Monday, August 5, 2013 at 11:19 a.m.
Red Cow has some of the best cheese curds this side of Dan Patch Ave.
E. Katie Holm
Though the fall-like temperatures have perhaps confused our internal State Fair clocks, we are in fact just three weeks away from the opening day of the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Die-hards already have their tickets and savvy, on-a-stick food fans are prioritizing portions of wine-glazed deep-fried meatloaf (new this year at the MN Wine Country booth) and scoops of Rainbow's bacon ice cream at this very moment.
The new food items are always exciting and anything bacon-studded is all well and good, but what really gets us salivating are the State Fair classics: Pronto Pups, Sweet Martha's cookies, Fresh French Fries, and of course, cheese curds. Since we treat Fair eating like a competitive event, we're re-visiting the local restaurants that serve the choicest curds so you can get your fix well before August 22.
Red Cow bills itself as being all about the burgers, but the curds were the item that left a lasting impression. These babies are battered tempura-light, fried until just crisp, seasoned with restraint, and served with a rich triple berry-infused ketchup that cuts the richness of the Wisconsin white cheddar cheese.
Brie curds are one of those things that sound awesome in theory but then all too often they're a mess in practice, like a cop who is also a dog. Since the cheese is so soft, they have a tendency to get too gooey, or worse, they get overcooked and lose any of the lovely, pungent brie flavor that makes them unique. I don't know how they do it, but the NewsRoom on Nicollet Mall manages to avoid all the brie curd pitfalls, but it comes at a price: Nearly $12 for a smallish order. If you are committed to quality over quantity, NewsRoom's brie curds are a happy hour must.
Refined, celestially light, and spackled with shaved black truffle, Spill the Wine's bite-sized curds are definitely a sophisticated take on a bar food staple, but have all the oozy-gooey satisfaction of the original. It's a snack-sized plate, so if you're dining with a group be sure to order two.
Pleasantly greasy, but never overly so, Casper & Runyon's Nook in St. Paul does classic, hand-dipped cheese curds exactly as they should be done. You can even order them from the restaurant and have them delivered right to your lane at Ran-Ham, located directly below the Nook. Beer, bowling, and a big basket of hot cheese curds? You may not need to go to the Fair this year at all.
Of all the curds on this list, the Depot's are perhaps the least State Fair-like, but if you are more into the "squeaky" variety of cheese curds, these spicy nuggets are near-perfect specimens. Though each individual curd is on the small side, the overall portion is generous and the finishing dust of cayenne pepper packs the perfect amount of heat. Get them with ranch if you need a cooling component.
These curds are another entry in the spicy category, but because the mild sting in these ones comes from the addition of a little jalapeño, they're a different kind of curd entirely. Bubbly, brown, and never in danger of melding into one impossible clump, the Lowry serves their less-conventional curds with an equally-unexpected, tangy blueberry ketchup.