Like our accents and our landscape, Minnesotans tend to think of our food as more banal than everyone else’s. As self-effacing Midwesterners, we downplay our gems and bounties.
But when you’re sitting in Cadiz, overlooking the twinkling sea and sipping Manzanilla wine, you’ll wish you had some buttered Lefse.
Well, perhaps not. But here are 10 things you are likely to miss.
Vietnamese Food Everywhere
A full generation of Southeast Asian immigration to our fair land means we take certain things for granted. A $2 banh mi, a towering tangle of pho, or the refreshment of a summertime rice noodle salad has become our birthright. You won't get it better than we've got it unless you head to the coasts. And even then, just head to Quang and you'll know: Nobody's got it better than us. Leave town, and you may be clamoring for all of this. Consider yourself warned before buying that ticket.
Old Fashioned Pan Fish Fry
Let the coasts have their squiggly saltwater catches. For our money (the cost of a line and a hook), we’ll take a simple lake fish fry. The sweet, tender filets of sunnies or crappies beat overpriced crustaceans and bivalves. This is not the time for clunky batters. A light egg wash dusted with seasoned flour makes for a properly understated dish, like anything genuinely Minnesotan. Add a squeeze of lemon if you’re feeling a little wild.
One of the best things about a bloody is that you get two drinks for the price of one. That is, if you have it in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Order your hangover helper elsewhere and be prepared to inquire as to whether the bartender has made a mistake. Where’s my beer back? The best places in town even offer up a choice of suds, so you’re not relegated to swill. Choose one of those fancy, hoppy IPAs for no additional cost at all. Just another great example of Minnesota Nice.
Dive Bar Heggies
When drunk, the ambrosial aroma of a toasting Heggies is as attractive as any multi-course feast. Drippy, hot, salty, and crisp, nothing goes with barstool dining like these. Made with premium Wisconsin cheese, Heggies is not just pizza. It’s a call to action. Not only do they sell pizzas, but they sell pizza ovens, so your barman can become pizza slinger. And you can become stabilized.
You know you're a Minnesotan if dry cornsilk sends you into happy hysterics. The hot days and cold nights of sweet corn harvest season can be bittersweet. We know what comes after September: six months of hell. In the meantime, grab a few ears and a pound of butter in the spirit of Garrison Keillor’s sage words: “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”
Order a fish sandwich elsewhere, and you're likely to wish you hadn’t. A beer-battered walleye sandwich isn’t just water protein beneath deep-fried stuff. What you're after is white flesh so tender and flaky it’s iridescent. The batter should be shatter-crisp with no whiff of bad oil. Mayo is as good as tartar, and lettuce and tomato (not slaw) are the only other reasonable accoutrements.
French fries aren’t always reliable. They come in so many iterations that it’s a shame to put them under a one umbrella. Tater tots are dependable, and never pretend to be something they’re not. Pre-shredded, shaped, deep-fried, and frozen, they’re steady if not distinguished. They also tend to disappear when you cross state lines. Other places aren’t as dedicated to our need for prudence.
My friend emailed me from New Orleans to tell me they didn’t have any food co-ops. I didn’t believe her. Another friend in upstate New York said the same thing. We take the Wedge, Seward, and the Mississippi Market for granted. Farm communities with concentrated distributions systems aren’t everyone’s claim. But they’re ours. When a well-curated larder of conscientious food is all you can deal with at the grocery, chances are your neighborhood has got you covered.
Shoving a blob of cheese into a patty of meat is so elementally obvious. For this reason, copycats abound, but of course we’ve got claim to the original. Matt’s, the 5-8, or the Blue Door — chances are you’re a devotee of just one, and you’re willing to come to fisticuffs in defense of your bar and its meats. Leaving town can leave you with one less reason for getting into drunken arguments over whose is the original or the best.
In some places “ice cream” means a pretty swirl of paste emanating from a machine. Around here, we know that’s “soft serve.” Real ice cream needs to be scooped, by hand, by a nubile teenager who's doing her summertime duty. Biting into a scoop is the difference between a crusty baguette and Wonder Bread. And you’ll miss it when it’s out of reach.