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Wood Working: From religion to grub, zealots seize control

When I was a kid the old timers used to call me "Deacon" because my great grandfather and namesake was a very serious pillar of the church.

One who was not always successful in his efforts to evangelize sinners. Kenny Swenson said his grandpa told him that my great-grandad brought a big-time Chicago evangelist to town with the hope of converting some sinners.

For starters, he took the bible pounder out to farmer Jones's farm.

"Jones," Kenny recalled "was in the middle of evening milking and the evangelist was spouting Bible passages to beat the band, punctuated by cartwheels up and down the aisle under the manure carrier track, sort of a Billy Sunday approach."

"Anyways, Jones listened politely for about 20 minutes, rose from his prize Guernsey, grabbed his milk stool and said, 'Reverend, I'd have to agree with everything you said. Religion is very important -- as long as you don't take it too seriously.'"

Which brings me to the point of today's sermon.

Taking things too seriously.

Folks are still doing it, and it's hard on the rest of us. No, I'm not talking about religion.

I'm talking about the current restaurant rage, locavorism. No it's not a weird sexual predilection.

It's what lots of chefs and restaurateurs have become over the years. A locavore is a chef that only cooks stuff that has been grown nearby.

This works pretty well, as long as you are running a restaurant in Florida, or a temperate climate when you can raise lettuce year around.

It doesn't work so well, however, in more wintry climes, like in Minnesota.

We found that out last spring when the Beautiful Wife dragged me to the Minnesota Opera performance of "Turandot."

The opera was fine, but it was such a big event that most restaurants were booked. So she settled for a very expensive restaurant in Lowertown, Heartland, overseen by world famous chef Lenny Russo.

I'd been there before and thought it was overly precious and full of locavores who wore berets -- the men did too. Nevertheless, it was bearable.

But that was in the summer.

The snow was up to our earlobes on this particular April afternoon as we entered Heartland. The entry turns out to be a "grocery" where you can buy locally grown produce that's either fresh or prepared by Lenny's minions.

We passed on the organically grown potatoes at $1 per pound. Also the turnips. Also the rutabagas. Also ½ pt. jar of cranberry preserves at $10. Also quarts of milk at $8.

All good and local, I'm certain, but beyond our budget and our very modest enthusiasm for locavorism -- at least mine.

Into the dining room we went, a gloomy cavern populated with all those beret-topped diners.

And we got our menus.


Lenny's ravioli, on the "flora" department of the menu, was ravioli stuffed with turnip sauerkraut, accompanied by red Russian kale -- it browns in winter...One of three courses that sold for $35.

In the "small plate" section, Lenny featured field greens, roasted beets, golden raisins, pumpkin seeds topped with a blue cheese vinaigrette for a mere $14.

I looked and pondered, pondered and looked, settling for a $22 large plate of pappardelle pasta -- it keeps over winter -- with a sauce made of boiled pig's feet shiitake mushrooms, crushed tomatoes, spinach and ricotta cheese.

It came and was virtually tasteless and lacking any evidence of pigskin or pig tendons. I passed on a "side plate" of turnips and mustard seed sauerkraut at $10.

Beautiful Wife opted for the Heritage Breed pork chop, with cabbage currant, oyster mushroom and fennel glace de viande at a mere $32.

One of Lenny's minions overcooked it, so it was dry as the pork chops served by my great aunt Louise, whose chops resembled trichinosis-free potato chips.

Of course, there was no salt and pepper on the table.

When I asked the waiter if he could fetch some for me, he looked down, sniffed and said "but of course" -- all one word.

The next morning I read in the Pioneer Press, that chef Lenny Russo is on a U.S. government sponsored trip to Slovenia, where he's teaching them how to cook.

Except he couldn't that day because his chauffeur driven Yugo had plunged off a cliff. Lenny was uninjured because he was wearing a seat belt.

I guess there are some things one should take seriously.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.