Sunday Suppers: possibly the greatest deal ever

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Mary Scheu of Cooks of Crocus Hill prepares for Sunday supper.

Sunday suppers are back in all their glory, and as a hearty four-course meal for a mere $15, they're more welcome than ever.
One Sunday a month, Cooks of Crocus Hill puts together a homemade feast for forty visitors. Guests sit at long tables and eat their food family-style. Wine is available for purchase by the glass or bottle. The place is loud (think: large family-Thanksgiving loud), which is not surprising considering Sunday suppers are for just about everyone. Some couples even bring their children, who are able to help in the kitchen doing simple tasks like peeling potatoes so they won't be bored during the meal.

The phenomenon of Sunday supper (so popular they sell out months in advance) began one year ago. The key is the vibe. Karl Benson, manager at Cooks of Crocus Hill, opens the meal by telling guests that his goal was to create an atmosphere that was, "loud and hot, smells good, and feels good." Benson, who has five children, saw how Sunday suppers were "a huge connect point" for the family. He created a similar meeting place for the diners who pour into the cooking school at each Sunday supper event.

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Diners of all ages attend the Sunday night feasts.

Another neat aspect of Sunday supper, is that the chefs are preparing your meal as you eat it, and you are welcome to shadow them, ask them questions, and in general, be as nosy as possible about recipe details. The kitchen is connected to the dining area, so rather than be off-limits, it is literally on display.

Each diner gets a packet of the recipes so they can create what they've eaten at home. On my recent visit, the menu consisted of a roasted winter squash soup, spinach phyllo rolls (phyllo filled with spinach, feta, olives, parsley, onion) served on a bed of mixed greens, mashed sweet potatoes (made with apple cider and Grand Marnier), green beans, pork loin stuffed with mushrooms, apples, and walnuts and served with a sweet mustard sauce, and pumpkin cake with white chocolate frosting.

The food was as good as it sounds. I kept eyeing the large bowls of food coming down the row of diners. Sitting next to me (and doing the same thing) was Kurt Blomberg, a 23-year-old U of M student who was tagging along with his sister. He said the taste of the food was great, but he wished there could have been even more. That said, Blomberg thought the food was definitely way better than the Rachel Ray stuff his roommates watch.

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Chefs Mike Shannon and Mary Scheu led the preparation of the food. One of Shannon's favorite past suppers was a shrimp and sausage corn boil they did over the summer. Scheu liked a basic spaghetti and meatball dinner they did and is excited about the prospects of deep frying a turkey next November for a possible supper.

"It's been a huge hit," Scheu tells me as she spreads the spinach mixture on sheets of phyllo dough. She says that the dinner is one of the cheaper items among the array of cooking courses that Cooks of Crocus Hill offers. The meal is a way for people to see what Cooks offers and hopefully come back to take courses.

You can register for a Sunday supper or for any of the Cooks classes, through their website. One personal tip-- if you find that the Sunday suppers are all sold out, give them a call. They've been known to add a Sunday supper to a month if demand is high enough.

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