A Minneapolis cafe combines summer’s greatest hits—heirloom tomatoes, basil and sweet corn—in one totally extra BLT.

By Kara Elder
June 09, 2021
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Birchwood BLT
Birchwood BLT
| Credit: Carson Downing

What's inside (above)? Bacon, lettuce and tomato, natch-plus pesto mayo and sweet corn-chipotle coulis (aka puree).

In a normal year, when Birchwood Cafe and the Minnesota Farmers Union partner up to serve BLTs at the state fair, the Minneapolis restaurant goes through 2 tons of tomatoes over a span of 12 days. Yes, tons.

You can also find the sandwich on the menu at the cafe, a fixture in the Seward neighborhood. "Birchwood was an institution before I came along," says owner Tracy Singleton. The Bursch family opened Birchwood as a dairy in 1926; in the 1940s Cy and Del Bursch converted it into a small grocery. "It really mattered to the owners that whoever took over would give something back," Singleton explains. After opening in 1995, the community-minded cafe became known for careful ingredient sourcing that connects diners to the people and places behind their food. There is also a commitment to fair compensation for everyone, from farmer to cafe employee.

There's a collaborative spirit at Birchwood, including in the creation of the famous BLT. "Our menu is based on the idea of eight seasons," Singleton explains. "One of them is scorch, which is supposed to be the hottest part of summer." Two ingredients at their peak when the Great Minnesota Get-Together comes around? Tomatoes and sweet corn. "It's kind of a kitchen sink sandwich," Singleton says. When making it at home, choose your favorite varieties of tomato, lettuce, corn and bacon. Even better if they're-you guessed it-local.

BLT Ingredients
Credit: Carson Downing

At Birchwood, they stir pesto into house aioli, but jarred mayonnaise works great-and you can cheat the pesto, too, if you like, with the refrigerated kind.

Step One: Cook

In a saucepan, combine kernels cut from 1 ear sweet corn; 1/2 cup heavy cream; and 1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, coarsely chopped. Bring to a boil over medium; reduce to low and simmer until corn is very soft, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Puree the mixture, using an immersion blender or in a blender or food processor. Season with salt and pepper.

Tip: A coulis (coo-LEE) is simply a sauce made of pureed fruit or veggies. Try this one as a chip dip or on grilled sausages.

Step Two: Blend

For pesto: In a food processor, chop 3 cloves garlic. Add 2 cups fresh basil, 1 cup arugula, 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds, and 1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan. Process until finely chopped. Pulse in 2/3 cup olive oil until incorporated but not completely smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Stir 1 tablespoon pesto into 1/2 cup mayonnaise.

Tip: Tracy Singleton likes the flavor of adding arugula, but you can also make a classic all-basil pesto. Stir leftovers into hot pasta.

Step Three: Build

Fry bacon in a skillet, allowing 2 to 3 slices per sandwich, depending on the thickness of the bacon. Toast multigrain bread. Spread all slices generously with pesto mayonnaise. Layer lettuce, sliced heirloom tomato and bacon on one side. Top with a spoonful or two of the coulis and another slice of bread. Halve diagonally and serve with lots of napkins.

Tip: FYI, you'll have enough of each condiment to make six sandwiches. We've left the tomato and lettuce quantities loose. Stack 'em up as tall as you dare.

Grain Futures To showcase regenerative agriculture, the state fair version of the Birchwood BLT comes on focaccia made with Kernza. First developed at The Land Institute in Kansas, this perennial grain is being studied as an eco-friendly alternative to wheat.

Get to Know: Tracy Singleton

Tracy Singleton
Tracy Singleton
| Credit: Katie Cannon

Has worked in restaurants since age 14. Lived next door to Birchwood Cafe for 23 years. Chills out with her daughter-or on a bike or yoga mat.