Bill Baskin Out at the Seward; Future Still Bright.

We're happy to introduce Ben Solberg, our newest writer and photographer. This is his first article for Simple, Good, and Tasty.

For me, summertime memories are almost always associated with food.

This summer was kicked off by a brilliant Venison Cherry brat. I picked it up on a whim at the Seward Co-op meat counter on one of the first beautiful nights in May. A simple salad of local greens combined the aforementioned sausage charred on a grill, sparked an obsession that had me sweeping through every selection that chef Bill Baskin (formerly of the Red Stag) could think up. Some of my favorites were the less traditional offerings such as Chicken Curry, or Pork Raisin Umbrian sausages. If one were really lucky, Bill would have lamb-olive marsala sausages that were so fresh they could be served medium rare. They were heavenly.

When I inquired for more information on some of the rare selections like the lamb/olive, Chris Dick, the deli manager at the Seward was nice enough to invite me in for a tour. I was surprised and saddened to find out upon my arrival that Baskin had very recently left the Seward to pursue a new venture in Alaska. Lucky for us, he left his recipes behind, and his idyllic sausage will continue to be made and sold exclusively at the co-op.

Baskin’s replacement, Conor Dolan, just happens to be a veteran sausage maker himself. He crossed over to the South Minneapolis grocer with a pedigree that includes possibly the Twin Cities most celebrated sausages: Kramarczuk's. The former Northeast meat grinder has some intriguing new ideas to add to the selection, and it appears that the future is only getting brighter for the encased meat selection at the Seward. Color me excited.
During our chat, Chris pointed out a few other features of the meat and seafood department that often got overlooked in Baskin’s wake.
All of the fresh meat that the Seward carries is local, from farms liked Pastures-a-Plenty (Kerkhoven MN) and Hill and Vale Farm (Wycoff, MN) . All of it. In addition, the beef, pork, and lamb are all bought whole. Chris and his crew butcher and age every cut in house, the way it used to be done. There are very few, if any grocers in town that operate this way, likely because of the logistics involved to consistently provide customers with the cuts they want. I have yet to be stumped. Even better, rarities are regular here. Grass fed Ox-tail, and fresh (not smoked or cured) ham, are among some of the offerings that are rarely found on a regular basis in any other shop. The fresh ham steak is more affordable than a pork chop, dare I say tastier, and they virtually jump onto your grill.

The sausage offered in the meat department is a crucial step of in house butchering and keeps waste to an absolute minimum. What little can’t be used up with sausage and ingredients for the deli, is composted. Talk about bang for your buck; if you have trouble justifying the cost of buying local foods, this is a good place to change your mind.

Bill Baskin might have left, and we’ll miss him. Needless to say, thanks to places like the Seward, I’ve thought hard about keeping a diary this summer to remember what great things I’ve eaten. But I don’t really have time for that with all of this food.