Thursday, August 30, 2018

2018 Minnesota State Fair – St, Paul, MN

Here’s my review of some of the state fair foods I ate this year. Yes, I ate too much. Yes, I spent too much money. Yes, I am sunburned. Yes, I probably hit the beer harder than the food this year. Yes, I will be back next year! (I didn’t go into detail as much this year, since it’s towards the end of the fair and people just want a list to go on, not a story. This is all I had time to put together.)

Wild Bill’s Breakfast Bake at the Blue Barn – I need to figure out how to make this delicious breakfast concoction. Corn chips and eggs baked with cheese into a cube-format, then covered with scrambled eggs and salsa. It’s awesome. People say this is way too heavy to start the day off, but I don’t agree. I love it.

Tangerine Boozy Red Bull Slushy from LuLu's – It’s vodka, red bull, and tangerine juice in a freezy situation. It’s magic.

Also, I got a Schell’s Red Sangria beer, which was my favorite last year. It’s pretty incredible.

Nordic Waffle with berries – we waited in a massive line for this and I was bummed that it was small, but it did really have good flavor. I’m glad we got it and it was just about worth waiting in the longest line I’ve ever been in at the state fair.

Had to try the Two To Tango, Three to Mango mango sour beer from Starkeller (in the back corner of Lulu’s Public House). One of the best beers of the day.

Then off to try the Key Lime Pie beer from Lift Bridge. People told me to drink this very fast since it gets a little “off” when it warms up a bit. They’re right. Drink it fast or the chemically-lime taste grows quite a bit. It was fun while it was super cold, though!

I ate the Ahi Tuna Poke Bowl from the Café Caribe. It was good, but with the avocado, mango, and tomatoes, it tasted like a tuna salsa. The rice was just filler, so I skipped about half of it, but it was slightly better than meh.

I had a bite of my sister’s Campfire S’mores Rice Kristie Treat (golden grahams, chocolate chips, and marshmallow). It was good, but I don’t care much about S’mores (insert all kinds of outrage from my friends here), so I probably wouldn’t get it again. She loved it, though.

Sweet Greek Cheese Puffs were next. I was a big fan of these, and people told me I would be. Lots of fun Greek cheese stuffed inside a flaky dough and then covered with honey and powdered sugar. Dino’s does some killer stuff at the fair.

We headed to the Hanger next for some Brisket Sliders and Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly – yes, multiple pig meats. The bacon-wrapped pork belly was pretty incredible (thanks for the tip, Motz), and Uncle DumDum loved it. The brisket sliders were much better than I expected from any sort of “fair brisket”. It had three different toppings – coleslaw, BBQ sauce and pickles, and crispy onions – and all of them were surprisingly good. 

Since it was nearby, Uncle DumDum and I split a couple of beer flights. 
  • Mankato Brewing – Cake’d Up Celebration Beer – I actually liked this one a lot
  • Tin Whiskers – Wheat Stone Bridge - not a fan
  • Insight – Crazy Aunt – really an awful beer
  • Summit – Skip Rock - decent beer, I'm ok with this one
  • Insight – Sunken City - decent beer
  • Mankato Brewing – Mad Butcher – I liked this one, since it wasn’t as hoppy, for an IPA
  • Tin Whiskers – Flip Switch - it was fine
  • Surly – Furious – Always good
  • Castle Danger – Ode IPA – I liked this one a lot, as well

We headed over to Giggle's Campfire Grill for some weird beers. Tin Whiskers Dill Pickle Ale was a hit last year, and this year was no different. It’s a solid beer without being too overwhelming on the pickle flavor. I also got the Beaver Island Uffda Ale, which has a piece of Lefse and fresh lingonberries in it. I really didn’t like this one, especially when it warmed up. 

Off to O’Gara’s for some Irish Tater Kegs, which are jumbo tots with corned beef sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and sour cream in them. I really liked these. The sauerkraut wasn’t too strong and they were really filling, and came with thousand island dressing. I liked these more than I expected to. I also got one of the new Surly Gaelic Dark and Stormy beers. I liked this one a lot – great ginger flavor to give it a good amount of tang without being too bitey.

Thought we’d check out the BBQ Split from Mama D’s. It was the worst thing we ate all day. It’s simply BBQ (beef or pork, whatever you choose), mac and cheese, and coleslaw in a sundae boat. If you’re going to do something that simple, you should make that BBQ meat something to talk about, rather than something to avoid. The best part of this was the coleslaw, which is sad. Avoid this one at all costs.

Since I was close, I tried a Helles Ya, You Betcha lager from Summit Brewing. It was just ok. I’ve had much better Helles-style beers, but I managed to drink this one, without TOO many problems. 

I’ve heard some negative things about the Moroccan Sausage Bowl from Sausage by Cynthia but I was really happy with it. It was a smaller portion, but I was pleased with the portion size when I was done eating it all. Great seasoning, and great veggies in it. I liked it a lot, especially the chopped green olives they put on top!

I had a Honey Cream Soda Float on my list, so I managed to find one at the Minnesota Honey Producers Association. This was surprisingly good and I am glad I got it. Also, I was amused that the young high schoolers there were scared of the bees that were buzzing around the stand. Hahahaha

My annual stop at the Mouth Trap for cheese curds! I love these things so much.

I thought I’d split a Zesty PB&J Sausage from the Gass Station Grill with Uncle DumDum. I honestly couldn’t even taste a hint of peanut butter nor of cherry jelly, but that sausage was one of the best I’ve ever had. It was delicious.

Off to the Ball Park Café for some more beers – I got a Kirby Pucker #34 from Eastlake Brewing (which is still amazing and I love it), and a Passion Fruit Pils from Bent Paddle (this one I didn’t like as much, but still drank it). 

I heard people talk about the Spumoni Tsunami beer from Bad Weather Brewing. This was the worst beer I had. Totally undrinkable and I pitched it after two drinks. Sorry, but it was bad.

I had a couple of Sweet Martha’s Cookies that I stole from my sister. They’re fine, but I truly don’t get the hype. 

Headed to Coasters to try the Funnel Cake Cream Ale from Lakefront Brewery (which was just ok, but the powdered sugar helped) and the Margarita-Style Kettle Sour Ale from 612 Brew. This one wasn’t as tasty as the Funnel Cake beer. 

I figured I’d better try the Pepperoni Chips with Roasted Red Pepper Queso from Lulu’s Public House. I’d heard bad things about this, especially about them being super salty. But, since I’m a salt-fiend, I tried them anyway. They’re fantastic and I think everyone should eat them. I am so glad I ignored the muggles that told me not to get it! I also tried the Slipstream Black Current Apple Cider from Social Cider Werks – which was amazing and exactly what I needed to stave off the heat and sunburn I was working on. This was really great.

Finally, as a cap off to the whole day, I split a Swedish Meatball Smörgås from the Blue Barn. It was really awesome. People got weirded out by the white gravy and pickles on top, but it was fantastic. Trust the Swedes, my friends – they know what they’re doing.

15 foods and 24 beers/drinks partaken in - not a bad year at the fair!

Top 5 foods to try:

  • 1. Bacon Wrapped Pork Belly
  • 2. Zesty PB&J Sausage
  • 3. Sweet Greek Cheese Puffs
  • 4. Brisket Sliders
  • 5. Swedish Meatball Smorgas

  • Top 5 beers to try:

  • 1. Two To Tango Three To Mango from Starkellar
  • 2. Slipstream Black Current from Sociable Cider Werks
  • 3. Kirby Pucker #34 from Eastlake Brewing
  • 4. Schell’s Red Sangria Beer
  • 5. Mankato Brewing Cake’d Up Birthday Cake Celebration Beer

  • Another Minnesota State Fair in the books!!! Thanks for coming to visit, sister and brother-in-law!!

    Friday, July 20, 2018

    Burger Time – West St. Paul, MN

    I’ve talked about going to this place since they opened up over a year ago and I finally made it. It is in an old Checker’s building, complete with the dual drive-through lanes. I thought they only did burgers and fries and shakes, but they have a ton of other things on the menu, including tacos, chips and guac/queso, different kinds of sandwiches, and some delicious sides (including cheese curds). What they show on the menu online is pretty standard fare, but when you get to the place, it’s got way more than the online menu shows.

    I was pretty hungry so I went a little crazy. I got a bacon cheese burger (not a double – that sounded like overkill), a corndog, and some onion rings. The guy at the window was really friendly and helpful and the whole thing didn’t take long at all. I don’t live far from there, so I went home and threw it all on a plate, so you could see it.

    The burger is actually really good. Better than I expected. It isn’t a McD burger by any stretch, which was nice. It isn’t quite up to the 5 Guys or SmashBurger level, though. But it’s close, honestly. The meat was juicy and flavorful and there were plenty of toppings on it, without going overboard and sloppy. I was pleasantly surprised with this showing!

    The corndog was about what I expected. I wasn’t greasy and had good corn flavor on the batter. The dog was pretty standard, but still great. I’m glad I got it and it really hit the spot – especially for a dollar. And no, it isn’t a foot long like at the Minnesota State Fair – it’s a regular-sized corndog.

    The onion rings were the weak link in the bag today. I think when onions are frozen, it messes with their structural integrity and results in some pretty floppy onions when fried. The batter on the rings was fairly standard (no seasonings or spices at all), and fried pretty well - just a tiny bit greasy and only one corn-mealy-underdone ring. But the onions were just mush inside. Bummer. The fries on someone else’s order looked pretty good though, so I’ll probably get those next time. Or the cheese curds.

    Overall, I was really happy I went here for lunch. I didn’t feel like I wasted my daily calories on some terrible slop and I’m actually quite interested in going back and trying a few other things. I AM sorry that it took me this long to go eat here, however. My mistake.

    Friday, May 25, 2018

    Lola Empanada – San Tan Valley, AZ

    D.Rough and I were driving back to Phoenix from a visit to family in Tucson. D.Rough had been looking at food destinations off the beaten path between Tucson and Phoenix and kept seeing Lola Empanada come up. We left a little early to make sure we had time to stop by Lola and check it all out. I’m so glad we did.

    The place wasn’t busy when we arrived and the woman working was having her really awesome and friendly young kids help us out. They were adorable. It took us a minute to decide on lunch, but we figured it out with some compromising, so we could try more things.

    We got:
    • Chicken bacon jalapeño popper
    • Green chili chicken
    • Spicy beef
    • Spicy beef bean and cheese
    • Yucca fries with garlic aioli

    D.Rough also got a fresh margarita. We weren’t sure it was going to be good when it arrived, since it was  a little “clear”. But it honestly was fantastic. Really wonderful fresh lime taste and not overpoweringly boozy. Really awesome and refreshing.

    The yucca fries were very generous (size-wize) and went really well with the garlic aioli. The dip was pretty magical. The outside was very crunchy and the inside was nice and fluffy like mashed potatoes. A wonderful choice and one I’d recommend (as long as you have someone to share the giant portion with).

    Each of the empanadas were wonderful. I’m really impressed with how fat they were with fillings and also how well they were fried. They were flaky and crusty, but didn’t fall apart (and weren’t greasy tasting). D.Rough’s favorite was the green chili chicken one and my favorite one was the spicy beef with beans and cheese. We were extremely full after eating all of these, but it was worth it.

    This place is a hidden gem that deserves more attention. Great work, Lola!!!

    And then, just before we got back to the rental car place, a giant hawk slammed into the side of my car while I was on the highway and rocked my door. This is why I always get the insurance on rental cars. WEIRD STUFF ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME!!!

    Lola Empanada
    5452 E. Skyline Drive
    San Tan Valley, AZ 85140

    Friday, April 20, 2018

    Iceland – Land of LIES (Day 7)

    Our last day in Iceland was very uneventful. We were concerned about the weather and the cancellation of the previous day’s planes ruining things for our flights, but we had no problems at all. We packed our stuff, cleaned the house really well, forgot the bag of food in the fridge that we were going to bring with us, and made it to the rental car place and airport without any problems.

    Seriously, look at how beautiful this mountain pass of doom is today in the sunshine!!!

    We even had enough time to pull over, so D.Rough could trespass on someone's private property and snap a photo of a cute little camper trailer similar to ours!

    It was such a beautiful day out - sunshine for miles! ...Oh wait!... I forgot it hailed on us when we were walking outside from the bus to the airplane on the tarmac. Hahahahaha. One last jab from Iceland.

    So that makes for a really boring blog post, right? I’m going to do what I can to fix that, so you aren’t bored by our last day in Iceland. I’ll do that by talking, once again, about penises. I’m clearly not trying for an Icelandic Tourism Bureau position. In fact, I’m BURNING ALL THE (one-lane) BRIDGES!!! So, I might as well keep going!

    This vacation, without question, was the most penis-filled vacation I’ve ever been on – and that isn’t even including the Icelandic Phallogical Museum in Reykjavik. I’ve mentioned a few times all of the amazing geothermal pools we went to and the rec center by our house – all of those places have very strict requirements about showering BEFORE you get into the pool without your swimsuit. So strict that many of the pools, including the Blue Lagoon, have some sort of monitor in the shower area to make sure you adhere to this rule. There are signs up showing you which parts of your body to address before getting into the geothermal pool, complete with red circles and pointers.

    It’s totally normal in Iceland, and you probably shouldn’t get bent out of shape, but I like to at least warn people, since I know people can be very locker-room averse. The geothermal pools generally don’t use chemicals to clean and purify the water (like U.S. swimming pools use tons of chlorine), so the idea is that you wash away as many of your naturally-occurring body oils before getting into the pools. Makes total sense. So, every pool that you go to will have a swimsuit-less shower requirement before getting in. And, at least all of the pools we went to on this trip, there are separate locker rooms for both men and women, if that eases your fears at all.

    Pro-tip for those of you that have “concerns” about being in the locker room with a lot of naked people: Don’t choose a locker on the bottom level. …  …just think about it – you’ll figure it out eventually.

    Just deal with it. Don’t make it a big deal, because no one else from any other country will make it a big deal. And, because it isn’t a big deal.

    Secondly, despite all of the complaints about the weather and the extremely dangerous driving, we truly DID have a great time. I WILL say we had a much better time once we got to where we were going, but the getting there was really the only bad part. We saw some amazing waterfalls, soaked in some incredible geothermal pools, ate delicious food, met some truly wonderful and hospitable people, stayed in an amazing rental house, drove the cutest 4x4 car ever, saw the ocean from an angle we have never seen before, saw icebergs shortly after their birth, saw seals, had a great time with friends from Minnesota, laughed our heads off at so many ridiculous situations, stole a baby iceberg, tried without success to pronounce every Icelandic word we saw, ate ice cream with cows, petted some dogs, took a sauna every day, baked bread in the earth, saw a geyser, saw Icelandic horses battling in the snow, learned about sustainability and environmentalism, saw a TON of penises, drank tiki drinks, and ate a ton of Icelandic butter.

    My wife thinks I tell the story of our trip in such a way as to make people think we had an awful time. We didn’t. We encountered some awful weather and driving, but that was it. We were prepared for the cost, which I know is expensive – but we were mentally prepared. I DO tell the story of our adventures in such a way as to let people know that Iceland can be hard. VERY hard. But we were there in February. What do people expect? It’s cold and windy here in February, just like it is a lot of places. Our mistake was thinking that just because we’re from Minnesota that the warnings that people generously bestowed on us were for Florida-travelers, not Minnesota-travelers. This is the first vacation that has ever broken me – day ONE, in fact. That’s really hard to do, since I’m a pretty adaptable traveler and can drive, sleep, and eat pretty much anywhere. But Iceland is on another level with its weather.

    The week before we got to Iceland, they closed the entire island because of a blizzard. It sounded and looked awful. Far worse than we even had. So I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that my friends that went three weeks after us had an amazing trip and they want to move there. It isn’t Iceland’s fault.

    I laugh because I fully expected to see all of THIS in Iceland:

    But instead, I got this.

    And, I wouldn’t change it. I survived and came out stronger at the other end of this trip that almost killed us multiple times. It’s going to make our next beach vacation THAT much better.

    I have a feeling we’ll be back, Iceland. Maybe not in February next time, but there are still things we know you are hiding from us. Iceland didn’t lie, it just did what my friend Coach enjoys doing – not telling the whole truth. I’m guessing the tourism bureau ran out of room putting pretty pictures on its flyers and couldn’t find the space to put all the terrifying ones in there. Probably smart on their part, hahaha.

    Go to Day 6

    Tuesday, April 17, 2018

    Iceland – Land of LIES (Day 6)

    I was pretty excited for this day when I woke up. Yes, I knew we’d have to wait before we did anything because all of the roads were probably going to be closed… wait… I’m checking now… yup, all closed! We had a good breakfast and relaxed before our adventure day in Reykjavik. To get there, we knew we had to drive through the mountain pass of doom (see previous posts for an explanation if you skipped ahead), so we took our time. We were going to meet our friend Loose Change in town for some of our adventures, but we figured she was staying in town and probably saw some of the touristy things we wanted to hit quickly. I’ll also mention that this was my birthday, so I was pretty excited for some of our shenanigans I had planned on for the past few months.

    We drove the death-defying highway over the mountain and despite the country’s best efforts, we made it safely. All the snow and ice had turned into rain by the time we got to Reykjavik. Our plan was to park somewhere central and then do some walking to where we needed to go. We scored a really close parking spot near the famous Hallgrimskirkja – the largest church and one of the tallest structures in Iceland. My mother was probably thrilled when she heard I was in a for-real church on my birthday.

    We waited in line to go to the top of the tower, and were actually lucky enough to catch the organist practicing. That was pretty slick.

    While we were waiting in line, we ran into a family we had seen at the Fontana Spa on Wednesday. They said that night they lost control of their car and it slid far off the road – thankfully, not a roll-over situation – and they had to walk a few miles to a hotel that charged them $500 to stay. Then the following morning had to pay a farmer to pull their car out of the ditch. See? This stuff happens all the time in Iceland, but it isn’t in the brochure!

    The elevator only holds like six people and costs $5-7 per person, but I’d say just suck it up and pay for the great view of the entire city and harbor. It was worth it to us. (People are such complainers!)

    We finished up at the church and did some shopping while walking towards our destination. We had called Loose Change and she was going to meet us. But we had some people to buy souvenirs for and needed to look at Icelandic sweaters and such. We popped into a few charity shops – which the US refers to as consignment or goodwill shops. It’s a very walkable city and we had a good time walking in the drizzle.

    While walking towards our most exciting destination ever, we stopped at the Big Lebowski Bar – it’s a bar themed after the movie of the same name. It’s decorated in all kinds of bowling and Big Lebowski movie props and they have an awesome list of like 20 different white russians (drinks). We were a little bummed that the staff didn’t seem to be into it at all, despite working at what appeared to be a really fun bar. But it didn’t matter, we had fun and that was all that mattered. They had a spin-the-wheel-and-get-whatever-drinks-you-landed-on situation here at the bar, but I decided against it and just got a standard white russian. D.Rough got a hot version and loved it. I do love a good booze wheel, though… Next time.

    We walked past the Chuck Norris Grill. I’m guessing it’s got some good kitch, but D.Rough and I make it a rule that we don’t eat burgers outside of the U.S.  Not because we’re scared of what they put in the meat, but because they DO put things in the meat that makes it taste NOT like a juice burger form the U.S.  Apparently, I’m a burger nationalist. (But I’ll pretty much eat all the local and ethnic food I can get my hands on.)

    We grabbed some awesome chips (french fries in the U.S.) from Reykjavik Chips – which comes highly recommended. They’ve got a ton of different sauces and the fries were crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside – just like in Belgium (or in Astoria, Oregon’s Frite & Scoop). They’ve got some decent beers there, as well. The guy working was super personable and friendly and they’ve got old school rap/hip-hop on the speakers This place did tons of business while we were there, so we were lucky to get a table – with holes in it to put your chip cones. Fantastic place.

    We heard from Loose Change and she was ready to meet us at our ultimate Icelandic destination – the Icelandic Phallogical Museum. Yes, it’s a museum dedicated to penises. It’s a very scientifically displayed collection of penises from different animals. The most impressive/terrifying were the whale penises, but they had all kinds of other animals – mammals, lizards, birds (sort of), insects, and human. It’s a large room full of formaldehyde glass jars with descriptions next to them.

    There are three or four other smaller rooms with specific collections in them. My favorite was the folklore room. It’s basically a room where they’ve collected penises from animals and monsters that don’t exist. Some are clearly stitched together and some are very creatively shown, but it’s really an interesting way to demonstrate these things.

    The hilarious thing is that the gift shop is about one step away from being a bachelorette party shop.

    Most of us had a good time there, but D.Rough had to tap out early. She got a little grossed out and overwhelmed. Completely understandable. I heard about this museum when I saw a really good documentary film called the Final Member. If you can find a copy, it’s worth watching.

    The bar we (mainly me) wanted to go to wasn’t open yet, so we had to kill some time. By this time of day, it was absolutely POURING down rain and sleet. Combined with the howling winds, you really couldn’t hear each other talk when you were outside.

    We headed down near the harbor to get a photo of the Viking ship sculpture. Thankfully, the rain was keeping most of the people away, so we got great photos of me shirtless in front of it. It’s funny when you whip your shirt off in an inhabitable weather situation and people cheer for you. Try it sometime!

    We were getting extremely soaked at this point, so D.Rough and Loose Change did some clothes and souvenir shopping.

    We walked past the birthday-boy’s-chosen bar, called Bar Ananas a few times before they actually opened (like 45 minutes late). It’s Iceland’s only tiki bar, so I knew I had to hit it for my birthday. For its location, on what is literally the almost exact opposite side of the globe from French Polynesia, it does a good job of tiki décor. I was pleased we made it here. The tiki cocktail menu only had 8 drinks on it and 4 of those were not available, so our decision was made much easier.

    Loose Change and I got the drink that involved fire – which we got too much of the ingredient that causes the fire because we had to ask for a second attempt so we could get better photos – and D.Rough got the Flamingofant.

    We were all ok with our drinks – nothing to rave about, but they did fine. The space is pretty cool and multi-leveled, but it’s no Mai Kai or Trader Vik’s.

    Some bars put deodorant hockey pucks or ice cubes into their urinals, right? Well Bar Ananas puts pineapple in their urinals. That’s going the extra tiki mile!

    We said our good byes to Loose Change, since we had to drive back over the mountain pass of doom, and headed towards home. We thought we’d check out a restaurant near our house in Selfoss for a nice birthday dinner. Thankfully, Kaffi Krús was able to get us a table and treated us very well for the night. I got a ridiculously-priced fancy beer and D.Rough got something a little more reasonable. D.Rough went with the Duck Pizza, and I got the Filet of Icelandic Lamb. It was my birthday – what did you expect!?

    This was the best meal we had had in Iceland – the food and the service were just amazing. They made sure we were both well taken care and there was an attention to the food that was pretty outstanding. And since my wife believes you can’t celebrate a birthday properly without dessert, we both got uour own dessert. There is a pretty spectacular display case full of desserts and cakes and they also have a sort of set dessert menu to choose from. I honestly have no idea what D.Rough got – it’s some sort of skyrcake (like cheesecake made with skyr Icelandic yogurt) and cookies and chocolate crumbled on it. It was ridiculously good and probably came out of the magic dessert case.

    I got the white chocolate and strawberry mousse, which was my favorite dessert I’ve had in a really long time.

    These people can make some serious food. I’m so glad we came here and didn’t skimp on my birthday.

    The weather was getting really rough outside (since it was after dark), so we got home as fast as we could. We had a message from Loose Change saying the airport had shut down today due to the weather and we should be on high alert for our flights that left tomorrow. Uh oh. It also turns out that Loose Change and her friend went out in the storm to get outside of the city and potentially snap some photos of the northern lights (since the weather had not been cooperating all week). The pair was out late and the weather continued to get increasingly awful and they had to get escorted back to the city by some sort of good samaritan highway patrol vehicle, since they couldn’t see the road they were driving on. I’m glad they made it home safe at like 4 am. D.Rough and I were long asleep by then, despite the wind rattling our house most of the night!

    Day 5   |   Day 7