Friday, September 12, 2014

An Ode to the End of Summer - Eating through Minnesota

I can't believe that I haven't posted in over a month! Sorry, friend! It has been an incredibly busy August and, so far, September. To be honest, I don't have a recipe to post, BUT, I do want to wax nostalgic about the end of summer.  If I am going to be entirely truthful about this blog entry's title, we sort of ate our way through the Twin Cities, not all of Minnesota. But even so, we had some incredible food!

Our family flew back to Minnesota at the end of August to visit family and had a great time. I will not, however, leave town for 10 days just before the beginning of school ever again.  We missed orientation for my 7th grader (who is starting in a brand new school) and Open House for my 4th grader.  We missed getting schedules and meeting teachers.  I missed some PTA responsibilities as well.  And for all the wonderful memories we made during our trip, for our family's sanity, we will make sure that we are home for all those "pre-school" activities.

Now, back to our fun trip!  Of course, there was lots of food, and one of my favorite food places is the Minnesota State Fair.  Lots of planning, reading, and list making happened before we even set foot on the fairgrounds.  Local newspapers wrote articles and reviews about the new food offerings this year, and I read all of them voraciously (in every sense of the word).  :-)  Of course, the best-laid plans often go awry, and, while I didn't really fail in my food tasting, I didn't get to all the places I wanted (it's a big fair).  For those who aren't familiar with a big, mid-western state fair, I feel a little sorry for you.  There are rides, there's a midway, livestock, crop art, free stuff (yard sticks, pens, re-useable grocery bags, silly hats), and, of course FOOD.  It's awesome!  It is also a big deal, and people plan vacation days around it.  I have never encountered anything like it here on the East Coast. I don't think Virginia even has a state fair, and to be honest, the one time I went to the Loudoun County fair, it was a huge disappointment, so we never went back.

 Anyway, when we go to the fair, we try to start early, before the crowds get too crazy.  That's okay, though, because it means we can start out with one of our favorite fair foods: mini donuts.

I have also been curious about the "cronut," and French Meadow Bakery has a version that you don't have to wait an hour in line for, but they call theirs a "dough-sant":

It was really good, but not better than a Krispy Kreme straight from the fryer.  Just sayin'.  Next up, and new to the fair this year, was the corn and blue cheese fritters with chimichurri sauce.  Oh. My. Gawd. But those were good!  To be honest, they were my favorite food items of the day, and it reminded me how good chimichurri sauce is with just about everything.  I resolve to make it more often.

Next up was something new from Famous Dave's: Korean pork with kimchi pickles. I had been really excited about this one, and was glad that they actually had it available when I got to their location at 9:30am.  Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations.  The pork was okay, but the kimchi pickles tasted like they took some bread & butter pickles, added some shredded carrots and sriracha sauce and called it a day.  Disappointing.  Plus, the price they were charging for that portion was not worth it, imho.

Now that it was nearly 10,  and we were already full (I didn't get pictures of it, but my parents and husband each had a beer with french fries, too), it was time to hit the midway.  Now, I get riding the rides, which many of us enjoyed, but I don't get the allure of the midway games.  You know, knock the blocks off the stand with a bean bag, or shoot a water gun to get your "horse" to cross the finish line first (okay, I actually like that one), or shoot a basket and win a prize. By the time you actually win something, you've spent $30 for a stuffed banana that cost probably less than a dollar to make.  I don't get it.  But my husband and kids love it, so there you go.  And who can resist riding up on super-high swings?

 I love that picture! I am amazed that I got that with my camera phone.  The colors are fantastic.  It was a beautiful day!

Another fun thing about the fair are the livestock barns, where you can see horses, chickens, and pigs. We never miss the pigs and hogs, because they are cute (even the ginormous one) and you get an awesome hat:

The Minnesota State Fair also means $1 all-you-can-drink milk.  I am lactose intolerant, so I passed on this, but it's a pretty popular booth.

And finally, you have to eat some sort of food item on a stick.  While you can get meatloaf on a stick or walleye on a stick, we went a little more traditional and got a frozen banana, freshly-dipped in chocolate.  It was pretty delicious! I think Max agrees.

 Of course, there is a lot more going on during our trip besides the state fair.  My cousin's husband had opened a restaurant last year, and I had been itching to try it.  Cook is a breakfast and lunch place serving mostly American food with a few Korean specialties thrown in and has gotten a lot of great press.  It is entirely deserved.  The food is fabulous! Pictured is their enormous cinnamon roll, and you can see a bit of the Korean pancake in the background. We also had the breakfast burrito, which was delicious, too. I had their short ribs eggs benedict and absolutely loved it (the hollandaise sauce was amazing)!  My big regret of the trip was that we didn't get back there for lunch (I wanted the walleye sandwich and the bi bim bop).  Next time, Charles and Tiffany!

Another new place that was introduced to me by my brother was Lolo in Stillwater (where I grew up).  We got there too late for any food (sadly, I will have to try their bacon jam, brie and arugula crostini and their chicken skins another time), but their cocktails were fabulous! I had the "Q is for Cucumber" with cucumber, elderflower, lemonade, and ginger and my sister-in-law loves their lemon-thyme daquiri. Just as good as the cocktails was the service, with friendly bartenders who were happy to talk with their customers. It was a great place to have a drink!


Another highlight of the trip was a dinner out with dear friends to Travail Kitchen and Amusements.  This was a place like no other.  Serious food served in a definitely non-serious atmosphere. They don't take reservations, but if you are lucky, you can score a "chef's table" (we were one of the lucky ones), which is really just a prep area they cleared with bar stools set around it (there were literally mixers and containers under our table). 

 This was our super fancy ice bucket and some of the magic ingredients (located just off of my left elbow):

 This un-fancy setting definitely contrasts with the food, which is fancy, yet approachable.  They don't have a menu. Instead, you pay for a tasting menu ($110 per couple the night we were there), which includes about 8 courses. However, there are so many added snacks and amuse-bouches that we stopped keeping track.  It seemed like they just kept bringing out plate after plate. This particular course was a study in corn (popped, pudding, creamed) with an exquisite meat that was the love child between bacon and prime rib.  Seriously. So. Freaking. Good.

 We were served frozen sorbet bits on a spoon (nearly froze my tongue), had to catch a piece of speck with our mouths that was dangled in front of us on a fishing hook, had to walk through the kitchen collecting parts of one dish, and had another course served on a 4-foot plank in the middle of our table:

Dessert (pictured below) was another number of items, beautifully plated and presented, with chocolate, macarons, tarts, and just yummy little bites and flavors to explore. I can't remember all the dishes that were served, and it was really loud, so I didn't even know all of what we were eating, but it was all amazing (except for the chocolate that was filled with sweet corn pudding -- that was not my favorite)!   Travail is definitely fun, and a little weird, and I can't wait to go back!

So if you find yourself in the Twin Cities area, needing a place to eat, give any of these places a try.  You will not be disappointed.

While, as I wrote before, we came back and had to jump straight in to back-to-school craziness, it was great to get away to visit family and friends. And it is always great to eat good food.  :-)

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