Kevin Kling turns food into a Minnesota story

Local writer and performer Kevin Kling likes for his food--unlike his state--to be "not so nice." And don't let the TV dinner on the cover of his latest book, Holiday Inn, fool you: Kling is an expert at scouting blue-plate specials at out-of-the-way locations in Minnesota (leave the TV dinner at home).

We asked Kling a few questions about his eating habits and about his favorite places to eat on the road and here at home.

1. Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of Minnesota cuisine? Which native delicacies are your favorites?
I really do love the food from here. The fish, fresh caught. Sweet corn. We've been growing heirloom tomatoes. Oh man...heaven.

2. You chose a TV dinner as the cover image for your most recent book, Holiday Inn. Is it a staple of your diet, or are you more adventurous when cooking at home?
Much more adventurous. I love using ingredients from the garden. I make a mean gumbo. Mean as in "not so nice."

3. Most holidays revolve around food. Which holiday is your favorite for filling your plate and why?
I think eating at the holidays is as much about tradition as anything. The foods that remind us of who we are and where we're from. For me it's country ham. My family is from Missouri, and granddad always cured his own hams with salt and pepper and sugar. Hang them in the shed for months. Mmmm, I'm hungry thinking about it. It's that way of keeping food before refrigeration. Every culture has it, whether its sauerkraut or kim chee or lutefisk. We had country ham. I remember there was so much salt I'd wake up at three in the morning feeling like two strongmen were squeezing my kidneys. I'd run to the kitchen, no time for a glass, just put my mouth under the running tap. But there'd already be a line of cousins waiting to get a drink. That water tasted so good. Then the strongmen would release my kidneys and it was back to bed.

4. In May you performed at the Paul Bunyon Playhouse in Bemidji. What are some of your favorite outstate eating establishments?
Lots. Besides Toby's caramel rolls in Hinckley, whenever we travel we hit the mom-and-pop joints, downtown cafes, and truck stops. Just get the blue-plate special. You really can't go wrong ... well, yeah, I guess sometimes you can. Out of state I remember Paynes Bar-B-Que in Memphis. Best sandwich ever on Wonderbread. Just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, is a restaurant run by Mrs. Colonel Sanders. Amazing sides. There was a little diner in Charleston, S.C., by the ocean that made shrimp and grits. Wow. The little booths at the jazz fest in New Orleans have incredible crawfish etouffee.

5. How about locally? Which restaurants can call you a regular?
I love Lucia's for food from around Minnesota. She's amazing. Egg and I for breakfast. Anchor up in Nordeast for fish and chips. Dang, now I'm hungry again.

6. Your next book tackles a very non-Minnesota topic: the Crusades. What sorts of foods fortified the crusaders as they tried to wrest control of the holy lands?
Not so good. Whatever they could hit with their horse went into the pot. That and Pillage stew.

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