Thursday, August 22, 2019

2019 Minnesota State Fair – St. Paul, MN

This year’s adventure was a little different from 2018, 2017, 2015, and a bunch of previous years. This year, I went on opening day with a handful of my co-workers as sort of a culinary tour guide. I’m not sure I was any good at it, but I’ll let you know what they say when we get back to work.  Thanks for hanging out with me all day, Sherri, Lisa, Hannah, Tami, Vicki, and Jim (and his family)!

I started at one of my favorite breakfast places – The Blue Barn. They’re always known for some creative stuff, and this year was no different. 

I tried the Breakfast Potato Skins – deep-fried potato skin filled with scrambled eggs and peppers. It is topped with a blackened beef chislic – a South Dakota bar food staple – and drizzled with béarnaise. The meat has an unusual texture, which makes me wonder about South Dakotans (hahaha kidding!), but was actually very flavorful. It’s sort of like a kafta kebop (lamb skewers). I thought the béarnaise on top was a nice touch. An unusual dish for breakfast, but still good.

I also tried the Blue Cheese Corn Fritz – these are deep fried blue cheese and corn fritters with chimichurri sauce. The had a good fry on them, but the cheese didn’t really shine through. I was hoping for more bite on them. The chimichurri sauce was fantastic, though. If you had just called them corn fritters and gave me the sauce, I wouldn’t have even needed to know there was cheese there.

The best thing I tried at the Blue Barn was the Nashville Hot Chicken on a Stick – it was a large flattened chicken strip coated with cereal (Special K, if I’m not mistaken) for a breading, and then sweet-heat butter glaze. There was also a great hot sauce drizzled over them and served with some pickles. Really a good and simple snack, for breakfast or anytime.

We stopped at Lulu’s Public House for some adult beverages. It’s never too early to double-fist beers at the State Fair! The Berry Go Round  by Schell’s Brewing was pretty darn good and a great way to start off the day. It’s a lemon-y beer with raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Nice and tart/sour. Loved it.

The Onesie Twosie Lulu Lucky from Surly was also excellent. It’s a delicious IPA worth checking out. It isn’t going to change the IPA game, but I enjoyed it.

Next was the Turkish Pizza at the Blue Moon Diner. Way better than I thought, actually. It’s a flatbread naan topped with spicy minced beef, onion, tomato, lettuce, cucumber salad, herbs, and lemon juice – you can have it rolled up like a cone or like a pizza. I do wish they toasted the naan a little bit. As it is, it’s super floppy and soft and it’s very messy to eat, since they don’t have a lot of plastic knives at the state fair, I’ve noticed. Get it rolled for easier eating, I suppose (or they can cut it if you’re going to share it). Not mind-blowing, but it was extremely good, in my opinion.

We headed to the Coliseum for a Deep-Fried Dilly Dog from Swine and Spuds. This place has a pretty good track record for creativity. This monstrosity takes the cake for me. It’s a bratwurst, shoved inside a fat pickle, then battered and deep-fried. Oh, and it’s on a stick. I’m not even sure what kind of sauces you’re supposed to put on this thing, but I didn’t even use any. It’s like the best corndog you’ve ever had. I’ll be talking about this for a while. Also, my co-workers were impressed I could get my mouth around it. (I’m sure everyone is going to focus on that last phrase for the next year or two…)

We walked over to Mancini’s for a beer and another dog. This time it was the No Bologna Coney – it’s an Italian mortadella pork sausage flavored with pistachios and peppers, covered with  a muffaletta salad and served on a split-top bun. This thing was pretty good, especially the muffaletta. I wish the sausage had a touch more pistachio, but it was still really good (and messy).

The beer was Funnel Cloud F2 Ale from Bad Weather Brewing. I thought it was middle of the road and nothing special. I tasted neither funnel cakes nor caramel nor vanilla. Might have just had my expectation set to high – it was just an ok ale.  

Off to Dino’s Gyros for more delicious beers – they always have a great selection there. I went with the new Surly Mango Medusa, which was pretty good. Not my favorite mango beer, but it was really good.  The winner of the entire day was the Berry Manilow by Utepils. It was lemonade and raspberry, but not at all chemically. Just fantastically light and fun for the summer. I’m hoping they throw this in cans or bottles for me to stockpile in my house. Great work on this beer.

At Dino’s I also tried the Feta Bites, another new item. They had less flavor than I expected, but the dipping sauce that came with them did help – it was a creamy olive tapenade that was pretty rad.

I really wanted to try the Shrimp and Grits Fritters from Funky Grits in the Food Building. I’m a grits fan, cheesy or otherwise. These were a little dried out, sadly. The dip was ok. They were mainly just overly-fried dough balls served with an aioli. I had higher hopes for these.

There aren’t very many repeats for me at the state fair, but Mouth Trap cheese curds usually make an appearance. They definitely do if I have other friends to share them with. They’re so good and I love them.

Sometimes, O’Gara’s has delicious-sounding items and sometimes they follow through on it. I was a little disappointed with the Irish Whiskey Boneless Wings, though. They seemed like just regular wings and had no whiskey taste at all. The sauce that was on them was a little flacvorless, to be honest, although the fry on the outside of the chicken was excellent and the chicken inside was also excellent. I think they just missed some flavor powder with the whiskey sauce. Not terrible, and great if you just want some boneless wings, but not rave-worthy. (Go with the Rueben bites instead)

You can’t do wings without beers (well, I suppose you could, by it seems pointless), so I got a MN Haze from Lakes and Legends Brewing. It was a decent beer. No complaints and I’d drink it again. I also tried Castle Danger’s Peaches and Cream Ale. It was one of the better beers at the fair. Lots of flavor and very smooth. 

I’m a cookie dough fiend, so I had to check out the Deep Fried Cookie Dough at Kora’s Cookie Dough. It was cookie dough wrapped up in a wonton skin and deep fried. It was greasy but decent. I’m glad they added the chocolate drizzle and powdered sugar – both of them helped. It just feels texturally funny to eat warm cookie dough. Maybe that’s just me, though.

We popped over to The Hanger for the Wingwalker donut holes (I know there was some controversy over the original plan to have injectable syringes for what is now dipping sauces). The donuts themselves ended up being sadly boring, but the lingonberry sauce, the Bavarian cream, and chocolate dipping sauces were really great. I even shared mine with some strangers sitting next to me on the bench outside, and they concurred. Dips yes. Donuts meh.

I was starting to wind down, but I kept hearing about these Carnitas Taco Cones. It was honestly good, but was pretty much just a standard taco when it all comes down to it. The filling was great and a good amount. And the shell was perfectly fried into a cone. Note: This item got the most comments from passers-by out of anything I ate at the fair. It’s visually impressive.

I had to make sure I got at least one 1919 root beer. It’s my favorite at the state fair and I normally drink a gallon of it. I kept it to a low roar this year, but I still love it so much.

I ended up skipping the cheesy sriracha funnel cake, even though it was on the list. I just wasn’t’ feeling it towards the end of the day. I’m not always a funnel cake fan, so it doesn’t surprise me. But, if you find out I should have gotten it, please let me know. I’m curious about it!

On the way out of the fair, I had to make one last stop to get the Hot Hen from RC BBQ. It’s BBQ potato chips covered in buffalo chicken, blue cheese fondue, pickled jalapenos, and blue cheese crumbles. The topping was really good, but I wasn’t impressed by the BBQ chips. If you’re going to lay down a foundation, give it a little something, so it isn’t plain. I basically ate all the toppings off the top and powered through as many potato chips as I could. 

Overall, it was another great day at the Minnesota State Fair. I didn’t have a lot of mind-blowing new items, but a few definitely stuck out. Same for beers. I’m not disappointed at all. I had a great time hanging with my co-workers and running into a few friends that I have missed terribly. Let me know if you try anything I missed or if you disagree with any of my comments. I love a good food argument!

Top 5 (food) things at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair
  1. Deep Fried Dilly Dog
  2. Nashville Hot Chicken on a Stick
  3. No Bologna Coney
  4. Turkish Pizza
  5. Carnitas Taco Cone

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Magic Noodle – St. Paul, MN

This restaurant in St. Paul opened up a month or two ago and people have been raving about how good it is. So, D.Rough and I headed over for lunch to check it out. It’s got a wonderfully designed interior – very authentic Chinese feeling – and you get to watch the chef hand-pull noodles in the kitchen from most of the seating area. Word on the street is that this is the first hand-pulled noodle shop in the Twin Cities, which is a big statement if it’s true. 

The menu has a lot of things on it that all sound amazing. You’re given a pencil to check off what you’d like to order. You can either give the server your menu with items checked off, or you can just tell them and they’ll put in your order into their fancy iPad ordering system right there at your table. We probably over-ordered, but we loved it all (and finished it all), so maybe we ordered the right amount, after all.

We ordered a few appetizers, and the first one to arrive was the Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil. They were six small little dumplings filled with ground pork, and then covered with scallions, peanuts, and chili oil. They were very light and quite delicious. The chili oil wasn’t overpowering and the pork filling wasn’t overly heavy (it helps that it was a small portion in each dumpling). Very good.

D.Rough is always happy to see a Scallion Pancake on a menu, so we had to get one. It’s served in six pieces and with a small dish of possibly rice wine vinegar dipping sauce. Very delicious and we’ll be sure to tell our friends who are also scallion pancake addicts that they need to check these out at this restaurant. 

I kept going back to the Cumin Mutton Pie on the menu, so I just decided to order it and see how it was. I loved it. It definitely had some heat (spice-wise). The shredded mutton wasn’t stringy and had a great flavor, helped by the addition of onions and peppers in the mix. It was a little drippy, and I got it all over the table and my pants, but it didn’t stop me from eating the entire thing.

For an entrée, I talked D.Rough into getting Chongqing Spicy Noodle Soup. It sounded magical to me, and I should have been warned by the small red pepper next to the name on the menu. That indicates it’s hot. And it was HOT. If you’re originally from Minnesota and have an aversion to spice, then steer clear of this one. It was really spicy, even after it cooled down, but the flavor in it was excellent. It’s got lots of ground pork lurking at the bottom, covered up by a layer of molten lava… I mean chili oil. With hand-pulled noodles on top, most of them are like 2 feet long, so it’s a very messy dish. So, I found myself whipping spicy oil off my entire face after every bite. But again, it was really tasty!

D.Rough’s decision to order the Garlic Chicken Fried Noodles was the winner of the day. The ingredients were simple (onions and bell peppers), but they made it taste so incredible. The sauce that these noodles were in did have some chili oil, but it was more sweet than spicy. It was great. Again, the two-foot long noodles were a challenge to share and to eat, but eventually we got much better at it. And, this is a dish we would order again and again. 

I can’t recommend this place enough (with the caveat that it’s going to be spicy for some Minnesotan palates). It’s fun to watch them hand-pull the noodles and the variety of things on the menu is impressive. The use of chili oil in most dishes reminds me of pretty much every dish that I ate while I was in China, so I feel confident in my use of the term “authentic”. It isn’t like American-style Chinese food, so you’re not going to get General Tso’s Chicken here. But, I truly feel you’re going to love everything you order here.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Y Club – Garrison, MN

When D.Rough and I are up north, I sometimes trick her into joining me on my all-fried-food diet (then she retaliates and makes me eat vegetables for weeks). This visit was no different. We popped into the Y Club for a quick dinner – someplace we had only driven by in the past, but always looked busy. 

We ended up getting just appetizers (and beer). Deep fried walleye fingers and deep fried asparagus. There’s no bad part of this meal.

The asparagus was good. Really good, in fact. Even better than we expected. Yes, it’s salty, and yes, it’s fried, but it was sooo delicious. It’s got some sort of spicy mayo or ranch dip with it. Not quite sriracha, not quite something else, but just get it. 

The walleye fingers were perfect, as well. You actually tasted the fish and not just the fried (not that I mind that, personally). I’m a big fan of these, especially with the generous portion they brought to us. 

We’ll be back, Y Club. Maybe for something non-fried next time… unless I get my way!

Y Club
27430 MN-18
Garrison, MN 56450

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Mugg’s of Mille Lacs – Wahkon, MN

D.Rough and I have driven by signs advertising this place and finally decided to stop here. It’s a lake-side sort of dive bar with delicious-looking food, so why not?!

The menu is pretty small, but it does have some interesting things on it. We stopped looking when we came across this specific appetizer that is like something out of my dreams. House-made loaded tater tots stuffed with cheddar cheese, sour cream, bacon, and some spices, then served with a jalapeno ranch dip. And when you’re up north, you should find yourself some walleye – in this case, a walleye sandwich. Also, a bunch of beer.
The food arrived and was everything we wanted it to be. The tots were like magical pillows with a spicy dipping sauce. Just enough bacon to taste it, but not be the only thing you tasted. A perfect fry on these, as well, which I know it isn’t easy to do with housemade tots. 

The walleye sandwich was also really good. Nice breading on the fish itself and a good tartar sauce. Decent onion rings, as well. I was pretty happy with this and I’m glad I split the sandwich with D.Rough. Otherwise, I would have been really full. 

Sorry for the short review – it was a quick stop, but one that we’ll make again, for sure. IT’s solid bar food and not simple burgers and fries. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Lazy Moose Grille and Coffee House – Moose Lake, MN

We’re always up for an adventure when we head up to northern Minnesota, and we came across reviews for this small-town diner called the Lazy Moose. We knew we needed to check it out. The staff was absolutely lovely when we walked in and made sure we were taken care of. There’s a lot of younger staff working there, but someone had trained them well, or they were just genuinely nice people – kudos to you, either way.

It was lunch time and I was in need of a burger. I went with a Sriracha Ranch Burger, and D.Rough went with a Patty Melt. I also up-charged and went with the onion rings – I don’t mess around. We didn’t wait long before the food came out and it looked impressive. 

The burgers here are half-pounders. That’s big for a restaurant. Also, they had a perfect sear on the outside of them that was really impressive. My burger had melted blue cheese on it, a tomato, and sriracha ranch sauce. It was fantastic. The burger itself was extremely juicy, but crispy on the outside and the toppings were generous without making the whole thing a sloppy mess. The housemade pickles were exceptionally good, as well. And, I’m an onion ring snob, but these were some of the best I’ve had. The seasoning in the breading was excellent and they were nice and big slices onion. Great work on this!

D.Rough was pretty pleased with her patty melt, as well. It was the same half-pound burger and had lots of onions on it. It had cheddar and swiss on it, as well. And the rye flavor of the bread really came through on this thing. Pro-tip: get the wild rice soup here. It's sooooo good. Another winner!

We’re glad we stopped here. The reviews check out and, if anything, they don’t do this place justice. It’s a cute little restaurant in a small town, but they’re knocking it out of the park here. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

QC Pizza – Mahtomedi, MN

I can’t believe it’s taken me a year to get to this place that claims they make a Quad City-style pizza here in the Twin Cities. (The Quad Cities are two cities in Illinois and two cities in Iowa – depending on who you ask)(if you ask people from East Moline, they’ll say they are one of the Quad Cities, but it’s a lie)(The Quad Cities are my home – the Illinois side – if you didn’t know.) I’ve read the articles and seen it on FoodBeast, but I had to try it myself. 

They’re also known for this dill pickle pizza called the Kinda Big Dill Pizza, which had my curiosity piqued.

D.Rough and I popped in there tonight and couldn’t decide which pizza to get, so we got a medium dill pickle pizza and a medium taco pizza. We got the taco pizza so I could give a full comparison to the actual Quad City version that I grew up eating pretty much weekly. We were told there would be an hour wait, which to me means that this place is doing killer business. Thankfully, they steered us to the bar next door to have a beer or two while we waited for our order. They would text us when our pizzas were ready and we could head back next door and eat them in the pizza shop. We went next door and had our beers and came back around the hour point to check it out. We walked in and our pizzas were ready. 

Then, the owner noticed I had a 309 area code on my phone number I left and came out to ask why I had a Quad City area code and we chatted a bit. REALLY good guy and proud of his work. He IS doing killer business here, which is great, and I’m thrilled to hear it since all of my QC friends and family need to check it out.

What is Quad City style pizza? There are multiple places in the Quad Cities with this style – Harris Pizza, Frank’s Pizza, and The Pizza Joynt. The main thing is that it’s cut into strips. D.Rough refers to this as “you forgot to complete the Minnesota grid”-style slices. It also has a very specific mozzarella cheese blend. It also has a very distinct crumbled sausage mixed with a lot of fennel. Those are the main points, but I’m sure there are also some finer points with the crust and such, but I won’t go into that here. Let’s talk food. 

The taco pizza is just like home. It’s a sausagey pizza turned sort of into taco meat, covered with cheese and lettuce, and then covered with dorito-style tortilla chips on top. You have to ask for small packets of Heinz taco sauce to go with it, as well. That’s crucial. And yes, QC Pizza does have the taco sauce packets by request. It’s so good and messy. Be forewarned: the QC strips are floppy and you’ll lose all of your toppings until you figure out the proper grip – one hand on the end crust and one hand supporting the impending flop. That’s just how we eat them, deal with it. If NY pizza can be eaten a certain way – with a fold – then QC-style pizza can be eaten a certain way, as well. 

The dill pickle pizza was even better than I expected. It’s got a garlic sauce on it instead of the traditional red sauce and the pickle slices are covering this thing. There’s also some ham in there, so think of this like a pickle roll-up pizza or a Cubano pizza (minus the mustard – but now I wonder if they have mustard, which would be brilliant). There’s lots of dill sprinkled on the top as a seasoning. The whole thing is amazing and a fantastic idea. I’m glad we tried it! I would highly recommend it and we will for sure get it again. 

Note, QC Pizza isn’t cheap like Little Caesars or Domino’s. You’re getting a hand-tossed and crafted pizza with some unique flair. A few bites into these pies and you’ll forget about the price and your face hole will be extremely happy. 

I also loved that all the photos on the wall are of Quad City landmarks. Tugged at my heart strings a little, to be honest.

The verdict is a resounding YES, that it does accurately represent Quad City pizza legends and is, in fact, just as good as those places I grew up with. Dennis, thank you for bringing the taste of home back to Minnesota with you. I really appreciate you saving me a six hour drive every time I need a taste of home. Great job on these pizzas!!!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Rustic Inn Café – Castle Danger, MN

We spent some time up in northern Minnesota this past weekend and had a wonderful time. People always rave about Betty’s pies, and while the pies there are delicious, the rest of the food seem as pretty lacking from our experience. So, we stopped at the Rustic Inn for a nice dinner (and pies). 

The menu is nicer than a lot of places we’ve been to up north and they take pride in their creativity and customer service here. They’ve got a variety of things that you’ll have to choose between, but our decision didn’t take long. I needed the black cherry smoke BBQ pork ribs and D.Rough got the Wild Rice Meatloaf. I somehow talked myself out of getting the Castle Danger Beer battered onion rings, and then as soon as I saw someone else’s order, I regretted that decision immediately. They’re massive, so only order these if you’re going to share them – they look incredible.

The whole time we were waiting for our food (which wasn’t terribly long), there are multiple chalkboards listing the pies that are available today. Literally almost every angle in the place you can see the pie menu – smart thinking, since it saved D.Rough time on deciding after we ate our food.

The BBQ ribs were absolutely great. They were fall off the bone, but not in that sloppy way – they still had that great meat-y chew to them. The BBQ sauce itself was quite good, as well. There were a lot of ribs on the plate too, 8 altogether, stacked up really fancy, like a little log cabin. That’s about ¾ of a rack, so I hope you’re hungry. The horseradish mashed potatoes were some of the best I’ve had, and I truly do not like horseradish. Just awesome. 

D.Rough’s meatloaf was also out of this world. It’s got some Italian sausage mixed in with the wild rice, as well as some spices that make it taste borderline Cajun. It’s super creative and delicious! Again, the mashed potatoes on her plate were the same as mine, so also awesome. 

Even though we knew which pie slices we were going to get, we still had to figure out how we were going to split these things up. We finally decided to get one slice of pie to split between us while we were still at the restaurant, and then both of us would get our own slice to take back and eat later that night. We split a 5-layer chocolate pie at the restaurant. We kept laughing because with the 5 at the beginning, it looked like “Slayer Chocolate Pie” on the signs. It was fantastic. It had some whipped chocolate on top, as well as some cinnamon layers and a white chocolate layer. Really a delicious slice of pie.

For our road pies, D.Rough got the peanut butter pie and I pulled a surprise move and got the cherry and peach crumble. We didn’t get photos of these, but I promise they were awesome. I’m not a peanut butter guy, but D.Rough really raved about her slice. My crumble was one of the better ones I’ve had. 

Do yourself a favor and go grab a bite to eat here. You won’t be disappointed with the selection or the quality. I’m glad we made it there and can’t wait until we go back!