Come June, Mother Nature graciously bestows us with her dazzling jewels, the best of which are berries. Berries, a fruit from a single ovary (the botanical definition) are smart little baubles—their flashy colors attract birds and animals that eat them and “release” their seeds for widespread germination—and each little gem of a berry contains a world of new life. Yes, berries are also of full of vitamins, antioxidants and other fancy nutrients, but all we really need to know is that they are delicious and that the season is, at last, upon us. Strawberries start ripening in the fields in June; raspberries, blueberries and blackberries soon follow. And now we have a host of exotic newbies on the scene, like the tasty “superfood” berries, açai and goji. So many berries, so little time! Alas and alack, the berry season is very short, but all the more precious for it. Here are some of the most berrylicious culinary adventures in the lake area—run, don’t walk!
CRANBERRY NUT TART
You may think of cranberries as a wintertime berry, only appropriate for Thanksgiving, or in a pinch, Halloween. But these crimson, astringent, unmistakable flavor bombs are Minnesota-grown and we should celebrate them all year round. One of the tastiest ways to do so is with Patisserie Margo’s cranberry nut tart. It starts with a heavenly butter-laden shortbread crust, which is a simple and not-too-sweet backdrop for a deep pool of fresh cranberries mingling with walnuts and pecans. This gorgeous mosaic of nuts and berries gets a loving shower of caramel custard before baking. Yes, it tastes as amazing as it sounds. $4.25 individual; small $18.50; large $32. 284 Water St., Excelsior; 952.746.2232.
GRILLED PINEAPPLE, STRAWBERRY AND SPINACH SALAD
Gold Nugget Tavern and Grille
Berries love to mingle with their veggie friends, especially in creative salads. This burger-centric joint admirably devotes as much care and attention to its non-burger menu, most notably to an exciting, berry-rific salad featuring feta cheese, spinach, fresh strawberries, avocado, pumpkin seeds and grilled pineapple. It’s tossed with sweet, speckled honey-poppy seed vinaigrette—an inspired symphony of tastes and textures. The strawberries are, bien sûr, the pièce de résistance. $11.95; 14401 Excelsior Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.935.3600.
Berries get superior treatment at Licks Unlimited, a 32-year-old ice cream parlor suffused with welcoming aromas of waffle cones and cotton candy. The straightforward smoothie flavor choices are a relief in our option-saturated world—strawberry, raspberry and strawberry-banana, that’s all—and the ingredient list is just as abbreviated: fruit plus vanilla frozen yogurt. The raspberry smoothie was as thick as an ice-cream shake, flecked with colorful chunks of berries, and studded with berry seeds that you won’t mind picking from your teeth later. The smoothie comes with a long-handled spoon for immediate access. $4.50. 31 Water St., Excelsior; 952.474.4791
BAKED BRIE WITH LINGONBERRY PRESERVES
BLVD Kitchen and Bar
Pay homage to our state’s Swedish forbears by eating lingonberries, the sour Nordic fruit that is sort of like a current, sort of like a cranberry. Once a folk remedy for scurvy and gastrointestinal issues, vitamin-rich lingonberries (aka partridge berries, fox berries, bear berries and cowberries) are also an important food for local fauna. Pop into one of our hippest hangouts for a sophisticated take on the Swedish treat—brie-stuffed pastry glorified by a glowing puddle of lingonberry preserves. Familiar, beloved brie cheese gets all melty in this dish, a welcome contrast to the sweet-tart lingonberries. Slices of fresh pear and honey crostini join the party to great effect. Add a glass of wine, a friend or two, and enjoy a delightfully elegant snack or light meal. $16. 11544 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka; 763.9398.3200.
Lakewinds Natural Foods
Goji berries, also called wolfberries and Chinese gooseberries, are among the newest set of darlings on the nutrition scene, a superfood that may help boost cardiovascular health and protect against the evil foe known as inflammation. It’s part of the solanaceae family—yep, the goji has some kooky siblings like chili pepper, deadly nightshade and tobacco. The berry looks like a small, elongated, pale raspberry and has long been used in Chinese medicinal tonics like soups, tea or with rice congee. If this sounds offputtingly healthy, do as we do and enjoy them in a mix with other more friendly berries. The tauntingly tempting bulk aisle at Lakewinds Market carries a mélange called “very berry,” which is a crazy-yum amalgam of blueberry, mulberry, golden berries, pomegranates, raisins, cranberries and gojis. All are organic and lightly sweetened with apple juice concentrate. One handful goes down the hatch very quickly; ration wisely. Very berry mix, $15.29/lb. Goji berries only, $22.99/lb. 17501 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.473.0292.
YEAST-RAISED RASPBERRY-GLAZED DOUGHNUT
YoYo Donuts and Coffee Bar
At YoYo Donuts, every donut is made from scratch, on-site, each day. The selection is always different, and the shop takes advantage of our local ingredients. On one visit, we enjoyed a yeast-raised, raspberry-glazed doughnut that took every ounce of our willpower not to inhale. The doughnuts are politely small-sized (perhaps in reaction to oversized Cinnabon madness) and probably more delectable for it. We all know that the best accompaniment to any doughnut is a strong cuppa coffee, and YoYo is as serious about coffee as it is about doughnuts. Local roaster Dogwood Coffee Co. delivers direct-trade fresh beans every week. Keep your peepers peeled for seasonal and special-occasion favorites—blueberries and strawberries are sure to make this doughnut scene. Donut, $1.19; coffee, $2.69, 16 oz. ($1.99, 12 oz.) 5757 Sanibel Drive, Minnetonka; 952.960.1800.
FRESH LOCAL BERRIES
Excelsior-Minnetonka Farmers’ Markets
Savor the real, unadulterated thing at one of our awesome neighborhood farmers’ markets. The Excelsior Farmers’ Market has been around for 21 years; Minnetonka’s open-air market also enjoys a long, beloved existence. Both are invigorating places to while away a sweet summer morning and to stock up on berries in every hue. This is where you can track down the more unusual berries like golden raspberries, gooseberries and currants. Visit the Mau family for a berry rainbow at the Minnetonka market; Smith Farms will totally hook you up in Excelsior. The precious little flavor spheres go superfast wherever they are; if you have your heart set on a flat of raspberries, show up early. Prices vary. 4600 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.939.8207; Water St. between Second and Third, Excelsior; 763.238.2702.