One of our vacations this year was a trip to Oahu, and, quite frankly, coming from New Hampshire, there’s no easy way to do the trip. Most every option either involves multiple hops, a very long layover, or a red-eye flight. Indeed, our trip this time was BOS-MSP-SEA-HNL, with moderate layovers at MSP and SEA. And that means airport dining. There are good and bad airports for layovers, and I’ll have to say Terminal 1 (the Lindbergh Terminal) at MSP is one of the better places to have a layover. The terminal is huge, and has more than a few good options for food and drink. Previously, I’ve enjoyed sandwiches and beer at Ike’s (including indulging in a rare pint of Surly Furious), and just about every coffee company in Minnesota (Starbucks, Dunn Bros, Caribou, …). There’s even a reasonably good burger place (TwinBurger) and a good sushi place (Shoyu). But a fairly recent addition has been an old Minneapolis favorite of mine: Surdyk’s.
As you can see from all of the other Twin Cities postings, earlier this month I was visiting Minnesota. The reason for my visits was than I was an invited guest speaker at the University of Minnesota Mechanical Engineering Department (where I got my PhD, for those that don’t know about my ‘day job’ as an engineer). After my seminar, several professors from the department took me to Caffe Biaggio in St Paul for dinner.
After an afternoon of work in Minneapolis, and a quick trip over to St Louis Park to visit The Four Firkins (one of the finest beer stores I’ve ever been to), it was time to have some dinner. I decided to meet up with my friend Andy from my MSU days, along with a former FIRST robotics student and intern of mine, Mas (and his fiancee) for dinner at Butcher and the Boar, one of Minneapolis’ newer bars located on Hennepin Avenue on the edge of the Loring Park neighborhood (looking at a Minneapolis Map, I guess technically most folks call this the “Harmon Neighborhood”). Opened by Jack Reibel, formerly the chef at the well-respected La Belle Vie in Stillwater and the Dakota Jazz Club, Butcher and the Boar is really about two things: beer and meat. First of all, the beer: one of the two centerpieces of the restaurant is their large bar (the other is the open kitchen across the dining area), with a rather impressive tap list, indeed, the beer list was one of my main reasons for coming. With a good list of American beers, with particular emphasis on regional brewers, it’s one of the best beer lists I’ve recently found in the Twin Cities. Indeed, I was able to have some local Surly, some “Goes to 11” by Bells, and some Deschute Mirror Pond. They’ve also got rather good wine and whiskey lists, although I wasn’t in the mood for indulging those that particular night.
A few years ago I did a review of Toscanini’s Ice Cream in Cambridge, MA, in which I mentioned that their burnt caramel ice cream is my second favorite ice cream ever, losing out to my favorite ice cream, the salted caramel from Izzy’s in St Paul, MN. However, I recently went to go point someone to my review of Izzy’s, and I realized that I’ve never actually written them up. Well, last week’s trip to the Twin Cities gave me another opportunity to visit Izzy’s, and this time I figured I should actually write them up.
Last week’s schedule had me flying to the Twin Cities to give a guest lecture at the University of Minnesota (anyone want a lecture on radioisotope power supplies for space exploration?), and my flight arrived at lunchtime, so I decided to check out one of the area’s better-regarded Jucy Lucy joints; the Nook. First of all, some background for those not familiar, a “Jucy Lucy” is a hamburger with a layer of cheese crimped between two patties. Done right, it’s a nice combination of cheese, crispiness, and juice, albeit with more than a bit of a hazard of hot cheese burns on one’s lips. As you can read over on my review of another Twin Cities stalwart, Matt’s Bar, there’s always the perennial question of who makes the best Jucy Lucy in the Twin Cities. When I lived in the Twin Cities, there were always two places that claimed supremacy and had their followers, the abovementioned Matt’s Bar, and the 5-8 Club located a few miles south on Cedar Ave. But since I left the cities in 2001, the Jucy Lucy phenomenon has spread greatly, with over a dozen places selling them (and the trend is even national, I noticed a “Juicy Lucy” is on the menu at Richard Blais’ place now). The Nook is a relative newcomer to the Jucy Lucy scene in the Twin Cities, opening in 2000, but in the last few years, their Nookie Burger (their variant of the venerable Jucy Lucy) is now frequently mentioned in Jucy Lucy supremacy discussions, so I figured it was worth dropping by.
This trip to Minneapolis also allowed me to indulge in another of my favorite Twin Cities culinary treasures: Kramarczuk Sausage Company on East Hennepin in Minneapolis, right where Marcy-Holmes and Nordeast meet up. When I first moved to Minneapolis, Kramarczuk’s and the nearby Surdyk’s liquor store were the only major attractions in an otherwise tired out neighborhood of old furniture stores and former car dealers. In the years since then, Surdyk’s moved from a storefront to their own giant building up the road, the neighborhood has been almost completely rebuilt (the old IGA and strip mall are now a Whole Foods, etc). I barely recognize the neighborhood, but Kramarczuk Sausage Co is still alive and well, dishing all sausages and all varieties of eastern European food…
Many areas have a particular food item that is well known locally, be it Philly’s cheesesteaks, St Louis’ toasted raviolis, or the Upper Peninsula’s pasties. One of the local equivalents for the Twin Cities is the Jucy Lucy (and how to spell that is an issue it’s own). Basically, a Jucy Lucy is a cheeseburger with the cheese stuffed inside the meat patty rather than on top, with two patties of meat crimped around a molten core of cheese. While having some cooking challenges (like getting thoroughly good melting of the cheese and cooking of the interior of the burger without completely killing the meat), it’s a combination I rather like. It, however, also has some consumption issues: aside from the obviously unhealthy nature, the Jucy Lucy is also well-known for burning peoples’ lips and chins on the hot liquid cheese as it bursts out of a burger, so warning about the cheese are common at Jucy Lucy joints…
On my recent trip to Minnesota, we had several opportunities to dine out by ourselves, or with our hosts. As a result, we had several fine breakfasts at local establishments, many of which (Maria’s Cafe, for example, or better yet, the venerable Al’s Breakfast) I’ve already reviewed on this blog. However, this time we dined at several new establishments as well. Two of them I’ll review today, and I can combine the reviews since both places (Longfellow Grill in Minneapolis, and Highland Grill in St Paul) are sister restaurants operated by the same company, and indeed, have approximately 90% overlap in their menus.
It’s not often that people recommend a place to me; I’m usually the one dispensing the recommendations, especially when it’s someplace that I’m more familiar with than the person giving me the recommendation (I used to live in Minneapolis). But after a trip last summer, my friends Jon and Nicki strongly recommended Hell’s Kitchen. And the recommendation was basically “Try the peanut butter. No, really. Try the peanut butter.”
During my recent visit to Minneapolis, I needed to take my hosts Bob and Kath out for breakfast. Our long-time standard for a weekend breakfast (Big Olaf’s) closed a few years back, so I asked them where we should go. They suggested Maria’s Cafe on East Franklin, which features Colombian and Venezualan food, as well as some more typical American favorites. While it was strongly recommended that I try the corn pancakes, I left those for Carol while I tried the daily special breakfast platter (shown), which included beans, sausage, fried yucca, scrambled eggs, and an arepa (basically a small masa pancake). This was an excellent breakfast on all levels: the beans were nicely seasoned with cumin, the yucca was crisp on the outside and tender inside, and the eggs nicely scrambled. The arepa was nicely done as well, but it paled compared to Carol’s corn pancake (which isn’t cornmeal, it’s a regular pancake with corn in it, topped with a dry cheese), which was also very delicious…