Monday, February 21, 2011

Culinary Road Trip: The Twin Cities

This past weekend I made a short trip up to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The Twin Cities may not be considered a culinary destination, at least compared to Chicago, New York, and San Francisco...but it sure beats Indianapolis and Cleveland!

To begin my short foodie trip through the area, I'll have to thank my brother-in-law Joe for taking me to an incredible donut shop in west St. Paul. He "found" it after his pregnant wife had a 4:00am craving for donuts and a Google search for "best donuts in St. Paul" turned up Granny's Donut's on Robert Street.

Granny's Donuts  
1555 Robert Street South
St. Paul, MN 55118
(651) 451-6132

This small, traditional, and nondescript donut shop was started in 1987 by two refugees of the Vietnam War Xuan To, 64 and Que Banh, 58. It's since become a West St. Paul institution. A large window into the kitchen reveals that all the donuts are made by hand from scratch. With little help, this husband and wife team make every donut that is sold in the shop. Donuts are reasonable as well, as my brother-in-law bought 17 donuts for $15. This was very fresh and very tasty!

If you would like to read more about Granny's, see this article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune from two days ago: Star Tribune Granny's Article.

Travail Kitchen & Amusements
4154 West Broadway
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

For dinner, my sister-in-law (a culinary graduate of Kendall College and now director of instruction at a Minneapolis cooking store) took the rest of us to the very unique Travail in Robbinsdale, MN. Travail is casual, takes no reservations, no website, no menus, has no servers, and is very inexpensive. But what you'll find there is two parts molecular gastronomy and one side bar basics, all improvised.

The space is very neat, with an open kitchen and a long bar running the length of the room with room for seating, much like a sushi bar. All staffers both cook and serve, and all employees contributes to developing the constantly changing chalkboard menu. Co-owned by Mike Brown (previously of Binkley's in Arizona) and James Winberg (formerly of Bouchon in Yountville) enthusiasm is the name of the game for the chefs that they recruited from across the country, all of whom work 70-80 hour weeks trying to one-up each other.

You can order small plates of Charcuterie, soup, scallops, and "blue cheese tater tots," or do what we did and order the 10-course "chef's choice" tasting menu, which is designed for two people (but we had three for the six of us) for $60. Highlights included beef tartar, foie gras, ravioli stuffed with an apple puree, scallops, beet salad, among others.

In addition to the great food, the bar is fantastic, featuring a great draft list of local beers like Summit and Surly, as well as some national brews like Anchor Steam. On one side of the room there is a waiting area that has shuffle board. Great atmosphere for waiting! 

Blue Door Pub
1811 Selby Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
(651) 493-1865

Once featured on Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives this St. Paul neighborhood pub is home of the "Juicy Blucy." What is a Juicy Blucy??? Well, instead of placing the cheese and toppings on top of the burger, the Blue Door Pub (and others in the Twin Cities) fuse two burger patties around the cheese and toppings creating a juicy pocket of goodness to bite into. Not only do they have great burgers, they offer such upper midwest standbys as cheese curds, fried green beans, spam bites (balls of cream cheese and spam breaded and fried), and all-world tater tots.

Every month, the Blue Door has a Burger of the Month posted on a chalkboard next to the bar, effectively daring diners to try it. After being there a couple times before, I was in the mood for trying something unique and I went for it. Here's the description from their website:

For the Paul Bunyon in all of us! Come on in and enjoy a burger filled with smoked Gouda and bacon sprinkled with cayenne pepper then sealed together and grilled to perfection. But wait! We aren't finished... What kind of lumberjack passes up a good helping of syrup?! That's right. Topped with sweet maple syrup and not something you want to miss!

It was amazing...sweet, spicy and juicy.

Minneapolis may not be on the national culinary radar, but it's very underrated with many hidden gems to discover!

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