Eat Locally, Eat Globally

In which a widely anticipated boondoggle turns out to be a boon for Minneapolis's urban fabric

You know how sometimes you fall in love so hard and so fast you don't trust it at all, so you call all your friends and ask, "Am I crazy, or is it really love?" Well, that's how it's been around here for the past several weeks, as I fall deeper and deeper under the spell of the new Midtown Global Market, the indoor, city-block-covering, 50-plus-vendor market that fills the ground floor of the old Sears headquarters on Lake Street. One of my friends assures me that it's really love, and, moreover, it's the special kind of love that arises only when great, longstanding fears are vanquished—in this case the fears borne of watching the Sears project in the news for years and years, with a rising sense of dread that the project might turn out to be more boondoggle than boon.

Another of my friends insists that it's true love because of the unique properties of my beloved. "It's a hippie wet dream and a Sub-Zero dink wet dream, and they rarely have common ground," he noted. (Dink meaning "double income no kids," of course.) He failed to note the MGM's attraction for stroller-pushers, people suffering from cabin fever, caretakers of children suffering from cabin fever, armchair world travelers, people bored with their regular grocery store, people in need of takeout, people in need of cheap dates, and people who would like to participate in global Minneapolis, but find they have no point of entry.

Yes, I said global Minneapolis, and I meant it. There are food vendors, grocers, restaurants, and shops representing just about everywhere except Australia and Antarctica. There's a Scandinavian joint, a Native American shop, a few Caribbean places, plenty of Mexican and Central American options, a few African spots, some Asian venues, a few Midwestern American joys (like the local farmers' butcher shop), and even more coming, including an Indian grocery store and vegetarian-leaning restaurant, a bakery, and Chang Bang, a little sister restaurant to Nicollet Avenue's Yummy, which will be a table-service restaurant with a full bar specializing in dim sum.

Nick Vlcek

But that's not all! Each and every weekend there's a small center stage with family-friendly free entertainment scheduled from 10:30 in the morning till 7:30 at night. Entertainment such as the Balloon Man, a drum workshop for kids, a magician, and Heart of the Beast puppet theater on various weekend mornings and noontimes, while in the later afternoon and evening live music takes the stage—everything from a Caribbean steel band to African drumming to folksy-bluesy duos are scheduled to play. (Check the website for the full entertainment schedule.)

It's phenomenal. It's a tourist destination, it's full of jobs, it makes living in the city more fun. It's a win, win, win, and the best thing to happen to south Minneapolis since they put all those lakes in. I'm so impressed with the people that put it all together—the Neighborhood Development Center, a St. Paul based nonprofit—that I think we should just hand them the governance of the entirety of Minneapolis, while the rest of us just go eat. (Want to know more about how this all came to be? Check out Molly Priesmeyer's sidebar to this story on page 21.)

And where would we eat? I'm so happy you asked. I spent a few weeks gorging myself on all that the vast MGM has to offer, and so here is my quick guide to help you navigate the enormity, the ginormity, the trinormity that is the new Midtown Global Market. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Los Ocampo

Right on the main food court near the entertainment, Los Ocampo specializes in homemade masa—fresh-ground corn made into all sorts of shapes and griddled till crisp. Try the long, flat huaraches; round, fat gorditas; and little pancake sopes. No, really, try them all. I did, and soon was so obsessed with the variations in creamy to crisp you could achieve it was all I could do not to plow like Cookie Monster through the model foods they put on the counter to help you order. I'm especially head over heels with the huarachazo ($5.50), masa spread with a creamy layer of beans and griddled till sizzling on one side and creamy on the other. The creamy side is then piled with your choice of meat—perhaps the prensado, made with smoked pork in a red chile sauce, or the chicharron verde, or the tinga de pollo, shredded chicken made here with caramelized onions and chipotle peppers. The whole thing is then topped with cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, tomatoes, and slices of fresh avocado. Whoa! If you can take it, pony up another buck and they'll throw pork or beef ribs on top, and call it Huarachazo de Costilla—that bad boy is not for the weak of imagination or spirit. Another gem, and, if you can believe it, a vegetarian one, is the taco acorazado, for which a plateful of taco shells is surmounted with a gargantuan deep- fried, cheese-stuffed poblano pepper. It looks like King Kong devastating a nice area rug, but tastes much better than that sounds.

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