When you mention Minnesota, most people just think of the cold and Fargo, but they’d be wrong. Minnesota is maybe one of the most underrated states in the whole damn Union. I recently visited Minnesota and I’ve come back with a treasure trove of experiences that I’m excited to share with you.
The first thing to know about Minnesota is that the people are really friendly, just about everyone is willing to help you if you’re lost or need something.
The next thing to know is that this state takes hockey very seriously, it’s called the State of Hockey for a reason. As a rabid hockey fan, coming to Minnesota was somewhat of a religious experience. Hockey is everywhere, and not just that, everyone actually KNOWS what they’re talking about. Being a hockey fan is akin to liking a unpopular indie band, but every spring (especially in Maryland) all these fair weather hockey fans pop up to watch the playoffs, they then basically ruin everything for the die-hards. If this sounds like a grumpy old man screaming get off my lawn, you’re probably right, but I don’t care. So if you’re into hockey, Minnesota is for you, they have hockey apparel and equipment stores EVERYWHERE!
My visit to Minnesota, specifically to the St. Paul/Minneapolis area, was to see a dear old friend of ours who we hadn’t seen in a long time. Luckily our friend is lifetime Minnesotan so she was able to give us the insider’s guide to Minnesota. By the end of this trip, I felt like this was my second home and all I wanted to say was “You Betcha!”
Some quick fun facts before we start our Minnesota guide:
- The name of the state comes from the Dakota name for the Minnesota River, which means cloudy water.
- The thing about lakes is not an exaggeration, it has over 11,000 lakes.
- The Minnesota State Fair is the largest state fair in the USA (more on this later)
- The cuisine is heavily influenced by the Scandinavian and German roots of its people
- It’s the home of Target.
- Most importantly, it’s the hometown of Prince (and Bob Dylan).
Our trip was during the summer and despite being a state that’s usually very cold, it is very hot and humid in the summer in Minnesota. With humidity and heat, comes bugs, and Minnesota tends to have a lot of mosquitoes at least in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area. Come with bug spray or be prepared to be feasted upon if you leave the metro areas.
Instead of a long form essay, I’m going to breakdown my guide into key things you should see and do, so enjoy!
The City of Minneapolis: It’s a cosmopolitan city with an expansive skyline, with that being said it still has a nice small town feel to it (not as much as St. Paul does (more on that soon). If you’re in Minneapolis, you’ve got to pay a visit to the Guthrie and the Gold Medal Flour ruins (which are right near the Guthrie).
The Gold Medal Flour Ruins (Mill City Museum): This is one of the coolest things you can see while you’re in Minneapolis (it’s right next to the Guthrie). Basically flour is HIGHLY flammable and the flour mill exploded in 1878, killing over 20 people in the process. The ruins that were left behind are really awe-inspiring, the twisted pieces of structural steel make for a really mystical experience.
The Guthrie Theater: is a center for performance art, now I’m not a musical or play type guy but this place is still something to see. You can go and visit it all the time during the day, it also has great farmers markets and views of the skyline.
If you do happen to catch the Farmer’s Market like I did, they have some great vendors there. They had fresh Nepali momo’s, bratwurst, and nachos all of which were amazing.
The City of St. Paul: If Minneapolis is the ritzy cosmopolitan city in the “Twin Cities” then St. Paul is that best friend who you can always just be yourself with. It has a great small-town feel to it while staying urban and trendy. It has great places to eat, quaint little shops, and it’s just an overall great place to see.
Mall of America: I’m not a mall person at all, but even I had to go visit the Mall of America. It lives up to the hype in the sense that it represents everything about America. It’s huge, oversized, and it has literally anything and everything you could need or want.
It literally has a theme park in it with rides and everything. Also there’s an aquarium, it has everything.
Some quick fun facts for you:
– You can fit 9 Yankee Stadiums inside of it.
– If you walked the entire distance of just one level of the Mall, it’s over a mile.
– It employs over 11,000 people.
– It attracts (annually) 40 MILLION PEOPLE!
Landscape Arboretum:The landscape arboretum is just what it sounds, a gigantic arboretum. It’s filled with magical gardens and a gigantic hedge maze for you to get lost in. We went on a particularly hot day, so we made our visit quick. If you caught this place on a mild spring day, it’s probably one of the most magical places you could see in Minnesota.
Como Park Zoo & Conservatory: I said probably because this place, Como Park, is equally magical. It’s a park, a zoo, and a conservatory that’s owned by the city of St. Paul. We went here on a day where the weather was not oppressively hot and it’s gorgeous. You could spend all day exploring all the different attractions it has, so if nature (but not TOO much nature) is your thing, this is a place to see.
Lake of the Isles- We walked here around sunset and it was pretty magical, the best part about this lake is that it butts up right to all these fancy homes that make for great what-if convos about what you would do if you lived in said homes.
Not pictured but equally beautiful is the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
Now to the food
Minnesota’s food is heavy on the dairy and cheese due to their love of dairy (i.e. the cheese curds). But they also have an array of great ethnic food due to the recent surge in immigrants from the Horn of Africa and southeast Asia. Some come with an empty stomach and some room to gain weight because you’re going to eat a lot.
Matt’s Jucy Lucy: The Juicy Lucy is a must get when you come to Minnesota.
First, what’s a Juicy Lucy?
The name per Matt’s comes from the follow, “a local customer asked for two hamburger patties with a slice of cheese in the middle. Upon biting into this new, molten hot burger, he exclaimed ‘that’s one juicy Lucy’, and a legend was born” Don’t be intimidated by the rough exterior, the staff (like all Minnesotans) are super friendly.
It’s a beef patty filled with molten hot lava American/cheddar cheese, think of it as a reverse cheeseburger. It’s amazing. You could eat several of these, so if you’re hungry get more than one or two. The cheese is really hot, like no joke it’s going to burn you, let it cool a little. Make sure you order it with the fried onions, they make it even more incredible some how
There are different places that make it all over Minneapolis but the best one comes from Matt’s. It’s a dive bar that’s cramped, has wood paneling, and I loved everything about it. When you walk in, you see the bar which is also basically the kitchen. The guy behind the counter is making the burgers on a burner that’s no wider than five feet.
Everest on Grand- For really great Nepali/Indian food, head over to Everest on Grand in St. Paul, they have all your favorite Indian food classics along with great Nepali food including Chau Chau noodles and Momo. Everything is good.
Caramel Puff Corn: You can find this at just about any convenience store in Minnesota, you have to get at least one bag. It’s puffed corn, which I still don’t know exactly what that is, but it doesn’t matter. This stuff is amazing, it’s like Kettle Corn but without the stupid annoying kernels getting in your teeth. The end result is commercialized crack cocaine that you cannot stop eating.
Spoon and Stable: What happens when a James Beard award winner comes home? Spoon and Stable that’s what. This literal old horse stable has been transformed into this chic French style eatery that offers really great French-inspired food. They have a crepe cake which is visually stunning along with a lot of other delicious looking baked goods. Pretty much everything on the menu is great, when we came for brunch we ordered donuts, bacon (it’s thick cut and magical), waffles, and a Croque Madame. This is a great brunch or dinner spot, it’s in a cute spot of downtown and it’s close to a really cool speak easy called, the Marvel Bar, if that’s your thing.
Hola Arepa – When you think of Minnesota, I’m sure the first thing you think of is delicious South American cuisine! Sike. But this place is really good, it used to be a food truck, but it serves up Venezuelan style stuffed arepas that are handmade in house. a delightful spot that serves delicious southwestern cuisine. I’m typically a sweet arepa man myself, but this place is really good and everything on the menu is pretty delicious. I got the slow roasted pork arepa, the silver dollar cachapas, and mini churro (these are all on their brunch menu) everything was amazing. This place is a must visit.
Haute Dish -The name is a play on the classic Minnesota casserole dish called, “Hot Dish” which is basically a casserole that has a starch, frozen veggie, some sort of creamy sauce, and a meat. This is another restaurant that was very hyped prior to my visit to Minnesota, the concept is essentially comfort food done with a culinary touch. It’s definitely really good, but pricey, so you’ve been warned. My only gripe with this place was that you’re kind of expecting something else from the dishes they’re serving you. The mac & cheese is delicious, but it’s not mac & cheese, it’s a ziti with teleggio cheese, again it’s tasty but not quite mac & cheese. The steak and potato with Texas toast was a winner as was the pork and beans (but again not what you’re expecting for pork and beans)
The last thing on this list could have a post all by itself, it’s that massive. It’s the Minnesota State Fair. This is an event people. If you’re from the East Coast like me, the state fair is just meh, but not in Minnesota. So strap in, you’re about to learn some shit about the greatest state fair in the whole damn Union.
The Minnesota State Fair
Before we deep dive let’s go over some quick fair basics:
- Comfortable shoes are a must, this day is not about fashion
- Wear some eating pants, again screw fashion on this day
- It’s going to be hot, so again, something loose and cool so you wont sweat your balls/tits off.
- Pace yourself, literally every food is here. Not everything is great, so you can be picky.
- Wear sunscreen or a hat, because fuck skin cancer right?!
- Bring cash, just makes stuff easier.
- Just about everything comes on a stick if that’s your dream, tread lightly, not everything is meant to be on a stick.
The Various Hot Dog Based Treats
The hot dogs at the fair are pornographic, there are so many hot dog vendors it would be impossible for me to remember which one, but typically you’re going to get something that’s close to a foot long and prepared perfectly. Get it with mustard and onions!
But if you think it’s just hot dogs you need to try, you’d be wrong. This place is the mecca of good corn dogs and what they a call a Pronto Pup.
This is a pronto pup. The lines for these things are always sort of long and honestly I prefer the sweeter corn dog over it, but it’s something you have to try. Basically it’s a hot dog that’s dipped in pancake batter, what’s not to love really? Probably would be delicious with some powdered sugar.
Kabob Koobideh: Yeah I’m not kidding, somehow they had it here! The fair has an international section and while the place wasn’t an Iranian stand per say they definitely had what tasted and appeared to be kabob koobideh. While it’s not amazing, it’s still pretty damn good for fair koobideh, I recommend you trying it if you’ve never had kabob koobideh before. The rest of the international section has lots for you to see, almost every country is represented here either with food or a chotchky shop.
Fried Cheese Curds: The fried cheese curds are quite possibly the best thing going at the state fair. They’re what you want mozzarella sticks to be and a shit ton of them. There’s two cheese curd places at the fair, my understanding is that the original one is closing. Mouse Trap is in the main food court at the fairgrounds, it always seems to have a long line but they are really worth the wait. I never had a cheese curd before and the word curd is a little gross, but it was amazing. Cheese curds are essentially the cheese before it’s clumped together, so they’re rubbery and have an almost mozzarella like flavor. They’re everywhere in Minnesota and for good reason , they are awesome. This is a must get.
Fried Pickles: These are damn delicious and a must have! Our friend seeks these out every year because they are that amazing. They’re bread and butter pickles that are breaded and deep fried, how can you not love these? Spaghetti on a stick: It’s more meatball than spaghetti, it’s not that great, again not everything is meant for the stick life.
No discussion of the fair would be complete without the next thing on the list.
Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar: This place makes three million yes MILLION dollars in 12 days at the fair. It’s amazing. For more on the backstory go here.
Basically this place gives you warm chocolate chip cookies that are soft and amazing by the bucket full. Yes the bucket full. If you’ve ever thought what you would do with an endless supply of chocolate chip cookies, wonder no longer. Sweet Martha’s makes that dream a reality. There’s always long lines for this place and for good reason, the cookies are warm, gooey, and delicious. You can get the cookies in a cup or in a bucket, unless you have a bunch of people with you that are hungry for cookies, just get a cup. They still jam in about 10 cookies into a cup and none of us could even finish the one cup that we had. They pump out 30,000 cookies in 12 MINUTES! (That’s roughly 41 cookies a second if my cookie math is accurate) You might get the beatus if you come here, but I’d dare to say it’s worth it. You have to visit this place at least once.
If cookies aren’t your thing for some ungodly reason, maybe brownies are.
Oven Fresh Brownies: Nothing brings you closer to early on-set diabetes than eating one of these amazing oven fresh brownies. You can find these at a few spots around the fairground, but they are well worth a try. They’re soft, chocolately, and topped with even more chocolate. You also have the option of milk here (you’ll notice a theme), buy it and enjoy your dessert with it.
With all those cookies and brownies, you’ll need something to drink (other than milk).
Frozen Wine: Evidently this is a thing and people seem to really enjoy it. I don’t drink, but our friends tried it and enjoyed it (as much as one can enjoy frozen wine).
Orange Julius Style Drink: There’s no shortage of delicious icy drinks for you to try, I highly recommend getting the frozen orange julius style drink that they sell at a lot of the stands. It has everything you want in a orange based drink and on an oppressively hot day the drink comes in handy.
So that concludes my guide to Minnesota. I in no way covered all the amazing things you can eat in this state, but hopefully I gave you a little insight to just some of the amazing things you can see and eat in this magical place.