More from: Restaurant

The Brothers Deli: Old School Pastrami

I love me a good reuben. Are you with me? The tang of the pastrami, the sour of the kraut and the sweet of the russian dressing, it’s a beautiful thing. I decided last month that I needed some behind the counter photos of a real deli, and visions of reubens were what spurred me on. And while there is definitely room for debating the best pastrami in the Twin Cities, my long standing favorite is The Brothers Deli, downtown Minneapolis.

The Brothers has been around for a long time, in several incarnations; I remember eating at one in Southdale Mall when I was a kid and my mom was a secret shopper for Dayton’s (speaking of old school). Regardless of the location, The Brothers has always been the kind of place that serves bowls of pickles on the tables and slow roasts its pastrami and corned beef on the premises. Which is the only way to go when it comes to a deli, as far as I’m concerned.

I talked to Jeff, the head brother, by phone a couple times to set things up – telling him that I’m a big fan, that I’d love to shoot some during a lunch rush sometime. Our two phone conversations lasted about 15 seconds combined (Jeff’s clearly a guy who has 14 hours of work to do in an 8 hour day), and next thing I knew my assistant TJ and I were there ready to shoot.

Jeff’s crew is a well-oiled machine. All of his employees have been with him for years – many for more than ten – and they know how to get a lunch rush fed. As I tiptoed around everyone, it kind of blew me away how calm everyone was, even though the line was out the door and down the skyway for much of the lunch rush. Each person had their station, and everyone knew exactly what was needed. It was beautiful to watch.

Salad station

Soon-to-be Corned Beef Sandwich

The Grill Captain

Jeff surprised me by asking if I’d be interested in shooting some food shots to put up on the walls of the restaurant. Based on our amazingly quick phone conversations I figured he would have his head down and would forget about me a minute after I was done shooting. But as it turns out, my photos now hang over the deli bar and behind the counter, and there may be more coming shortly. You gotta love it when personal work turns in to paid work.

Next time you’re in the skyways, keep an eye out for a two foot by three foot reuben floating over The Brothers deli bar – that’s my work. Sweet!

Sample Circuit in the Living Room

Josh Hill has been around the Minneapolis food scene for a long time. After starting out in New York, he moved to town and worked at Goodfellow’s. Then he opened Cosmos. Then he opened the Red Stag Supper Club. Now he’s Executive Chef for W Hotels in the Foshay Tower, running Manny’s, Prohibition, and the Living Room.


Josh is one focused dude, like the other chefs I’ve met this year. He’s organized, straightforward, always moving. And man, can he cook. For last night’s Sample Circuit in the Living Room he sent out a huge assortment of dishes, forming a huge spectrum from comfort food (beef tamales, pigs in the blanket with Fisher Farms pork), to gourmet (curried king crab sushi roll, crostini with rare beef, roquefort, and smoked tomato marmalade), and points in between (truffled deviled eggs, scallop and kobe beef sliders).

Aside from actually eating and photographing all this amazing food, my favorite moment from the night illustrates another side to Josh. It was getting to the end of the evening, and the pigs in a blanket had run out. They were, after all, delicious, and made of pig. My friend Val noticed the absence of the pigs, grabbed Josh, and pretty much demanded more. (You’ve got to know Val to understand that this isn’t particularly surprising behavior.) It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Josh to blow her off, say sorry, how about some lamb meatballs instead? But he said he knew where there were ‘a few more,’ ran off, and three minutes later came back with a small plate loaded with pigs in blanket, just for Val.

That, my friends, is how to build a fan club.






Last image from the night: not the best picture I’ve ever taken of my wife Johanna, but we just had to get a shot of these Diva Glass Slippers given to her and Val. Like a coozy, but for your wine glass! Brilliant!


Johanna really wanted an Obama one, too, but all that were left were white Obamas, and that just didn’t seem right.

Sample Circuit: 20.21

There are few things in life that make me happier and more content than being in a restaurant when everything clicks perfectly; when the ambiance is welcoming and warm, the service matches, and the food balances creativity with comfort. Here in Minneapolis I’ve had that experience at a few places: the Birchwood Cafe, the Red Stag Supper Club, the NE Bulldog. Last night it happened for me at 20.21.

Asher and the gang on the line

Asher and the gang on the line

Given the fact that 20.21 resides in the Walker Art Center, and is one of the most upscale of Wolfgang Puck’s current restaurants, you’d maybe expect the snootyness index to be high, but despite the dramatic dining room space and fusion menu, everything about 20.21 feels pretense-free. And everything I’ve tried there (granted, on two trips only) speaks hospitality through attention to every detail. Example from last night: a simple mini cheeseburger, perfectly cooked with a honey curry ketchup that put it over the top.

Both of my trips to 20.21 have been with the Sample Circuit, but I’ll definitely ┬ábe going back on my own.

Roasted Alaskan Halibut with Pineapple Sambal

Roasted Alaskan Halibut with Pineapple Sambal

Sweet Corn Soup Shot with Croutons and Chili Oil

Sweet Corn Soup Shot with Croutons and Chili Oil

Tempura Shrimp with Pickled Ginger Vinagrette

Tempura Shrimp with Pickled Ginger Vinaigrette

Korean Beef Short Rib Satays

Korean Beef Short Rib Satays

Chocolate Dipped Cookie Lollipops

Chocolate Dipped Cookie Lollipops

The view on the deck

The view on the deck

Santorini Taverna: Like the Mediterranean, only in Eden Prairie

When I started the latest photo shoot for the Sample Circuit, I figured I had a pretty good idea what I was in for: hang out with chef Craig Johnson and shoot some portraits, showcase their new restaurant space in a way that highlighted its deck and general Mediterranean-ness, shoot some food. Then they said they wanted a shot of owner Tony Nicklow with one of their signature dishes, saganaki. Turns out saganaki is an Asiago-like Greek cheese that is doused in brandy tableside then lit on fire. Flames erupt, everyone yells “OPA!” the flames recede, and the tray is set in front of the happy diners.

Now that’s a subject! First of all, you’ve got to know that I love cheese. Second, beautiful as the new Santorini is, it’s not actually the Mediterranean. It’s a very nice restaurant in an Eden Prairie strip mall. Tough to muster maximum excitement for that kind of setting. But you throw in some flaming imported dairy, held by a guy who’s been serving this dish for over 30 years? My attention had been piqued.

But first, chef Craig Johnson. Great guy, fun photo subject in part because he actually did the non-standard things I asked him to. Case in point.



Then it was time for Tony and saganaki. A testament to his true professionalism: no eyebrows were harmed in the making of this image.


Small edible art at Cosmos

Last night the Sample Circuit gathered in the swank dining room at Cosmos Restaurant and, as has been my habit this year, I was there to document it.

As I’ve reported in these very blog pages, what Executive Chef Hakan Lundberg does with ingredients is unique to Minnesota. Hakan really gets a kick out of opening a window on to the process for his diners, and last night he and his #1 sous chef were in the dining room creating fois gras lolipops and fruit ‘explosions’ for the crowd. Cool for foodies to be able to see the magic in motion and interact with the chefs.

Fruit explosion magic being perpetrated by sous chef Shawn

Fruit explosion magic being perpetrated by sous chef Shawn

Team Cosmos’ version of the Sample Circuit was unique in relation to the others so far this year: much higher degree of difficulty on all the dishes, lots more variety, but no banquet table service, only passed trays.

The Cosmos shrimp cocktail

The Cosmos shrimp cocktail

For those in attendance on their first trip to Cosmos, I’m sure the sample they received has them intrigued and definitely wanting more.

Plenty more photos from the night on the Sample Circuit Flicker stream (supplied by yours truly).