Red hot and ready to party
Photo courtesy St. Paul Winter Carnival
As much as we're supposed to cheer for Boreas, King of the Winds, at the climax of the St. Paul Winter Carnival, it's hard not to want to hang with the Vulcan Krewe. Their mischief, roaring fires, shenanigans, and predilection for drinking seem more our speed. Also, they're trying to kill winter, and who wouldn't like to see that happen at this point?
As you're getting out to enjoy the snow sculptures, ice carvings, and other events, we've rounded up our Top 5 spicy bar bites to warm you from the inside out.
Wontons and wandering available near downtown St. Paul
It's just as simple and straightforward as you'd hope: crispy wonton wrappers around a cozy interior of molten cream cheese mixed with green and none-too-subtle jalapenos. Sliding them through a glaze of sweet apricot sauce, you'll find they are far too easy to pop, especially at happy hour, when they're discounted to an easy-to-devour $5. Pair them with one of Senor Wong's craft cocktails, like the Wandering Oaxacan: chipotle and vanilla bean-infused oak heart rum with Godiva, Kahlua, Piloncillo-Canela syrup, Xocolatl mole bitters, shaken until frothy with egg whites. It ties up the Asian/Mexican fusion of this fun spot.
Order the secret menu item: totchos, the unholy love child of tater tots and nachos
The key to ordering these decadent bites is to know how to ask for them. They aren't on the menu, and you might have to fill your waitress in on your totchos vision, but trust us, you'll be glad you did. A mound of tater tots are given the full nacho treatment: smothered in melted cheese, shards of crispy bacon, and a healthy helping of pickled jalapenos with a side of salsa and sour cream. Wash it all down with one of the Beer of the Month specials for just $3. This month's selection is New Belgium 1554.
A liquid spice, so nice
3. Enter the Dragon Margarita at Barrio
Allow the dragon to enter and curl up in a fiery pit at the base of your stomach -- this cocktail will fortify you against even the most brutal of wind chills. Zest peppers are muddled and mixed with a passion fruit base, tequila, and topped with a sparkling splash of cava for $10. There's just enough sweetness to cut that heat back down to size. Pair it with a vat of their liquid gold cauldron of queso fundido (melted cheese) studded with flavor-packed chorizo and served with made-in-house tortilla chips ($8 at happy hour).
2. Dragon Puffs at Tavern on Grand
Go beyond the lake fish
Photo courtesy of Tavern on Grand
This St. Paul institution is better known for its fried walleye (note the walleye in the window). However, they've got an appetizer bite on the menu that does not disappoint on the Scoville scale. Puff pastry is crammed with diced jalapenos, smoky bacon, cilantro, and three different kinds of cheese. They're baked until the golden crust swells and the cheese bubbles like an awaiting volcano. Served with a cumin-spiked ranch sauce, they are surprisingly spicy, crunchy, crispy, and absolute perfection when paired with a pint of Summit. This is still St. Paul, after all. The puffs are $7.95 and taste even better when you're positioned at the bar with a full view of all those poor, chilly souls out on Grand Avenue.
You're going down, down, down, in a burning wing of fire
Bennett's does many things well. They straddle the line between neighborhood bar (where the bartender always remembers your preferred brand of firewater) and special occasion dining spot with beautifully cooked steaks. They have one of the best bacon cheeseburgers in all of St. Paul, even on the burger-dense stretch of West Seventh that they occupy, but one of owner Joe Bennett's great passions is a perfectly fried, crispy chicken wing. Inside the kitchen, they're mixing up Bennett's own blends of sauces and making each batch of wings to order. Most might not want to venture beyond the Buffalo sauce, but if you're serious about lighting up a fire, you'll want to go Nuclear. A glaze spiked with punishingly flavorful habanero peppers coats that crispy skin and succulent meat. The wings can be ordered in varying amounts: six for $7, a dozen for $13, or 18 for $17. Ranch dipping sauce is a dollar extra that you'll likely want to spend.
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