Food Writing Samples


REVIEW: RYE DELICATESSEN 


Rye, newly opened in the former Auriga space (North of the intersection of Hennepin Ave. and Franklin Ave.), has staked its claim as the first delicatessen in Minneapolis to declare itself Jewish.  With veteran chef Tobie Nidetz and restaurateur David Weinstein at the helm, Rye specializes in contemporary, high quality, locally sourced food made from scratch.  What sets Rye apart from its competitors like Mort's and Cecil's is that Rye boasts a full bar.  You might wonder if a neighborhood deli that also dishes up French toast and porridge can mesh with the Twin Cities drinking crowd; one step inside Rye's welcoming yet sharply designed space, however, and you’ll wonder why restaurants don’t operate this way more often.

The flow of the venue and the wrap-around room ensures that families have ample space, sunlight and a wall-sized chalkboard for their little ones up front.  Separated by the counter and deli case, Rye's bar has a distinct vibe from the dining area, so those wanting to imbibe can enjoy flat-screen TVs, tall tables and adults-only conversation near the back of the venue.  There’s also a third seating area with smaller tables, banquettes, quirky artwork and soft lamplight that makes an ideal escape for friends catching up over coffee or independent eaters working through lunch with a laptop. 

With breakfast, lunch, dinner and kids’ menus, Rye offers endless options for every palate.  Traditional Jewish noshes like cabbage borscht, cheese blintzes, matzoh balls, bagels and lox make an appearance, of course, but so do modern twists like grass fed burgers on toasted bialy, challah grilled cheese and the Vera Schwartz sandwich (chopped liver, red onion, chopped egg on rye).

You really can’t go wrong at Rye as long as you include bread in your meal.  Baked in-house, the bagels are love at first bite.  The sandwich breads are robust and the bialys deliciously dense.  The tabouleh packs a wallop of parsley, mint and onion; a few forkfuls are all you’ll need to feel satisfied.  Likewise, the corned beef sandwich we sampled packed enough meat for two meals and that’s without all the fixings!  For those with stealthier stomachs, we dare you to polish off a plate of Poutine (crispy fries, cheese curds and gravy with optional smoked meat) or the Deli Debris (bagel chips, smoked meat, cheese, hot and sweet peppers).  Prices are moderate and service was attentive.

As far as first impressions go, Rye is as stunning for the eyes as it is for the tongue.  The owners' vision of a family friendly deli that doubles as a hip hang-out has certainly come to fruition.  Here's hoping Rye becomes a staple on the Uptown eatery scene.

REVIEW: MOJO MONKEY DONUTS


Baker Lisa Clark doesn't monkey around with her doughnuts.

Nestled in the middle of several old-fashioned store fronts on West 7th Street in St. Paul, you’ll find your mojo. Mojo Monkey Donuts, that is. We stopped in for a nibble at this brand new bakery, where Clark told us she waited for a year to find the perfect space for her delicious vision. “This neighborhood was the right fit for us,” she said.

The interior space encourages lingering. With baby blue walls, exposed brick, big windows and plenty of small round tables, Mojo Monkey feels like a bona fide neighborhood bakery with a hip twist.

In addition to a gourmet coffee bar, the bakery offers over a dozen different varieties of fragrant doughnuts on display. We indulged in the trademark Maple Bacon Long John, the popable Chai Doughnut Holes, a decadent Red Velvet Cake Doughnut, a moist Chocolate Glazed Old Fashioned Doughnut sprinkled with crushed Oreos and a sophisticated Mocha Mousse Filled Doughnut.

In brief, these pastries are seductive and luscious; not too sweet but perfectly pillowy. Our taste buds were totally blissed out. A return trip will be mandatory to try the Crullers, Cinnamon Twists, Cranberry Mousse Filled Doughnut or an Old Fashioned Doughnut topped with toasted coconut or peanuts.

“Come back Saturday and Sunday for beignets!” Clark insisted. Mojo Monkey will be serving up the fried delights hot and fresh on weekends…as long as supplies last. “We’ll try to make it until noon this week,” she said with a laugh.

Our advice:  come hungry and leave your willpower at home. These doughnuts are highly addictive!


Q&A: BUDDY "THE CAKE BOSS" VALASTRO


Buddy Valastro is best known as the star of TLC’s wildly popular “Cake Boss” program.  Mixing traditional recipes with modern design, Valastro is a man who lives on the cutting edge of culinary arts.  In addition to whipping up incredible edibles on cable TV, Valastro has penned a new book about how he made Carlo’s Bakery a household name.  Valastro is currently on tour, giving away the tricks of the trade in his live show “Baking with the Boss.”  We asked Buddy about the Cake Boss empire, the must-haves for home bakers and how he “treats” himself. 

Q: Your new book “Cake Boss” is a combination of the story of how you became one of television’s most admired bakers paired with some your recipes.  How did you decide which recipes to share with the public and which ones to keep top-secret?

Buddy Valastro:  I tried to include a combination of recipes that were popular in my show and ones that are easy for the home baker to make.  Some of the items (like lobster tails) are difficult to make at home but I still wanted everyone to be able to try it.

Q: How has your baking changed since starting the show on TLC?  Have you had to compromise your creativity or has it encouraged you to step outside your comfort zone?

BV:  My recipes have pretty much stayed the same, but our decorating is at an all-time creative high.  We've been replicating a lot of buildings for companies, which is always a creative challenge.  I've also noticed that a lot of our cake orders are non-traditional; just this weekend we took orders for an Alice in Wonderland-inspired wedding cake and a bar mitzvah comic book cake.  We're always trying new things, new ways to use edible materials creatively.

Q: Some of your cakes look like they’re as much about baking skills as they are about engineering.  How did you learn the construction part of creating cakes?

BV:  Trial and error!  Like most of my skills at the bakery, I learned how to do the frame work by learning from how other people used the tools.  My brother-in-law, Mauro, worked in construction before the bakery and knows a lot about the engineering aspects of the cakes.

Q: Despite the occasional drama on the show, you seem like a very positive person.  How do you stay humble, happy and grounded in the midst of all this success and your professional obligations?

BV:  It's all about family.  We work together all day and then go home and make a big dinner.  We might fight, but at the end of the day we're family and that's the most important thing to me.

Q: For many of your fans, baking is a hobby and pastries are occasional treats.  You bake day in, day out and could eat cake 24/7 if you wanted.  If you had an entire day to yourself, what would your idea of indulgence be?  How would you spoil yourself?

BV:  I would love to sit at home all day and play with my kids.  It's my favorite thing to do in my time off.  All of my family is so close.  We're always over each other's houses.

Q: What do you miss most about your life, pre-fame?

BV:  I'm still just a baker from New Jersey.  The only change is that I get to share my passion with the world.  I love meeting with fans of the show and hearing how we inspired them to make a special cake or dessert.

Q: Who is at the top of your “I want to bake a cake for you” list?

BV:  I've met so many great people, but my favorite cakes are always for the kids.  My four kids mean the world to me and I love making other kids smile.  That's why I love doing the live show; having the opportunity to create a fun, educational family night.

Q: Is culinary school worth the dough for aspiring bakers? 

BV:  I think that there is a lot to learn in this industry, whether you go to school or become an apprentice.  I learned everything from my dad and I always encourage hands-on learning because it is the best way to learn technique.

Q: Who do you turn to for pastry-related advice?

BV:  Sal [a long-time employee of Carlo’s Bakery who passed away] was a great mentor and taught me a lot about the art of baking.  One of the first jobs I had in the bakery was working with the pastries and learning to “pull” lobster tails.  I mostly focus on cakes now, but I have a talented team of guys that have been working here for a long time.  My brother-in-law Joey is in charge of the “oven room.”

Q: Name the five best tools for home bakers.

BV:  A good mixer, rolling pin, utensils (measuring cups, spatulas, etc), high-quality ingredients and a good attitude!  No matter what the recipe, any baker can do wonders in the kitchen with some good ingredients and an upbeat attitude!

WAHLBURGERS ON ITS WAY TO THE LAS VEGAS STRIP


Fans of the Wahlberg brothers won’t have to wait long to sink their teeth into the famous family’s hunks of beef. Mark, Donnie, and Paul Wahlberg are bringing their pun-derful fast-casual restaurant, Wahlburgers, to Sin City’s newest outdoor retail center, Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally’s Las Vegas, before year’s end.

The family’s favorite menu items are said be the Thanksgiving Day (turkey, stuffing, mayo, orange-cranberry sauce, and roasted butternut squash, per Mark’s preference), the BBQ Bacon Burger (turkey or beef piled high with white cheddar cheese, bacon, avocado, fresh jalapenos, and barbecue sauce, which Donnie adores), and the Wahlburger’s Signature Burger (recommended by Paul, clearly batting for the regular folk). You can also side with new family member Jenny McCarthy, Donnie’s wife, and order Jenn’s Chicken Sandwich (topped with caramelized and crispy onions, lettuce, and honey-garlic sauce). Dessert selection is dominated by frappes, whipped up with Nona’s homemade ice cream and farm fresh milk.  

While enjoying your gut-busting grub, you’ll be able to ogle visual homages to the brothers’ respective careers and family lives; their photos and memorabilia will decorate the interior of the restaurant. An outdoor patio, walk-up window, bar, and retail shop of Wahlberg-related merchandise are also included in the 5,000 square-foot space.

In addition to its Florida, Massachusetts, New  York, and Pennsylvania locations, Wahlburgers is the subject of A&E’s Emmy-nominated reality show of the same name. As Larry Siegel, chairman of Juno Property Group, gushed in a press release: “Not only will this Wahlburgers restaurant offer the best burgers and frappes on Las Vegas Boulevard, but it will become a stage for one of the hottest shows on television.”

For more of Erica Rivera's food writing, please see the Publications page.