Toast & Taste at the Arboretum Provides Local, Tasty Delights

It's fair to say that the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's Toast & Taste in the Gardens is one of my favorite annual local food events in the Twin Cities. This year's event, held on Thursday, July 29, included live music, mostly-local food from 21 restaurants (like the Birchwood Cafe and Spoonriver), 12 Minnesota and/or regional wineries and breweries (like Alexis Bailly and Brau Brothers), a large handful of local food producers (like Starthrower Farm and Thousand Hills Cattle Company), and several community groups (like Renewing the Countryside and Slow Food Minnesota).

Jim Kyndberg prepares food for LocoVore BarbecueJim Kyndberg prepares food for LocoVore BarbecueI'm not usually into big mingly-type events; I don't love to dress up, and I'm no fan of small talk. But somehow the Toast & Taste event managed to feel both upscale and relaxed. The arboretum itself, 1000-plus acres of gorgeous landscaping (although we only used a few of them), provided a terrific backdrop, as did the weather, which could hardly have been better. 

Unsurprisingly, the best part of all was the food. When we arrived, my wife and I made a beeline for the Schell's brewery stand, sampling their dark lager and Firebrick brews (they were good enough that we went back for more of each). Although our first food samples, pancetta wrapped scallops from Crave and outrageously tasty oysters from the Dakota Bar and Grill, didn't exactly scream "local" (both restaurants do use some amount of local food, as it turns out), I neither heard, nor uttered, any complaints.

A few more highlights:

  • LocoVores Barbecue (get it? it comes in a truck!), the latest project from Jim Kyndberg (award winning chef formerly of the Bayport Cookery) offered delicious (and enormous) crispy tortillas covered with beans, "loco sauce," and grass fed barbecue beef from Thousand Hills Cattle Company.
  • The University of Minnesota Campus Club offered chocolate cupcakes made with beets and zucchini cupcakes with goat cheese frosting. These were both amazingly good, totally delightful surprises that were good enough to go back for seconds. Bonus points for the edible flowers and vegetables, which came from the student run farm.
  • Crema Cafe brought out an entire ice cream stand, complete with all sorts of flavor choices and generous samples. I've been a big fan of Sonny's ice cream forever, and their cucumber Pinot Grigio was the perfect choice, crisp and refreshing on a warm summer night.
  • Cafe Maude offered lamb meatballs, barbecue ribs, and chicken skewers, all wonderfully prepared and generously portioned. We camped out there long enough to try one of each.

Tracy LeTourneau and Craig Sharp from Terra WaconiaTracy LeTourneau and Craig Sharp from Terra WaconiaOne of my favorite parts of the evening was stopping by the Terra Waconia stand on our way out. I recognized Tracy LeTourneau immediately from last year, when she worked with a restaurant called the Green Room. (I remembered thinking it was funny that the Green Room didn't source it's food locally - the name of the restaurant was a music reference.) Turns out that, in the last year, Tracy and her partner Craig Sharp purchased the Green Room, renamed it Terra Waconia, changed the menu, and started sourcing its food from local farmers. "When we started getting great produce from local farmers," chef Craig explained, "it didn't seem right to serve it next to conventional meat." The chicken they served was quite good, but the story that came with it - the restaurant's commitment to local food - made it even better.

Toast & Taste brought together a terrific collection of restaurants, producers, and local food organizations, many of which -- Corner Table, Edible Twin Cities, and Peace Coffee, for example -- have been known leaders in the Twin Cities' local food movement for years. But where once I might have blanched at the thought, I'm now starting to appreciate the inclusion of lesser known local foodies like the ones at Rainbow Chinese restaurant and the Oceanaire as well. These restaurants may not have changed over their menus entirely (yet), but they are leaders in their own right, showing a new wave of restaurants that local food is accessible, diverse, delicious, and well worth going after.

Disclosure -- SGT received 2 tickets to this event with a face value of $100.


Lee Zukor is the founder of Simple, Good, and Tasty. E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter.