Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by M. Schleif Photography
If you’re in the fine-dining industry like Taylor Snelling, the end of the holidays marks a time to celebrate survival. To see how Mezzaluna dines after-hours, we joined Taylor and his wife, Valerie at their Brandt Crossing home in South Fargo. This time, instead of pampering the guests, their hardworking team took a seat and toasted to another successful year; in the kitchen, and behind the bar. We started with the main course of maple-glazed duck, paired it with a side of white sweet potato and apple risotto, then chased it with a hibiscus punch that’ll make you forget all about your new year’s resolutions.
Curious to see how their upscale team does casual Sunday, we’re happy to report that we had a blast taste-testing and sipping with the Snellings, executive chef and co-owner, Joe Brunner, mixologist, Max Parker, and Mezzaluna’s manager, Matthew Bengston. Even outside of Mezzaluna’s historic walls, it’s easy to see that their lively conversation is based on comradery, friendship, and a shared passion for the industry. Between sipping, talking and tasting, we admired the floral from Prairie Petals; and like all good guests… we asked for seconds.
New Year…New Dreams
For Taylor and Valerie Snelling, this past year was a non-stop adventure that started with their wedding and ended with a smooth transition into co-ownership of Mezzaluna, with Executive Chef, Joe Brunner. Working with the previous owners, Sarah and Eric Watson, the two would get six months of running the Downtown Fargo restaurant on their own, before officially taking over ownership in April 2018.
“Eric and Sarah have been wonderful. When April came around, we felt like we understood all of the important aspects of how to run the restaurant and the day-to-day tasks,” said Taylor Snelling. “The Watsons are great mentors of mine and I still keep up with them. They gave me an opportunity to do something, this early in my life, that I wasn’t expecting for another 15 to 20 years. Every day that Joe and I walk into Mezzaluna, we make sure that we don’t take it for granted. It’s such a blessing to be able to make our passion our lifestyle.”
“Punch is kind of the original, American cocktail. traditional Jamaican punch that they usually serve around the holiday time – it’s also called ‘Hibiscus Sorelle’ punch. We use Appleton Jamaican Rum and Oleo Saccharum. To create the Oleo Saccharum, just take a bunch of lime peel, put it in sugar, and it macerates overnight; then you dilute it. Normally, with a cocktail in the bar, you would shake it and it would incorporate your dilution and air. With this punch, instead of diluting it with water, we use hibiscus tea. We use lots of ginger, some cinnamon clove and allspice. It’s a three-step process that’s not super hard to do, it’s just a bit time-consuming. Once it’s done, it’s very easy, communal, and you can store it for a long time.”
Mezzaluna Mixologist – Max Parker
Mezzaluna Mixologist Max Parker’s
25 oz. of sugar by weight
Zest of 12 limes
25 oz. of lime juice
75 oz. of Jamaican rum (Appleton V/X preferably)
6 quarts water
1 lb. dried hibiscus flowers
2 tablespoons whole allspice
10 whole cloves
10 whole cinnamon stix
And 8 oz. fresh peeled and chopped ginger
To start, take the peeled limes and put them with the sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cover and let macerate overnight.
Take the water, hibiscus, spices, and ginger and put in a large pot; bring to boil and let simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat and let steep until the tea is very tart and full flavored but not tannic and the spices come through. Strain into a separate container and measure 3-quarts of tea and incorporate into sugar until it dissolves.
Add rum and lime juice. Put the entire punch in fridge to chill overnight. It will be ready to serve. Add ice, lime wheels and grate fresh nutmeg over top. If you want it to be bubbly pour some champagne over top and enjoy!
Max’s Tip for Cleaner Cocktails
To make the over-sized ice cubes, Parker uses one-directional freezing and a technique using nearly boiling water, frozen into containers. This directs the impurities to the bottom of the block, which then gets discarded. The ultra-clean top gets sliced off and cut into larger cubes to help keep the drink colder, longer and preserve the integrity of the cocktail.
As a self-taught mixologist, Parker has read over 33 books on mixology and never misses an opportunity to hone his skills. To create his signature cocktails, he often looks to the flavor profiles of desserts and pastries, for inspiration. His theory is that if it works in desserts, with a few sweet adjustments, it can work in a cocktail.
MezzalunaExecutive Chef: Joe Brunner’s
White Sweet Potato and Apple Risotto with Bacon and Brussel SproutsServes: 8
8 Strips of thick bacon (diced)
2 Shallots (minced)
5 cloves of garlic (minced)
4 Cups of arborio rice
½ Cup of white wine
¾ Gallon of chicken stock
1 Tablespoon of allspice
1 Tablespoon of cardamom
Salt and pepper to taste
12 Brussel sprouts, shaved
2 Tablespoons of butter
½ Cup of shredded parmesan
8 oz of toasted and crushed hazelnut
Directions:-Start off by rendering the bacon on a large pot, big enough to fit all of the rice and liquid.-Remove the bacon once rendered, but keep the fat in the pan. On medium-high heat, sweat shallots and garlic until aromatic. Then toss in the Arborio rice and toast until the grains give off a nutty aroma.-Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add your allspice, cardamom, then salt and pepper. -Slowly add chicken stock – 2 cups at a time, while continually stirring. The key to creamy risotto is the constant stirring to draw all of the starch out of the rice. -Once all of your stock is added, and the rice is al dente. Toss in your Brussel sprouts, cheese, and butter and mix until incorporated.-Finish by placing into whatever serving vessel you choose and garnish with the bacon and hazelnuts.
Rules of Risotto:
“Every holiday, I try to make risotto; I just want to bring a little bit of skill to the table, rather than the usual mash potatoes and stuffing. If you have a risotto recipe, my advice is to follow it. There are no shortcuts – the whole idea of stirring it the entire time is to draw the starch out of the rice and then make it creamy,” said Brunner. “Keep tasting it until it’s al dente, but not too crunchy or soft; then I always finish it with a small amount of parmesan cheese. I also think it’s important to toast the rice at the start, to extract the nutty flavor.”
“With roasting duck, there’s a lot of fat, so you first have to figure out a way to get rid of all the fat so you can achieve a crisp skin. Yesterday, we poached it in water for 10-minutes, trying to release some of that fat, so it can roast faster,” said Brunner. “My theory for roasting anything – duck, turkey, or chicken, is to do it fast and at a high temp, otherwise I think it gets too dry. Duck can also be eaten a little undercooked, but it’s not advised to eat the legs undercooked – it’s essentially like cooking a turkey.”
MezzalunaExecutive Chef: Joe Brunner’s Maple Roasted Duck
1 – 5 to 6 lb. whole duck, giblets removed2 – sprigs of rosemary2 – Sprigs of thyme1 – OrangeSalt & pepperButcher’s twineMaple syrup
Directions:NOTE: The day before you plan on roasting and serving the duck, make sure that you blanch the duck in simmering water to render some of the fat before roasting. Let air dry in your fridge so the skin is tacky and roasts easier.
1. First, stuff and truss the bird with butchers twine. Put the thyme, rosemary, and orange inside the cavity of the duck.
2. Next is trussing; this involves tying the two legs together and pulling the two strings around the bird and tying at the top. Trussing allows the duck to cook all at the same time instead of certain parts cooking before the others.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (roasting the duck at a higher temperature will ensure that the meat will stay moist as well as cook it a lot faster).
NOTE: Make sure the duck is sitting on top of a cooling rack, on top of a sheet pan because there will be a lot of fat rendering off, and it needs a place to collect the fat.
4. Insert the duck into the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes. Careful not to open the oven too many times to check because the mixture of fat and juices coming out of the duck will make your kitchen quite smoky.
5. After the first 45 minutes, open the oven and rotate the pan 180 degrees. Close the door and set another timer for 45 minutes. By this time the duck should be done. Remove from the oven and insert a digital thermometer into the inner thigh area and make sure it reaches at least 165 degrees.
6. Let rest for 15 minutes. Once rested. Pour the maple syrup over the top to make a glaze on the duck. Carve and enjoy!
Chef Joe Brunner is co-owner of Mezzaluna and graduated from NDSCS’s Culinary School in Wahpeton, N.D. in 2016. While he has been the head chef for nearly two years, he began his career as an intern for both Mezzaluna and Rustica, while attending college. _____________________________________________
“Our focus is to change our menu as the season changes; using the ingredients that are earth is providing to us, and featuring items that speak to our Midwestern culture,” said Taylor Snelling. “We love to source from our local purveyors and want to be as sustainable as possible.”
“During the fall and winter months, we bring in more savory items and comfort food. We also incorporate a lot of warmer flavors with seasonings like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cardamon,” said Brunner.
Get to Know: Mezzaluna’s Taylor Snelling
Snelling grew up in Litchfield, Minnesota and moved to the Fargo/Moorhead area in 2010. He was first introduced to the restaurant industry as a student at Minnesota State University, Moorhead, where he discovered a front-of-house passion for creating the ultimate guest experience. Snelling’s enthusiasm led him to a career behind the infamous horseshoe bar at Mezzaluna, in Downtown Fargo. He quickly transitioned from a host to a server, and ultimately, a bartender. While perfecting his craft, Snelling was promoted to Bar Manager, then later took on the role of General Manager. Today, he is Mezzaluna’s co-owner with Brunner, and thrives on setting a superior standard of service in one of Fargo’s most celebrated restaurants.
Gather with Grace
“We’re having a great time and we just want to always be a business that takes care of our people. Our saying is, ‘If we take care of our people, then they’ll take care of the guests.’ Our team knows that the six-hours of each day that we’re open, is the most important part of the day,” said Taylor Snelling.
“We all have very strong feelings related to time around the dinner table,” said Taylor Snelling. Some of my best memories, either with family or friends, has been spent around the dinner table. Even though Mezzaluna is considered fine dining, we want to be able to always provide a high level of service, but in a humble and comfortable environment that guests will want to come back to, and bring their friends and family.”
For more information or reservations, contact:
Taylor Snelling / Owner
Joe Brunner / Owner & Executive Chef
309 Roberts Street North, Fargo