Hank Shaw isn't a Food Network-level brand name. Well, at least not yet.
But the highly engaging voice behind the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (winner of the James Beard Foundation's 2013 Best Food Blog award) and the author of the well-received 2012 cookbook "Hunt, Gather Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast" embodies a rapidly growing segment of the American cooking population, that of the self-sufficient, eating-off-the-grid forager, farmer, fisherman and hunter.
Shaw's latest work, "Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild" is debuting next month, and the Sacramento, Calif.-based writer is making an appearance at the Bachelor Farmer on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.
Expect a family-style tasting menu -- created by Shaw and Bachelor Farmer chef Paul Berglund -- along with wine pairings and cocktails by Marvel Bar mixmaster Pip Hanson. Oh, and plenty of conversation with Shaw. Cost is $145 per person, reservations (starting after 2 p.m. Monday) at 612-206-3920.
Despite my Variety colleagues handing over a prodigious amount of their section’s real estate in the Saturday paper, I wasn’t able to squeeze all of my day-of-gorging observations into my annual survey of new Minnesota State Fair foods. So here goes.
A fairly recent fair food phenomenon has vendors investing enormous amounts of capital and manpower into mega-attractions: O’Gara’s, the Minnesota Wine Experience, Famous Dave's and French Meadow Bakery & Cafe are just a few examples. This year’s entry into the bigger-is-better sweepstakes is Mancini’s al Fresco (Carnes Av. at Nelson St.), an outpost of the iconic St. Paul supper club. It’s a great-looking space, filled with the requisite historic photos and vintage fixtures, and it features a fairly lengthy (for the fair, anyway) menu.
In my new-foods rundown, I turned the spotlight on what I thought hit the highest marks on the Delicious-O-Meter, the Porketta Pork Wings ($8). I was less impressed with the stand’s signature dish, a steak sandwich ($9, pictured above). The thick-cut beef was nicely grilled, with a flavorful char and a pink-ish, fairly juicy center, and it exuded a big, beefy bite. But it was a bit on the chewy side (although let's get real, you were expecting butter knife-quality prime at $9?) and the flimsy foccacia bun was soaked in grease. It’s improved with the addition of onions and red peppers, which should be included in the price but aren’t, requiring an additional $1.
More successful is the Cicchetti, a seasoned bread cone filled with tender meatballs doused in a lively marinara sauce (or shrimp). It’s a clever Italian-American take on portable fair food, and it’s priced right: $6.
A sausage stuffed with onions and red peppers and speared on a stick ($6) left absolutely no impression, and a heaping, overpriced carb-bomb of basket of grilled garlic toast ($5, pictured above), greasy, near-flavorless and inundated in marinara, is best avoided.
Ending on a positive note, dessert is first-rate: Twelve rotating flavors of gelato ($5 and $7) from Ring Mountain Creamery Cafe in Eagan; three cheers for including this south-of-the-river gem at the fair.
One of my perennial fair favorites is the all-things-honey section of the Agriculture Horticulture Building, starting with the swell honey-nut ice cream. This year, the area’s Bee Hive shop, which features a wealth of Minnesota-made bee products, has a lovely addition: Honey-Bee Sticks (50 cents) from Mademoiselle Miel, skinny plastic straws filled with a burst of bright, sunshine-ey honey culled from a number of rooftop hives in St. Paul and Minneapolis. They’re packaged in two flavors: one is straight-up golden nectar, the other is smoked and blended with trace notes of Scotch. Another nice touch: Each purchase benefits the University of Minnesota Bee Lab.
“Where can I eat healthy at the fair?” is a question I’m often asked in late August, and my first thought always races to the Produce Exchange, the fresh-fruit outlet located on southeast side of the fairgrounds, just outside Ag-Hort. This year, for the first time, they’re slicing up ripe watermelon ($5), and it really hits the spot as ttemperatures and humidity levels climb and a person’s tolerance for fatty, deep-fried foods evaporates.
But the stand also features a selection of gorgeous, sinfully ripe peaches – warning: the juice will run down your chin, there's no stopping it – and in the next few days, co-owner Shannon Hannigan is hoping to feature those tasty, modestly-scaled Summercrisp pears (a cold weather-resistant breed developed at the University of Minnesota in the 1930s), harvested from Fairhaven Farm in South Haven, Minn.
Inside the building – you can’t miss it, it’s that gorgeous art deco-ish pavilion with the distinctive hexagonal concrete tower – is another eating-healthy destination: Minnesota Apples. The stand features crisp, just-picked fruit (right now, Paula Reds) from Pine Tree Apple Orchard in White Bear Lake, and this year they’re also hawking a fantastic applesauce: cool, barely sweet, marvelously thick and with a just-barely pink cast. It’s one of the most satisfying ways to spend $1 anywhere on the fairgrounds.
Minnesota Farmers Union (Dan Patch Av. at Cosgrove St.) has a bevy of food newbies, and I raved about two of them: the mango ice cream bar, and the affogato. Space restrictions – and, I have to admit, a lack of interest on my part -- didn’t allow me to mention two others: a vanilla version of that ice cream bar ($5.75) and a trio of fresh-baked cookies – chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and white chocolate-macadamia nut (pictured, above) – sold separately ($1) or as a trio ($2.50). I yawned off the both. The former isn’t all that different from any other vanilla ice cream at the fair (the best remains at Nitro Ice Cream, inside the Food Building), and the latter are boring, you're-not-missing-anything factory-made cut-and-bakes.
Up on what used to be called Machinery Hill, Tracy’s Idaho Taqueria (Randall Av. at Underwood St.) is serving up taco-inspired waffle fries, but it’s also preparing a deep-fried-free version by enliisting a baked potato ($8). It’s fine – the portions are notably generous -- but it’s nothing that couldn’t be had at any shopping mall food court in the 1980s.
One welcome trend that makes total sense is the rush of Minnesota-brewed craft beers flooding onto the fairgrounds; after all, shouldn't the Minnesota State Fair be a showplace for Minnesota-made products?
Instead of focusing on a new food item – which owner Tim Weiss and chef Alex Sadowsky routinely do very, very well – the team at Giggles’ Campfire Grill (Cooper St. at Lee Av.) as focused their 2013 energies on an impressive new beer garden (pictured, above), one that would not look out of place in a ritzy northern Minnesota lakeside resort. Under the heavy-timbered roof, the good-natured Gigglesians are pouring a bevy of Minnesota beers, including Brau Brothers, Finnegan’s, Flat Earth, Big Wood, Lucid and Fulton, as well as Iowa’s Millstream, Wisconsin’s Leinenkugel, Michigan’s Keeweenah and Clown Shoes from Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, over at the Ball Park Cafe (Underwood Av., between the Food Building and the Garden), co-owners and brothers Dan and David Theisen are have boosted their already impressive list of brewed-in-Minnesota craft labels, with a roster that includes Lucid, Mankato Original, Badger Hill, Lift Bridge, Excelsior, Surly, Steel Toe, Third Street, Bent Paddle and the aforementioned Indeed. It's an extremely well-edited list, one that many Twin Cities restaurants and bars would do well to emulate.
If only the fair embraced Minnesota-distilled spirits. I know I'd line up for craft cocktail shaken with Prairie Organic Vodka or Panther Distillery bourbon.
Finally, an observation. How great would it be if more fair food vendors took their design cues from Big Pepper (Liggett St. at Judson Av.) and made their stands resemble the products they serve? Think about it: A towering cookie jar for Sweet Martha’s, a gigantic bucket of fries for the Fresh French Fries stands. Calling Claes Oldenburg!
Here's what's going on, food- and drink-wise, in the Twin Cities this weekend:
Saturday: Watch as two top Twin Cities chefs -- Michael DeCamp of La Belle Vie and Sarah Master of Barbette -- compete for the title of 2013's Master of the Market at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. The duo will have 20 minutes to shop the market and a half-hour to prepare a dish from the ingredients they select. Judges include Taste editor Lee Svitak Dean, cookbook author Raghavan Iyer, Mpls-St. Paul food and dining editor Stephanie March and WCCO-TV reporter Rachel Slavik, with WCCO-TV's Matt Brinkman serving as master of ceremonies. 10 a.m. Free. (Photo, above, features last year's winner Sameh Wadi of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge -- he's in the center, wearing an apron and a hat -- along with judges Stephanie March, Lee Svitak Dean, Jamie Yuccas and Matt Brinkman. Find Wadi's winning recipes here).
Saturday: Graze and sip your way through a room filled with locally sourced cheeses, charcuterie, chocolates, coffees, beers, sodas and snacks at the ninth-annual North Coast Nosh, hosted by Heavy Table and Peace Coffee at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis. A pre-Nosh event (4:30 p.m.) features meet-and-greets and Q&As with several participating vendors. 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets $27 ($30 at the door), and $54 for pre-Nosh and the main event, available here.
Saturday: It's all things gluten-free at the Mill City Farmers Market, starting with a free cooking demonstration at 10 a.m. by chef Jenny Breen, co-author of "Cooking up the Good Life." The market also features a number of vendors specializing in gluten-free and gluten-friendly products, from crepes at the popular Crepes by Spoonriver stand to breads and other baked goods at Down in the Valley Bakehouse. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday: Celebrate the arrival of sweet corn season with the Corn and Brat Feed, an annual fundraiser for the Northeast Farmers Market in Minneapolis. It's a taste-of-the-neighborhood kind of event, with bratwurst ($5) from Kramarczuk's (on buns from Sarah Jane's Bakery), sweet corn ($2) from longtime market vendor eQuality Farms and lemonade ($2) and iced tea ($2) from Chowgirls Killer Catering. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: The annual Greek Festival at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul features a long list of traditional Greek-American fare (roast leg of lamb, souvlaki, pastitsio, baklava and more, with full dinners (which include rice, salad and bread) at $12, a la carte items from $3 to $7 and desserts in the $2-$4 range. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Free admission. Buy food tickets in advance here.
Sunday: Calling all bakers: "Baking, Blue Ribbons, and Betty" gathers Danny Klecko of St. Agnes Baking Co. (and founder of the St. Paul Bread Club), "Blue Ribbon Baker" author (and Minnesota State Fair super blue-ribbon baking winner) Marjorie Johnson (pictured, above) and "Finding Betty Crocker" author Susan Marks for a why-Minnesota-loves-to-bake event in the tpt studios in St. Paul. 3 p.m., tickets $40 ($30 for tpt members) available here.
Here's what's going on, food- and drink-wise, this weekend in the Twin Cities:
FRIDAY AND SATURDAY: The prodigiously talented cooking team at Travail Kitchen and Amusements, currently without a home while their new location is under construction, has been staging pop-up dining events all summer. The latest is taking place this weekend at Kitchen in the Market at the Midtown Global Market. "We'll be doing globally-driven food, what we feel the Midtown Global Market represents," said Travail co-owner Mike Brown. "Of course, we'll be doing it Travail-style." Translation: An over-the-top 10-course tasting menu, with wine and beer pairings, served in two seatings (5:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.) on both evenings, Cost is an all-inclusive $80 per person; limited tickets available here. My recommendation: Hurry. "It's going to be one of our last pop-ups," said Brown. "We'll maybe do one more."
FRIDAY: Canterbury Park is playing host to a wagon train of food trucks this weekend, with more than a dozen notable mobile food names, including AZ Canteen, Hola Arepa, Gastrotruck, Anchor Fish & Chips, She Royal, Motley Crews and more. Oh yeah, there's horse racing, too. The first starting gate goes up at 6:30 p.m.
SATURDAY: The 2013 Minnesota Garlic Festival is just what it sounds like -- fun -- pulling together entertainment, kid activities, cooking demonstrations and 100 varieties of garlic for purchase. Oh, and eating, of course, with contributions from an impressive lineup of Twin Cities restaurants and chefs, including Tilia, Restaurant Alma, Common Roots Cafe, Birchwood Cafe, Lucia's and more, serving up deliciousness along the lines of roast corn with garlic-lime butter, garlic potato salad, garlic prime rib sandwiches and an heirloom tomato plate with garlic-honey vinaigrette (top price: $10.50). 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the McCleod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Minn., about 60 miles west of downtown Minneapolis. Admission $5 ($3 for children under 12, and free for babies in strollers), with proceeds benefiting the Crow River chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.
(Sidenote: Restaurants and chefs are forever investing or flat-out donating their time, their food and their expertise -- often all three -- to worthy causes, so give this a thought: Reward their generosity with a little generosity of your own by taking note of the restaurants and chefs that support fun-filled outings -- like the Minnesota Garlic Festival -- and then including their establishments on your dining-our rotation.)
FRIDAY-SUNDAY: There are plenty of shenanigans happening this weekend on Harriet Island in St. Paul at the Irish Fair of Minnesota, but the ones to note here are of the food variety: Shepherd's pie, corned beef sandwiches, bangers and mash, soda bread, fish and chips, Guinness barbecued pull pork sandwiches and more, courtesy of the Liffey, Claddagh Irish Pub and others. 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday; free admission.
Here's what's happening, food- and drink-wise, around the Twin Cities this weekend:
Thursday: The Longfellow Grill and the Lowry are marking Minnesota's "Freedom to Marry Day" by offering a deal: A three-course dinner for two -- salad, entree, lavender cupcakes and a champage toast -- for $50.
Friday-Sunday: The 50th (yeah, fiftieth) anniversary of the Uptown Art Fair (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) takes place this weekend, and along with all the artists (and crowds), there will be plenty to eat. Two highlights: Paella at the Kitchen Window booth outside the Calhoun Square store, and goat burgers and pork belly-green papaya-fried egg salads at AZ Canteen food truck, which will be parked along Hennepin Avenue.
Saturday-Sunday: The Loring Park Art Festival is taking over downtown Minneaoplis' largest park, with plenty of grazing options, including chicken curry, pretzel hot dogs, fish tacos and that Minnesota summer staple, the corn dog. The talker? Chocolate mini doughnuts from Mighty Chocolate Mini Donuts.
Saturday-Sunday: Mayor Rybak should declare the next few days Minneapolis Art Fair Weekend, because it's also time for the 22nd-annual Powderhorn Art Fair, which is featuring, among other food vendors, the previously mentioned Mighty Chocolate Mini Donuts (which serves as a reminder: the Minnesota State Fair opens in less than three weeks).
Saturday: The Bachelor Farmer is throwing Kraftskiva, its second-annual crayfish festival/street fair, from 5 to 10 p.m. outside its North Loop building. On the food side, chef Paul Berglund and his kitchen crew will be preparing untold numbers of chilled crayfish, along with the restaurant’s awesome meatballs, sweet corn and snow cones, and the Marvel Bar will be pouring locally brewed beers and chilled aquavit. Live music, too, including appearances by Joey Ryan & the Inks and the Cloak Ox. Admission $4, sold at the door.
Thursday-Sunday: Sawatdee is celebrating its 30th anniversary -- that's like a century in restaurant years -- with a pair of dinner options: A three-course dinner for two for $30, or a six-course dinner for two for $60; a three-pour wine flight is an additional $15. The offer is available at the restaurant's St. Paul, downtown Minneapolis, Maple Grove and Eden Prairie locations.
Thursday-Sunday: Here's one gig I'm signing up for this weekend, weather permitting: Blueberry picking at Rush River Produce in Maiden Rock, Wis. The ultra-scenic U-pick farm, located about an hour southeast of the Twin Cities, is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Sunday; call ahead (715-594-3648) to confirm availability. While you're in the neighborhood (Friday through Sunday, anyway), drop in on beautiful downtown Maiden Rock for sweets, sandwiches, quiche or a slice of owner Sandra Thielman's exceptional pies at the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop, and browse beautiful Cultural Cloth next door. If you visit on Sunday, consider having (a lovely) brunch at Chef Shack Bay City, about 10 (scenic) minutes north of Maiden Rock on Hwy. 35.
-- Rick Nelson
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