The Twisted Shrub

The Twisted Shrub was nominated by Skaalvenn Distillery for this post.

If you spent 20 years working for a large company in the food industry and suddenly got laid off with a generous severance package, what would you do with your life?

Well, Scott Dillon--when he got laid off from a Minnesota-based food giant just a couple years ago--he had no clue what he was going to do. In fact, in the midst of his new need for direction in life, he found himself taking magic classes, ushering for Twins games, and taking pan-USA road trips with his children. He also, one fateful night, took a class about drinking shrubs with his wife at Parlour Bar in Minneapolis's North Loop. "I went into the class thinking, 'what the heck is a drinking shrub,' and left it in an epiphany moment. I thought, 'Okay, this is my next path in life.'" 109 days later, Scott launched his new business The Twisted Shrub at Linden Hills Farmers' Market in Minneapolis.

 Bottling up all 5 flavors at his production space in the NE Food District building

Bottling up all 5 flavors at his production space in the NE Food District building

So what IS a drinking shrub? Quite simply, it's fruit, sugar and vinegar, all boiled down and bottled up to make a sweet-tart mixer that instantly transforms your booze or LaCroix into a cocktail or mocktail. The Twisted Shrub currently has five flavors on the market, which can be found at Mill City Farmers' Market, local co-ops and liquor stores, and online at Amazon.com. Scott does all his production out of the new Food District building in Northeast Minneapolis.

 Rumor has it there is a 6th flavor in the works!

Rumor has it there is a 6th flavor in the works!

Forward Eats MSP followers met with Scott recently for an informal but informative happy hour to hear his story and learn about his product line. The happy hour very rapidly turned into two, only because Scott's insight on the local food scene and food business in general is both passionate and endless.

 Scott talking shrubs at the Forward Eats MSP event

Scott talking shrubs at the Forward Eats MSP event

Attendees of this event were genuinely more interested in picking Scott's brain for a look into his triumphs and tribulations in both local and national markets than they were in drinking free, unlimited cocktails mixed with The Twisted Shrub. Call me naive,  but in that moment of realization, I understood that even though Scott does a good deal of business on Amazon, having his passion, knowledge, and years of insight into the local industry behind a Northeast Minneapolis-based food business is invaluable.

 Forward Eats MSP followers experimenting with making their own cocktail creations with The Twisted Shrub

Forward Eats MSP followers experimenting with making their own cocktail creations with The Twisted Shrub

I won't go so far as to say we're happy you were laid off, Scott, but well--we really kind of are! Thank you for putting your years of expertise into creating your own successful business, and sharing your experience with all of us Forward Eaters and the greater Twin Cities community. Shrub on!

 Pineapple Habanero shrub & whiskey = my favorite cocktail combo of the evening

Pineapple Habanero shrub & whiskey = my favorite cocktail combo of the evening

Stay tuned to see who The Twisted Shrub nominated for my next post!

Skaalvenn Distillery

Eddie Wu at Cook St. Paul nominated Skaalvenn Distillery and owners Tyson and Mary Schnitker for this post. Here's what Eddie has to say: "Tyson and Mary are the only distillers in MN that I know of that actually make their booze.  Also, they get their grains from MN, and have been to the farm where they are grown. They are amazing people and crazy hard workers."

In late 2013, Tyson turned to his wife Mary and said, "You know, I think we're going to open a distillery." She said, "Are you sure?" and he responded, "Yeah, I think it's the right time for a couple of idiots with a little money saved up to get into an industry they know nothing about.'" Just under two years later, Skaalvenn rum, vodka, and aquavit appeared on liquor store shelves for the first time.

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Tyson Schnitker is a self proclaimed "average Joe." A few weeks ago, he welcomed me into his production space in Brooklyn Park to share his story with me. By the time we looked up from our conversation and a personalized liquor lesson, two enjoyable hours had flown by. With Tyson, and with the brand he's created, what you see is exactly what you get, and you can't help but love it.

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Tyson worked a handful of odd jobs--from IT to construction and joining the US Army--before the idea of opening a distillery fell in his lap. "It came about completely by accident." He laughs as he tells the story of a New Year's Eve party he and his wife attended in 2012. "We walk in and I can tell this is wealth I'm not familiar with." Although there was an open bar with fancy cocktails and every craft brew you could dream of, Tyson and Mary found themselves chatting with a couple from Tennessee who'd brought their own stash of Michelob Golden Light and homemade apple pie moonshine. After much resistance,  Tyson accepted a pour of their moonshine. "I was 32 at the time," Tyson explains. "The apple pie moonshine was the best thing I had tasted in my life up to that point. On the drive home from that party, all I could think about what how I was going to recreate this man's recipe."

 Is it just me or are these bottles literally luring us in?

Is it just me or are these bottles literally luring us in?

He spent the next few months experimenting with recipes based off Everclear. His friends love being taste-tasters and encouraged him to look into selling it to people other than just them. "One night, I found myself typing "how to open a distillery" into Google. I knew nothing about working in the food industry. At that time my only connection was the job I had a McDonald's when I was 15 and 16." As it turned out, the legal fee to operate a distillery in Minnesota had just dropped from $30,000 to $1,000. That was the moment Tyson turned to his wife to inform her they were going to open Skaalvenn.

 Skaalvenn Habanero Rum is great in hot chocolate!

Skaalvenn Habanero Rum is great in hot chocolate!

"We're now in 400 locations across the state." Tyson talks proudly of his business's success, despite almost going out of business twice. Skaalveen, which means "cheers, friends" in Norwegian, is a brand that strives to be approachable and affordable to all. They chose to sell rum, vodka and aquavit instead of his Everclear recipes so they could market there bottles at $20 a pop instead of the $50 Everclear-based liquors tend to go for. "We make less per bottle than some of our competitors, but we have a lot more happy customers. It's worth working twice as hard to have double the amount of happy customers." Tyson doesn't skip a beat as explains the nuances in each of his liquors, poses proudly for a few photos, and sends me out the door with a handful of cocktail ideas share with world. Thank you, Tyson, for your humble passion and hard work. Cheers, friends!

 Tyson in his production space in Brooklyn Park, MN

Tyson in his production space in Brooklyn Park, MN

Tyson nominated The Twisted Shrub and owner Scott Dillon for my next post and event. "Scott's a good friend of mine and he's creating something really awesome." Stay tuned to my Facebook page for event details and the full blog post!

Cook St. Paul and Eddie Wu

Birchwood Cafe nominated Cook St. Paul and owner Eddie Wu for this blog post for being a "small gem of a restaurant" that sources locally and has a noticeable community impact. Congrats Cook and Eddie!

Last Friday, a crowd of Forward Eaters and I ventured out to Cook to partake in that evening's Korean pop-up. The restaurant is typically open for breakfast and lunch only, but hosts occasional evening pop-ups to support freelance chefs, raise money for causes, and highlight Eddie's interest in ethnic flavors. Immerse yourself in last week's pop-up through the photos below, and enjoy Eddie's story as told by Eddie to me in a recent interview.

"My name is Eddie Wu, but I'm generally the whitest guy in the room. My wife is a Korean adoptee, and I took her last name."

 Eddie Wu inside his restaurant.  Photo credit: Cook St. Paul

Eddie Wu inside his restaurant.

Photo credit: Cook St. Paul

"I was born and raised in South St. Paul, spent time in San Diego and Denver, and eventually made my way back to home to St. Paul."

 Lines were out the door to get a table at Friday's Korean Dinner pop-up

Lines were out the door to get a table at Friday's Korean Dinner pop-up

"I started washing dishes at age 14. I was a lit major, I'm an ex-marine, I managed restaurants, I managed a strip club. I knew I wanted to work in the service industry but I wanted to be more than a boss, so when this space opened the thought of opening my own restaurant started to become more real."

 One of each, please!

One of each, please!

"My main goal was to create a place where anyone could come eat at a reasonable price and feel comfortable whether they were on a date or by themselves or with children or out on business."

 Cook offers sake cocktails

Cook offers sake cocktails

"The most expensive item on our regular menu is only $15, and that's steak and eggs. We got our steak from Peterson Meats. The truck stops here and then goes directly to Spoon and Stable. People ask 'what do you do to your eggs to make them taste so good' and I tell them 'we get them from a farm.'"

 Dubu Kimchi with tofu and bacon

Dubu Kimchi with tofu and bacon

"I can relate to kids in the neighborhood that are lower class or in poverty. I grew up in welfare. I know what's it like to be in a neighborhood where there's generally nowhere to go. I wanted to project my social awareness into the restaurant and create an outlet for change by partnering with local businesses like Urban Roots and hiring kids from the neighborhood."

 Mung Bean Pancake

Mung Bean Pancake

"I was told my first work was 'McDonalds.' I grew up on Tombstone pizzas, Chef Boyardee, and generally had a 7/11 diet. When I started dating my wife she told me I had to eat better. So I did. And then we continued it for our kids when we had them."

 Garlic Fried Chicken

Garlic Fried Chicken

"I'm not a chef, I'm a cook who runs a restaurant."

 Owner Eddie Wu mans the kitchen during Friday night Korean pop-ups

Owner Eddie Wu mans the kitchen during Friday night Korean pop-ups

"This space has been a diner for years, so if I figure if I can't make this restaurant concept work here then I shouldn't be allowed to be a dishwasher anywhere."

 Cook's cozy corner in St. Paul.

Cook's cozy corner in St. Paul.

"Cook St. Paul is perfect for the 'royal blue collar' crowd. It's a 'greasy silver spoon.'" 

And I think Cook is a perfect restaurant for YOU! They're open M-F from 6:30am to 2pm and Sat-Sun 7am-3pm. 1124 Payne Avenue, St. Paul. Stop in a support Eddie's passion and dedication to making St. Paul even more fantastic through food.

Eddie nominated the folks behind Skaalvenn Distillery for my next post!  Here's what he has to say: "Tyson and Mary [the distillery's owners and only staff] are the only distillers in MN that I know of that actually make their booze (they make rum, habanero rum (the best rum on the planet), vodka, and aquavit.  Also, they get their grains from MN, and have been to the farm where they are grown. They are amazing people and crazy hard workers." Stay tuned for the inside look!

Birchwood Cafe

You know what sucks? It sucks when you write a long, beautiful post about what makes Birchwood Cafe a fantastic restaurant and an anchor in the Twin Cities' food community, but then your computer (your NEW computer, at that) freezes and shuts down just as you're finishing the post, deleting everything you spent the last couple days writing. It really sucks, but in a way, makes sense--Birchwood Cafe is an institution that best tells its own story. A stop in for a drink during happy hour, or a leisurely brunch over a savory waffle-- it's impossible for a diner not to notice the quality of food they're eating, the passion of the people that created it for them, and the countless ways this Minneapolis restaurant strives to give and to a be a part of an impactful community.

Ample thanks to Steve Horton at Baker's Field Flour and Bread for nominating Birchwood for this post, and to Megan and her cohorts at Birchwood for hosting Forward Eats MSP and giving us the inside scoop on your awesomeness. Come along for a photo tour, and please, stop in Birchwood Cafe to be a part of this important, unfolding food story yourself!

 The Crostini and Cracker plate on the dinner menu features housemade bread and crackers, using flours milled by the company that nominated Birchwood Cafe,  B  aker's Field Flour & Bread !

The Crostini and Cracker plate on the dinner menu features housemade bread and crackers, using flours milled by the company that nominated Birchwood Cafe, Baker's Field Flour & Bread!

 In warmer months, Birchwood can source a majority of its local produce from just a handful of local farms. In the colder months, they source from over 10 local farms.

In warmer months, Birchwood can source a majority of its local produce from just a handful of local farms. In the colder months, they source from over 10 local farms.

 Birchwood's Chef Dan explained they will can rotate through their entire pantry--grains, dairy, produce, meat--in just a week.  Photo: E. Owens

Birchwood's Chef Dan explained they will can rotate through their entire pantry--grains, dairy, produce, meat--in just a week.

Photo: E. Owens

 The next time you stop in, you might notice Chef Dan, working behind the scenes or in the kitchen to whip up whatever delectable menu item you order that day. Fun fact: his favorite kitchen tool is this fry cutter.

The next time you stop in, you might notice Chef Dan, working behind the scenes or in the kitchen to whip up whatever delectable menu item you order that day. Fun fact: his favorite kitchen tool is this fry cutter.

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Grains in bulk, in back.

Photo: E. Owens

 Birchwood organizes their culinary year into eight seasons: Winter, Thaw, Spring, Summer, Scorch, Autumn, Dusk, Frost. We are currently in Dusk.  Photo: E. Owens

Birchwood organizes their culinary year into eight seasons: Winter, Thaw, Spring, Summer, Scorch, Autumn, Dusk, Frost. We are currently in Dusk.

Photo: E. Owens

 The savory waffle is so popular it generates 11% of Birchwood Cafe's income on a regular basis.  Photo: E. Owens

The savory waffle is so popular it generates 11% of Birchwood Cafe's income on a regular basis.

Photo: E. Owens

A major thanks to Birchwood for hosting Forward Eats last month, and for nominating Eddie Wu of Cook St. Paul for my next post!! To join Forward Eats MSP at our event in January to support Cook St. Paul, click here.

 

Steve Horton @ Baker's Field Flour & Bread

What does a man named Steve Horton + 22 years baking experience + a vacant space in Northeast Minneapolis' Food Building equal? Nothing short of the Twin Cities' premier milling and baking facility, Baker's Field Flour & Bread and the finest loaf of bread for sale at your local grocery co-op! Kelly and Jeff at Dumpling & Strand nominated Steve for his pure passion and ground-breaking work in the industry.

 Steve showing off his bread during the Forward Eats tour

Steve showing off his bread during the Forward Eats tour

How'd a guy like Steve find himself waking up for the 4AM baking shift, receiving hundreds of pounds of grain fresh from Minnesota farms, milling them on a unique granite mill, and then moving swiftly on into the evening to promote his business to crazed fans like us Forward Eaters?

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After pursing a Bachelor's degree in Urban Planning, Steve found himself managing a Caribou Coffee, and later working at the metro's artisan bread chain, Breadsmith, where he fell fast in love with the art and science of baking and taught himself much of what he knows today. From there, he moved on to managing the The Wedge's Co-op's (now defunct) wholesale bakery operation. Years later, he opened his own bakery, Rustica, which quickly gained a local and national following. When the venue space in Food Building opened up, Steve was eager to move onward to a venture that would allow him to delve even deeper into his interests in milling, collaborating with local farmers, and gaining a deep understanding of how different grains translate into different artisan breads.

 Steve in front of Baker's Field's granite mill

Steve in front of Baker's Field's granite mill

Baker's Field has now been open for just over a year, and is still settling into its home in the Twin Cities market. "At capacity, we're a small operation," Steve explains. "We're working with farmers on a small scale, which can involve a lot of risk." Last year, Steve hired a farmer to grow a 30-acre crop of rye for him to mill and bake, but the farmer lost the crop due to an early frost-- a huge financial loss to both the farmer and Baker's Field. "We're building this local operation from the ground up, which allows access to a lot of unique grains and opportunities. It's a risk but it's also exciting because nobody else is really doing it."

 Dough mixers

Dough mixers

"Our biggest challenge now is getting the word out and educating people about why they'll enjoy our breads." Look for Baker's Field demos in co-ops around the metro, and stay tuned for several pop-ups at Food Building closer to the holidays. Food Building (and Baker's Field) is open for self-guided tours Tuesday-Friday from 8 to 3pm. Bread loaves and other baked goods are sold individually and are on the menu at the neighboring Draft Horse restaurant Tuesday through Sunday. If you haven't picked up a baguette or loaf of table bread yet, I highly encourage you to give it a shot! Baker's Field bread is an experience, not just breakfast--especially when customers can have such easy access to viewing the space in which it's all made, and the incredible scientific knowledge of the business's owner and staff. Reach out, get involved, eat good bread!!

 Freshly baked loaves

Freshly baked loaves

 

And now, stay tuned to see which local kickass business Steve nominated for the next blog post!

Kelly and Jeff @ Dumpling & Strand

"We get really geeky about noodles." Meet Kelly McManus and Jeff Casper, co-owners of the Twin Cities-based fresh pasta company Dumpling & Strand. Per Yia Vang's adamant nomination, I had the pleasure of chatting with these two about their noodles, their geekiness, and the how & why of their start-up business.

If you've shopped at a co-op or a Whole Foods in the area recently, or Mill City and Kingfield Farmers' Markets this summer, chances are you've happened upon this duo's boldly-labeled, skillfully-crafted, and downright delicious line of noodles. They haven't been around for long, though--after months of thought and research, the enthusiastic neighbors and business partners officially launched their venture in May 2016 at Kingfield Farmers' Market. Jeff's science background and passion for grains combined with Kelly's marketing and entrepreneurial expertise are the factors that ultimately led the neighbors to turn to noodles.  "Fresh pasta is kind of a novel concept in Minnesota," explains Kelly. "Because of that, we found an interested crowd and dedicated following right for the get-go. It was kind of fun."

 Mill City Farmers' Market

Mill City Farmers' Market

This is where I stop to say--if you've never had fresh pasta, GO. NOW. It is surely not the same species as boxed pasta, and the Dumpling & Strand line ranks amongst the top for flavor and flare. For Kelly and Jeff, pasta starts with the very soil the grains they purchase (most of which are local) to mill into the flour (most of which is done locally) they use to make their pastas are grown in. "Most grain growers rank flavor of their grain second or third to yield and consistency," explains Jeff. "We've been experimenting with working with farmers who will place flavor as their top priority." The duo has worked tirelessly to get grants, co-ops and other funding for such experiments that ultimately impact a more sustainable future for farming, as well as elevate the flavors of their pastas.

 Forward Eats MSP Pasta Tasting Party

Forward Eats MSP Pasta Tasting Party

Their lineup of noodles ranges from classic spaghetti, to ramen, to several gluten-free pastas, and my favorite--the wild rice Minnesoba. It's a thick noodle crafted from local wild rice. Minnesoba lends a pleasant nutty flavor that pairs nicely with Asian flavors as well as more traditional cream sauces. "We're all about finding an expression of a food in its place, " says Jeff. "There are a lot of purists who might not like the fact that we're using local grains to make a really good ramen, for example--it's not traditional--but we like to push boundaries and ask what ramen would look like if Minnesota were the first place it was made. And then make it!"

 Build Your Own Pasta at the Forward Eats MSP Pasta Tasting Party

Build Your Own Pasta at the Forward Eats MSP Pasta Tasting Party

As for how the business partners see Dumpling & Strand affecting our community--well, "You can make all the fun you want of people posting pictures of their dinners, comments Kelly, "but for us it's really fun to see the ways people get creative with our products, the stories behind the dishes, and the people they share them with. It's a pretty big thing in a world that's becoming more insular. We're one tiny part of bringing people together."

"It's not just noodles," Jeff chimes in with a confidant smirk on his face, "it's the essence of humanity."

If you want to meet Kelly and Jeff at a farmers' market, or find out where to purchase their products, click here. Stay tuned to find out who they nominated for my next post!

Yia Vang and Union Kitchen

I've been lucky enough to interview some incredibly passionate, dedicated local foodies for this blog, but I have to say-- Yia Vang of Minneapolis' Union Kitchen pop-up Hmong restaurant is hands down the nicest, most thoughtful person I've had the pleasure of talking with. A blog post could hardly do our conversation justice, and it's only my own laziness preventing me from typing up and posting the entire transcript of our gem of a chat. Alas...

Monica at Dinner on the Farm nominated Yia for his unique approach to showcasing his Hmong roots through food. After meeting him for coffee last week, I heartily agree that his approach is creative and his story is one all should hear. He's a 33-year-old Hmong chef who was born in Laos, grew up in Philadelphia, went to college in Wisconsin, and eventually moved to Minnesota, where his career in restaurants flourished. He opened Union Kitchen a little over a year ago, and hosts pop-ups at festivals and events in the Twin Cities throughout the year. He and his business partners hope to have a brick and mortar destination soon.

What is Hmong food? Yia says he gets that question a lot. "I kind of end up defending Hmong food instead of describing it, because there's no specific country that we can place ourselves from. That leads to a kind of shame--like we're just a lost people. But Hmong food is really about technique rather than ingredients. Hmongs are farmers and wherever we migrate we take a little bit of that culture with us. If Southeast Asian flavor is our paint, then here in Minnesota we could say Midwestern produce is our canvas. We're doing things that we know and love, but we're using the produce and the products of this area. That's who we are, and Union Kitchen is all about coming out and being proud of that."

 Union Kitchen's pop-up last week at Little Mekong Night Market in St. Paul

Union Kitchen's pop-up last week at Little Mekong Night Market in St. Paul

Yia moved to Minnesota to pursue grad school, but ended up working at Nighthawks, then Borough, and Spoon and Stable. "I've been trying to get out of the kitchen my whole life," Yia laughs. "It's like that ex-girlfriend you keep coming back to, you know? Like 10 years later, let's just make this work out." When he began to feel his creative voice getting lost in his restaurant jobs, a few good friends and some intense brainstorming led to the idea of creating a pop-up restaurant that tells a story of cultural identity while bringing people of all backgrounds together. "I firmly believe food is the commonality between everybody." Yia goes on. "So it doesn’t matter where we come from. We can differ in religious and political beliefs but at the end of the day if you put a big bowl of friend chicken between the two of us, we’ll both believe that’s a great bowl of fried chicken. When you bring people together over food, the conversation shifts. We want Union Kitchen to be a space for that to happen."

"I have no problem calling myself a Midwesterner. I love that!" Yia concludes about his identity. "Cheese curds are my jam, you know? Double cheeseburgers from Culvers, I love that stuff. I'll have a pho day and I'll have a good ol' chili day, too. I love forging cultures together like that."

 Loco Moco, cooked up by Yia (right) and team at Little Mekong Night Market

Loco Moco, cooked up by Yia (right) and team at Little Mekong Night Market

Union Kitchen will be hosting their next pop-up this Friday, June 16th at The Bird in Minneapolis from 5-9pm. Check out Union Kitchen's Facebook page for more pop-up updates!

Stay tuned to canoodle with Yia's nomination for my next post: Dumpling & Strand!

Dinner on the Farm

It's a romantic idea and one that makes easy sense, all at once. It's a daydream-turned-reality, a sturdy farm-to-table link, and perhaps one of the Twin Cities' best-kept secrets. It's Dinner on the Farm, a recurring event created and organized by Minnesota-native Monica Walch. Ticket-holders have the opportunity to eat dinner cooked by local, professional chefs at the farm on which many of that dinner's ingredients were produced. A local brewery and band are also featured, and diners have the chance to tour the farm and interact with the chefs. 

 Dinner on the Farm founder, Monica Walch making a farm friend

Dinner on the Farm founder, Monica Walch making a farm friend

Monica's childhood on a diary farm in Rochester combined with her post-college experience working for an organic milk marketing company inspired her to create Dinner on the Farm. "I was searching for a way to bring local food closer to the people who were buying it, and I liked the idea of turning it into an event so more people could participate in it at one time." Dinner on the Farm was born in 2009, and hosts around 5 events every summer on different farms around the Twin Cities metro.

Monica explains that the community-building aspect of her business is her favorite part. "There were constantly people visiting my parents at the dairy farm I grew up on. They would stop work for hours and just sit and talk and have coffee and bars with their guests. This type of in-person connection doesn't happen as much any more, and I think people are missing it." Each Dinner on the Farm has room for around 150 guests, small enough that each attendee has the chance to interact with the chefs, brewers, band members and other diners.

What type of person attends Dinner on the Farm? "It's people on a date, it's someone passionate about local food coming on their own, it's an entire family celebrating an 80th birthday, it's the band member's friend who has no clue about local food but ends up learning a lot and having a great time." Most of Monica's dinners sell out shortly after they're posted on her website. She relies on word-of-mouth as her primary form of advertising. 

"It means so much to the people growing the food to know that people care about it. I love that Dinner on the Farm helps create that connection for people." There are two dinners with tickets available this summer, and one yet-to-be-announced dinner that will take place in September.

Nicole at Bad Apple Mini Urban Orchards nominated Monica and Dinner on the Farm for this post. Stay tuned to see who Monica nominated for the next post! 

Bad Apple Mini Urban Orchards

When I sat down with Nicole Pappas Stanoch at a favorite Northeast Minneapolis brewery to interview her about her blossoming, apple-centric business, Bad Apple Mini Urban Orchards, I knew it was going to be a good conversation. She's the type of person who knows A LOT, about EVERYTHING, and has a contagious sense of enthusiasm for it all. We'd been talking for a good ten minutes about everything from the time she accidentally stole gas in France to her love of edible landscaping before she takes a breath to say, "Wait, aren't you going to take notes or something?" I'd completely forgotten to start recording our conversation in the wake of her lively entrance.

 Nicole at one of her sites

Nicole at one of her sites

So Nicole. How did she get into apples? The answer, suprisingly enough: wine. "I love wine," Nicole explains. "I mean, I really love wine, and I love how, in order to make it, you have to grow something and turn it into something else. That whole process got me interested in horticulture." Nicole took a few classes in the University of Minnesota's Masters of Horticulture program a few years back, and became inspired to implement an mini orchard business model based on the skills she'd learned. She wanted to turn empty spaces into orchards, and then turn the apples into brandy.

Nicole currently owns two small plots of land with trees in Northern Wisconsin, and 18 smaller sites in Northeast Minneapolis where she plants the apple trees, tends to them, harvests the fruit, and hands it off to 45th Parallel Distillery to turn the fruits of her labor into brandy.

 Nicole's partner helping process apples at 45th Parallel Distillery

Nicole's partner helping process apples at 45th Parallel Distillery

"I plant on anything from city-commissioned spaces to people's personal backyards. People get excited about my business and are like, 'we want apple trees, we want apples trees,' and I tell them we'll find a way to make it work." She's currently looking into purchasing several empty lots in North Minneapolis.

Nicole started Bad Apple in 2015. She's expecting her first batch of brandy to be done in about 8 months--it's currently aging in barrels. When it's finished, Nicole will give some of the final product back to each land-owner who hired her to plant trees, and 45th Parallel will sell the rest. She's seen her business double in size from the year she started.

"It's not a complicated model," states Nicole, and then continues on to remind home gardeners of the world to "never use compost that's not done composting! If it still smells, it's not dirt yet and shouldn't be used!" And on with her endless wisdom...

If you're interested in learning more about Nicole's business (and maybe getting a tree or two planted on your land!), check out her Facebook page or email her at npstanoch@gmail.com. Stay tuned to Forward Eats MSP's Facebook page for news about an upcoming event to hang out with Nicole and support Bad Apple Mini Urban Orchards.

Sen Yai Sen Lek Thai Restaurant

I was thrilled when Reverie Cafe + Bar nominated Sen Yai, Sen Lek (Big Noodle, Little Noodle) for Forward Eats. This standout restaurant on Central Avenue is 10 minute saunter from my house, and the first business in Northeast Minneapolis featured in this series! I took a stroll over the other day to chat up co-owner Holly, and hang with the FE crew for a very inspired dinner.

 Co-Owner Holly (right) and Bar Manager Laura celebrate this family-owned digs

Co-Owner Holly (right) and Bar Manager Laura celebrate this family-owned digs

The wonderful and difficult thing about the Northeast neighborhood is that it's both incredibly diverse, and also ever-evolving. Holly, along with her Thai-American husband Joe, opened up shop in 2008 after years of building up the courage to do so. They opened, as it were, in the midst of that year's infamous economy crash. "The weird thing is, " explained Holly, "we were so consumed with starting the restaurant up that we were kind of unaware of an economic crisis." Holly's main concern was, once they opened their doors, who was going to come through them?

 The Sugar & Spice: a white wine cocktail with mint, lychee, and a homemade Thai chili syrup

The Sugar & Spice: a white wine cocktail with mint, lychee, and a homemade Thai chili syrup

"Northeast was a much rougher neighborhood 8 years ago. Almost all of the restaurants and coffeeshops and breweries that are here now weren't here then. There was no Thai food in Northeast and certainly not a place to sit down and hang out with a drink along Central Avenue. So I kept thinking, 'how's this gonna work? Where are customers going to come from?'" 

 Taohoo Tod: Fried firm tofu with a peanut cilantro chili sauce

Taohoo Tod: Fried firm tofu with a peanut cilantro chili sauce

It turns out, Northeasters are a very loyal bunch, and enjoyed having a new gathering spot in their neighborhood. Plus, Holly and Joe are very committed to running their business around their 4 guiding principles: Family Ownership, Cultural Authenticity, Social and Environmental Sustainability, and Community Orientation. "We operate Sen Yai based around meeting these principles, not necessarily around making a certain profit. We just make everything else work out along the way."

 Khao Soi: Curried Chiang Mai egg noodle dish with beef, cilantro, pickled mustard greens and shallots.

Khao Soi: Curried Chiang Mai egg noodle dish with beef, cilantro, pickled mustard greens and shallots.

And Sen Yai has certainly become a stronghold for Thai food in Minneapolis and beyond--the restaurant has been awarded a "Thai Select" certification 2 times--an award the Thai government gives to American restaurants they deem are procuring authentic Thai food.

 Naam Prik Ong: Spicy chili dip with ground pork, tomato, lemongrass, garlic and cilantro. Served with fresh vegetables and crispy fired pork rinds.

Naam Prik Ong: Spicy chili dip with ground pork, tomato, lemongrass, garlic and cilantro. Served with fresh vegetables and crispy fired pork rinds.

This place is great for a family-style meal, a hearty solo entree, or a few drinks up at the bar. The have monthly specials created by staff members, and an ongoing "Thai-ku" poetry contest for all to participate in. The amount of love and passion Holly and Joe put into Sen Yai was very obvious in the the outstanding overall experience we had. Can wait to get back to try more menu items, and order the gem below again, and again, and again.

 Khao Neow Mamuang: Sweet sticky rice with mango. So, so, SO GOOD!!!

Khao Neow Mamuang: Sweet sticky rice with mango. So, so, SO GOOD!!!

So, who's up next to bat? Holly and Sen Yai nominated Nicole, the one-woman wonder at Bad Apple Mini Urban Orchards! Stay tuned to Facebook for more info on FE's upcoming outing to learn about and support this unique Twin Cities business! 

Reverie Cafe & Bar

"I never thought I'd be in the restaurant business. I’d always heard it’s really hard to succeed, and it’s a really difficult business." This is Kirstin Wiegmann, co-owner of Reverie Cafe + Bar in Stevens Square, Minneapolis.  

Jeff and Kirstin, co-owners of Reverie

Kirstin and her life partner, Jeff, have--whether they expected it or not--put together a rather successful vegan hotspot on Nicolette Avenue. The space, formerly a coffee shop, has become a popular community hangout spot, complete with a full menu of plant -based foods, an enticing happy hour, and live music every night.

 Forward Eats makes a stop at Reverie

Forward Eats makes a stop at Reverie

"Our neighborhood is so high density," commented Kirstin, "that people have really enjoyed having this cozy, warm, and welcoming place to go for an afternoon."

Head chef Jeff has been eating a plant-based diet for a long time, and spent years cooking at Minneapolis's now closed vegan eatery, Ecopolitan, before starting the Reverie venture. He works with his staff to develop recipes and keep the menu fresh.

 The "Cubano," with pulled jackfruit in a smoky sauce with garlic aioli and pickled onions

The "Cubano," with pulled jackfruit in a smoky sauce with garlic aioli and pickled onions

 The Cauliflower Poboy, with smoked paprika cashew remoulade

The Cauliflower Poboy, with smoked paprika cashew remoulade

"The Twin Cities doesn’t have a lot of vegan options. There are even cities that you’d think would be less progressive than Minneapolis that have options," Kirstin told me candidly. She and Jeff are excited to be at the forefront of a local movement, along with Herbivorous Butcher and the soon-to-open J. Selby's in St. Paul.

"We’re not here to advertise a ethos or an ethic. We’re about making good food that also happens to be plant-based." From their made-from-scratch pastries to the popular jackfruit tacos, the Forward Eats crew approved!

 Forward Eats visits Reverie!

Forward Eats visits Reverie!

Who did Kirstin, Jeff, and Reverie nominate for the next Forward Eats event and post? They chose Sen Yai, Sen Lek, a positively forward-thinking Thai restaurant on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis. Attend the Forward Eats event at Sen Yai by RSVPing here. Stay tuned for the next post!