Minneapolis, je t’aime

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Minneapolis is a one-of-a-kind city.

I’ve gotten a little jaded traveling lately.  It feels like everyone is eating the same thing everywhere, at least within the U.S.  Whether it’s Applebee’s or locally sourced New American, everyone seems to be eating the same food, from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine.   Sometimes it’s very good food, the kind of food you’d be glad to have if you lived there.  Just not the kind of food you have to leave home to eat.

So it was thrilling to be eating in Minneapolis.  There was so much to eat that I can’t get in NY!  The only-in-Minneapolis food included the kind of deep-fried cheesiness Easterners like me associate (and love) about the Midwest, and food that I could never have dreamed up myself.

Weighing in strong in the traditional Midwest category is the Jucy Lucy, of course.  A Jucy Lucy is a hamburger stuffed with cheese.  We tried them at their alleged birthplace, The 5-8 Club, which used to be a speakeasy and is now a family-friendly diner.  We’d eaten so much at the Mill City farmers’ market just a few hours earlier, but the seven of us managed to eat every bite of 3 burgers, a basket of onion straws, a plate of buffalo wings, and an order of fried cheese curds to share.  (Even when we are about to burst, we take our culinary duties very seriously.)

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The onion strings were a huge hit with everyone but me (I like to taste onion, not just fried batter), and the cheese curds were pronounced to be “like fried mozzarella but better.”  The burgers, though good, didn’t taste that different from regular cheeseburgers, at least when the cheese is properly melted.  Though it might not be fair for me to judge, given that I only ate a quarter of a Jucy Lucy stuffed with American cheese.  It’s probably a complete different experience to bite into an oozing, highly molten cheesy burger.  I liked it enough that the next time I’m in Minneapolis, I’ll definitely make a point of trying out The Nook or Matt’s Bar, two other highly regarded Jucy Lucy purveyors that were closed for the holidays.

Luckily, all the ice cream places we wanted to try were open on the Fourth of July, and we made multiple stops.  All the ice cream had that fresh milk flavor I romantically imagine comes from Midwestern cows.  We tried Sebastian Joe’s ice cream at Sea Salt Eatery in Minnehaha Falls Park, Izzy’s in St. Paul, and even a last bite of Mr. Fudgie at Liberty Frozen Custard on the way to the airport.

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And of course we had to eat something Scandinavian, like the apple-filled Danish fried dough balls, or AEbleskiver, being sold at the Mill City farmers’ market.  The blonde, blue-eyed woman selling them wore an apron that said, “The Great Ball-Handling Dane.”

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I fell hard for the Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls, which is a candy bar of salted peanuts wrapped around a nougat center.  It’s had that salty-sweet flavor combo before it ever become trendy.  Wish I’d bought a box of these at the airport.

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Even the fast-food we ate felt so far from NY: Orange Julius, Dairy Queen, my Chicago dog from A&W at the the Mall of America food court.

But Minneapolis is a lot more than burgers, French fries, ice cream, and Danish fried balls.  It has a huge Hmong community, the largest Somali community in the U.S., and plenty of Vietnamese people with high standards, as evidenced by my excellent bún with curry chicken at Jasmine Deli.

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The Chef Shack at the Mill City farmers’ market was possibly our favorite one-stop eating truck ever.  Aren’t these the most beautiful nachos you’ve ever seen?  Not only are they topped with beautifully fresh tomatoes, corn, and avocado, the perfectly crunchy chips come with some of the best, most flavorful pulled pork I’ve ever had.  It was like eating a beautiful, porky rainbow.

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The truck also serves tasty bison burgers and phenomenal beef tongue tacos in those hard, retro shells.  Rivaling everything on their menu are their condiment buckets, filled with specialties like kohlrabi pickles and bacon ketjap.

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The Mahnomin porridge lauded by Jane and Michael Stern was the kind of thing my friend Romy and I like best.  I loved the true wild rice flavors cooked in heavy cream with maple syrup, hazelnuts, and cranberries.  Sort of what I imagine my life would be like in the Midwest—hearty, simple, possibly more fattening, but also somehow more wholesome than it is now.  The décor at Hell’s Kitchen was off-putting, it might keep me from going back, but their famed lemon ricotta pancakes were lovely and light, while their cornmeal waffle was modestly, quietly, very delicious.

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Minneapolis is so special that even their hipster small-plates restaurant, 112 Eatery, serves food I’ve never seen anywhere else, like tagliatelle with foie-gras meatballs and stringozzi with lamb sugo which I loved because I love all chewy, thick noodles slick with fat.  A fantastic place to drink wine and share salty, fatty, delicious foods with friends.

In all my travels, I’ve found more than once a restaurant that is trying to be a “New York restaurant,” sleek and black and usually with food that cares more about its appearance than its taste.  I’d love to see more places try to recreate a Minneapolis dining experience.  Maybe I’ll get my wish.  On Monday night, back in NY at the Grain & Grape in the East Village, I found that eponymous Midwestern beer brand, Leinenkugel’s.

(The Leinenkugel’s website has a ton of recipes, from salads to chocolate cakes, with Leinenkugel’s beer as an essential ingredient!)

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4 Responses to “Minneapolis, je t’aime”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Why “Jucy Lucy” (Matt’s way) and not “Juicy Lucy” (5-8’s way)?

    I can have DQ and Orange Julius anytime at my local mall–for me, Long John Silver’s was special.

    I liked the onion straws because it’s a higher fry/onion ratio than regular onion rings.

    I think the “top taste” of Minneapolis for me was the duck pate banh mi at 112 Eatery.

  2. Grace Says:

    I just like the way “Jucy Lucy” looks 🙂

  3. Don Cuevas Says:

    img_4049 does not load. Just so you know.

    I spent a week in Minneaplis on two different occasions, and although I didn’t have much time for specialty food seeking. the most satisfying meals I had were at Sydney’s. It was simple
    but tasty fare.

  4. Grace Says:

    Thanks, Mike! Fixed!

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