Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Reetsy Reviews: Town Talk Diner

It's no secret that I enjoy spending time and my appetite at Town Talk Diner. This is our "neighborhood joint." We take friends and family here on a regular basis. We celebrated our engagement here. This one of our top picks for sharing good times. Can you feel me on this? Do you have a neighborhood joint that specializes in local foods?

During our recent visit to Town Talk I noticed they've recreated their menu for fall.

I was VERY pleased to see that a fall-inspired butternut squash risotto has returned to the menu. I am a risotto lover. I remember Town Talk's sweet potato risotto from their fall menu last year as if I ate it yesterday: risotto prepared with sweet potato, swiss chard, aged jack cheese, pumpkin seeds, made with veggie stock, topped with pumpkin seed oil. That aged jack cheese with the sweet potato was on point.

So with at least two local butternut squash risotto dishes available (at Spoonriver and Town Talk), Minneapolines have no reason not to indulge...unless, of course, you hate butternut squash.

gerg and I took some hot seats at the bar. I ordered one of the specials: a pasta dish made with torchio pasta and locally harvested lobster mushrooms in a butter sauce with black pepper.

gerg ordered a ribeye steak off the menu. I believe it has replaced the NY strip steak. The ribeye is prepared with a generous amount of black pepper and is served with a gratin potato dish that sets a ridiculously high bar in terms of good gratin. Rich n Savory. Extreme Savorocity!

We had the opportunity to speak with ex-Cosmos frontman and co-owner, Aaron Johnson, on the topic of the local foods at Town Talk. While Johnson spends a fair amount of time creating some of the amazing cocktails at Town Talk, he is a trained Chef and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu of Minnesota.

I had noticed that while Town Talk utilizes local producers and quality organic ingredients, they don't necessary inform patrons of that on their menu or web site, and I took a moment of Johnson's time to discuss the matter, knowing his keen interest in local foods from previous chats. Here's my summary of our discussion while I sipped on one of their new cocktails, a "cherry ghost" (house made vanilla infused vodka with cherry puree).

Me: "Hey Aaron, can you explain to me why you don't list your local producers on your menu?"

Johnson: "Well, it's for a variety of reasons. As you can see, we do list Fischer Farms as the producer of our pork." (Fischer's Purebred Hog Farm, Waseca, MN)

Me: "Why not anyone else? Not enough menu real estate?"

Johnson: "Kind of. We know Fischer Farms can usually supply all that we need. But when we had our heirloom tomato dish on the menu this summer, it would have been difficult to list our producers. At that time we were using several local tomato producers."

Me: "You couldn't list them all?"

Johnson: "Well, when one producer only has 90 tomatoes for you that week, you have to move on the next. You don't necessarily know who is going to have the best product ahead of time, so you can list them."

Me: "That makes sense."

Johnson: "We like to be able to choose our producers based on the quality of what they've got available...and that can change drastically from week to week."

Me: "So rather than listing all of the potential producers, you just leave them off the menu."

Johnson (topping of my drink): "You got it." *wink*

It stands to reason that listing the producers on a menu can be problematic. As we witnessed at Spoonriver, a menu that relies on local products is subject to change.

A tip: If you're really looking for local ingredients, always ask about the specials at restaurants. Town Talk frequently features specialty local ingredients in their specials because they don't obtain a steady enough supply of them to list them on the menu. Take, for instance, my lobster mushroom pasta dish. Those lobster mushrooms were harvested by a local mushroom forager this week, who supplied a small amount to Town Talk. They used the smaller amount to create a special for one night. Thankfully, I happened to stop that night. Doesn't that just make sense? Isn't that the way food should be offered?

Town Talk Diner
2707 1/2 E Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55406
Phone: (612) 722-1312


Aaron said...

What I love about the daily specials is that they generally can quickly rattle off exactly where every ingredient comes from if you ask.

While it may be off topic in terms of local and sustainable foods, it is on topic regarding the new Town Talk menu this autumn:

The Jackson Pollock is a new drink on the menu, created by Nick Kosovich for the Bombay Sapphire / GQ Magazine mixologist competition earlier this year. It came in second place behind a drink mixed by a bartender that worked at the venue of the competition. It's very good; strongly recommended.

A good autumn off-the-menu drink that was created that didn't make the menu is the Bavarian Schoolgirl. Only Nick, Aaron and maybe Patrick can make it there that I'm aware of. It has Bärenjäger, Apfelkorn, Brandy and lemonade garnished with a cherry. It's fantastic. I'm sad it didn't make the menu. :-)

David Foureyes said...

Bärenjäger, Apfelkorn, Brandy and lemonade...that sounds like the perfect cure for a sore throat! Honey, Apple, Brandy and Lemon. Sounds delicious, and a perfect digestif for October.

Alexis said...

AJ's been pushing that mushroom pasta on me lately but I haven't been in the mood. It sounds good, though; maybe I'll have my baby bring some home tonight.