Parka Weather (make that anytime)
Well, this is what I call Minnesota Nice! Parka is the swell new cafe launched in the underserved Longfellow neighborhood on East Lake Street, and the name was chosen to convey the warm-and-fuzzy feeling of a down jacket at 20 below.
And that’s exactly how welcome the kitchen is. The menu is casual, indeed, and—at first glance—captures lots of familiar Minnesota-winter fare: chicken and wild rice soup. Goulash. Pot roast. Fish fry. Meatloaf sandwich. Comfy with that? Fine, you should be: That’s the plan.
But those on foodie alert soon realize, to their utter delight, that those homely descriptions simply serve as camouflage for what are some of the most forward victuals in the city: granny’s recipes deconstructed, microscopically analyzed, then presented in uber-laborious (not to mention beyond-inventive) reconstructions of those building blocks. Lots of witty micro-garnishes, foams that would do a trendy, Michelin-starred kitchen proud, and squeeze bottles of sauces that took hours and hours to prep. Who knew?
Well, anyone who’s eaten at the wonderful Victory 44—a former gas station way-the-heck off the beaten path in North Minneapolis. Turns out, its founder is a friend of the owner of a new home design and accessory shop, Forge, which shares the Lake Street storefront. Seems he wanted someplace for friends and customers to eat … So, they teamed up, along with folks from Rustica, arguably the city’s best bakery, and Dogwood Coffee, leader in the bean game.
We’re talking tiny here: seven tables, two booths and a row of stools fronting a short-order cooking line, best seats in the place. (We kept leaning over the counter to ogle the sizzle in the sauté pans and watch the deft fingers of the young crew fabricating the complex plating of those homely ingredients.)
The best plan might be to make a meal of the admirable starters ($8-10), generous enough for sharing. We loved the Brussels sprouts: a bowl of those crunchy little globes floating a miniature smoked egg, along with bits of Cheddar, walnuts and lusty bacon banners. Yum.
Next, the Waldorf salad—and a far cry from the church supper staple. It’s composed of a volcanic mountain of burly, just-frizzled kale leaves strewn with translucent, compressed and super-sweet apple slices, pearls of savory Humboldt Fog blue cheese, tiny puffs of foam from what entered the kitchen as hazelnuts, all garnished with itty-bitty grapes. If Picasso had turned chef in a chem lab, the result might look like this.
Even (hard to believe) better: the chopped liver. Comes time for my One Last Meal on Earth, this is it: smooth-as-satin slabs of liver mousse generously piled atop brioche-quality toasts, given a spritz of maple syrup (genius!) and shower of savory walnuts along with enough succulent, salty bacon to balance the fat—all accented with a red wine gastrique. Next time: the “tater tots” of ham and pickles with cream cheese whiz and truffles. Or that wild rice soup, punched up with the fires of ras el hanout and plump with king oyster mushrooms. Or …
But wait, there are entrees, too ($11-16). Goulash, fish fry, beer can chicken, pot roast, and our choices: pork ribs, meaty, moist and ridiculously tender, under a—ready?—root beer glaze, served with crispy, sassy circles of pickled cukes and a ramekin of “vermicelli pudding.” (think hair-thin noodles bonded with cheese and cream.) Ruffles of kale add a welcome wake-up to the very rich (okay, fatty) plate. Well, not “plate,” exactly: It’s a thin slab of slate.
Even better: a meatloaf sandwich, built on a Rustica bun. Picture this: hefty slices of mom-worthy meatloaf under a painting of Cheddar, more of those crisp and biting cucumber rounds, and—hold the catsup—a ramekin of lusty bacon-tomato relish, all presented on an artist’s palette, alongside a little wire basket of duck-fat fries (clogging your arteries never tasted to good).
Desserts go the same route: whimsical reworking of a trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook ($8) and again, huge enough to sate four hungry people: rice pudding, apple cobbler (served with a suave but understated Cheddar ice cream) and banana cream pie. That one is built on squares of tender crust that cushion slabs of sautéed bananas, along with banana curd and banana jam as well as the welcome slash of salted caramel, all under a cloud of whipped cream.
The drinks list is limited but workable: three reds, three whites, three tap beers, eight bottles, and Joia sodas, along with all those Dogwood coffee specialties.
Welcome to the hood: Wish it were mine! I’ll park at Parka any old time.