Bizarre Twin Cities
Photos by Stephanie Colgan, Katherine Harris, Steve Henke, Cameron Wittig
MY CHILDHOOD WAS COMPLETELY NORMAL. I lived in a nice split-level house in Prior Lake with my brother, a dog, a cat, and two doting, stable, hard-working Lutheran parents.
My childhood was also completely bizarre. My dad was a full-time professional wrestler, Baron Von Raschke, “The Claw,” a behemoth bald man hated around the world by kajillions of rabid wrestling fans who sought him out at malls, restaurants, rest stops, church, and everywhere else we went. We went a lot of places. That house in Prior Lake was my 11th home in my eighth state and my second country (third if you count that summer on an Austrian campground with other wrestler families).
The people who came over for dinner were midgets and giants and freaks of all kinds. They all had amazing stories. There was the Samoan prince whose head-to-toe tattoos indicated his status among his people. There was Mad Dog Vachon, whose French-Canadian accent, rough voice, and dark humor were no put-on. There was the Japanese wrestler who, when complimented on a piece of jewelry, took it off and put it around my mother’s neck, a gift.
I learned from my mild (yes, my dad’s mild) Midwestern parents to be open to new experiences and people. And like Andrew Zimmern showed us on Bizarre Foods, I learned that one person’s weird is another person’s wonderful. That there’s beauty and joy and love and wonder in the things that set us apart, and that those unique expressions can also bring us together. —Heidi Raschke
It’s Good to Be Bizarre
By Andrew Zimmern
I guess for the rest of my life, the word “bizarre” will follow me along like the chains around Marley's neck.
I love that.
When I was young, I gravitated toward the edges of life. I sought out eccentricity and capricious behaviors and adored the unexpected. It was my most obnoxious trait. Unharnessed, my love of the unusual came off as pretension and staggeringly obvious attention-getting antics. I carried around the cane that went with my father‘s black tie and tails. I wore costumes. I sang Gilbert & Sullivan songs. I pretended to be other people. I was a crazy kid.
Then came college. My first class on my first day at Vassar was Art History 101. Mrs. Kuretsky walked into the room, the lights lowered, and a slide appeared on the screen: a 16th-century portrait of a young Flemish lady along with a handful of objects—a dog, a fruit bowl on a table, a window, and a chair.
Mrs. Kuretsky asked us to write down what we saw and what it meant. We dashed down the obvious. Then we spent the next hour listening as she unlocked clues in the painting like Sherlock Holmes. These few simple objects told us many things about the girl and her life in northern Europe. The bowl of fruit contained bananas, not grown in Holland, indicating the wealth of the girl's family. The chair was Asian, a hint that her people were traders. And so on.
The unexpected, incongruous details opened a world that most people didn‘t see. That moment of discovery stuck with me and began to define my life. My passion for art history and history became the prism I used as I ventured into the realm of food. I became obsessed with food stories, food history, and food anthropology. I decided to travel as much as I could to see the world of food as it existed not in restaurants, but in situ, where it originally existed. This meant working for a year and then traveling for a month with whatever money I had saved. It meant taking jobs that involved traveling and lots of nights on people's couches.
I began to understand that food was great, food with a story was greater, and food with a story that no one knew about was even greater.
I decided that I could use what had first impressed me that first day of college as a divining rod for interpreting culture and spreading the gospel of globalism to further promote understanding. It‘s why I wanted to cook Vietnamese and Chinese food at cafe un deux trois on Wednesday evenings. It gave me an excuse to preach to my cooks and tell stories to the staff and the guests. It‘s why I taught classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill for 15 years. It‘s why I wanted everyone to get as excited as I was about real Russian pickled mushrooms. I was still obnoxious but more focused. Then I got lucky and got my own TV show.
The idea behind Bizarre Foods was this: In a world where we define ourselves by our differences—our skin color, our politics, our sexuality, our language, our religion—perhaps we could celebrate things we love and change the tenor of the conversation. The Twin Cities is a great place to have this conversation—and a great place to live for those of us who enjoy the hidden off-center elements of our world.
Picture this: A Midwestern landscape of Lutheran church basements and cul-de-sacs, coffeehouses and caramel rolls, lakes and pine trees, and men in jean shorts and their wives in embroidered sweatshirts. Close your eyes. Now imagine walking into Marvel Bar with the hippest person you know at 1 in the morning. Now imagine bringing your grandmother. Trust me, she will love it.
This feature is devoted to stuff most people don't know about. If you‘re among those who do, try not to be hip and smug about it. Go find some new surprises and don't keep them for yourself. Start telling some stories and see where it leads you. I‘m all ears.
THEY BRING US BIZARRE
“My first business was DV8 (Deviate). It was a clothing store where I designed all the clothes and did all the sewing. I later moved it and opened Saint Sabrina’s Parlor in Purgatory. I added tattooing and body piercing. I opened a second Saint Sabrina’s in Dinkytown before there were any tattoo shops on campus, and the city shut me down. After a few years with no creative outlet, I realized that people with tattoos and piercings—a creative expression I believed in and also felt was harmless—were having a hard time getting jobs, so I had a new motivation. I would open a restaurant (Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge) that not only accepted people with any sort of piercing, tattoo, pink hair, or interesting fashion choices, I would embrace it and cater to these creative types. Now it is much more acceptable to have visible excitement with your appearance and be able to land a job.
I then opened Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den. It’s a pro-human, anti-zombie, extra fancy, inexpensive cocktail lounge. We have a secret happy hour. Actually, the whole bar is kind of a secret because of its location and odd hours. I would like to open another restaurant soon. We’ll see if the city rejects my idea. They prefer ideas that have already been done before, which makes it tough.”
What does it take to turn a neighborhood around? If you’re Steven Berg, aka StevenBe, aka the Glitter Knitter, the answer is yarn, lots of yarn. Stepping inside StevenBe, his yarn workshop on 34th and Chicago, is like being invited into Willy Wonka’s magical factory. Colorful skeins are stacked floor-to-ceiling. Beautiful one-of-a-kind garments are everywhere. You touch them secretly and hope you won’t get in trouble. (You won’t.)
Then there’s the community of people buzzing about—they’ve come here to escape the outside world and be in a creative, safe, supportive environment where anything seems possible. Take Berg’s “Willie Nelson sweater” (pictured): He made it with hemp, natch, and the tape from an old Willie Nelson cassette. He calls his look “aging rock star,” and his motto is “let no continuous strand remain unknit,” meaning if it’s long—a chain, a shoelace, a cord—it will find its way into one of his creations. Berg, who grew up in rural Wisconsin, knit and designed his way out of a childhood of being picked on. He’s traveled the world and climbed his way to the top of the corporate design ladder. Now he’s settled in Minneapolis with a goal of making his little corner of the world a vibrant, welcoming, healing, giving place.
MISS RICHFIELD 1981
Try to have a serious discussion with Miss Richfield 1981 and you won’t know where the truth begins and the comedy ends.
Here’s a snippet: What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever seen? “That dates back more than 30 years, when I first met Virginia Christine, Mrs. Olson of Folgers Coffee fame. Although I am a strict Sanka drinker myself, because caffeine makes me run like a faucet, I remain a huge fan of any woman who’s not too proud to make her man a pot of coffee. But I did think it was fabulously strange in 1971 when Virginia received the ultimate tribute, as her hometown of Stanton, Iowa, transformed their city water tower into a giant coffeepot!” What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you? “Moderating a horse semen auction in Phoenix. Next question!”
The Mrs. Olson coffeepot water tower is real. The horse semen auction, we can’t be sure. But we can tell you that when Russ King created his Miss Richfield character in 1996, he didn’t have a clue he’d eventually make a living touring the world as the wholesome, ebullient, unintentionally inappropriate aging beauty queen who, as one fan put it, “teaches tolerance through absurdity." These days King and his alter ego make it home only for the holidays to put on their annual show at the Illusion Theater. Our advice: See Miss Richfield 1981 “2012: We’ll All Be Dead by Christmas” before the impending Armageddon.
Brace yourself, ladies: this style expert wants you to lose the flip-flops. Any shoe that makes a thwacking noise is on his list of things that fall in the category of bad bizarre. Also: color charts. Grant Whittaker doesn’t care if you’re a winter, summer, spring, or fall. He wants to know what you think. What makes you tick. “Your brand comes from what’s inside,” he says. “Great style has soul and authenticity. Recognize your style icons and look at their hearts. Educate yourself on the world.”
Always dressed to impress and thinking big, the German-born glamour guru, event designer, dancer, and media personality aims to bring his clients’ inner style to the surface. These days, Whittaker, who offers style advice locally on KARE 11, WCCO, and FM 107.1, is feeling more monochromatic. But he’s quick to point out that what he’s wearing is not necessarily what you should be wearing. “My brand is not you. If it’s going to bring you joy, go for it.” Good bizarre is men in lots of color, he says. Good bizarre is being exactly who you are.
BIZARRE ARE US
Neighborhood SnapshotsA tree with attitude in West St. Paul. Who says animals don’t laugh?It’s true, some of us would like to live closer to the ocean.
Find funky retro deals at Richard Elioff's garage sales. Be nice and maybe he'll let you see his funky retro house. trashdaddy.com CLOCKS
Next time you're at Butcher and the Boar, look across the street. Behind the door lives a man who loves to talk about his vast cuckoo clock collection.THEATER ON ICE
Roy Blakey has spent more than 70 years collecting memorabilia from the Ice Follies, Ice Capades, and other ice-skating spectacles. icestagearchive.com
Seems like Minnesotans will try anything while driving, then pass a law to stop it. In 1949, the state responded to a popular new technology by passing a law making it illegal for drivers to watch TV. It stated: “No television screen shall be installed or used in any motor vehicle at any point forward of the back of the driver’s seat, or which is visible to the driver while operating the motor vehicle.” But what about LCD screens?
Run Like Crazy
Like sack races and egg-in-spoon relays, these runs combine exercise with silly fun.
OCTOBER 14: WORLD'S LARGEST CORN MAZE RUN. This family-friendly race at Sever’s Corn Maze forces runners and walkers to weave their way through one of the nation’s largest corn mazes. Extra points for making corny jokes as you navigate hundreds of turns. 1100 Canterbury Rd., Shakopee, allcommunitymn.com
FRIDAYS AND SATURDAYS: 5K BEER RUN.
Like a pedal pub but without the pedaling. Sample free beer at Minneapolis hot spots as you jog around downtown. Finally, an occasion designed for those high-heeled athleisure shoes. Nicollet Mall & South 7th Street, Mpls., cityrunningtours.com/minneapolis
Something in the Atmosphere
We take pride in weathering extremes, but these three weather events were downright freaky.
1930s DROUGHT. Back-to-back dry, hot growing seasons devastated Minnesota farms and crops. The dry spell peaked in 1936, set record-high temperatures, and turned rich black soil into lifeless dust.
1940 ARMISTICE DAY BLIZZARD. Nov. 11, 1940, started out as a mild day, but a massive snowstorm changed that. The results: 16.7 inches of snow in the Twin Cities, 26.6 inches in Collegeville, and 49 lives lost.
1991 HALLOWEEN BLIZZARD. It buried pumpkins and candy dreams in 28.4 inches of snow.
It's true: Bee stings and bird poo can do wonders for your skin.
BEE VENOM FACIAL. The beauty world has been buzzing since Kate Middleton received a facial with bee-sting venom prior to her wedding day. It's been hyped as a needle-free alternative to Botox, but in reality the bee venom acts as a natural skin plumper, temporarily increasing blood flow and giving skin a healthy, English-rose glow. $95 for The Royal Treatment at Prischmann Facial Plastic Surgery, 5201 Eden Ave., Ste. 170, Edina, 952-567-7151
THE VAMPIRE FACELIFT. The newest way to nip and tuck doesn't require a scalpel—just your blood. For Selphyl, aka the vampire facelift, the patient's blood is drawn, spun to concentrate its platelet-rich plasma, and then injected into unwanted facial lines or scars. The results are immediate and can last two years, about twice as long as other facial fillers such as Juvederm and Restylane. Prices start at $950 at Crutchfield Dermatology, 1185 Town Centre Dr., Ste. 101, Eagan, 651-209-3600
NIGHTENGALE FACIAL. For centuries, geishas have maintained their porcelain complexions with . . . bird poop. It turns out that nightingale droppings contain guanine, which acts as a skin lightener and exfoliant. First, however, the droppings are sanitized and milled into an odorless powder that's then activated with distilled water and steam. Before you poo-poo the idea, consider this: Tom Cruise is rumored to be a fan.$45 add-on to the European Facial at Fusion LifeSpa, 18142 Minnetonka Blvd., Deephaven, 952-345-3335
Crimes and Misdemeanors
1898 It could be Minnesota's first case of road rage. Two drivers jumped out of their horse-drawn buggies on Portland Avenue near 15th Street and starting whipping one another. The action lasted two minutes before they rode away, and no one knew the cause of the squabble.
1910 Local hotel proprietor Lina Dale may have been charged with first-degree murder, but that didn't stop her from looking fabulous. She donned diamonds in county jail and even helped with the laundry. After the jury found her not guilty, she kissed every one of the jurors. Talk about sucking up.
1926 Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's philandering landed him a night in jail in Minneapolis. After dodging authorities in Milwaukee and Chicago, he shacked up with dancer Olga Milanoff in a Lake Minnetonka cottage. Lucky for Wright, the infidelity charge was eventually dropped.
1939 A 15-year-old Minneapolis boy pulled off quite a prank-calling scam. He placed phony phone orders to local companies and had them deliver goods to his unsuspecting neighbor. Items included 75 liquor deliveries, 10 grocery orders, and two refrigerator trucks. His only punishment was a heavy scolding from local police.
A LITTLE REMINDER
There’s nothing ordinary about lutefisk.
Cripes, what can possibly be bizarre about Minnesota eats, you wonder in your tightly wrapped Scandinavian sweater? Haven’t we all agreed that people here don’t like things too rich, that we think ketchup is a spice, that in the land of Betty Crocker we like to know exactly what we’re going to get? You think the furthest we want to go is “interesting”? Think again.
Have you ever stopped to think just what lutefisk is? It’s butter-flavored fish Jell-O that's been cured in LYE, for crying out loud. (You know lye—the oven cleaner and drain opener?) And it’s a local cultural treasure! Bushmen eating worm pitas would blanch at the sight/smell. And don’t even start with the blood pudding. But yeah, we're bland.
Also, do you think it’s so normal that we have cream cheese in our wontons? It’s undoubtedly strange to Asian people, 90 percent of whom are lactose-intolerant. We can't even claim Rangoon, for the sad lack of crab. It wasn’t invented here, but it’s clearly been perfected and perpetrated here.
And let’s get right to the rabbit situation. While you still might not be so sure about the soft little succulent white meat, you’re probably closer to fine rabbit than your average New Yorker. Lenny Russo of Heartland years ago remarked how much easier it was to sell rabbit here than on the coasts, because we are one generation off the farm.
So you think you need to eat fermented rotten cabbage, duck feet, and stinky tofu to be so extreme? With our influx of new nationalities, you should have no problem finding those delicacies, but just remember: Bizarre is in the eye of the eater.
To see something really strange, head to a local museum.
Photo courtesy of 2007 Minneapolis Institute of ArtsThe Wunderkammer Room
Photo courtesy of Walker Art CenterCivil War–Era hardtack
© 2011 Minnesota Historical Society
“[The mummy is] one of the museum’s most controversial figures. Many people are fascinated by literally coming face to face with a person from the ancient past; others have been dismayed that we would place a mummified body on display. We are sensitive to both viewpoints and try to address both concerns.”
—Ed Fleming, curator of archaeology, Science Museum of Minnesota
Inspiration Coffee Service
Clarice Cliff was an English ceramic artist who created a line of designs that she literally called her “Bizarre” line. This Inspiration Coffee Service, made in 1930, is part of the MIA’s Bizarre-ware collection. “Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist,” Cliff famously said, “and people who appreciate truly beautiful and original creations in pottery are not frightened by innocent tomfoolery.”
—Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Wunderkammer Room
“Part of our Midnight Party exhibit is the Wunderkammer room, which features hanging fish bones, a toothbrush with teeth for bristles, animal skulls cast in pewter, a blanket of human hair and sheep's wool, a meat dress, a turkey egg filled with paint, and other bizarre works from the depths of our collection.”
—Eric Crosby, assistant curator of visual arts, Walker Art Center
Civil War–Era hardtack
“This is a piece of Civil War–Era hardtack, a large, thick cracker that served as the primary foodstuff for both Union and Confederate soldiers. Made from flour, salt, and water, it was reasonably nutritious and it lasted forever—this piece looks just as good as it did the day it was made 150 years ago.”
—Adam Scher, senior curator, Minnesota History Center
BIZARRE EATS TWIN CITIES
Try them—you’ll like them.
You know what’s better than string? Caul fat. Chefs have long used the lacy, sinuous fat membrane surrounding the internal organs of animals to finer ends, thus the glory of snout-to-tail cooking. This webbing can be used to bind rolled meat or as a wrap for low-fat proteins to add flavor and retain moisture, giving venison that extra boost. Source it from your local butcher or find it in the case at Heartland’s Farm Direct Market. 289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-699-3536
You love charcuterie, right? You’re all about sucking down some cured meats, but you’ll just leave that hunk in the corner for someone else. Get over it—headcheese is here to stay. The stuff of our grannies looked oddly like chunks of erasers floating in brown meat jelly, without tasting much different. But today, this terrine of parts is less a slice of leftovers than an intentional melding of earthy flavors. Eating a slice prepared by Mike Phillips of Three Sons Meats is beautiful enough to erase any lingering hauntings from your past.
Pig Face Dinner
If you want to get all metaphysical, is there really much difference between eating pork face and eating pork belly? Maybe it’s just that your food is staring back at you. If you can handle the glare, pop into The Sample Room and order half of a hog’s head. It’s delicious. The head is cooked in beer overnight, then deep-fried so that when you plunge your knife into the pork jowls (a true delicacy—ask a European), there is nothing but crispy skin and melty fat with luscious white pork meat. 2124 Marshall St. NE, Mpls., 612-789-0333
Any reader of 19th-century Russian novels knows kvass—the stuff the peasants are always getting drunk on. But even the most avid Dostoyevsky reader is unlikely to have tried the drink that comes about when you're fermenting things neither grapes nor grain—till now. Angelica's Garden, the local pickle, sauerkraut, and kimchi master, has been making nonalcoholic versions of kvass. The beet kvaas tastes crazy: It's the fresh and tart side of beets—earthy, sweet, and tangy. The carrot one is less sweet, bringing forward an unexpected dry, malty side. Try them for bragging rights with the Russian-lit set. Various locations
Certainly in Shakespeare’s time there were dozens of London brewers. But what did that beer taste like? It wasn’t made in stainless steel (a 20th-century invention) and it wasn’t artificially carbonated (an 18th-century innovation). For one sort of answer, stop by Barley John's for Cask Wednesdays to taste gravity-decanted, cask-aged ales—just like they did in Shakespeare’s time. They are delicious, fragrant, and memorable—a flavor profile developed, oddly enough, without any Twitter whatsoever. 781 Old Hwy. 8 SW, New Brighton, 651-636-4670
Much fuss has been made the last few years over nose-to-tail eating. And yet, on those feet-filled plates are the same old veggies. Unless you go to Grand Szechuan. Start with kung-pao lotus root, soy-slicked savory rosettes that taste like some lovely halfway point between water chestnuts and chrysanthemum leaves. Add chili-pepper-slicked cold bean jelly, an order of hollow root vegetable (imagine hollow spinach stems), and maybe some stemmy, iron-tasting Chinese bracken. 10602 France Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-888-6507; 187 Cheshire Ln. N., Plymouth, 763-404-1770
VIDEO: Bizarre Eats Twin Cities
Stephanie March checks out four funky foods found right here in Minnesota.
FISHING WITH SCOTT
A tortured artist makes peace with the river. By Steve Marsh
On our way to Wisconsin’s Rush River, Scott Seekins asks a question: “So this is going to be a fishing article, right, not an art article?”
“Yeah, probably more of a fishing story.”
“Good. Because nobody in Minneapolis wants to read about art.”
It’s not the kind of statement you’d expect from an artist. Unless that artist is Scott Seekins, who’s known around town as that weird guy who wears ornate all-white get-ups in summer and all-black ones in winter.
There is an Eeyore quality to Seekins’s personality, and it bleeds into his paintings. Most of his work is pop self-portraiture in the key of self-pity—Seekins getting beaten up by Batman or dumped by Britney Spears. He’s also painted a small series of trout-fishing self-portraits on both canvas and wood. They are variants on the woe-is-me theme: Seekins, in full 19th-century garb, alienated and casting alone in a beautiful albeit kitschy trout stream. Ever the artist, he even painted a pair of his waders white once, in order to preserve the integrity of his aesthetic. “People want to see white, not Gander Mountain,” he says.
But when you’re out with him in the creek, it seems like he actually enjoys it.
Seekins has been fishing the Rush River for more than 10 years now. “I used to fish more in town,” he says. “But algae has made the city lakes scummy.” So he comes here as often as he can, with almost anybody who will make the hour drive.
Lately, that’s meant trips with another artist: ultramasculine Serbian sculptor Zoran Mojsilov. “Zoran uses live bait. He catches grasshoppers in the fields,” Seekins says, marveling at how well Mojsilov gets along with the farmers and the other fishermen he meets in western Wisconsin. “He’s totally peasant—the people out here love him. Whereas I get hassled by all the rednecks and the white trash . . . just like in the city.”
Seekins buys his flies at Lund’s Fly Shop in downtown River Falls—classic ties from the 1930s with names such as Mickey Finn or Royal Coachman. “I do so much fine work, I don’t like to tie my own flies,” he says. His favorite is a streamer called Black Ghost. He spends about $9, and the shop’s proprietor, a young guy named Brian Smolinski, seems bemused by his curly black extensions, sculpted facial hair, and 19th century–style three-piece polyester white suit, accessorized with an ascot and a giant brass brooch, all worn in the heat of a late August afternoon. But Seekins is a regular, and Smolinski knows his name. “Get everything you need, Scott?” he asks as we head out.
Seekins learned how to fish from his adoptive parents in South St. Paul. “My dad was a fly fisherman, but not a trout fisherman,” he says. “He had these old cane poles from the ’30s—he was after bass and panfish.” His dad was a cattle buyer at Swift Cattle Company, and he fished to forget about work and paying the bills.
“It’s therapeutic,” Seekins says. “It’s a massage for your brain: You go out there and you could have lost your job, your relationship is falling apart, you’ve been kicked out of your place, you have no money, all these different stresses . . . and once you’re on the river fly-casting, you forget their names.” He doesn’t smile, but his tone brightens. “You don’t even remember their names!”
Our first fishing hole is a couple miles outside of El Paso, Wisconsin, next to a little pasture for a dairy farm. It’s right out of a Norman Maclean story: The water is low but moving quickly enough to whiten along the rocks and eddy near the banks, and about 50 yards away there’s a dying tree with a pair of bald eagles perched on the top branch. The raptors must be counting on brook trout, too.
Seekins is in the river with his waders, and although he definitely looks like a man out of place—or, more precisely, out of time—he’s pretty graceful casting his neon line. He’s looking for a hatch of mayflies, something that his Black Ghost streamer might resemble to the fish. “Trout are very particular,” he says. “Wrong size or wrong color fly? Forget it.”
The day is too hot and clear for fish to bite in this spot, so he suggests another place a short drive away, where Lost Creek and Rush River meet.
On the way, Seekins explains river etiquette to me, and he talks about how a man dressed like him in this place can run afoul of decorum, even when etiquette is impeccably observed.
“You’ll hear it all,” he says. “Fag Elvis, Afghan fag, Libyan fag.”
Our next fishing spot is even more serene than the first and seems to portend better luck.
“This is my church,” Seekins says as he wades into the creek. “I joke that I’ve stayed in Minnesota this long for the fishing, not the art.”
After about 25 minutes of casting, Seekins catches his first brook trout. It’s a tiny thing, but five minutes later he catches another, this time more respectable. It’s after 7 pm, and the shadows are growing longer, so Seekins is down to his last few casts.
“I’ll try one more streamer, and then we’re out of here.” He looks up. “I know I keep saying that. But you become a fanatic.