Hangin’ With Klecko: Never Before Read Coverage of the Same Cook Twice
Sometimes on Sunday afternoons, when my love interest takes her weekly “wife-nap,” I’ve been known to sneak out of the mansion and head up the street to join acquaintances at a local drinking establishment.
On the most recent occasion, I found myself belly up to the bar at the Muddy Pig where I sat next to a foodservice worker who told me how much he looked forward to reading my column each month.
I won’t lie; I enjoyed the compliment and bought the guy a drink as he evaluated my writing skills openly:
“You know, Klecko, the thing I like about your columns is I don’t have a clue what you’re going to talk about. I also like how you never feature the same person twice, you’re unpredictable.”
As I walked home, it occurred to me, having a reputation of being unpredictable actually makes one predictable, by definition. So at that moment, I decided I’d surprise my fan by writing about somebody a second time.
As I considered who should become the recipient of this dubious honor, I decided ground rules should be established:
The recipient should be experienced, but have interests other than food;
It would make perfect sense if to select someone from St. Paul; and
Finally, the person should be the most successful chef other Twin Cities food writers have overlooked and need to put on their radar.
After considering the qualifications, I only had to think 30 seconds before exclaiming: “Duh ... it has to be Mik German! Without a doubt, this guy is the most interesting cat in town.”
For those of you who read me religiously, you may recall a piece I wrote about Mik winning the Eastside Burger Battle last summer, but since then his exploits have continued to grow.
In addition to hosting a monthly soirée known to its participants as Happy Tuesday, a party where residents across St. Paul’s Eastside assemble to eat, drink and participate in unique entertainment, (I believe the last one I attended was an outdoor Pauly Shore film festival), Mik and his wife have added another child to their tribe. And if that isn’t ambitious enough, just last year Mik became the culinary quarterback at O’ Gara’s Bar and Grill.
When I called him and asked if he wanted to be my first two-time interview, I think I actually heard him blush, but that seemed to disappear when excitement filled his voice as he began inviting me to his newest adventure: “If you got nothing going on this Saturday, help me out by bringing your friends over to Cook St. Paul restaurant. I’ve put together a crew and we are doing a Championship Tacos pop-up.”
When I asked how he swung the invite, Mik answered: “We actually weren’t invited. My friend Glen and I went there for lunch one day and discussed how perfect this venue would be for a pop-up. It’s close to our homes, and the kitchen lined up with our comfort zone, so after my good friend Martha Sipma, who I cooked with years ago, decided to join us, we knew we had our team and contacted the owner Eddie Wu and things progressed from there.”
On the night of the event, I pulled together my Crocus Hill posse and when we arrived at Cook just moments after the event started, I smiled as I looked at a huge line filing out the door.
Mik and Glen are a legendary tandem on the Eastside, and the only reason why more people in the Twin Cities aren’t familiar with them is because Twin Cities food critics haven’t given this working-class neighborhood any love until recently.
After waiting 40 minutes, our party got a table and explored our Championship Taco options: vegetarian; carnitas, pollo picante, fish and skirt steak.
We ordered one of everything to share, but it was no coincidence that the plate of carnitas was placed in front of me. I’ve always believed slow-roasted pork shoulder is the best meat for tacos. I like its moisture and silky qualities.
All the tacos were served on homemade corn tortillas, and since money was no object, I dropped the two extra bucks to smother my entrée with the best jicama apple slaw I’ve ever tasted.
I wanted to have a chance to talk with Mik, but he was chained to the line because with each passing minute, the dining mob increased.
Several days later, I called and asked if his crew made a killing. He responded, “Yeah, this was a victory on many levels. It’s hard to make money the first time you do anything, but we actually scratched out a small profit.”
As Mik was expressing his gratitude, I began to consider our relationship before I asked him, “You know, Mik, I’ve known you for over 10 years, and in that time you’ve always worked at concepts that focus on comfort food. Is that intentional? Would you ever consider fine dining?”
Mik answered, “No matter what my business card says, or what my staff calls me, I’m not a chef. I’m just a cook ... I’ve been working hospitality for over 20 years and have had the pleasure of working at a lot of great places, Jimmy’s Food and Cocktails, The Commons Hotel and The Beacon Public House to name a few, and what I’ve figured out is I love greasy food that sticks to your ribs. I love it when sauce runs down your wrists when you take a bite out of my burgers. I admire fine dining ... but I like to think what I do is just as important. My food isn’t flashy, but it’s delicious.”
Then Mik paused for a moment: “I’m a St. Paul kid. I was born here. I even have a St. Paul skyline tattooed on my arm. I hope one day the name 'German' will be synonymous with the O’Gara’s, Mancini’s and Cossetta’s of this town.”
And then my friend hung up. I smiled, realizing that if I wrote a thousand columns about Mik German it wouldn’t be enough, because even though some chefs are larger than life, few things in the culinary universe are more fantastic than eating tacos with St. Paul’s premiere cook.
Dan “Klecko” McGleno is the CEO at Saint Agnes Baking Company in St Paul and can be reached electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org, at the office at 651-290-7633, or on his cellular device at 651-329-4321.