a toll,” Sadozai said. “It’s a lot deeper and more stuff going on than what people see and think. The struggle is every day.”

Since the situation in Afghanistan has dominated the news, orders for the two Afghan dishes on the menu have surged. One is an appetizer of eggplant stewed with tomato and garlic and topped with yogurt, a popular dish that takes up to three days to assemble. I tried the other, a fragrant Afghan chicken korma, or curry. Made exclusively by Jamila Sadozai, it can change from batch to batch, but always comes boldly spiced with coriander and cumin.

The two dishes, staples of an Afghan household, are holdovers from when the restaurant opened in 2013.

Soon after opening, the family “ran into a problem,” Sadozai said. “We felt in a quick-serve setting that Afghani food is not the way to go. Especially with the love and the care you put into the cuisine, it’s best suited to a slower setting where you have table service.”

So the family “studied up” on Turkish and Greek street food and transitioned to the menu it has now: mainly Mediterranean döner and gyro sandwiches. The seasonings lean more toward fresh lemon and oregano, but the Sadozais still like to add blasts of turmeric, cumin and coriander cooking as a crossover. Sides of a fluffy pita, Greek salad and astoundingly crunchy fries with whipped feta (don’t skip those) are surprising and spot-on accompaniments to that comforting curry. (Sharyn Jackson)

7115 Cedar Lake Road, St. Louis Park, 952-546-8000, arianabistro.com. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

Doughnuts at Old Fashion Donut Shoppe

The first few times I drove past the Lamplighter Square strip mall in Crystal, I didn’t notice the plain, unlit sign over one of the units. All it said was “Donuts.”

But this past week, I took a closer look, and stopped short when I spotted Old Fashion Donut Shoppe, a family business that’s been in this spot since 1980. It was started by Darrell Mead, who had been a head baker at Red Owl in Brainerd, Minn., when he moved his family to the Twin Cities. Mead retired last August and his son Jeremy has taken over.

“It’s all I’ve ever done,” Jeremy said. “I started working when I was in fifth grade every night after school, and I’ve been here since.”

The $1.10 raised, glazed or frosted doughnuts are lofty and light. While they come from a mix, the texture and that almost-crackling browned exterior is an art left up to the person at the fryer. “It just comes with time, I believe,” Jeremy said.

If you want one, act early. The regulars wait for the doors to open each day at 5:30 a.m.

“You could set your clock by them,” Mead said. (S.J.)

2720 Douglas Drive N., Crystal, 763-544-1680. Open 5:30 a.m.-noon Mon.-Sat.

Show You pizza at Pau Hana

First things first: A big thanks to Lake and Irving’s Chris Ikeda for testing the waters south of the river with a pop-up in a vacant Perkins — during the height of the pandemic.

An even bigger thanks for making it permanent. Pau Hana is a breath of fresh air, bringing Hawaiian regional cuisine to Minnesota.

A wood-fired oven is front and center, literally. It’s hard to pass up pizza, especially ones with originality, and the Show You pizza is exactly that. Tender shoyu-braised short ribs were the topping that drew us in, but the miso corn cream stole our hearts. And when the two are combined with confit garlic, pepper-brined fresh mozzarella, pickled red onions and green onions, the results are magical.

Be sure to try some of the other flavor combinations — the Green Flash has macadamia nut pesto! Non-adventurous eaters can build their own pies.

Of course, there’s more to Pau Hana than pizza. The menu offers a well appointed selection of appetizers, entrees and sandwiches (the Kalua pork is a favorite). A very, very long list of rum and tequila gets at the heart of Pau Hana, which loosely translates to “done with work,” and in Hawaii is used to describe drinks after work with friends. Count us in. (Nicole Hvidsten)

14435 Hwy. 13, Savage, 952-447-1322, pauhanamn.com. Open 4-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 4-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Sweet corn ice cream at Sonny’s Cafe

Around mid-August, owners Ron Siron and Carrie Gustafson quietly slip this glorious seasonal treat, a 20-year tradition, into their shop’s scoop case.

“Carrie loves sweet corn and would eat three or four cobs a day,” said Siron. “We decided to experiment, just for us.”

They eventually settled on a winning formula and made it available to their customers. Siron and Gustafson fashion a base by cutting kernels off the cob and infusing the cobs in cream. The kernels are pan-fried in butter, then sparingly added to the corn cob base, and the results ($4.95 for one scoop, $8.95 for a double) are remarkable. Like all Sonny’s ultra-luscious ice creams, the creaminess factor is off the charts, and the sweet corn aura sneaks through as a whisper rather than a shout.

“Our customers are used to us making fun flavors, but they have to taste good,” said Siron. “Some of them wrinkle their nose when they see [sweet corn], but when they taste it, they are wowed.”

Count me among the wowed. And no wonder it’s so delicious: The sweet corn hails from a premium grower, Nistler Farms in Maple Plain. Farmer Jeff Nistler and Sonny’s are both vendors at the Mill City Farmers Market.

Just as sweet corn season doesn’t last forever, there’s a small window of opportunity for enjoying sweet corn ice cream at Sonny’s. Siron and Gustafson pull the plug on Labor Day. (Rick Nelson)

3403 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-3868, sonnysicecream.com. Open 5-9:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3-9:30 p.m. Sun.

Pulled chicken sandwich at Toma Mojo Grill

After months of staging weekend pop-ups around town, owners Paul Backer and Michael Knox opened their restaurant on Aug. 16. It’s a major boost to the western suburban quick-service dining universe, and a reflection of the premise that good restaurants (in this case, Tilia in Minneapolis, where Backer cooked and Knox worked the front of the house) are the launchpads of more good restaurants.

Backer’s menu is anchored by carefully composed hoagie-style sandwiches, leaning heavily into Portuguese- and Spanish-style chicken and pork, plus vegan sausage, all accompanied by a flurry of colorful, flavor-packed sauces.

That chicken! Griddled and roasted, it’s juicy, tender and tasty, and liberally splashed in an herb-packed sauce ($9.29). Its appeal is head and shoulders above what’s available on the yawn-inducing Jimmy John’s-Subway-Potbelly-Jersey Mike’s circuit.

A shrewd attention to detail is evident in all directions. Side dishes ($2.79 to $7.29) impress for their flair and nimble execution, including crispy fried Brussels sprouts, brushed with a citrus-herbal glaze, or a lemony farro-quinoa-barley salad, brimming with crunchy pumpkin seeds, snappy radishes and creamy avocado. Even the chocolate chip cookies — nicely tender, almost crumbly, and packed to the rafters with chocolate — are a cut above ($2.50 for one, $7.50 for four).

“The chocolate chip cookie looks like a chocolate chip cookie, but we’re trying to turn them up to an 11,” said Knox. “With everything we do, we’re trying to take something that appears simple and get as much flavor as we can into it, while keeping it approachable and recognizable.” (R.N.)

12977 Ridgedale Drive, Minnetonka, tomamojogrill.com. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

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