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jrnorton23's Profile

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Supertaster Daily: 5 Soft-Baked Cookies Reviewed in 3 minutes

Dear Juniperfj, Sorry to hear my review fell short for you. In my own defense, I was hamstrung by the subject matter - beyond touching on the cookies' nauseating perfume and deadly over-sweet flavor, there wasn't a lot to say. Oreo phoned that one in. For what it's worth, the candy corn white chocolate M&Ms are >surprisingly< nice. I was shocked.

Sep 12, 2012
jrnorton23 in Features

Quick Minneapolis report: Sea Salt Eatery, Tilia, Blackbird, Pumphouse Creamery

Glad your visit was delicious - Tilia's one of the brightest stars in the local firmament, but it does (happily) represent a booming trend of neighborhood restaurants doing thoughtful but not overly complicated dishes using quality (often local) ingredients. Blackbird's another great choice for this sort of food. The more completely the Twin Cities can shake off its coastal/Paris envy and embrace the bounty of the Upper Midwest, the better the scene will be for all involved, and it's nice to see that that's the direction we're going.

The Debut of Supertaster Daily

Thanks for asking, Pearlie1! the easiest way to follow is to subscribe to my YouTube channel -

May 30, 2012
jrnorton23 in Features

Working Man's Brews

I was literally yelling at the television the first time I saw that terrible, terrible stupidly smug ad. Bravo for taking it down a peg or three.

Apr 16, 2012
jrnorton23 in Features

The Mysterious Comfort of Panera's Baked Potato Soup

Hey HillJ, we've been linking to company websites for the duration of the series, which is to say almost five years now. Nothing to do with advertising; just pointing people toward the official web presence for the product.

Apr 07, 2012
jrnorton23 in Features

Paula Deen Isn’t the Only Shill

To be fair to DiSpirito, Bertolli's meals are actually delicious when enjoyed in context (mass-marketed frozen food from a bag.) As for their Italianish-ness ... well, that's fodder for discussion.

Jan 20, 2012
jrnorton23 in Features

Pumpkin-Flavored White Russian—Why Not?

Dear Fara,
First of all, thank you for your concern - in this hurlyburly age of aggro-tweets and Facebook-hate, we can sometimes forget to think about the health of the folks who do so much to comfort us during troubling times: food columnists. I'm happy to assure you that, appearances aside, the drinking is in moderation and not particularly to the detriment of my health. I wish I could make the same happy claim about the next series of potatoes-covered-with-cheese- covered-with-bacon-themed fast food items that I end up writing about, but I'm less sure about that. Anyhow, I live to serve the readers, and so it is with skeptical gullet but light heart that I next head off to Olive Garden (or somewhere reasonably similar).

Nov 21, 2011
jrnorton23 in Features

Oughta Be a Law: 10 Crimes Against Food

For what it's worth, I currently happily dwell within flyover country and actually have more luck finding bagels here (Minneapolis) than I ever did in Boston. And Madison, WI's Bagels Forever are really pretty good. That said, I do sometimes make 'em from scratch when I really miss NYC bagels.

Oct 21, 2011
jrnorton23 in Features

The 1 Million Pop-Tart Giveaway Is an Atrocity

To chocolateteacakes:

Totally fair point. My perspective: A massive injection of free sugar and carbs into the national bloodstream as a marketing push disguised as a charity event is almost entirely unlike publishing instructions for how to make a similarly unhealthy (but less processed!) dessert at home - see Blitherypoop's point. That our recipe would be even considered similar to the Kellogg's promotion never occurred to me, but I understand why the comparison would strike some folks as noteworthy.

Shanagain, it's totally cool with me if anybody anywhere in society or the world wants to eat junk. I just wonder if our food bank infrastructure might be better used for distributing, I dunno, food.

Oct 09, 2011
jrnorton23 in Features

Is Five Guys Really the Best Fast-Food Chain?

Hey all. My original "14 million" locations remark about McDonald's was intended as hyperbole (along the lines of, "gosh, there sure are a lot of McDonald's) and was quite reasonably interpreted as a factual error. Sorry about that. I can see how that was unclear.

Sep 12, 2011
jrnorton23 in Features

Where The Cheese Nerds Play

Heh, whoever told you that it's easy to make aged cheese at home sold you a load of goods. A lot can go wrong during aging. There's a reason that cheesemakers can work the same job for forty years and not get bored...

Mar 29, 2010
jrnorton23 in Features

Healthy Mini Pizza Roll Adventure

Hey everybody,

Thanks for all the kind words. For what it's worth: I pay for the food reviewed in this column, and am then reimbursed by As for why I chose them -- the idea of trying to do a healthy version of one of the inherently least healthy snacks imaginable struck me as interesting.

Best Regards,

James Norton

Oct 16, 2009
jrnorton23 in Features


That's not quite accurate. Gandhi Mahal tops out in the mid teens, with most dishes around $12; OM tops out in the mid twenties, with most dishes in the high teens. Saying that OM is "better" and "fresher" is perplexing -- the styles of food served are apples and oranges, and, having said that, I'd prefer the reasonably priced apples at Gandhi Mahal any day of the week. You dine at OM, you pay for cool ambiance.

Maude and Cave Vin [South MPLS]

I've been going to Maude since it opened, and I've had three or four velvet rope-style encounters that have really put me off -- the worst was being told an attractive window table was reserved for another couple, dining for an hour+, and never seeing it get filled. I've had mixed (mostly positive) experiences with the waiters/waitresses themselves, but the host seems to invariably think that sophistication and condescension are one and the same.

MSP: New food/drink online magazine

The policy for comped meals is pretty simple: we don't take them when we're writing a review of the establishment in question. As for finances, that's a fine point. We're hoping to use a combination of ads, (clearly marked) sponsored content and the leveraging of social media to make the site profitable. We're launching at a challenging time in the economy, to say the least -- if we can survive for the next six months and things turn around on a macro level, I think we'll do very well. A big "if."

Feb 19, 2009
jrnorton23 in Food Media & News

Anyone have a recommendation for a Jewish Deli in MSP??

As a Jewish ex-Brooklynite, I just want to chime in and say I think that we're collectively being a little harsh on Cecil's and Fishman's. Great, they are not - they won't be in contention for world champion. But I have had some really comforting and pleasant meals at Cecil's in particular, and I really dig the chopped liver at Fishman's. Dismiss them out of hand and you miss some nice experiences. Also, big thumbs up for the date hamentashen at Cecil's.

Zimmern Versus Palin

I think it was Bourdain who infamously ate warthog anus during his trip to Namibia. That's a bizarre foods low-water mark that I don't think even Zimmern wants to emulate, what with Bourdain getting deathly ill.

Sep 18, 2008
jrnorton23 in Features

(MSP) Pierogies

I'm pretty far from being a pierogie expert, but I was surprised to find them on the menu at the Longfellow Grill, and even more surprised at how much I enjoyed them. It's an out-of-left-field recommendation, but they really tasted, for lack of a better word, "fresh" -- not as cannonballesque as they sometimes get. And the accompanying sauce (it's been a while, but I think it was yogurt-based) really worked.

Longfellow Grill
2990 W River Pkwy, Minneapolis, MN 55406

Opinions on The Norton's, Red Wing, MN?

I ate there more than a year ago and had a good meal, for what it's worth. The food was solid upscale fresh/local American fare (somewhat but not wildly overpriced), and the cheese plate was very nicely sourced and balanced, and consequently excellent. Norton (no relation) was in public circulation at the restaurant, mustache and all. We didn't try to hit him up for autographs / memories / etc., though, so I have no clue how responsive he'd be. Overall, a positive experience. I'd eat there again were I in Red Wing, but I wouldn't make a special trip.

Ask Aida

Mazel tov! I'd like to echo the "style AND substance" remarks being made here -- this has the potential to be a terrific show. Can't wait to watch.

Aug 05, 2008
jrnorton23 in Features

A Horrible New Twist on "Beer and a Shot"

I think a lot of my personal horror at this development stems from a wedding I attended in south New Jersey, near Pennsylvania -- actually a really beautiful part of the state. In lieu of a cake, the happy couple had brought a wrought-iron cupcake stand filled with cupcakes from some upscale NYC cupcakery -- some offshoot of Magnolia, if memory serves. To make a long story short, the frosting on my cupcake was so sweet and intense that I felt like I was having a seizure before I was even half done with it. I should additionally contextualize this by saying that I used to eat straight sugar as a kid, and could (and did) regularly eat a pound of candy at a sitting. I LOVE sugar. This stuff was beyond the pale.

Jul 23, 2008
jrnorton23 in Features

Sea Salt (MSP)

My wife and I biked out to Sea Salt this Wednesday and had a really pleasant lunch. The fish tacos were of the classic Tapatio "two-small-tortillas + onions + cilantro" variety and at $5, a really decent buy. The crab cake was surprisingly moist and flavorful. Service was friendly, the wine was good, the outdoor dining space was incredibly pleasant. It's one of the few places in the Cities that reminds me of Madison's Memorial Union Terrace, which is my favorite outdoor dining venue in the world.

That said: the music was loud enough that I was bitching (inaudibly) about it throughout the wait. I like loud music. I go to shows, crank up the Replacements / Modest Mouse / Pixies / at home, whatever. But there's no need for 85 decibels of rock when you're standing around waiting to order lunch. Everything has a proper time and place.

Speaking of which, I don't tend to eat oysters unless I'm on the East or West coast. Call it pure prejudice (and I'm sure Oceanaire does a great job), but the oysters I've had at even reputable Midwestern joints like Barbette leave something to be desired. So I'm not at all shocked to hear Sea Salt oysters talked down -- makes sense.

Toasts, Not Roasts

This is about 95 percent right on the money. The one thing I would add as a toast-giver / wedding attender / amateur critic of everything: Actually wrap up with a "everybody please raise your glasses" TOAST. A lot of toasts ramble to an inconclusive stop and leave guests unsure as to when or whether to give a group blessing by clinking glasses.

Also, yeah. Brevity. Make an elegant point about the couple. Get in. Glasses up, clink. Get out. People love that stuff.

Jul 12, 2008
jrnorton23 in Features

Good sushi in Madison, WI??

I'd second the recommendation of Muramoto, but qualify it by saying that I've had better luck with the older, downtown location than the Hilldale one. Either would certainly do in a pinch. Stay far away from the old-school (in the bad sense of the word) Ginza of Tokyo, and if you go to Wasabi on State St., concentrate on the shrimp tempura rolls -- they're a really nice balance of mayo dressing and crunchy coating. And yes, yes, I recognize how shrimp tempura rolls are declasse and not really sushi, etc. etc. Fact is: They're delicious.

I've been to Takara a couple of times, and was neither impressed nor offended. It's like a modern update of Ginza, and if you like seeing volcanic flames shoot out of a tower of onions on a hibachi grill, it's a good choice.

Jul 07, 2008
jrnorton23 in Great Lakes

MSP - Jambalaya & Po Boys

The newly opened Citizen Cafe in South Minneapolis actually does a po boy that compares with the one I (greatly!) enjoyed during my last trip to New Orleans. Incredibly bright and fresh bits of tomato help counterbalance the bun + small fried shrimp, and the whole package was nicely enhanced by the smoked tomato aioli. I wolfed it down, and I don't normally wolf down my food.

I fourth the "meh" on Dixies.

Wisconsin Cheese .... amazing

A few other suggestions:

The various styles of goat cheese on offer up at Bass Lake Cheese (just north of Hudson) are all worth the drive from Minneapolis/St. Paul, if not Madison.

BelGioioso is doing some great things with Italian-style cheeses up near Green Bay -- I particularly recommend the American Grana and the Crescenza-Stracchino, a tart, spreadable, incredibly bright and fresh-tasting incarnation of an Italian classic.

SarVecchio (Sartori's aged parm) is a sweet, nutty delight.

Some of the best string cheese in the state (it tastes like pure, fresh milk in solid form) is at Union Star Dairy up in Zittau, near Green Bay. More traditional (but excellent) string cheese is at Cedar Grove Cheese, near Milwaukee. Union Star's boutique aged cheddar is also terrific.

Don't miss the Gouda (particularly the Dutch Kase aged Gouda) from Madison's Babcock Hall cheese plant. Gary Grossen does an amazing job with it.

And there's a lot of good juustolepia (Finnish "bread cheese") out there these days. Worth trying if you haven't yet had it.

MSP: Conventioneers on a Budget

I'm trying to line up a hearty slate of Minneapolis-St. Paul restaurants that GOP conventioneers should make sure to check out while they're in town, with an eye toward volunteers and junior staffers, not the fat cats who will probably book Manny's solid for the duration of the meeting.

Any suggestions...? Places that show off local color, are convenient to the Xcel Energy Center, can handle large groups, serve tasty booze, and/or dip into any of the various ethnic scenes are particularly good...

Need MSP suggestion

You might want to try Gandhi Mahal, the new Mughal-style Indian place at East Lake and Minnehaha. It's at 3009 27th Ave. South. It's too new to be all that busy, they offer pretty good food across the board (try the korma and the dish described as "Persian," the name of which I can't recall, and the banana pakora if you like sweet fritters.) Also, as an added attraction for nondrinkers in particular, it offers the entertainment of a lassi bar. I dug the Badumi lassi (a nutty-flavored concoction) but the banana, strawberry and mango varieties will please most tastes, although they're not as hyper-sweet as some restaurants tend to make 'em. You can taste three sample-sized lassis for $5.

Gandhi Mahal
3009 27th Ave South, Minneapolis, MN

Throw My Wedding

This is a minor point, but my wife and I had a great success at our wedding reception (200 people, tight but reasonable budget) having a small, lovely display wedding cake made and then serving guests from a < $2/slice sheet cake, which we'd tasted before the wedding and found to be surprisingly delicious. Compliments a-go-go. On the bar front: If you offer one or two "signature drinks" in addition to beer and wine, it can help control costs and give the wedding a distinct identity. It also helps out the bartenders, in terms of streamlining their processes.

It seems like the linchpin of this discussion is help offered versus help frankly asked for versus help subtly wheedled out of people and not acknowledged, the last category being the most odious. Discerning what's OK to ask for and what's not, of course, are where the soft skills come in... and just asking (or implicitly asking) for people to chip in toward bar costs seems pretty tacky.

That said: Why is setting up a fund for people to chip in toward a honeymoon any worse than a registry where guests can buy plates, blenders, etc.? There are people -- seriously -- who would much rather contribute to a joyful and expensive travel experience than to give those already blessed with material goods still more crap.

Jun 09, 2008
jrnorton23 in Features

A New Healthy Chip Concept

The majority of the products I review are things I stumble upon at the local grocery store; I'll do a trip with an eye to column fodder and typically pick up 4-10 items in a single swoop. Now that the column's been around a little longer, I've started getting samples (which I'm invoiced for / pay for) from companies. But I'll always be pulling products off of store shelves (and ordering them at fast food places). There's just too much new stuff out there not to...

May 05, 2008
jrnorton23 in Features