I got the chance to be on the podcast The Feed last week to talk to Chicago reporter Steve Dolinsky and super stupendous and legendary Chicago chef Rick Bayless. The topic became where I'd bring Rick to show him what's most unique about our fair cities if he were only in town for a day or two. And, whoa, that's a lot of pressure.
In any event, here’s what I came up with, and why. Think you have a better idea? Great! Put them in the comments! And if you want to catch The Feed, the best way is through its Facebook page.
Taking visitors through the new Nordeast taprooms is any local booster’s pride and joy. I like Dangerous Man because it feels like you’re in a personal vision in which an artist is making you really good beer. I like Indeed because it feels like it’s been there since the dawn of time, and I love the beers. And I like 612 because there’s always something new and interesting going on, and it gobsmacks out-of-towners by how big and new and BIG it all is. But that’s not all, there’s a cider brewery making graffs (that is, cider made with grains and hops) . . . I bet you never had those, Rick Bayless! Behold the awesomeness of Nordeast, a little bit of national class brewing paradise, only in Minnesota.
I know I’m slightly obsessed with the Ran Ham Bowl at The Nook lately, but I really do think the underground, working-class, vintage Sputnik-chic bar is a national treasure, and the Jucy Lucy cheeseburger is our Chicago pizza, so to speak, and nobody really knows exactly why we do this fact. If I was time-pressed I would go to Matt’s in Minneapolis, it is of course the founding great Juicy Lucy, and so close to the airport.
4. Marvel Bar
Can you even understand Minneapolis and St. Paul without understanding our deep, deep devotion to the art of the cocktail? Nope, you can’t. So head down to Marvel and try one of Pip Hanson’s always precise, always understated, always-delicious-like-an-arrow-shot-to-your-heart cocktails. He's really just the only person who can be absolutely trusted to do something very clean and cool with crème de violette and not something weird and sweet. Also, his Oliveto—an emulsified sour with olive oil—is one of our definitive contributions to American cocktail culture this last decade, and it is best sampled in its native super-chic environs. As the Bellini is to Harry’s Bar in Venice, the Oliveto is to the Marvel Bar in Minneapolis. This is important stuff!
No bigger story in the middle of the country this past 20 years than locals’ discovery of the fact that we have farms and we think they’re great! The best place to take the gargantuan implications of our chefs’ discovery of farms is in the grocery cases of Heartland in St. Paul: Mangalitsa lardo, wild boar terrine, and red wattle pork chops are only the porky tip of the iceberg of Minnesota’s claim to have pork as good as Spain’s, and then there are the cheeses (try LoveTree’s wild-pastured sheep’s milk cheeses), the duck eggs, and the thick local grass fed cream. If summer ever comes there will also be a splendor of local lettuces, carrots, apples, and other things that don’t grow in ice. If you don’t have time to tour farms, tour and taste Heartland, where the farms are curated for you.
The one thing out-of-towners really don’t understand about Minneapolis is that we are probably the best baking city there is. Rustica, French Meadow, Sun Street, Turtle Bread, Lucia’s, Patrick’s Bakery, Salty Tart, all our corner bakeries are all national class, but Patisserie 46 is a league apart. Founded by ex-Chicagoan John Krauss (he used to be head of the French Pastry School there) it has been named one of the best patisseries in the world by National Geographic (alongside Poilane in Paris), one of the top 10 chocolatiers in the United States, and John Krauss is the US selection for team captain of the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie—and you can just go in and get a macaron and a little cake that will make you fall over in bliss and shock any time at all. Patisserie 46!
The best thing about this fair state is that it’s always surprising, and nothing is more so to out-of-towners than our St. Paul Hmong Marketplaces. Walk in and you find scores of businesses selling everything from videos of water buffalo fights in Laos to tapioca dessert parfaits. The food stalls are my favorite, just-made papaya salads, made in mortar-and-pestle setups the size of watermelons, barbecued pork crisp and juicy served with zingy chili-lime sauces; lemongrass sausage as fragrant as a gin and tonic, but much porkier. The markets are so vital, so lively, I discover something new and delicious every time I go, and every time I take a visitor from out of town they look around and say something like, "I never knew this existed . . . I feel like I just passed through a magic portal to southeast Asia." Yes! Minnesota is not just whatever it was yesterday, it’s living, evolving, new, surprising, and, yes, yummy.
Photos for Marvel Bar and Ran Ham from Facebook pages, photo of Hmongtown Marketplace by Katherine Harris, photo of 612 Brew by Eliesa Johnson