Thursday, June 25, 2009

We're Gonna Make It After All

Well friends, I apologize for my absence, but I was off on another adventure, but this time to a magical and mystical place that I never dreamed I would visit. Was it the ancient pyramids of Egypt? The Parthenon in Greece? The great peaks of Machu Pichu? Nope, it was the great mid-western state of Minnesota. While I've visited many exotic locales the world over and have seen a bit of the west coast and a lot of the east coast here in the US, I can't say I've ever been to the mid-west. This past week I traveled to Minneapolis, the most populous city in the state and home of Prince, Bob Dylan and the commercial wonder-store that is Target.

Although I was initially dubious that a New Yorker would find any wonderful culinary feats in such a small city, I made like Mary Tyler Moore and kept my hopes up (that's Mary and her beret immortalized in bronze in downtown Minneapolis). My first meal in one half of the Twin Cities was at 112 Eatery, a wonderful restaurant in the Warehouse District that specializes in seasonal and local cooking. The homemade tagliatelle with fois gras meatballs was light as a cloud, and the sweetbreads were soft and perfectly cooked in a puttanesca inspired sauce (sorry, no photos, the place was too small for me to bust out my huge camera!).

But by far the biggest surprise was Hells Kitchen, a restaurant named after my beloved neighborhood in New York. Adorned with Ralph Steadman illustrations and run by tattoo-sleeved ladies in kimonos, Hells Kitchen is clearly the place to be for brunch in Minneapolis. Great local ingredients are a major focus here as well, and it really shows in the quality of the food (not to mention in the Prince and Dylan blaring through the speakers). We started out with a wild rice porridge since wild rice appeared to be a local specialty. The dish boasted hand picked local rice that was creamy and sweet (much better than expected, to be honest) and studded with delicious roasted hazelnuts, dried blueberries and sweet cranberries. Next we tried the oddly named "sausage bread", which despite the name was surprisingly moist and delicious. Made with bison sausage (also a local specialty), toasted walnuts, black currants, black coffee and a few spices, it was only slightly sweet and made a perfect foil for the restaurant's signature homemade peanut butter (lauded by my fave road food writers--Jan and Michael Stern--as the best they've ever had, and I'm inclined to agree).

After that we split a wonderful Walleye BLT (walleye is a local type of Pike that's big in Minnesota), accompanied by the best sweet potato fries I've ever had. Crunchy and sweet, they somehow avoided that soggy middle that afflicts most sweet potato fries. After a big plate of corned beef hash, washed down with a mighty tasty bloody Mary (garnished with a sticky rim covered in spicy rib seasoning, and an extra large skewer of shrimp, olive, peperoncino and tomato), we were stuffed.

And last but not least, we had to conquer a burger known as the Jucy Lucy (purposely misspelled). Matt's Bar is an unassuming ramshackle building on the outskirts of town, but I would say a must-visit, since it's home to this wonderful burger. The Jucy Lucy looks like your average burger, but has a little treat in store: it's filled with cheese that oozes out when you bite into it. But proceed with caution, as the waitresses will tell you, because all that melted cheese is H-O-T hot, and it takes a few minutes of cooling with the bun off before you can sink your teeth in to it. It was good, came with fried onions and a big basket of fries.

So friends, if you find yourself in the mid-west, somewhere near Minneapolis, give these spots a try, they were delicious. And thanks to my good friends Adam and Yana for hosting us while we were there for their wedding (a delicious locally sourced dinner during a boat down the Mississippi was also had). I had a blast at their wedding, and loved getting the opportunity to visit a new city and see my old friends. I'm headed to another wedding this weekend ('tis the season!) but stay tuned for some more yummy recipes as the weeks go on. I've been getting great stuff from my CSA, so I'll have some great seasonal recipes coming up!


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