Holidazzle is running Thursday through Sunday in Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis through Dec. 22, and you should go. And eat. And drink. When winter occupies a significant chunk of our calendar, shouldn’t we embrace it? That’s exactly what this (mostly) outdoor festival does, and does very well. It certainly showcases some impressive eating-and-drinking vendors. Here are five of my favorite food items. (Thanks to my colleague David Joles for the above Holidazzle image).

Pulled pork sandwich at Heavenly Feast Bar-B-Que

Owner Christopher Rudd is a Holidazzle newcomer, and a welcome addition. Along with ribs, stuffed baked potatoes and a well-stuffed cornbread waffle bowl, Rudd offers a spectacular pulled pork sandwich. It’s a generous pile of succulent, smoke-teased pork – the texture and flavor are both spot-on – that’s doused in a tangy, not-too-sweet sauce. Yes, the “spicy” version was more Minnesota Spicy than real-world spicy (“I’ve got to make it for my customers,” said Rudd with a laugh), and the bun was leaning toward the generic. But that pork! Its appeal erases any and all quibbles. Another lure is the $8 price tag, a terrific bargain. Next time, I’m going for the chicken version.   

Chicken pot pie at Fresco’s Foods

Midtown Global Market regulars will recall owner Danielle Booth and her lively pasta bar. Now she’s focusing her talents and interests in the special events arena, and her cooking is tailor-made for Holidazzle. This new-in-2019 stand is all about savory and sweet pies, including a comfort food home run in the form of a chicken pot pie. I’m on a bit of a CPP tear these days (two current favorites are at Colossal Cafe and Hot Hands Pie & Biscuit), and Booth’s semi-deconstructed version is impressive. It’s an easy formula: the base is basically a well-stocked chicken stew, packed with potatoes, carrots, peas and sweet corn, and the crust is a sheet of flaky puff pastry that gets a quick reheat in a portable pizza oven. The topper is a thick, hearty cream sauce. It all adds up to a total dinner-for-two item (a steal at $10), and it’s the kind of rib-sticking, better-than-Mom’s goodness that warms from the inside out, a Holidazzle necessity.

Mac N Cheese Veggrolls at Root to Rise Kitchen

Kudos to the Holidazzle powers that be for recruiting this plant-based vendor, a familiar sight at the Linden Hills Farmers Market, Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market and Mill City Farmers Market. Owner Heather Klein has both a well-tuned street food sense and a sense of humor, because these deep-fried delicacies are both delicious and amusing. And vegan. Shells from Dakota Growers Pasta Co. are doused in a cashew cheese sauce (it’s enriched with coconut cream), wrapped in a vegan eggroll wrapper and fried to golden crispiness. Each pair of piping hot rolls ($10) are finished with a feisty sauce made using cashews, garlic and plenty of horseradish. They would totally fit in at the deep-fried culinary mayhem that is the Minnesota State Fair. “I applied to the State Fair a few years ago, but I don’t think I had enough of a plan,” Klein said with a laugh. “Now I will.” Klein is enjoying her first spin at Holidazzle. “It’s a super-festive kind of experience, and it’s not something that you get to do every day,” she said. “Yes, it’s cold, but we’re from Minnesota. We should be happy with Minnesota’s winter. It’s beautiful down there.”

Chicken Mo:Mo at Gorkha Palace

The Holidazzle food court has a handful of returning vendors, including this favorite. Rashmi Bhattachan and Sarala Kattel built their business – their first-rate Gorkha Palace in northeast Minneapolis – on the reputation of these dumplings, which they sold from a stand at the Mill City Farmers Market. Fortunately for Holidazzlers, the duo hasn’t forgotten their roots, because these handmade dumplings make for ideal winter street food. Served six to an order (and steamed rather than pan-fried), the wrappers are delicate yet manage to hold up to the weight of the filling, a highly appealing blend of chicken, cabbage, garlic and ginger. The finishing touch is a splash of a spirited (but not too provocative) tomato chutney. It’s a steal at $9. There’s a vegetarian version, too, packed with carrots and green onions.

Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup at the Littlest Pancake

Steve and Karin VanZyl are celebrating their fifth year at Holidazzle, and it’s as fun as always to watch as their poffertjes – single-serving buckwheat Dutch pancakes – come to fruition on a specially outfitted grill. But the stand’s namesake item isn’t the only reason to stop by. The VanZyls skillfully tap into nostalgic memories (well, mine, anyway) of a favorite post-ice skating meal of my childhood. The soup, served in a cup and delightfully chunky, is built on the strength of roasted Roma tomatoes and is seasoned with plenty of dill. The sandwich layers Cheddar and pepper Jack inside a pair of butter-brushed slices of sturdy sourdough. The pleasure of dunking gooey, toasty pieces of grilled cheese sandwich into that steaming soup reminded me why my mother relied on this combination on so many cold winter afternoons. In case you’re wondering, yes, you should invest $6 in a jar of Steve’s Fresh Sea Salt Caramel Sauce; it’s as cherished a Holidazzle souvenir as a selfie with the festival’s Instagram-ready Yeti art installation.

Rapid fire round

Breaking this weekly count-to-five format, there are more than five reasons to bundle up and graze through Holidazzle. Twin Cities Paella is back, preparing their tailor-made street food in showy oversized pans; look for a pair of daily variations, at $12/serving. Newcomer Tasty Gyro is focusing on gyro and falafel sandwiches, plus baklava. Kramarczuk’s has cornered the sausage market (try its salute to Holidazzle version, made with smoked pork, cranberries and wild rice), and food truckers iPierogi specializes in several varieties of pierogi plus cabbage rolls and sweet cheese-chocolate crepes. You can also count me a fan of the warm pretzels at MSP Pretzel and the irresistible scent wafting from Cindy’s Cinnamon Roasted Nuts. Warm up with a cinnamon-spiked cup of mulled hot apple cider at Sociable Cider Werks ($6), or really warm up by ducking inside the heated, well-appointed Fulton Beer tent; get the brewery’s Holidazzle Small Talk Stout ($9), a chocolate oatmeal milk stout. Have you been to Holidazzle? What did you eat? Share your experiences in the comments section.