Salad cake from Nadia Cakes
Now, that’s my kind of salad.
I am always tickled by Nadia Cakes’ annual “Unicorn Poop” event, which uses April Fools’ Day as a whimsical excuse to show off their cake decorating skills. The special menu, which goes until everything sells out, gets its name from a vibrant rainbow cupcake with a rainbow candy swirl on top, their version of “unicorn poop.” But I like to see the other ways the bakers trick us with their frosting capabilities.
This year’s lineup has cupcakes that resemble a bucket of popcorn, a sunny side-up egg, a dropped ice cream cone, a bowl of lo mein, kitty litter, a chocolate doughnut and unicorn “barf,” (all $4.25 each, 4 for $16), in addition to the colorful one that started it all ($6.95).
They’re all fun, but if you’re hosting (or fooling) a crowd for this silly holiday, go for one of the cakes. There’s raw steak, sushi, a bowl of mac and cheese and more ($50-$60). Don’t worry — inside, they’re either vanilla or red velvet. And no, no one in my household thought the bowl of greenery I left out on the counter was actually a salad. Although my kid did ask me, disappointingly, why I got him a vegetable cake. (Sharyn Jackson)
429 Commerce Dr., Woodbury; 11650 Fountains Dr., Maple Grove, nadiacakes.com
Saturday tacos at Skinner’s Pub
The first time I walked into Skinner’s Pub it was blessedly dark. The bar was populated by folks blowing off the steam of a Monday night, and I was thrilled to slide into a booth and crack the menu to find prices my broke self could afford. I also happened to cross paths with an off-duty bartender who eventually wooed me into many more nights at this bar and gave me a new last name, but that’s a story for another time.
Pete and Molly Skinner bought the pub more than 20 years ago, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my brother-in-law is part of Pete’s friendship crew. (That’s how his little brother ended up pouring drinks there.) The Skinners were industry vets; Pete had worked in plenty of other bar kitchens and knew how to cook affordable food really well.
The menu remains a collection of classics, primarily made from scratch with blue-collar pride that suits this neighborhood. While there’s plenty for hard-core fans of wings, burgers and pizza, I can’t get enough of the Saturday tacos. Prepared just the one day starting at 11 a.m. — and only while supplies last — the kitchen wraps a flour tortilla around ground beef ($2.25) or ground chicken ($2.75), lettuce and tomato and deep fries them. When bathed in hot oil, the flour tortillas bubble up and crisp, and there’s just enough cheese inside to make them a little gooey and a lot of savory goodness. It’s the kind of hearty fare that absorbs and absolves the sins from the night before. (Joy Summers)
919 Randolph Av., St. Paul, skinnerspubmn.com
Tofu curry at Zen Box Izakaya
Ramen was on my mind. When spring weather took a turn for the worse, I couldn’t think of anything more restorative. Zen Box Izakaya has always been my go-to for the springy noodles and the kind of collagen-rich broths that grow sticky when you don’t eat quickly enough.
But at the restaurant, something else caught my eye: Zen Box’s unsung curries, which I had tried (and enjoyed) before. I hadn’t tasted their take on tofu curry ($13), and I wish I had earlier.
Maybe it’s how thick and porcelain-like these slabs of tofu are, with their thin armor of a crust. Maybe it’s how silky it all is, and how the crust remains crisp under all that curry. Or maybe it’s that curry, which is flavorful but not as salty as others tend to be. The rice has a chewy quality, too, reminiscent of the grains served at more upscale places. I didn’t expect the co-owners, chef John Ng and general manager Lina Goh, to skimp on quality, judging by how dialed-in everything else is.
Plus, it’s vegan. (Jon Cheng)
602 Washington Av. S., Mpls., zenbox.com
Sausage Snuggle Pie from Hold the Wheat
I don’t know if you’ve spent time with the average 6-year-old, but their diet is largely cookie and Goldfish-centered — despite a parent’s best efforts. At a recent doctor visit, mine was told that her chronic health problems might be tied to gluten. Telling a kid she’s off cupcakes, possibly forever, is a major bummer.
Lucky for me, my sister-in-law tipped me off to the delicious goodies pouring out of the kitchen at Hold the Wheat, a small new bakery in St. Louis Park, just off Excelsior Boulevard.
Last weekend she presented us with a couple of the bakery’s Spencer cakes, a palm-sized cake with perfect crumb and texture covered with a sheath of frosting and curlicue design. My kid and I were both ecstatic: her because, cake; me because this was nothing like the hefty pea-protein-laced mixes I’d been defiling our kitchen with. This was the real deal.
Baker Spencer Justiniano owns the shop with partner Edwin Snyder. Justiniano found that he felt better after switching to a gluten-free diet, but missed bakery treats. After much time developing recipes — and becoming quite popular with friends — he opened this bakery a little more than a week ago.
It’s not just cake coming out of this kitchen. There are lemon bars, vegan berry breakfast pastries and savory snuggle pies. The sausage snuggle pie ($6) is a long strip of gluten-free pastry wrapped around two little sausages. The sausage is spicy enough to kick up the morning commute and the pastry has so many layers, it’s hard to believe there was no flour involved. But there was definitely butter. (Joy Summers)
4050 Brookside Av., St. Louis Park, holdthewheat.com
House Meat Pizza at Devil’s Advocate
The ethos at Devil’s Advocate is to challenge what you think you know — hence the name — and that applies to more than the food. I was certainly surprised when I pulled up to the new Stillwater location of what was once a downtown Minneapolis happy hour hub to find it located alongside a highway in a former Famous Dave’s.
It may not be on Stillwater’s charming Main Street. But if you’re in the area, it’s a solid spot for lunch (and brunch, if you take stock in tantalizing social media pics).
My companion and I tried a few items on the lunch menu, and were intrigued by a Mediterranean ramen, the noodles interlaced with pancetta and olives. But this $17 pizza, a last-minute addition to our order, turned out to be a bigger surprise. A large (14 inches) and lofty Neapolitan-style crust is made in house daily, spread with a bold tomato sauce that asserts itself, and topped generously with nuggets of sausage, thin strands of onion and extra-large pepperoni just charred on the edges. There’s nothing particularly expectation-busting about the tasty combination, but if you’re looking to play devil’s advocate with your pizza choices, there is an “umami” pie with eggplant and truffle that sounds appropriately challenging.
Devil’s Advocate on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis is still closed, but as downtown traffic picks back up, we expect a reopening sometime in the coming months. Meanwhile, owner Erik Forsberg is bringing his restaurant Erik the Red to Richfield soon. It’s taking over the Local Roots space; fans of Local Roots’ soups take note, it’s closing April 10. (S.J.)
14200 60th St. N., Stillwater. devilsadvocatebar.com