Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Minnesota State Fair 2015 – St. Paul, MN

Well, I tried talking myself into getting on the every-other-year state fair bandwagon, I caved and decided to go this year. I thought I’d document everything I ate, in case some friends wanted my thoughts on some of the new food items at this year’s fair.

I got there too late to get the breakfast that I wanted, so I switched up my order at the Blue Barn. I got the Cowboy Dave’s cluck & Moo. Smashed potatoes, roast beef, and grilled chicken covered with beef gravy, french fried onions, and béarnaise sauce. This was really quite good (and unfortunately more filing than I had hoped). But it was a good start to the day.

I also got the caramel apple beer they had. I’ll be honest, it was sickeningly sweet (and I generally LOVE sickeningly sweet drinks). I couldn’t even finish all of this beverage, so I was anxious to move on and get something else in my face hole.

I went to Sausage Sisters, as I general have had good luck with their menu items. I had my eye on the Sriracha Sausage Sliders. I was surprised that I had to sauce these myself, but I gave it a decent squirt of the sriracha cream sauce (after I took the photo – sorry). Then, I gave the other slider a generous squirt of the peanut sauce they had there. I took a few bites of the sriracha one and discarded the bun – it was just too much bun/filler. I did the same thing with the peanut sauced one. I ate a couple bites with the bun, and then I focused on the sausage. Great flavor, but you could probably pass on the buns to save yourself some filler.

Popped into the 1919 booth for a quick root beer. It’s my favorite drink at the fair and is always good.

I headed to the Ball Park Café for the battered and deep fried ribs. I was impressed with the batter flavor , since it was seasoned well and was really crispy. The ribs were decent, but not the best (I’m a bit of a rib snob, though). They weren’t fall-off-the-bone tender, but they were fine. The BBQ sauce that came with it helped the ribs out a lot. Decent, but not mind-blowing.

I washed it down with a nice Pineapple Wheat beer. For a fruity beer, it was pretty good. Not too sweet, but still nice and refreshing since it was getting really warm out at this point.

I went over to Minnesota Wine Country and grabbed some battered and deep fried (in wine) kale-ettes. This was clearly the healthiest thing I ate all day. And, thankfully, it was really good. The fry on it was nice and crispy without being heavy. The chili sauce dipping sauce was a great addition to the fried flavor, as well. This was one of the best things I had at the fair.

Then to the Agriculture building for a beer flight. I got the dark beer flight, but I honestly can’t remember which beers were included in this. I should have taken a photo of the board that listed the beers, but I forgot. Obviously, they were really dark beers. And delicious.

I dropped by LuLu’s Public house for a Mac & Cheese Cupcake. It’s pretty straight forward, but I didn’t realize until the end that the mac & cheese was sitting on a nice crust of corn bread at the bottom. If I had known that, I would have dug deeper into the cupcake earlier on. The squirt of easy cheese was a great topper to this thing. I’m guessing if these were fresh out of the oven, they would have been fantastic. As it was, it was a tad dry, but still had good flavor.

I washed the cupcake down with a Blueberry beer from Grainbelt. I had one of these last year and I was a fan. It’s got a fun little layer of blueberry ice on top that makes it even more refreshing in the million-degree heat.

I needed to relax, so I got to watch a fun African drum and dance troupe do their thing in the plaza. I think I burned off some calories watching these guys.

Then, I had to pet some dogs in the pet barn.

D.Rough told me I needed to try the BBQ pickle ice cream, so I headed over to the R&R ice cream shop – it’s the one that churns the ice cream using a John Deere motor. Lots of fun to watch, especially for those of us that bleed green (I used to work at Deere headquarters back in the day). 

Yes, I did say BBQ pickle ice cream. It’s as weird as it sounds. It’s got tiny chopped up pickles in it and also some really light swirls of bbq sauce. It’s pretty freak show, to be honest. I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t need it again.

My friend LooseChange wanted to try the Bacon Maple Funnel Cake, so I obliged her and picked one up. It’s a funnel cake covered in a maple sauce, powdered sugar, chopped up bacon, whipped cream, and some cherries. It’s really good, but it’s really heavy and funnel cake-y. My friend Coach is a funnel cake aficionado and would definitely have approved of this concoction.

I try not to eat “normal” foods at the fair that I can get anywhere else. But I always cave when it comes to cheese curds. Mouth Trap cheese curds are the best at the fair, but generally, you need to share them with someone. Thankfully, D.Rough helped me out with a few of these.

D.Rough and I headed over to the Dairy Barn (where they keep the blocks of butter carved into the shapes of the various Fair Queens that year). D.Rough had heard about this puff corn sundae and thought we’d both check it out. She was less than impressed with the amount of corn puffs, but I think the whole thing was redeemed by the flavor of the ice cream and caramel. IT was really quite good and I’m glad we tried it. The fact that D.Rough is lactose intolerant and still thinks sundaes from the Dairy Barn are worth the pain should tell you how good these shakes and sundaes are.

I like my dessert a little heavier, so I headed to the Blue Moon Diner and got a chilled Bread Pudding with vanilla sauce and sugar cookie topping. The only downside I see to the chilled bread pudding is there are too many options – pick your bread, pick your sauce, and pick your toppings. I say “Just tell me what’s good!”. But as good as this thing was, I feel like I chose correctly on the combination. I love me some bread pudding.

One of the best things (and last things I ate) was the Cowboy Bites from the Frontier Bar. They’re basically corn kernels and jalapenos rolled into a ball and deep fried – served with some nice ranch dip. I was really happy with these little fried balls as a finisher. No complaints on this one and I really enjoyed leaving the fair for the night with these in my belly.

Overall, I did some damage, but was a little disappointed in the flavors of new items this year. Not every year can be the most amazing in the world. I was happy with everything over all and glad I went, but there were a couple of other items I skipped, in favor of trying new items. Next year will be better, right?! I'm sure of it!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Meat Mountain: Arby’s Off-Menu Monstrosity – Eden Prairie, MN

If you didn’t read about #1Fan and my past off-menu culinary adventure, you should – The Air, Land, and Sea Burger. #1Fan and I decided we needed to do a similar stunt and, since neither of us had an insurance-related biometric screening scheduled anytime soon…. we thought we would go get a Meat Mountain. I know this sandwich is sooooo 2014, but I haven’t tried it yet. To quote #1Fan’s bastardization of George Mallory’s quote, “This time we're scaling the uncharted heights of the meat mountain, BECAUSE IT’S THERE."

When we ordered the Meat Mountain, the counter kid didn’t even bat an eye. Probably totally over it by now. I love that it is actually an item in their computer system (even if it isn’t actually on their printed menu). For those of you not familiar with the Meat Mountain, it’s every meat they have in the restaurant on one bun. With two slices of cheese for color.

  • 2 chicken tenders
  • 1.5 oz. of roast turkey
  • 1.5 oz. of ham
  • 1 slice of Swiss cheese
  • 1.5 oz. of corned beef
  • 1.5 oz. brisket
  • 1.5 oz. of Angus steak
  • 1 slice of cheddar cheese
  • 1.5 oz. roast beef
  • 3 half-strips of bacon
  • 1 bun
That’s a serious sammich, my friends.

And yes, we got curly fries and some of their new house-made parmesan potato chips. And DIET sodas.

When the sandwich came out, I laughed because the counter people are handing out two-inch-high wrapped sandwich after sandwich and then ours came out - it was like three times taller than everyone else’s sandwich. That’s when you puff your chest up and shoulder your way to the counter to pick up your macho lunch tray.

Doesn't look that big, you say?

First off, this thing is waaaaaaay bigger than you can fit into your mouth. Since humans fail miserably in the separate-your-jaw-to-eat category, you have to tackle this with some strategy: Top to bottom? Bottom to top? Layer by layer? With a fork (not recommended because you were already ballsy enough to order this sandwich – why wuss out now)? I went top to bottom then bottom to top.

Second, this thing may have a few milligrams of salt in it. Just be ready for that. I can’t help you there. Even if you put sauce on it, all of the sauces are sodium heavy. Maybe mayo might be the trick.

Third, this sandwich could use some lubrication. See #2 for the salt-caveat.

Fourth, the things it DOES have going for it are the flavor and the texture. Flavor-wise, it’s fantastic. I suppose only if you’re not a vegetarian, however – in that case, you’ve given up all joy anyway. But honestly, the meats actually tasted different from each other and the texture of each meat still kind of showed through in each bite. The best part are the chicken tenders that are on there. A really pleasant crunchy bite was fun in the mix. Much better than I even expected it to be.

I think you’ll be happy with yourself if you order one of these. Don’t look for it on the menu, it isn’t there. It’s a “secret menu item”, remember? You just have to ask for it by name. And then, immediately after you find yourself HAPPY with your decision, you’ll find yourself (or your spouse) REALLY angry with yourself.

Note, I would also recommend NOT eating this if you happen to be in a rush to get back to a meeting at work. I think forcing down that many pounds of meat was the most difficult part. It certainly wasn’t the curly fries. Just saying, you’re going to want to savor this thing with each bite. Consider postponing your meeting or do what I did – warn them you’re going to be late for your 1pm meeting. And sleepy. And smell like meat. And groaning periodically.

#1Fan remains a champion amongst men when it comes to food consumption. He had finished his sandwich and was tapping his foot hurrying me along before I had conquered the Meat Mountain completely. A most impressive showing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Taco Libre – West St. Paul, MN

A new taco place opened up in West St. Paul last week, and it’s Luchador-themed (just think masked Mexican wrestlers). Since I’m a fan of both wrestling and tacos, I knew I needed to go there. I felt bad that I wasn’t able to go on opening night, but based on the business we saw on the third night they were open, this place is going to just fine. The owner is one of the owners of the American Burger Bar, which is one of D.Rough and my favorite burger places in the Twin Cities, so we knew it was going to be well done.

The inside is decorated with all kinds of luchador costumes, masks, and paintings – some of which are mind blowing. (Do yourself a favor and click on this first photo to enlarge it)

And it isn’t half-assed decoration; they went all out with the menu and everything. The menu has much more than just tacos (though they are really focused on the street tacos with simple ingredients like you get in Mexico). They have burritos, tamales, alambres, tortas, and even pozole – my favorite Mexican soup. I’ll also mention they have pozole all the time, instead of just on weekends like most places, so bonus points for that. They also get bonus points for being open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and 4am on weekends. That’s amazing to me and I look forward to capitalizing on that.

I decided to go with The Machete Burrito – it’s a masa flour almost-taco. D.Rough got a few tacos and a tamale. The nice thing about the menu is you can get any of the items on the menu with whatever kind of meat (or vegetarian options) you want. Brilliant! If you don’t know what kind of meat is best, ask the person you order from and they’ll suggest something amazing for you.

The food comes out really fast, despite being made to order. The tacos that D.Rough got looked amazing. One had marinated chicken on it and one had suadero (or rose beef). She was worried the chicken one wasn’t going to have enough flavor, but she was pleasantly surprised. Even more so with the beef taco – amazing flavor and not too much spice/seasoning – just right. Her red pork tamale was also fantastic – great masa flavor and the pork filling tasted fantastic.

The Machete was a force to be reckoned with. Like a 2½ foot long taco made of deep fried masa corn and filled with lettuce, sour cream, cheese, salsa and I got Pork al Pastor on the inside. It was massive. And both the red and the green salsas that come with it only boosted the already-good flavor. I was really happy with this order. I tried to eat it like a hand-taco, but I ended up laying it down sideways and eating it with a knife and fork, so I didn’t lose the toppings all over my shirt. It was wonderful.

The owner came over to our table and made sure things were alright and we chatted about the new restaurant and even heard he’ll be re-opening the American Burger Bar in the next few months again! Cha-ching!!! Adrian seems like a really nice guy and it’s clear he knows how to run a restaurant and take care of his people.

We’re looking forward to many more visits to this place that’s like 10 blocks from our house. And anyone who’s a fan of wrestling (Mexican or otherwise) needs to come here. There’ sno possible way you can be disappointed with it.

Top 5 things about Taco Libre
1. The Machete
2. Red Pork Tamales
3. Suadero Beef Taco
4. Marinated Chicken Taco
5. Best theme for a restaurant EVER

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s less than 500 feet form the gym I go to – This is going to be a problem…..
2. No liquor license, so you’ll have to pre- and post-game
3. Nothing else is a negative!
4. N/A
5. N/A

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chimborazo – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough has gone here a number of times and raved about this place, so I knew I needed to get there. She was busy one night, so I decided to go by myself. I will tell you this thing – people are really weird about customers eating by themselves. They always assume someone else is joining you, which also means the servers take a really long time to come over to help you. For example I waited at least 15 minutes before my server came to take my order. Thankfully, I’m patient, and based on what I saw at the restaurant, NOT a regular occurrence. They were simply waiting for my dining partner to arrive. And I had a great spot outside on the patio to watch all of the delicious dishes come out of the kitchen.

But, waiting that long really helped me hone in on what I was going to order. I had some advice from D.Rough for appetizers, but I was on my own for the entrée. I was told to get the Yuca Frita and one of the soups with peanut broth – there are multiple, so I got the one with meat in it. Then I finally decided on the Saltado – sort of a stir fried beef with onions, peppers, some rice, and an avocado.

The appetizers came out very quickly, which was nice, since I was starving. The Yuca fries were some of the best I’ve had. They were covered in a sort of garlic citrus pico (onions and tomatoes) and served with a dish of aji crillo (Ecuadorian green hot sauce). The fries were perfectly cooked with a super crusty outside and soft chewy inside and the flavors of the topping, the juice from the topping, and the green sauce was pretty magical. There’s a reason D.Rough told me to order this. It was fantastic.

The Caldo de Bolas de Verde soup was equally amazing. It’s a green plantain dumpling with meat sitting in a peanut broth with other vegetables in it. The broth itself was not like a Thai peanut flavor, but more thin and mild than that, and very seasoned. Brilliant flavor! The ball of meat in the center broke apart nicely with the soup spoon and had a great flavor. There was a slice of corn on the cob in the broth that I’ve seen in photos, but I’ve always wondered how to eat it. Do you pick it up like a full sized corn on the cob or eat the whole thing or eat the kernels off? I opted for the later, so I hope I did that right.

I was already starting to feel full when the entrée came out – the Saltado stir-fry is a hearty entrée. A generous helping of beef chunks in a brown broth stew with red bell peppers and onions, and served with fries (the potato kind) and rice topped with an avocado. The meat isn’t fork tender or anything, but this isn’t brisket, after all. It’s probably how Ecuadorians cook beef, so deal with it. The flavor of the meat is really quite good, especially when combined with the peppers and avocado. The fries were a weird addition, but they were pretty good when they got soggy. I wish they had been yucca frites, but I guess next time, I can ask to order them that way. I suppose I was jaded because I was already in Yuca heaven from the appetizer. Delicious and generous meal that I would highly recommend.

I am pretty pleased to have gone here (even by myself) and gotten way more food than I should have eaten by myself. It was totally worth it, though. I will be back here very soon.

Top 5 things about Chimborazo
1. Yuca Frita
2. Caldo de Bolas de Verde
3. Saltado
4. There’s nothing on the menu I wouldn’t eat
5. They do serve beer and wine – cha-ching!

Bottom 5 things
1. I wish the regular fries had been yucca frites
2. Long wait time if you go by yourself
3. Small parking lot, but there’s a small seating area, so it balances out
4. I JUST NOW found the brunch menu on their website! AGGHHHHH
5. You won’t stop eating your food until everything on the table is gone and you will be painfully full because it is amazing


Monday, August 10, 2015

Lucy Ethiopian – Boston, MA

D.Rough had to attend a conference in Boston, so I tagged along. That also meant that I got to eat a bunch of food I wouldn’t normally have access to. We headed out to Lucy Ethiopian with her coworker JanYAAAY, since it was only a 10-block walk. We also found out the restaurant name comes from the earliest known human being (found in Ethiopia) – cool factoids!

We all love Ethiopian food, so it was pretty easy to decide what we should eat. We ordered a large vegetarian sampler and an order of Lega Tibs (super seasoned beef chunks mixed with peppers and onions). The sampler always satisfies our need to eat every kind of vegetable imaginable, so we knew we’d be in good hands. Speaking of “hands”, this is the kind of food you eat with your hands (or with Injera bread), not silverware.

The food arrived pretty quickly and we dove in. Seven different vegetarian piles, including lentils, potatoes, spinach, salad, and some other random veggies. (I looked it up on their menu - miser wot and timatim fit fit with your choice of five vegetarian dishes - kik aletcha, spinach, gomen, tikile gomen, dinch wot). Some of these have some heat and some of them were pretty mild, but thankfully, ALL of them were delicious! The meat has amazing flavor, as well, but surprisingly, it isn’t the main focus of the dish. Everyone was really happy with this food and I have a feeling we would all eat there again.

I don’t have enough to put together a Top 5 list, but it’s a pretty safe bet anything you get here is going to be fantastic.

Lucy Ethiopian Café
334 Massachusetts Ave.
Boston, MA 02115

Friday, August 7, 2015

Zamboni’s – St. Paul, MN

I was downtown during the lunch hour and had been meaning to get to Zamboni’s for a slice. I’m glad I did.

I see this place packed during every event the Xcel Energy Center ever has, so I figured it was good. They do slices, but they also do full sized (S-M-L) pizzas, and also some sandwiches. The slices are in the $4-6 range, so pretty reasonable and they do a slice-salad-soda lunch combo, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I got the slice of the day (which you should ALWAYS ask about). White/garlic sauce pizza with roasted red peppers, Italian sausage, and rosemary. They heat up the slices as you order them, so it’s still going to take three or four minutes while it cooks in the pizza oven, but it’s worth the wait. Also, the place serves beer (including Surly and Flat Earth), so grab a pint while you wait – or a pitcher if you’re eating in.

Zamboni’s has the super thin cracker crust popular in Minnesota and it’s got tons of cheese on it. The ingredients are fresh and generous. It’s also a generous sized slice, so you’re not going to go hungry if you just get one slice. I’m guessing the lunch combo is the way to go to fill you up, but I was headed home and didn’t want to pay for parking (full transparency), so I was pretty happy with my order.

Worth the trip and I’m not sure why I waited this long to go there. They do online ordering so you can grab it and head home if you want. I’m glad I checked it out and now will be looking forward to going there before any additional Xcel events I go to.

Top 5 things about Zamboni’s
1. Slice of the day
2. Extensive toppings menu along with sandwiches
3. Really nice staff
4. They serve beer
5. Prices are pretty reasonable

Bottom 5 things
1. I’m always skeptical of places that advertise gyros, yet don’t have spinning meat poles visible
2. Parking can be tricky downtown, especially with construction near the Xcel
3. I was bummed to see the loaded tots appear to only have cheese sauce and bacon on them – seems like “loaded” would mean more than two items
4. The menu can be overwhelming due to the awesome things that are on it
5. The inside isn’t going to hold a ton of people, but it actually holds more than I expected it to


Friday, July 3, 2015

Bukowski’s Tavern – Boston, MA

I needed a lighter lunch than I had yesterday, so I popped over to a restaurant that came up in some of my food research near the hotel. Bukowski’s is a down and dirty slightly better than dive bar in the Back Bay area. It’s a cash only place, so be ready for that. The restaurant is in a corner of a parking ramp so, it’s about 15 feet wide and 150 feet long.

I was bummed to find out they don’t have the same menu items as the Cambridge location, but I was only bummed because I wanted to get the Poe Tots (pork belly tater tots) that sounded amazing. I got over it pretty quickly when I looked at this menu. I found plenty of burgers and dogs and sandwiches to not starve during my quick lunch break.

I went with a Chili Cheese Mad Dog and I even upgraded my side dish to some sweet chili glazed brussel sprouts. I also ended up with a Anderson Valley Boont Amber to drink. Sometimes that happens.

Obviously, it doesn’t take long to pan cook some brussel sprouts and cook a hot dog, so the food arrived really quickly. The brussel sprouts were cooked perfectly, so they still had some body to them, which I was thrilled about. I wished they had more chili glaze on them, but I know that isn’t always as easy as it sounds. They were still delicious and I was glad I got them. I just love super coated sprouts – it’s a weakness of mine.

The Mad Dog was really tasty. The new England style buns never seem to hold up to the juicy dogs, like a traditional bun would, but the flavor of the NE buns are almost always better, especially when they toast it with butter like this one was. The chili was a pretty good ground beef and bean chili, though it didn’t have much heat. Still delicious, especially with the shredded cheese on top. The bun fell apart while eating it, so once you pick it up, you really aren’t going to put this thing down – structural integrity, and such. Thankfully, I really enjoy a sloppy hot dog, so I didn’t complain one bit. I ate the entire thing. And, now I know why they ask you if you want two dogs. I assume they mean a second entire bun and dog, not just a second link on the same bun, but I’m not sure. I absolutely could have done a second dog, but I’m glad I didn’t – otherwise, I would have gone back to work and fallen asleep.

This is a great little divey bar with some fantastic food. They also have some really craft-y beer taps. All of the food looked really appealing that I saw come out of the tiny kitchen, so I’m guessing there aren’t a lot of bad food items here.  It’s definitely worth a check-out.

Top 5 things about Bukowski’s Tavern
1. Chili Cheese Mad Dog
2. Sweet Chili Glazed Brussel Sprouts
3. Really interesting menu, complete with hilarious swearing and tell-it-like-it-is sass
4. For such a small place, I was surprised how many seats it had
5. The staff were extremely nice and helpful

Bottom 5 things
1. No pork belly tater tots at this location
2. Cash only – not really that big of a deal
3. Except it isn’t a cheap place – I ended up paying $24 for lunch (including tip)…
4. I’d say there’s no parking, but it’s IN a parking ramp
5. Wish there was more spicy glaze on the brussel sprouts