It’s as hard to keep up with food buzzwords as it is to figure out what they mean, and “artisan” is one of those words. It pops up everywhere but eludes definition. Some claim it’s another way to say “gourmet”—but does that mean that McDonald’s artisan chicken sandwich is gourmet? Hmmm. Our research suggests that artisan foods are hand-made in small batches and often use sustainable, local ingredients. The term also implies skill, craft and tradition. Most importantly, artisan foods taste fantastic, a divine result of high-quality ingredients combined with loving preparation. We have artisan delights aplenty around here; check out some of our favorite finds, from pizza to doughnuts to beef.
Victor’s On Water
If you’ve ever tried to make fresh pasta at home, you know that it’s a labor of love, albeit with a smashing payoff. Victor’s fresh pasta has the thoughtful mark of the artisan in every dish. Since Victor’s menu is seasonal, it changes frequently, and each visit brings another set of delights to savor. There were 10 different pasta masterpieces on the menu when we last checked (bring your Italian phrase book along), including squid ink tonarelli; ricotta ravioli; spinach spaghetti; Prosecco risotto; carrot cavatelli and gluten-free fusilli marinara. The superstar of the lot is the pappardelle Bolognese: wide, hand-cut egg noodles drenched in rich Bolognese sauce built from long-simmered layers of flavor, rich with veal and pork, sautéed vegetables and a good sprinkling of Parmesan. $18.
BURRATA CAPRESE SALAD
This establishment’s philosophy is all about supporting artisan foods: the restaurant’s website lists 21 local producers supplying everything from cheese, veggies and meat to beer and spirits. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, then one made with burrata will send you over the moon. Burrata is also mozzarella, but it’s filled with cream instead of milk, and it’s as knee-weakening as it sounds. Bacio smartly pounces on fresh, small-batch local ingredients for this marvel: local tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, fine aged balsamic vinegar and BelGioso cheese from Wisconsin. The final flourish: fresh basil leaves. $12.
Punch Neapolitan Pizza
At Punch Neapolitan pizza, the dough is hand-rolled, hand-shaped and quickly fired in an 800-degree wood-burning oven, just as pizza artisans have done for centuries in Naples. The Adriatico pie, named after the sea that separates Italy from the Balkans, is salty and sassy with feta cheese, capers, onion, Saracene olives and oregano—all on a perfectly blistered ultra-thin crust. $11.50.
BEEF CHEEK NACHOS
6Smith’s credo, printed at the top of the menu, nicely embodies the artisan gestalt: “We are craftsmen … we source and prepare heritage products from responsible people dedicated to sustainability, integrity and quality.” The food bears this out. It’s a meat-centric eatery, a good place to explore the craft of butchery. The artisan movement has spurred an interest in unusual cuts of meat, like beef cheeks, which happen to be one of the most tender, flavorful parts of the animal. 6Smith uses them for an upscale twist on nachos, the classic bar snack. These are brilliant—melt-in-the-mouth cheek meat layered with tangy, nutty Fini cheddar cheese, smoky-hot grilled jalapeños, roasted poblano peppers and red onions. It’s certainly the most haute pile of chips you’ll ever eat. Remember, the same rules of nacho eating still apply: Share nicely. $13.
MAPLE NUT CUSTARD
Adele’s Frozen Custard
Adele opened her shop in 1988, cornering the market (and our appetites) on frozen custard. Frozen custard is sort of like ice cream but it adds egg yolk and whips out extra air to make something rich and smooth that is pure velvet on the tongue. Visit Adele’s online custard calendar to see what the flavors of the day are, or just show up and allow extra time to marvel, sample and decide. One day could feature maple nut with a sweet, nutty crunch, and another, New York cherry. Small cone, $3.19.
BUILD YOUR OWN CHUNKY GOURMET BAR
Get your custom chocolates here. For more than 30 years, Laketown has been hand-dipping, pouring and molding their sweet creations, touting a 150-year-old European recipe to make a 34 percent cacao milk chocolate, and 50 percent and 72 percent dark chocolates, as well as dark mint and white chocolate. You can get in on the artisan action and design your own chunky chocolate bar: Seven ounces of chocolate mixed with a few items from the long list of salty snacks (mixed nuts, Cajun or wasabi snack mix, pretzels, potato chips), cookies and candies (jelly beans, Oreos, gummy worms, toffee, malted milk balls, chocolate-covered espresso beans), fruits and spices (chili flakes, coconut, dried cherries, cranberries, raisins, bananas). For the Lake Minnetonka Magazine bar, we’re thinking milk chocolate, pretzels and cranberries. Setup charge, $50. $6.99 each for three; $5.54 each for an order of 192.
Lakewinds Natural Foods
Lakewinds Food Co-op and Breadsmith Bakeries recently got together in the name of handmade, hearth-baked, artisan goodness. Breadsmith, a locally owned, well-loved bakery, makes all kinds of loaves, both tasty and nourishing. Try the flaxseed farmer’s wheat with cranberries, which you can find almost every day (call ahead to make sure). It’s a solid and hearty, full of fiber and rich with flaxseed’s omega-3 oils. Rye, oats, corn meal, bran and sunflower seeds add additional flavor and texture, and sweet-tart cranberries punctuate every bite. This bread is just as good for buttered toast as it is for an overstuffed sandwich; it’s a charming beauty of a loaf with a rough, rubbly outside yielding a pretty, ruby-studded inside.
GLAZED OLD FASHIONED SOUR CREAM DOUGHNUT
YoYo Donuts and Coffee Bar
Lowbrow and highbrow collide at YoYo Donuts, where every doughnut is made from scratch, by hand, on-site, each day—talk about artisan central. The daily selection rotates, and the shop takes advantage of local ingredients. The glazed old-fashioned sour cream doughnut takes the proverbial cake for simplicity and tradition (though the doughnut crowned with a strip of bacon is a cult favorite). YoYo makes its doughnuts with a mix of wheat, barley and potato flours that add subtle flavor and heft, quite unlike the mass-produced sugary pap in doughnut chain shops. The coffee here is artisan as well: Local roaster Dogwood Coffee Co. delivers direct-trade fresh beans every week, and every cup is ground and brewed to order in a very impressive coffee machine. The family-owned shop does everything with love and care; it’s a delight to savor a doughnut and a cup full of good Joe while flipping through The Tiny Donut with a Big Heart. Doughnut, $1.06; coffee, $2.49.
HEATHCOTE HAM SANDWICH
The Cottagewood General Store
Established in 1895, the Cottagewood General Store houses a little café with daily soup and salad options and sandwiches made in front of you, in the true artisan spirit of craftsmanship. The sandwich menu reads like a local pride list: Big Island BLT; Spirit Island Italian; the Yacht Club and Woodland Turkey. The Heathcote Ham hits the spot, with nicely sliced ham layered with Swiss cheese, cool cucumber slices and snappy Dijon mustard. $7.49.
TEXAS BEEF RIBS
Tonka Grill and BBQ
Mike Lindahl, the owner of Tonka Grill & BBQ, embodies the artisan spirit in his longtime passion for slow-and-low cookery. His finely honed craft starts with an overnight dry-rub marinade and half a day in the hickory-wood smoker, ending with a quick turn on a hot grill with a good swipe of Tonka Grill’s own barbecue sauce. The baby back ribs are a favorite, but the Texas-style beef ribs make for satisfying gnawing: smoky with chewy charred bits and a mammoth bone to grasp. You get a choice of two sides—we always say yes to their crunchy coleslaw and baked beans. Even visiting Texans and self-proclaimed rib snobs approve. Half-slab, $15.95.