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50 tasty reasons to love Minnesota food

When Anthony Bourdain last year told his TV audience on No Reservations that his experience at Doug Flicker's south Minneapolis restaurant Piccolo was "far and away the best and most inspired and inspiring meal of my trip across America," he was confirming what Twin Cities diners have known for years: Minnesota's food scene is worthy of national attention.

The Twin Cities' recent domination of the James Beard Awards for Best Midwest Chef is only one sign that our state is now a fixture on America's food map. The explosive growth of Minnesota dining culture can be seen in the burgeoning farm-to-table ethic and growth of farmers markets; in Lenny Russo's grand, experimental food campus at Heartland; in the artisan meats of Green Ox; and in the designer cocktails at Bradstreet Craftshouse, La Belle Vie, and others. Esquire magazine even singled out Al's Breakfast as serving the "Best Pancakes in America."

Minnesota has long been a food-conscious state, from our Mill City beginnings to Betty Crocker to our invention of the Honeycrisp apple, but nothing has rivaled today's diverse restaurant and food scene. Eating in Minnesota has become a spectacular adventure of tastes and experiences.

Here is our list of the 50 best reasons to eat in Minnesota:


The Minnesota Food 50

50. Decadent dairy: Rich, sweet, small-batch butters from places like Hope Creamery and Rochedale Farms. Plus goat cheeses from Donnay, cave-aged blues from Faribault, milk and cream from Cedar Summit, and so many more.

49. Red Lake walleye: The country's only hook-and-line-caught commercial fishery is open once again, providing the only source of United States walleye.

48. Affordable fine dining: At many fine-dining gems, entrée prices hover around $20. Plus, you'll find gourmet chefs cooking everyday fare at places like Be'Wiched Deli and Sonora Grill.

47. Booyah feed season.

46. Rural food festivals: Barnesville has Potato Days, Montgomery has Kolache Days, and Brahm has Pie Day, among others.

45. Design: From the historic, gothic digs at the Strip Club to the too-cool-for-school Brooklyn-esque Tilia, to the serene loft of Tanpopo noodle shop, to the theatrical set-like Heidi's, local restaurateurs consider aesthetics a meaningful part of the dining experience.

44. We're the home of public radio's The Splendid Table.

43. Compart Family Farms pioneers dry-aged pork: Pork that eats like a steak? Beef had better watch out!

42. Austin-based Hormel invented the world's most popular tinned-meat-cum-pop-culture meme, SPAM.

41. Long Cheng livestock market allows visitors to select their own animal for on-site slaughter, just a few miles from downtown St. Paul

40. After a successful pilot program in Minneapolis, citywide curbside-collected composting is closer to becoming a reality.

39. D'Amico vs. international cheflebrities: This family-run Italian restaurant chain has so far succeeded in ousting two international cheflebrities from splashy venues, the Chambers Hotel and Walker Art Center.

38. Steve Schussler, inventor of the international theme-restaurant chain Rainforest Café, calls the Twin Cities home, and his fantastical Golden Valley workshop is incubating even more "eatertainment" concepts.

37. Pizza-delivering superheroes: At Galactic Pizza, spandex-clad superheroes deliver pies via electric cars.

36. Pizza perfectionists: From our longtime Neapolitan faves Punch and Nea, to newcomers like Black Sheep, Pizzeria Lola, and Mozza Mia, obsessive attention to detail makes these pies competitive with any on the East Coast ... or even Italy.

35. Airport eats: Recent remodeling added more local flavor, with MSP branches of local favorites like French Meadow, Surdyk's, and Ike's. A new project in the works will bring even more notable chefs--Russell Klein and Lenny Russo among them--into the mix so travelers don't have to settle for generic fast-food chains.

34. Park concessions: The Twin Cities have one of the country's best urban park systems, and they've been made even better by the addition of savvy food vendors: Tin Fish, Sea Salt, and the new, ultra-green Bread and Pickle.

33. Target Field concessions include lots of local food makers, from Kramarczuk's sausages to Murray's steak sandwiches.

32. Gastro Non Grata: These frequent events exploit our local musician-chef overlap by combining concerts and food. Indie bands perform as listeners sample snacks, brewers make beer, and one lucky meat raffle winner goes home with a carnivorous feast.

31. Charcuterie: We have more pigs than people in these parts, and lots of local restaurants making their own charcuterie. Mike Phillips and Kieran Folliard hope to turn their new retail company, Green Ox, into the Midwest's regional preserved meat maker.

 

No. 16: World-class bakeries like Patisserie 46 do our Mill City heritage proud.
No. 16: World-class bakeries like Patisserie 46 do our Mill City heritage proud.
Photo: AJ Olmsteid


30. A blessedly short swimsuit season. Bring on the bulky sweaters! Although we may gripe about the cold, it does make it easier to pull off those buffet-pants and hit that line one more time.

29. Name one other place, one other place on the whole of planet Earth, other than the Black Forest Inn, where a gnome mural, matjes herring, and a Richard Avedon photo marked with bullet holes exist under the same roof.

28. Mrs. Olson's Lefse means you can taste the old country without having to master the intricacies of the specialty rolling pins and griddles.

27. Also, north Minneapolis is the home of Olsen Fish Company, the world's largest lutefisk supplier.

26. In 1962, Minnesotan John Holohan dreamed up the precursor for Lucky Charms by mixing Cheerios with pieces of Circus Peanuts, helping lead General Mills--along with Betty Crocker and instant cake mixes--to become a multinational corporation.

25. Rose Totino patented frozen pizza dough here and later became Pillsbury's first female vice president.

24. Frank C. Mars invented the Milky Way in Minneapolis back in 1923.

23. Honeycrisp apples, invented at the University of Minnesota, are the country's premier breed. The Apple House at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum offers the freshest picks, along with more than 50 other varieties.

22. Currans' $1 pie happy hour--and some of the pies are actually homemade!

21. When Matt's Bar takes the phone off the hook because they're too busy to answer takeout orders

20. Cyclist-friendly restaurants include combination coffee-and-bike shops (Angry Catfish), path-proximate locations (Bachelor Farmer), and occasional valet bike parking (Café Lurcat).

19. Artisan ice cream makers: From Izzy's to Pumphouse to Sebastian Joe's to Grand Ole Creamery to Crema, we've got more luscious, handmade lickables than any city of our size.

18. Doughnut days: Don't miss our great doughnuts, either, including the cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled ones at A Baker's Wife, the apple cider ones at the farmers' markets from Sweetland Orchards, and the Indian-spiced minis at Chef Shack.

17. Parking! Abundant, free, off-street spaces at many neighborhood restaurants.

16. Mill City baking boom: Turtle Bread, Salty Tart, Rustica, Sun Street Breads, and Patisserie 46, among others, do our grain-growing and flour-milling heritage proud.

15. Prairie Organic Vodka defies the corporate conglomerate spirit-making model. The family-run booze business, Phillips, bottles alcohol that's been distilled from regional corn crops at a co-op owned by the farmers themselves.

14. Patios and roof decks: We make the most of a fleeting summer season by packing every sidewalk and deck, from the seats at tiny, romantic Barbette to the massive riverfront party at Psycho Suzi's.

13. Local beer renaissance: We're awash in new microbreweries, festivals galore, and creative hacks (i.e., Travail's Surly Fender--Furious mixed with Bender).

12. Wild rice: The real, native, hand-harvested stuff still grows in northern Minnesota. It's a healthy whole grain with roasted flavor versatile enough to pop up in vegetarian burgers, soups, salads, and even the occasional hotdish. (Be sure to try it in the Mahnomin Porridge at Hell's Kitchen.)

11. Nationally lauded chefs: Since the James Beard Awards redistricted, the Twin Cities have dominated the Best Chef Midwest category, with Tim McKee, Alex Roberts, and Isaac Becker taking home the big prize, supported by many other highly respected nominees, including Doug Flicker and Sameh Wadi.

 

No. 3: The craft cocktail movement has taken drinking to a whole new level of sophistication
No. 3: The craft cocktail movement has taken drinking to a whole new level of sophistication

10. Neighborhood farmers markets: The downtown markets are still going strong, but satellite mini-markets, including those spreading to the suburbs, office parks, and retirement centers, are booming.

9. The Minnesota State Fair's fantastic array of foods on a stick.

8. Farm-to-table restaurants that track their percentage of local ingredients (Common Roots), preserve produce to supply their market (Heartland), have their own gardens (Café Levain), or even their own farms (Wise Acre Eatery).

7. Farm dining: Sometimes diners go straight to the farm, at the fine-dining chef-led Tour de Farm series, or the more casual A to Z Pizzeria just across the border in Wisconsin.

6. Ames Farm honey: This single-source honey from 18 locations around central and southern Minnesota is floral-scented liquid gold, each jar having a unique terroir based on the pollen in the area where it was produced.

5. Midtown Global Market, Eat Street, and University Avenue: From Mexico to the Middle East to Africa to Scandinavia to Vietnam, these ethnic food hubs diversify our local culinary scene.

4. Third-wave coffee. We have a diverse mix of independent shops and local chains, roasters, and brewers, (Dogwood, Bull Run, Kopplin's etc.) now coming together under the Twin Cities Coffee Guild.

3. The craft cocktail movement: It's alive and well at Marvel Bar, Cafe Maude, Bradstreet Craftshouse, La Belle Vie, Heartland, the Strip Club, and more. The North Star

Bartenders Guild, led by LBV's Johnny Michaels, is a collection of bartenders reinventing classics and creating unique new flavors.

2. Food trucks: While it may be a national trend, the Twin Cities' carts can stand with anyone's, from the ethereal arepas at Hola Arepa to the high-brow offerings of Gastrotruck and World Street Kitchen to the global fusion Vellee Deli.

1. Our discovery that burgers taste best when the cheese goes inside the meat.

Add your tastiest reasons for loving Minnesota food in the comments below.
Add your tastiest reasons for loving Minnesota food in the comments below.


Previous coverage:
50 reasons Minnesota is the best state in America

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