Since 1991, The Gardens of Salonica in Northeast Minneapolis has been serving up classic Greek cuisine that is fresh and flavorful. The chefs make this possible by sourcing their products from local and organic producers. Their cuisine is so good, The Gardens of Salonica are ranked as one of the best Greek restaurants in the area. They are also recipients of the 2013 Talk of the Town Customer Satisfaction Award.
It’s funny how life throws you a curve ball every once in awhile. A few years ago when my fiance and I were in search of Greek food after a date in the Twin Cities (we weren’t originally from here), we came acrossed a restaurant that had amazing food that we both remembered to this day. A funny coincidence occurred the other day when my friend invited me to one of her favorite restaurants to catch up. Since I adore any and all Greek food, I immediately said, “yes!” When I walked into The Gardens of Salonica, my first thought was, “omigod, I’ve been here before!” I realized that this was the exact same place my fiance and I had been years before and you better believe that I was excited to be back.
They have quite an impressive menu. When I say impressive, what I really mean is that I wanted to order everything on the menu. I was having a little bit of difficulty figuring out what I wanted to eat that night. 🙂 After a serious debate, my friend and I ordered an appetizer and I finally decided on an entree. Here’s what we went with:
We started our dinner with a plate to share, introducing the Spinach Feta Boughasta. Have no clue what this is? I’ll tell you. The boughasta is made of delicious, flaky phyllo dough (commonly used in baklava) and stuffed with fresh feta cheese, spinach, scallions and seasonings. When served warm, it is possibly one of the best ways to start a Greek meal. The boughasta has a lot of great, savory flavor and is perfectly light. Personally, I loved it. I thought it had just the right amount of flavor and I enjoyed the melted feta in the middle. For anyone who enjoys these flavor combinations, I definitely would recommend this. Also, a full one is just the right size to share for two people.
I went with the house mousakas. What you see below is a party for your tastebuds. The Gardens of Salonica offer both a vegetarian and meat option so all guests can enjoy this one. I went with the regular mousaka, which included meat. The mousaka is composed of baked layers of oven roasted eggplant and seasoned local, pasture-raised ground beef, topped with bechamel cream sauce of organic milk, Hope butter, Schultz eggs and organic, aromatic spices. Sound good to you? I am certainly a fan of this one. Not only did it taste fresh, but it provided the savory taste that I was looking for. The flavors worked well together. The layers of eggplant and the topping were my favorite parts. The eggplant alone, did an excellent job of absorbing all the spices that were added in. The top. made of the eggs and spices had a great texture that I enjoyed. Sometimes, I can be a little bit of a texture person. Overall, this dish was flavorful and one that I will be ordering again soon. Use the pita bread served with your meal to mop up the saucy base. It’s worth every drop.
If you are thinking about visiting anytime in the future, trust me, you won’t be disappointed. The entrees are served with your choice of a house salad or soup of the day and you automatically get a side of pita bread to go with your meal. You really get amazing quality and a lot of food for a very reasonable price. Make sure to put in a reservation beforehand. Dinner time tends to get quite busy, but you should be fine if you are starting your dinner or lunch early.
This past weekend, the Twin Cities were the host for the first Caffeine Crawl to grace the Upper Midwest. The Caffeine Crawl was the idea of The LAB, a group so passionate about quality beverages that they wanted to highlight local businesses that are dedicated to excellence. At the Caffeine Crawl, participants sampled some pretty amazing coffee and tea. In addition, the participants had the opportunity to learn more about the quality, technique, and roasting process of the products. At each stop in the crawl, there was a brief presentation and a selection of free drinks available to attendees only.
Participants: Bull Run Coffee, Cafe Imports, Dogwood Coffee with Gray Duck Chai, J&S Bean Factory, Peace Coffee, Publika, Quixotic Coffee, Sebastian Joe’s and TeaSource.
(The hyperlinks for Bull Run and Dogwood direct you to posts on Minnesota Munch that I’ve written)
Apart from knowing that I would be consuming 10 times my regular caffeine intake, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the first caffeine crawl to hit the Upper Midwest. Were we only going to be drinking coffee all day? Absolutely not! I have to give a shout-out to The LAB and all of the many sponsors of this crawl. Not only did the participants get to sample AMAZING specialty coffees, chais, and teas, but we also had the opportunity to learn a thing (or two) about the sourcing, production, distribution, and preparation techniques of our favorite beverages.
There were two routes to choose from for this crawl. One route covered many specialty coffee and tea cafes in St. Paul and the other had more stops in Minneapolis. I was excited that my ticket took me on the St. Paul route because, as you could probably tell from my previous posts, I haven’t had the opportunity to write much about our state’s capital. Not only was I shocked that I was missing so many great places, but I was ecstatic to meet the passionate people who bring Minneapolis/St. Paul residents something of quality and something that should be enjoyed. I definitely want to share these places we toured with anyone who is willing/excited to explore a new place. You won’t be disappointed. Now, on to my route for the Caffeine Crawl.
All of the participants met at Peace Coffee Roasting Facility where we were greeted by their staff and Jason Burton from The LAB. We were given a detailed tour of Peace Coffee Roasting Facility that included the history of their company, a look at their roasting techniques, and information about the growth and sourcing of their coffee beans. Towards the end of our tour, one of their baristas from Wonderland Park prepared a cold press coffee drink inspired by southern mint juleps. What a great way to start our crawl!
We made the 12 minute trek from Peace Coffee to J&S Bean Factory in St. Paul for our second stop. The Bean Factory, established in 2001, is an independently owned, local coffee shop and roastery. Here, we were able to enjoy a sample of their cold press coffee and a bag of cinnamon twists from a local producer. While enjoying their cold press and lounging in their spacious outdoor patio, we watched a coffee bean roasting demonstration. The unique part of this demonstration was that they were using an original roaster from San Francisco. It’s so old, that it’s serial number is literally all zeros. That’s pretty cool. Here, the cold press was a combination of a French Guatemala roast, an Ethiopian roast, and java. Luckily, at this point, I was pacing myself and didn’t feel the affects of caffeine yet. I would definitely come back here. The baristas were very knowledgeable of their brewing and roasting techniques in addition to having a humor-filled personality.
Not too far from the J&S Bean Factory was our next stop, Tea Source. This was actually one of my favorite stops. While I’ve always enjoyed a good cup of tea both full-leaf and teabagged, I never really bothered to research tea production and the differences amongst each variety. Thanks to Tea Source, I now have a little more knowledge of tea varieties and tea growing than the average person. Here, the staff at Tea Source gave us a thorough presentation on six different types of teas from Asia. The first tea was a green tea from Japan that had an ocean-like taste. One good tip I’ve learned about green tea is that you don’t boil the water when preparing it! Next was a florally oolong from Taiwan followed by a Big Red Robe oolong from China. The last two were black teas from China. One was called Golden Dragon and this one was my favorite. It had a nice, smooth taste and wasn’t too strong. The last black tea was from the Yunnan province and had a very strong, earthy taste. Definitely check this place out! They have over 230 teas to try and a very knowledgeable, passionate staff!
Quixotic Coffee was literally right across the street from Tea Source, which made getting to the next location on the crawl a snap! By the time my group arrived here, it was around lunchtime. We needed something quick to not only fight off hunger, but also to absorb the intense amount of coffee and tea we had been downing all morning. Thank you Quixotic for your ridiculously good strawberry pastry with pistachios. Yes, I did just say I had a pastry for lunch, but look at the picture below. Can you blame me?
Getting back to the coffee again, they didn’t disappoint here. The baristas at Quixotic gave a unique presentation on brewing the perfect cup of potato coffee. I’m not kidding, the barista prepared potato defect for us to sample. I’ve never heard of this before and was pumped to try it out! FYI, it smells to high heaven when they brew it. Don’t get discouraged by this because it actually doesn’t taste half bad when it’s hot and ready. This particular defect had a mixture of Rwandan and Burundi coffee. Apparently this is a common brew in Africa. (If anyone else has tried this … and has actually sampled it in Africa, please post! I want to know more!)
After doing a little digging, this blog post had the most information I could find about the potato defect.
By this point I was definitely feeling a caffeine high. With headaches creeping up and more energy than I could handle, thank goodness the next stop was to Cafe Imports. Cafe Imports is an importer of specialty coffee beans from 20 countries. They are considered one of the best distributors and they sell their beans to specialty roasters worldwide. A few of their clients include Dunn Bros. Coffee, Bull Run (Mpls local), and Dogwood Coffee Company (also Mpls local and the last stop on our crawl). If you have an opportunity to tour a warehouse, especially one that is filled with 23,000 large bags of coffee, take advantage of it! Seriously, when are you going to see 23,000 bags of coffee in one place? Oh, you saw my picture below? You’re welcome. For more information, please check out their website in the hyperlink.
This last stop was done in two parts. There was Gray Duck Chai and there was Dogwood Coffee Company. First of all, let me say that I love chai. I really love chai and Gray Duck Chai has now captured my heart as my No. 1 go-to for chai. Let me begin by saying that they gave a brilliant presentation. Not only did they make the chai in front of us, but they also presented and discussed the attributes of all the spices and ingredients. Who knew that cloves have 12 times the amount of antioxidants as the acai berry? This was just one of the many interesting facts we learned from their presentation. As for their chai, it was excellent and prepared like masala chais on the of streets of India. You can’t get more authentic than that. The authentic masala chais have strong notes of pepper and ginger. Gray Duck Chai definitely incorporated these two spices to dominate the flavor of their chai.
Now, I’ve been to Dogwood Coffee Company’s cafe before in Uptown Square and I’ve enjoyed their hot miel coffee. Dogwood Coffee Company began three years ago and was originally housed near Lake Calhoun in Rustica Bakery. In 2010, they opened their own cafe in Calhoun Square and have been there since. At their roasting facility, they chose to highlight their Zamboni Cold Press coffee. In my opinion, perfect time for summer! This coffee is a light-medium roast and had a nice, strong flavor. Currently, they hand-make all their Zamboni batches for wholesale consumers, but they stated that they’re getting ready to produce smaller batches for individual sale. I’m pretty excited about that announcement!
When things were all said and done, all crawlers met up at Common Roots Cafe in the Lowry Hill neighborhood for the after party. At Common Roots, crawlers were given free samples of Fulton Beer’s collaboration brew, War and Peace. If it’s being offered for caffeine crawl participants, it’s no surprise that the beer has coffee brewed into it. In addition to sampling coffee beer, the after crawl included a raffle where proceeds were directly donated to Books For Africa.
Sovereign Estate Winery is a family owned and operated vineyard and winery located near Lake Waconia, 30 minutes outside of downtown Minneapolis. The winery was started by Paul Savaryn, the winery and property owner, when he had been told by his father that the south facing slope would be idea for growing fruit. He and his wife started the vineyard in 2008 after a year’s worth of practice vines to see how they would grow. Today, Paul’s son Ben and his wife Hana, work there, as well as his step brother Isaac. SEW is in their fourth winemaking season and their wines are distributed by a small handful of sellers. The majority of their wine is still sold at their winery to accommodate the large number of visitors.
We were fortunate enough to meet Paul when my fiance and I visited SEW this past weekend. He was upbeat, friendly and was more than willing to explain his craft to us. We both were thankful to hear the history of their winery and to learn about different types of grapes and the flavors that each yields.
My fiance wanted to take me on a surprise date this past weekend and what better way to do that than visiting a winery! He definitely hit the nail on the head with this one. Note only was I able to get content for this blog, but we would be able to sample local wines! Luckily, SEW is open on Sundays and for a small fee of $5, we’re able to sample five of their wines. He scored some pretty big brownie points with me for finding this gem. Here’s what we thought …
I’m not going to pretend that I have a vast knowledge of wine, but I’ve had my fare share of them to know the difference between a mediocre wine and something of quality. Sovereign Estate Winery definitely produces wines of quality for both red and white wine lovers alike. Don’t believe me? Feel free to check out the awards won from their most popular wine, Talon Crest.
Talon Crest won a gold medal in 2011 at the American Wine Society judging in New York. This is a semi-sweet, fruity white wine and was a smashing hit with my fiance and me. With notes of apricot, green apple and an orange zest finish, it is quite refreshing. We decided to order two more glasses of this wine while listening to a local band that SEW was hosting for the day. My fiance and I loved this wine so much, we had to bring a bottle home with us.
Their La Crescent is a dry, fruity wine. It’s a French-American hybrid that is descended from the Seyval Blanc grape. You can definitely taste the apricot and apple notes in this wine. I tend to like whites better than reds (my fiance does, also) so this one struck a chord with us. This wine was a little on the drier side, but we didn’t mind much.
Blue Loon was our second favorite wine of the day, behind the Talon Crest. Not only did this wine have a delightful aroma, but the taste was astounding. We could definitely pick out the floral notes from this wine and welcomed the citrus aftertaste. Blue Loon was nice and crisp, perfect for a summer day. It’s made from the Traminette grape, which is a hybrid of the Gewurztraminer.
The last wine we had was their Tenuta Di Sovrano, which is a light, dry red wine. This wine is an Italian-styled Sangiovese that has undertones of plum and spicy clove. To put it simply, I loved it. I would probably have purchased a bottle, but we couldn’t resist their Talon Crest. For red wine lovers, this is definitely one for you. SEW recommends pairing this wine with traditional Italian fare for one unforgettable dinner.
We’re definitely going back to this place. They have host events throughout the summer and will debut their new collection of wines June 8th of this year. This collection will feature their estate grown grapes. In addition, they’ve crafted a red wine version of their original Talon Crest. Excited? You bet we are!
For a full view of their wine list, check out the link below: Wine List
Also, be sure to walk around their garden when you visit.
Dogwood Coffee Company is a small, specialty coffee roaster in Uptown right off Hennepin Avenue. They serve their coffee single-cup style; single-cup style means that each espresso is brewed to order and not a minute before.
It’s important give a call-out to Dogwood Coffee Co. because of their dedication to working with producers, exporters, importers, agronomists and educators who focus on sustainable living. Building relationships with these individuals is clearly important to Dogwood Coffee Co. and this goal is apparent when reading their blog. Yes, a specialty coffee roaster that blogs! They post valuable content ranging from their experiences sourcing product to their favorite coffee moments.
In addition to their outstanding dedication to providing a quality cup of coffee, they also work with local groups within Minnesota to make their coffees special. They even go as far as sourcing the milk from local Minnesota producers! I have to say, I’m very impressed with their dedication, passion, knowledge and involvement in enhancing the coffee experience.
With a motto of “We work hard so you can have good coffee in your mouth,” it’s no surprise that baristas at Dogwood Coffee Co. know how to whip up a fantastic brew. To kick off my morning, I decided to step outside my usual (vanilla lattes or chai) and order a café miel. A café miel has a shot of espresso, steamed milk, cinnamon, and honey. The name comes from the French word for honey, miel. While it’s not my usual, I did enjoy it. I would prefer more of a stronger coffee flavor, but I realize that a café miel is supposed to be a little tamer. Overall, I would order it again. My cup had a nice, smooth flavor and definitely gave me the kick I needed to get my morning going. In addition, the baristas knew what they were doing and served up the perfect ratios of steamed milk to espresso. A huge plus for me is receiving a cup with coffee art. Not gonna lie, I’m a huge sucker for awesome coffee art. 🙂
I quickly want to mention their location. Dogwood Coffee Co. is located in the Calhoun Square Shopping Center. This place piqued my interest even more when I saw the entire brewing station in an open space! Literally, a shopper could walk right into the area behind the counter. What a perfect way for customers to view their brewing technique! Lastly, there is a seating section that gives you a great view of Hennepin Avenue.
P.S. I’m also a sucker for huge windows that let me look outside when I write. This place definitely got my creative juices flowing!
Now this is a personal favorite of mine. I’m a sucker for locally grown and produced products from Minnesota. While there are many wineries in Minnesota, this one has my heart…mainly because this one is super small and close to where I grew up. I was surprised when I went home and my parents took me here. The owners started Whispering Oaks Winery a few years ago (at that time I was away at college). They grow all their own grapes and invite family and friends over to press the grapes.
About the wine pictured:
This is the La Crescent wine. I’m not a red wine kind of girl, but the whites are definitely a favorite. This wine in particular had great flavor. On top of a crisp aroma and taste were notes of citrus. Not too sweet, this wine would pair well with summer-inspired dishes. (Think something light like a summer salad with chicken or fish.)
On top of this wine, they have 7 other wines both red and white that would delight a variety of guests. The best part about visiting Whispering Oaks Winery is that you are able to sample 3 wines for free. Cheese and other pairings are available for a small fee, but it’s well worth it. On top of great wines, the owners are friendly and are always willing to share stories about their winery.
To see more information on their wines, please click here.