From State Fair-inspired treats to a comfort food favorite, here’s a rundown of my dining diary’s greatest hits over the past seven days (my colleague and fellow 5 Best contributor Sharyn Jackson is on vacation). What were your top eats of the week? Share the details in the comments section.
Lobster corn dog at Smack Shack
I solemnly swear that this is this corn dog fanatic’s last reference to corn dogs for the rest of the year. But come on, even a fervent, Pronto Pup-only member of the Never Corn Dog crowd couldn’t pass up this brilliant concoction.
Three cheers to Rosedale’s Potluck food hall for going all-in on its Minnesota State Fair tribute (I’m still thinking about the cheese curds I inhaled last week), and I wholeheartedly endorse this witty and utterly irresistible reconsideration of the fairgrounds staple that is the corn dog.
Leave it to this lobster-centric kitchen to spear hefty chunks of lobster meat on a stick, then dunk them in a golden, corn kernel-flecked cornmeal batter. The deep fryer doesn’t rob the lobster of its tender, juicy appeal, and the lemon-laced aioli is a spot-on finishing flourish. The price ($17) may seem steep, but consider this: it buys two. And it’s lobster.
All of this impressive goodness begs the question: why can’t the State Fair set aside its usual freak show on-a-stick shtick in favor of this kind of genuinely delicious deep-fried delicacy? Potluck’s “Minnesota Fare” ends Sept. 7, but here’s hoping the Smack Shack keeps this winner on the menu.
1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, 651-348-2632. Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun.
Funnel Cake Cruller at Cardigan Donuts
It’s great to see that many Twin Cities restaurants, bakeries and breweries are paying homage to the Minnesota State Fair during this fair-less year.
This skyway-level diet buster has been embracing the fair’s playful sense of excess with several calorie-laden goodies, including a trio of colorfully iced cake doughnut holes, served on-a-stick style, plus a sweet corn-infused cake doughnut topped with popcorn-flavored icing and garnished with caramel corn and candy corn.
Best was the ingenious idea of showcasing the shop’s sublime crullers — so delicate, so elegant — by filling them with a pair of dreamy buttercream swirls (milk chocolate and white chocolate) and using fudge and butterscotch sauces for finishing touches ($4.25). I didn’t discern much of a “funnel cake” vibe from this $4.25 bit of fabulousness; instead, there’s a strong (and fortunate) resemblance to one of my favorite State Fair food vendors, the Fresh Cream Puffs stand.
40 S. 7th St. (City Center), Mpls., 612-259-7804. Open 6:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
Grilled sweet corn at Hai Hai
Yes, I’m still daydreaming about the Roast Corn stand at the Minnesota State Fair, which is why I’ve been seeking out roasted or grilled sweet corn wherever I can find it (let’s face it, the local sweet corn season isn’t going to last much longer, so let’s take advantage while we can). Chef/co-owner Christina Nguyen really gets it right ($8.50). The grill’s heat releases the corn’s natural sweetness, the lime-infused butter appears to be applied with a trowel and toasted coconut and chiles contribute flavor and crunch. I’m glad that I doubled up on my order.
2121 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-223-8640. Takeout and patio dining only, open 4-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 4-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 4-9 p.m. Sun.
Deluxe bánh mì at Trung Nam French Bakery
True story: As I was waiting in line at the drive-up window of this 31-year-old Frogtown institution, a colleague sent an e-mail with “Trung Nam” in the message line. The text read, “Wolfing down one of their Deluxe Banh Mi. How do they DO that for under $7? Wonderful sammich.”
Yep. This is surely one of the Twin Cities’ great values ($6.75) that also happens to be great-tasting.
I’ve been a fan of the bakery’s moderately priced croissants for what seems like forever, and the pork-filled steamed buns also rank right up there.
Still, this enormous sandwich, which stuffs house-baked bread (it gracefully strikes the ideal balance between crispy exterior and pillowy interior) with slices of steamed ground pork sausage, a swipe of rich pâté, crunchy pickled carrots and a handful of cilantro, will always be No. 1 in my book.
739 University Av. W., St. Paul, 651-229-0887. Open 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Chicken biryani at Gorkha Palace
By the end of a particularly challenging day, my dinner thoughts were consumed with getting my hands on some comfort food, and right now this fragrant chicken-and-rice dish ($17) is my idea of that mealtime refuge.
The heavily perfumed rice is fueled with black peppercorns, so even the mildest version has a sinus-clearing kick. It’s packed with tender chicken, crunchy cashews and slyly sweet raisins. The generous portion pretty much guarantees leftovers, and this is one dish that’s especially appealing the next day, particularly when it’s garnished with the kitchen’s sweet-hot tomato chutney. (There are shrimp and vegetarian versions, too, priced at $18 and $15, respectively).
Turns out that co-owners Rashmi Bhattachan and Sarala Kattel are celebrating their restaurant’s 10th anniversary, and they’re inviting their customers to join in the fun via several promotions. From Sept. 7 to Sept. 10, all orders are 20 % off, and on Sept. 17 the day’s proceeds will be donated to a Black Lives Matter nonprofit organization. Here’s a good reason to follow the restaurant on Instagram and Facebook: five followers from each platform will be selected to win $50 Gorkha Palace gift cards. Oh, and all September purchases will be pooled into a drawing, and seven will be eligible to win $50 gift cards.
Sounds great, but with the biryani (and a requisite side order of garlic naan), I’ve already hit the jackpot.
23 4th St. NE., Mpls., 612-886-3451. Takeout only, open 3-8:30 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.