It Takes a Villager

Aside from the bland vegetable version of the patties, the options for vegetarians are pretty well limited to side dishes, including bland, but tasty, red beans and rice; salty yellow rice made with sazon, a popular style of pre-mixed seasoning powder whose ingredients include achiote seed and coriander; Caribbean-style cabbage sautéed with peppers and onions; and the excellent deep-fried plantains, which can also be ordered à la carte for $1.85. Instead of real plantains, they are often made with just regular bananas, which is fine by me: I think caramelized bananas are the bee's knees.

For a sweet treat, I'd definitely choose those plantains over sugary desserts like the big slab of carrot cake ($2) or the dense, eggy bread pudding ($2.49). I like them best dabbed with a little of the house-made hot-pepper sauce, which you can get in a squirt bottle near the cash register. Take your plantains to a table by the front window and contemplate the skyline panorama--unforgettable both for the long view afforded by the I-94 canyon and for the way the cityscape is framed by the Target across the street. In just the right kind of light, downtown looks like a bunch of architectural flowers sprouting from the store's brown concrete fields.

A landscape defined by a highway and Target? Maybe Sharon Richards-Noel was right in more ways than she knew when she told me: "I just want to keep stressing to people: It's safe, it's safe. Don't get scared of north Minneapolis. It's just like any other place."

David Kern



MOVE OVER, PRONTO PUPS: A few years ago I "worked" the opening morning of the State Fair, a young food critic daring to tread where no one else would. Checklist in hand, I ordered a vegetarian taco from a stand. A fresh-faced worker handed me a squishy beige gizmo filled with a few oily coils of onion. I asked where the vegetables were, so she repossessed the taco, pushed her grubby finger in there, and dug around in the onions till she found a scrap of green pepper, which she dutifully pulled out to show me. So my head exploded, and senior staff had to throw four-dollar lemonades on it to extinguish the fires. What was that place called? I can't remember. Tacos-Kiss-My-Butt? Tacos-We-Hate-You? Something like that. Well, the days of Tacos-Bite-Me are gone. Tejas has arrived at the State Fair.

Yes, Tejas. The pioneer of sophisticated Southwestern cuisine will boldly enter the land of the mini-donut, serving grilled-chicken wild-rice burritos with mango habañero sauce, no less. Mango habañero sauce! And vegetarian breakfast burritos with roasted red peppers. And steak fajitas, grilled on a real hickory-wood-fire grill! Look for all these wonders--plus churros--on the north side of the old Beer Garden (now cleverly renamed the Garden) on the southeast corner of Dan Patch and Underwood avenues (across from the Information building). I talked to Tejas founder Mark Haugen as he put together his bit of corndogus eternus; he said Tejas has been trying to get into the fair for the last five years, but the spot they finally landed was worth the wait, given that it features one of the Great Get-Together's few beer licenses. Tejas will be pouring Summit Pale Ale, Grain Belt Premium, and Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss, among others.

Other 3.2s that is. All the alcohol at the State Fair is 3.2, meaning that it has between half and two-thirds as much alcohol as the ordinary versions of the brews. Why is it that Tejas always seems to be wrestling with some weird alcohol restriction? The Edina restaurant just threw off its no-tequila shackles a few months ago and is now serving tasty, fresh-juice-laden tequila margaritas. Let's hope all the slings and arrows work out in good karma for the joint: Haugen also says that if all goes well we'll get a Tejas back in downtown Minneapolis where one belongs.

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