Book Club — Minneapolis
Asher Miller Chef/Co-Owner
The veggie burrito at Book Club seems almost too simple, but so is the “West Coast” style that encompasses the menu.
The deep-fried burrito uses just a few ingredients: some roasted cauliflower, sour cream and jack cheese with some salsa topped with sliced avocado—that’s it. But when you take a bite of the lightly crisped pillow of creamy cheese and sour cream with a nice bite of perfectly cooked cauliflower, it’s all so well balanced that you don’t miss the avocado oil drizzle or radish foam you might expect from another high-end burrito.
For chef and co-owner, Asher Miller, the simplicity of whole ingredients and striking that perfect balance is the mark of a mature menu.
“It’s so tempting to add another little drizzle of something or a smear of sauce, then you wind up with something mediocre and you could have done better with fewer ingredients,” said Miller. “I think that’s something that happens to a lot of chefs and people that cook over time, you realize that less is more, you get a better response to things that appear simple and are good as opposed to overloading a dish.”
Simplicity leads to consistency too, so the same cauliflower burrito comes out at 5 p.m. for happy hour and at 10 p.m. as a late-night snack.
“It also comes down to your skill set, do you have someone that can do the dots of oil and the swish of sauce?” said Miller. “It’s hard to execute.”
The Book Club menu that Miller put together is a culmination of more than 17 years of experience with some of the most notable chefs in the Twin Cities. While running his own restaurant in Dundas, Minnesota, Miller moonlighted at the upscale Uptown French bistro Barbette, owned by Kim Bartmann. He was hired by and learned under Lisa Carlson, of Chef Shack fame. Then he went off to join Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21 at the Walker Art Center, where he learned the incredible power of quality ingredients.
“Me and another guy went to Los Angeles for training. It was maybe the best experience I could have had as a mid-20s guy,” said Miller, especially the spare-no-expense sourcing that brought the very best ingredients to his kitchen.
When 20.21 was swapped out in 2016, Miller found himself at the Mall of America, learning how to create the systems that led to high quality and exceptionally high traffic at Tucci Benucch. After a few years there, he started his own catering company, which let him break free and explore what really was the Asher Miller style of cooking that is evident on the Book Club menu.
“I think having my catering business allowed me to experiment and let me develop my own style of coking and plating and ascetic. It’s definitely lighter and I try to intentionally build flavors from the ground up,” said Miller, noting one specific inspiration: Debora Madison. “I read her cookbooks over and over and over. She’s very vegetable-focused, seasonally focused. And we keep vegetarian at home, so referencing her recipes are very helpful. She has a very nice knack for simple recipes that are layered and delicious.”
Simple, layered and delicious? That is the Book Club burrito to a T, but he had one last stop on the Twin Cities celebrity chef train. Andrew Zimmern asked Miller to help launch Zimmern’s food truck business which became an entry into the world of the food elite, and a window into Zimmern’s unique food philosophies.
“He exposed me to a lot of things that I hadn’t heard about before, a general appreciation for culture and food and layering of flavors,” said Miller. “Andrew’s an interesting guy, he worked in kitchens and has a basic idea, but it’s not his forte, it’s more that he has seen so much, he knows what could work. The things he can imagine are beyond what regular people can think about. It’s an amazing skill.”
Then about five years ago, Miller said he got in the back of his mind the saying, “if you never try, you’ll never know,” and started searching for a restaurant he could make his own full time (with a little Uber driving and part-time teaching on the side). Through fits and starts and a handful of people who “wanted to talk about doing it,” he found the old Café Maude spot at the same time his first employer, Kim Bartmann, was looking at the space.
They figured out a deal where she would handle some back-office tasks and help with the initial concept work, but aside from that; it’s the Asher Miller show. The concept developed along with the space, inspired by an old cookbook the co-owners uncovered while turning the “dark and dank” neighborhood institution into a bright but homey neighborhood spot.
“We found this old cookbook... a collection of 1950s' recipes from the West Coast. That started to gel the basic bones of the concept. The palette matched that motif, so I pulled out some recipes and developed them into a coherent entrée and salad menu; which evolved overtime,” said Miller.
So what is West Coast cuisine? Well, don’t overthink it—it’s just a nice way to say healthy and global while hinting at some elevated pallet offerings.
“It sounds defined but it’s really not. It’s a huge landmass with so many cultures who have settled there and brought their techniques there,” said Miller. “It’s an elegant way of saying worldly and anything goes.”
That remains the spirit of Book Club where neighbors have all but stopped talking about Café Maude as they nosh on a great chicken sandwich, the cozy rice bowl, the indulgent burger or that deceptively simple cauliflower burrito.
Cauliflower Burrito on Charred Salsa
For the salsa
6-7 Ripe Roma Tomatoes, halved
1 – 1 ½ Jalapeno Peppers, halved and seeded
½ Red Onion, quartered
1-2 Guajillo Chiles, Seeded and Torn
1 cup Cilantro, roughly chopped
1 oz Lime Juice
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
4 cups stewed tomatoes drained well
1. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and cut in half, char over woodfire grill, remove loose skins
2. Char jalapeno pepper and red onion
3. Boil guajillo chiles in 4 cup of hot water to reconstitute and rehydrate the chiles
4. Pulse charred vegetables in a food processor with drained tomatoes to the consistency of a chunky salsa
5. Add lime juice and cilantro, salt and pepper, continue to pulse until desired consistency is reached
For the Burritos:
4 Flour Tortillas
1 Tbsp. Water
1 head cauliflower
1 ½ cup Sour Cream
1 ½ cup Pepper Jack Cheese, Grated
1. Blanch cauliflower florettes in salted water with a small splash of white vinegar to retain color
2. Combine the cooked cauliflower with sour cream and pepper jack cheese, mix well
3. Weigh the filling into 8 oz portions (4oz for happy hour size) and roll into burritos, sealing with egg
Once the burritos are filled and sealed, deep fry at 350F for about 5 minutes. This can also be done in an iron skillet with about an inch of hot oil. You just need to turn the burritos in the oil so they brown evenly.