The burger: The Minnesota State Fair and Burger Friday, a match made in Internet heaven, right? But rather than focus on a deep-fried monstrosity or some other gustatory fairgrounds nightmare, today's emphasis is on the humble $2 burger at the Midway Men's Club.
That's correct: Two bucks. While the fairgrounds seemed designed to separate fairgoers from their cash, it's surprising -- and refreshing -- to stumble upon a vendor that leans towards affordability.
Is it a remarkable burger? No. The modestly-scaled patties come right out of a freezer truck, and they're grilled on a flat-top stove, with little -- ok, no -- embellishment. Plain is the most generous way to describe the bun. This is a zero-frills burger best experienced by leaning heavy on the (free) condiments: plenty of grilled onions, a few layers of pickles and lots of ketchup and mustard. A gooey slice of American cheese helps, too.
But each paper-wrapped burger is hot, filling and astonishingly affordable. What they recall, more than anything else, are the low-budget burgers that my parents used to pick up by the bag on Friday nights when I was a kid in the early 1970s, stopping at the nearby McDonald's on their way home from work. Since the state fair experience is soaked in nostalgia, this flashback burger fits right in.
Price: I mentioned the $2 price tag, right? Low prices are a theme. A double burger goes for $3, and adding cheese pushes up the tab another 50 cents. Try finding that anywhere else on the fairgrounds.
Fries: Nope, making the MMC one of the fair's few deep-fryer-free zones. Another reason to love.
Bonus round: The stand is also known for its value-priced beer, starting at $3 for a 12-ounce pour (and $5 for 20 oz.) of Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Grain Belt Premium and others. Get this: Hot dogs are just $2.
The stand also earns full marks for sheer niceness. It dates to 1963, back when the fairgrounds were once covered with similar diner-style vendors; today, the genre has become something of an endangered species. Everyone working on the premises is a volunteer -- most of the service club's 160-plus members clock at least one eight-hour shift over the course of the fair's 12-day run -- and they pitch in to raise money for St. Paul youth activity programs, primarily in the city's Midway area.
It's a total win-win situation: Fairgoers eat for less, and their patronage helps kids.
Address book: Underwood St. at Dan Patch Av.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com.
Here's what's happening, food- and drink-wise, this weekend in the Twin Cities:
Starting Thursday: Of course the big news is the opening day of the 12-day Minnesota State Fair. No confirmation on whether the fair is actually the world's largest temporary food court (perhaps the Guinness folks should be alerted) but the fair does boast more than 450-plus different noshes and libations across 320 acres.
Can't decide? Follow my rundown on 10 don't-miss returning favorites; you can find it here. For a peek into one of the fair's great food traditions, the church dining hall, go here. Oh, and if you want to get my bite-by-bite take on the new foods on the fairgrounds, follow me on Twitter, and watch for my story here.
The fair is forever crawling with freebies, although most fall into the throwaway category. But here's a delicious alternative: a free taste of shrimp ceviche from the Taste of Mazatlan food truck. Chef Marino Maganda of Pueblo Bonito Resorts in Mazatlan will be manning the truck from Thursday through Monday; find it parked on Wright Avenue between Cooper St. and Underwood St. Don't forget to toss your name in the raffle for one of five all-inclusive Mazatlan vacations.
Another reason to hit the fair on opening day (next to the Thrifty Thursday admission discounts, of course) is the opportunity to meet and greet Taste editor Lee Svitak Dean. She'll be handing out favorite Taste recipes and answering questions from 11 a.m. to noon at the Star Tribune's building, located at the foot of the Grandstand ramp.
Oh, and one more freebie: Every day from 1 to 2 p.m. (through Aug. 28), Kemp's will be offering samples of three ice cream flavors -- Funnel Cake A-Fair, Pistachio Fruit Party and MinnieAppleLicks -- and asking samplers to vote for their favorite. The winner will be added to the company's Hometown Favorites product line next year. The booth is located near the Kidway.
Thursday: As a part of "Eat Local Month," vegetable-seeking locavores can save a few bucks at a one-day-only sale at the Linden Hills Co-op in Minneapolis, with 10 percent off the price of produce grown in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. Membership not required.
Friday: Drop by the opening of the Tangiers, the North Loop's latest restaurant/bar. But plan ahead: the opening weekend festivities require reservations (both Friday and Saturday nights' doors open at 8 p.m.) and must be secured by the end of the day Thursday. Hit them up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday: It's Minnesota Cooks day at the fair, and speaking of worthy fair freebies, there's none better than the Minnesota Cooks calendar. It's the rare calendar that makes for great bedside reading, not to mention one that includes delicious recipes. But that's always the case with this effort from the Minnesota Farmers Union. The 9th-annual edition is as gorgeous as ever -- thanks to photographer Katie Cannon (that's a sample of her work, above) -- and, like its predecessors, it features stories about Minnesota chefs and Minnesota farmers.
The day's big event is a live-action version of the calendar, bringing together farmers and chefs, with the former providing ingredients for the latter as they cook up a storm. Because it's Minnesota Cooks and not Twin Cities Cooks, there's always an admirable mix of metro-area and outstate practitioners.
In another wave of freebie love, there are delicious samples for the audience.
The day kicks of at 9 a.m. with a fruit-carving demonstrating by a half-dozen students from Le Cordon Bleu, and then the program -- at the Minnesota Cooks Stage in Carousel Park -- continues with hourly presentations, including:
10 a.m.: Mike and Brandon Braucher of Sunshine Harvest Farm with Steve Lott of Big River Pizza in Minneapolis; and Karla Pankow and Elizabeth Millard of Bossy Acres with Helen Walden and Theresa Cook of Anodyne Coffeehouse in Minneapolis.
11 a.m.: Baylor Radtke and Mike Magnus of Victus Farm with Tony Beran of Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar in Duluth; and Lisa Ringer, Anna Jaffray and Kaitlin Knutson of Two Pony Gardens with Nick Rancone and Thomas Boemer of Corner Table in Minneapolis.
Noon: Brian and Lisa Petersen of Greenleaf Gardens with Jennifer Richards and Jeremy Olson of Rainbow Cafe and Catering in Pine Island; and Kate Wall and Lynne Reeck of Singing Hills Goat Dairy with Ian Gray of the Gray House in Minneapolis.
2 p.m.: Tom and Karen Bunkowski of Bunkowski Farm with Josh Hanson of Spanky's Stone Hearth of Frazee; and Dave Massey of Northwoods Organic Produce with Dick Trotter and Lisa Scribner of Trotter's Cafe in St. Paul.
3 p.m.: Erin Rupp and Kristy Allen of the Beez Kneez Honey with Abby Boone of the Lynn on Bryant in Minneapolis; and Eric Larson of Stone's Throw Urban Farm with Hai Truong of Ngon Vietnamese Bistro in St. Paul.
4 p.m.: A bonus show will feature a "Mocktails Happy Hour!" hosted by Easy & Oskey DIY Bitters Kits, with recipes for crafting non-alcoholic cocktails.
The day's emcees are Mary Lahammer of Twin Cities Public Television and Strip Club chef/co-owner J.D. Fratzke, with a high-powered taster panel that will include Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken.
The calendar is available on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Minnesota Cooks Stage in Carousel Park; after the event, find it at the Minnesota Farmers Union building (Dan Patch Av. between Cosgrove St. and Cooper St.), until supplies last.
Sunday: Following the Bachelor Farmer and Smack Shack, another North Loop-er is getting into the street fair act. This time it's Borough, featuring a pig roast, live music, beer from 612 Brew, an appearance by the crew from Travail Kitchen and Amusements, all from noon to 6 p.m. Tickets $25 (which buys entry, a plate of food and a beverage), buy them here.
Brought to you by capitalism's ceaseless invention: FreeHand Trays.
Just in time for today's noon-hour food truck onslaught in downtown Minneapolis, the Golden Valley-based company is handing out samples of its -- and apologies in advance for this -- handy product. I encountered a super-friendly (this is Minnesota, after all) FHT representative on Marquette Avenue at 7th Street.
What a cool idea, one that's especially useful for the stand-up dining experience that is the downtown food truck scene: a stiff, square cardboard tray that allows food truck diners (or ballpark fans, or fair/festival-goers, or party guests, you get the drift) to securely hold their food in one hand, and use the free hand for eating. Or drinking; there's a convenient cup-holder cutout, and a plastic cup. No more crazy balancing acts.
They recall the tops of those familar copier paper boxes, only sturdier. And half the size: it measures 9 1/2 inches by 9 1/2 inches, with a 2-inch rim. Yes, the company will create custom versions.
The trays are made with all the right buzzword materials: 100 percent post-consumer paper content that's 100 percent recyclable, 100 percent biodegradable, 100 compostable and, according to the fine print on the box, "100 percent awesome." There's some truth in that, although it's a bit tough to imagine the condition of downtown's rare and already-overworked sidewalk waste bins when these start to land in the mix.
Odds are that the FreeHand Tray is going to be the smart office accessory for the remainder of the street-food season. Oh, and don't try this at home, because the company says it has multiple patents pending. Quick poll: Which food truck is going to (wisely) offer the FreeHand Tray first?
When Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge moved from its original location to flashier riverside digs two years ago, owner Leslie Bock retained ownership of her restaurant/bar’s original location.
Now Bock -- who is also the creative (and ownership) force behind Donny Dirk's Zombie Den -- is proposing to convert that space – a former drive-in at 2519 Marshall Av. NE. – into another thematic property she's calling Betty Danger’s Country Club. "Betty Danger's will be a country club for the other 99 percent," she said.
A mini-golf course is the first of many attractions. “It’s going to look like a 1950s country club,” said project designer Jim Smart of Smart Associates of Minneapolis. Picture a dining room serving what Smart describes as “Minn-Mex” fare, a split-level bar and a covered patio with a taco-and-beer hut.
The real talker is a slow-moving, 60-foot, Italian-made Ferris wheel (“Or a ‘Vertical Revolving Patio,’” said Smart with a laugh), with gondolas designed to accommodate eating, drinking and view-taking.
“You’ll get your beer and your taco, you’ll queue up and then you’ll be able to take in the beautiful new Lowry Avenue Bridge and downtown Minneapolis,” said Smart. “It’s going to be quite spectacular.”
The project was approved by the Minneapolis Planning Commission earlier this week, and goes before the city council later this month. If all goes as planned, the restaurant and bar could be open by the end of the year, with the Ferris wheel debuting next spring.
On Aug. 14, the field will be narrowed to the Top 10 restaurants.
To see the 48 other best restaurants, check out the magazine site at bonappetit.com.
The list was compiled by Andrew Knowlton, restaurant and drinks editor at the magazine.
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