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Woodworking column: Sublime vs. ridiculous food in the 'hood

Recently I've been bouncing around the neighborhood, grabbing a bite here and a bite there and I'm here now to tell you that menus in the upper Midwest range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Let's start with the ridiculous.

A few weeks ago Beautiful Wife and I found ourselves driving to the Saintly City to hear an opera at the Ordway. Parking now costs $15 when St. Paul offers various entertainment venues. So B.W. said "Why don't we go to Pazzaluna? We'll get the valet parking for a mere $10 and we can grab a bite of happy hour hors d'oeuvres, which are very inexpensive and we can walk the short block to the Ordway."

Great idea. The valet was friendly, but when we entered Pazzaluna we knew we were in trouble. The joint was filled to the rafters. No tables or barstools would be available until after the opera would begin. B.W. had another idea. "Let's leave the car here, and go across the street to the St. Paul Grill in the big hotel." All of B.W.'s ideas aren't great. The Grill was also packed. Luckily, we scored a tiny table for two. Then came the menus.

Omigod. One item caught my attention after I had skipped over the $59 seafood platter and the $75 steak for two. It was CTOTM (cheapest thing on the menu). Just $12.95!

And what was it? One thick slice of Nueske's bacon. As a proud River Fallsite and a voracious eater of freebies at our annual Bacon Bash, I said to the waitress: "Where I come from the bacon is a bit cheaper." And she looked at me with an expression that said "I wouldn't doubt that a bit, Rube."

I felt better about that price when I received my October copy of the New Yorker. Food critic Hannah Goldberg was happy to report that the famous "Four Seasons" restaurant had re-opened. Hannah was a bit perturbed that one crabcake cost $69.

Same goes for the Pioneer Press which reported that a modest restaurant in a modest neighborhood was charmingly cozy and unpretentious, except for the four-course "tasting"

menu which is now selling for $62.

This is getting depressing, isn't it? So let's segue from the ridiculous to the sublime when it comes to menu prices.

Recently some younger friends have taken pity on this old codger by taking him along on hamburger runs in Pierce, St. Croix and Polk counties. A few weeks ago we hit pay dirt in Hammond, when a dozen of us rolled into Cheap Andy's, a new venue based on the site of the old Hammond Hotel, never one of my favorite joints since the night I found pea-sized gravel in my Thousand Island dressing. I wondered about Andy and how cheap he was going to be. Land O' Goshen! I ordered the Wednesday special, a half-pound burger, made with never-frozen beef and a better than average bun for $6.95, plus an order of the best French fries I've ever eaten. You know. The kind that stay crisp on the outside, creamy on the in. And is not, I repeat not, crinkled. So Hammond is now back on my list.

Also back on my list is Cecil's, the durable Jewish delicatessen on St. Paul's Cleveland Avenue. A few weeks back, we visited there for the first time in years and were disappointed in the quality and price of my Pastrami sandwich (fat-free meat and limp (not Limpa) rye bread.) We figured this was atypical of the great old joint. So we returned, where B.W. had the standard breakfast special. Two eggs. Hashed browns. Two pancakes with maple syrup. Toast. Three strips of turkey bacon. Jelly. $7.45!

Pretty nice, eh? Of course they can't compete with the South Fork's breakfast sandwich served before 9 a.m., especially if you deconstruct it. Deconstruction not only refers to literary criticism, but can also apply to taking a menu apart. Here's the South Fork Sages recipe for

DECONSTRUCTED BREAKFAST SANDWICH.

Arrive before 9 a.m.

Sit at a table with plenty of space

Waitress Nicole will say "What's for you?"

You'll say "'I'll have the breakfast sandwich with a slice of cheese, please."

She'll say "On marble rye, white, whole wheat, English muffin or bagel?"

You'll say "Toasted bagel, please."

She'll say "Two strips of bacon, slice of ham, or sausage patty?"

You'll say, "The bacon, please."

She'll say, "Very good, sir!

You'll say, "I'm having the bagel, might I have a little cup of cream cheese?"

She'll say, "Of course."

As she heads for the kitchen, check the jelly dispenser. If you can't find the blackberry jelly at your table, try another table. When you find it, grab it.

When the waitress arrives with your order, begin to deconstruct. Remove perfectly cooked egg and melted cheese slice. Place naked on your plate. Do the same with the bacon.

Smear half of the bagel with cream cheese, the other half with Smucker's blackberry jam.

Eat everything with a knife and fork, as if it were a real breakfast.

$3.99. For this old codger, that's pretty sublime.

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