Even in a pandemic, or maybe even moreso, our readers have lots of questions for us.
From recommendations for dining out to where to get takeout, we are always happy to help.
Here is a sampling of some of recent reader inquiries and our answers.
As always, feel free to ask us your burning restaurant and food questions by sending an email to [email protected].
Q. I’m wondering if you know of a place that has spumoni. A restaurant here in Rochester, where I live, used to get the most wonderful spumoni I’ve ever had. They would never reveal where they got it, and now no longer offer it. Interested in your suggestions!
A. Your best bet is old-school Italian restaurants. Yarusso’s has it. So does Little Oven and DeGidio’s.
DeGidio’s: 425 W. Seventh St. St. Paul; 651-291-7105; degidios.com
Yarusso Bros.: 635 Payne Ave,. St. Paul; 651-776-4848; yarussos.com
The Little Oven: 1786 E. Minnehaha Ave., St. Paul; 651-735-4944; thelittleoven.com
Q. Do patios with enclosed tents count as outside for COVID precautions? How does a tent with walls differ from being inside in regards to COVID precautions?
A. We checked in with the Minnesota Department of Health, and at the moment the MDH and its partners are still working to clarify rules and guidance around whether tents and which kind are considered indoor or outdoor spaces in relation to COVID. They are looking at the definition of “indoor” as it applies to this situation.
In our opinion, since tents, or outdoor dining igloos for that matter, are an enclosed space, treat them as an indoor dining space until there is further clarification on this.
It’s also worth noting that in response to the use of tents during the pandemic, the fire marshal recently posted an information sheet on what safety measures should be put in place. This addresses things such as the use of heaters and says no open-flame cooking is allowed inside tents and that any cooking that produces sparks or grease must be 20 feet or more away from tents.
Q. I can’t eat gluten or nuts, and would really love to find gluten-free banh mi and ramen in the metro (preferably south, but I’m borderline desperate and willing to drive). I used to go to Tori Ramen in St. Paul, but they don’t seem to do a gluten-free option now that they’ve moved. If you know of a place that makes gluten-free bread that could be used for banh mi that is also egg-free (we have a serious egg allergy in our house), that would also be fabulous.
A. We did manage to find a place that has a gluten-free banh mi option — Brunson’s will serve any of its sandwiches on a gluten-free roll — but it’s not egg-free. That being said, an authentic banh mi comes on a light, airy, crisp-crusted baguette, and I’m sure you’re aware that’s going to be difficult to make gluten-free. But we do have some good news! Tori, which has relocated to West Seventh Street and is takeout-only for now, totally has gluten-free noodles. You just have to check a box that pops up when you are placing the order.
Brunson’s Pub: 956 Payne Ave., St. Paul; 651-447-2483; brunsonspub.com
Tori: 603 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-340-5866; toriramen.com
Q. Some friends and I have joined the One Book One Minnesota book club and are reading “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota.” We have been meeting to discuss the book and have dinner together. We have been doing takeout and would like to support local BIPOC owners. We live in the St. Paul and Little Canada areas. Do you have a list or know of a resource that would list take out businesses that are BIPOC-owned?
A. We’re not sure about a list of places that specifically offer takeout, but if it’s any person of color, the options are wide open! Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican — there are tons of options for all of these. As for Black-owned businesses, if you haven’t had Afro Deli yet, we highly recommend it. Karibu on the East side is excellent, as well. Both offer takeout. For Mexican, our favorites are Los Ocampos or Tavial Grill for straight-up tacos, El Burrito Mercado for everything and the machete (a giant, shareable quesadilla-taco thing) from Taco Libre.
Good luck and keep us updated on your adventures!
Afro Deli: 5 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul; 651-888-2168; afrodeli.com
Karibu Grocery and Deli: 719 Payne Ave., St. Paul; 651-414-0799; karibu-grocery-deli.business.site
Los Ocampos: 1751 Suburban Ave., St. Paul; 651-256-2932or 615 W. University Ave., St. Paul; losocampo.com
Q. By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that Curran’s Restaurant in Minneapolis has closed, and I need your help finding places that have my three favorite items from their menu: 1) Monte Cristo sandwiches, 2) veal Parmesan, and 3) liver and onions.
A. It’s tough when a restaurant you love closes. We’ve been living that reality for the past few months, and we have a feeling it’s not stopping anytime soon. Here are some suggestions. Liver and onions and veal Parmesan in particular were hard to track down, but we found all three!
For Monte Cristo sandwiches the size of your head, try Key’s Cafe. For veal Parmesan, try Carmelo’s on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul. And for liver and onions, Key’s has it, and so does Joseph’s Grill on Wabasha Street on St. Paul’s West Side.
Carmelo’s: 238 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul; 651-699-2448; carmelos.com
Key’s Cafe: nine metro locations, including St. Paul, Roseville, Woodbury, White Bear Lake, Hudson and Forest Lake; keyscafe.com
Joseph’s Grill: 140 S. Wabasha St., St. Paul; 651-222-2435; josephsgrill.com
Q. I’m having guests and looking for a casual dish to serve, preferably finger food or something with minimal silverware, that I can pick up ahead of time to serve later. What do you suggest for a memorable takeout dish that keeps warm or reheats well, or requires neither?
A. If you want food your guests will remember, consider getting gyros at The Naughty Greek, which has two locations in St. Paul. The spot serves authentic Athenian street-style gyros like those chef/owner Angelo Giovanis grew up on in Greece. That means no lamb gyros as we’re more used to, but rather those filled with pork and chicken. It’s changed how we think of gyros forever — and it may for your guests as well. The pork one is our favorite. Just keep the gyros in tinfoil in the oven at 170 degrees, until ready to serve.
Or, you can skip the oven entirely and get Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches — as I often do when I’m having company over. Some of my favorites are along University Avenue in St. Paul. IPho by Saigon has excellent sandwiches, as does Trung Nam French Bakery, and both make their own baguettes for the sandwiches. You can get the classic with Vietnamese cold cuts, so no need to heat/reheat. It’s also great that Trung Nam recently opened a takeout window so you can just drive up to pick up your order (preorders recommended). If your group isn’t as adventurous with Vietnamese cold cuts, head to iPho, which, in addition to the classic, has more than a dozen banh mi fillings that includes a very delicious grilled pork one.
The Naughty Greek: three locations, including two in St. Paul. 181 N. Snelling Ave., St. Paul; 651-219-4438and 2400 University Ave. West, St. Paul; thenaughtygreek.com
Trung Nam French Bakery: 739 University Ave. W., St. Paul; 651-229-0887; trung-nam.squarespace.com/#home
iPho by Saigon: 704 W. University Ave., St. Paul; 651-225-8751; iphomn.com
Q. A friend and I are looking for a moderately priced restaurant in the St. Paul area (preferably east of the river) that has really good protocols in place for COVID. We’ve been sticking with outdoor dining, but with the nasty turn of weather that’s probably a nonstarter. Do you have any recommendations? Easy-access parking is a plus. We’ve been racking our brains for someplace for this Saturday evening and are coming up blank.
A. While eating indoors is riskier than outdoors, several restaurants have made upgrades such as air-filtration systems to clean the air. We’re finding that restaurants are happy to let you know what protocols they’ve put in place, either by a phone call or by checking out their website and social media pages. We mention a few creative things restaurants are doing in terms of air-filtration systems in this article.
That being said, for what you’re looking for, we recommend Parlour St. Paul on West Seventh — it’s contemporary, fun and moderately priced. The roomy restaurant has plenty of space to spread out and has installed a Global Plasma Solutions bipolar ionization unit to catch particles. Studies have shown a 99.4 percent reduction rate on a COVID-19 surface within 30 minutes. And, the spot serves up the famous Parlour Burger!
Q. While I’m trying to support local restaurants by ordering takeout food, the meals always seem like “leftovers” once I get them home. They often have cooled, have slid around so a sandwich is no longer together, etc. Do you have tips on how to transport restaurant takeout food home?
A. Have you considered an insulated bag? We have several hot/cool bags that we use to transport frozen or hot things from place to place. As far as things sliding around, I suggest putting the bags on the floor in the back seat, where they are less likely to move around than if they are on a slanted seat or in a trunk where there’s lots of room to move.
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