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Red Stag's Smelt Fries: 100 Favorite Dishes

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As a countdown to the Best of the Twin Cities 2010, coming this spring, Hot Dish is serving up a hundred of our favorite local dishes. Send your own nominations to hotdish @citypages.com.

Move over, walleye. Smelt should take its place as our state's piscine icon--if we can wrest it away from Wisconsin, that is, where smelt fries are as legion as American Legions. Smelts--yes, the plural is smelts, not smelt, for some reason--look like itty-bitty salmon, typically larger than an anchovy but smaller than a sardine. They aren't native to the Great Lakes, yet inhabit them in abundance, though, according to the Post, the numbers have declined since their mid-80s boom:

"There was a time when nets got so full you could barely lift them," says Don Schreiner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "People would fill garbage cans and ice cream pails. You'd see people filling the back of pickups. It was always quite the party atmosphere."

The smelt runs won't happen until the ice melts later this spring, when Lake Superior's temps reach the mid-40s and the smelts head into the rivers to spawn. In the meantime, the smelt party happens every day at Red Stag, a Northeast hipster's version of the classic North Woods supper club.

Smelt fries, served whole, sans guts and decapitated, are breaded and fried, then tossed into a paper-lined chalice. The soft bones and thin skin melt right into the creamy white flesh--tiny fins add a little extra textural crunch. (Even though they call 'em fries, skip the ketchup in favor of the tarter sauce.) You can pop 'em in your mouth like popcorn, potato chips, or Swedish fish candy: Think of smelt as a healthier, equally addictive substitute for those Sweet Martha's cookies at the State Fair. They're classic fish fry made more fun--and more sharable.

Hungry for more? The dishes in our countdown thus far are linked below:

No. 100: Volcano Salad at Tiger Sushi No. 99: Eclair at Butter No. 98: Moussaka at Gardens of Salonica No. 97: "Flappers" at Colossal Cafe No. 96: Bento Box at Obento-Ya No. 95: Sausage, salami, onion, and green olive pizza at Black Sheep No. 94: Crab Cake at the Kitchen No. 93: Passion fruit cake at Pardon My French No. 92: Kafé 421 Signature Dips No. 91: Lutefisk at Landmarc Grill No. 90: May Day Cafe Croissant No. 89: Dowjic at Babani's No. 88: Osso Bucco at the Modern Cafe No. 87: Chef Shack Hot Dog No. 86: Adult Mac & Cheese at Good Day Cafe No. 85: Ropa Vieja at Victor's No. 84: French Toast of the Dead at Chino Latino No. 83: Uni at Origami No. 82: Bagel at Common Roots No. 81: Jasmine Deli's bánh mì No. 80: Pho 79's bò cuốn lá nho No. 79: Sweets Bakeshop's Kettlecorn Cupcake No. 78: D'Amico Kitchen's Chicory Salad No. 77: Be'wiched Deli pastrami sandwich No. 76: La Grassa's lima bean appetizer No. 75: Bulldog NE Tater Tots No. 74: Pop's Swedish Meatballs No. 73: Hot Plate's Caramel Apple French Toast No. 72: Grand Cafe's Ham and Cheese No. 71: Galactic Pizza's Thailander No. 70: Jackson's milk chocolate gelatoNo. 69: Patrick's Bakery and Cafe's tiramisu No. 68: Punch's Chopped Italian Salad