Part II Begins after the Hot Pork Sandwich Photo Wednesday August 30
I left T F Green in Providence (actually Warwick) on one of those tiny 50 seater commuter planes headed towards Chicago at approximately 5:30 PM- Hey, it's a free flight, why should I complain? After arriving in Chicago at around 8pm Chicago time, I proceed to rent my car and take the 2+ hour drive to Madison Wisconsin. After dealing with 4 tolls and construction I finally arrive at State Street Brats
at around 10:15pm . The place is not what I expected. I knew it was going to be a bar, but this was a dark, dank, "rathskellerish" college bar with loud alternative music piping through the PA system. At this hour most of the kids
there, and I use that term literally were not there to eat- but to imbibe. Anyway, I order a Lienenkugel Wheat, A double white brat and a side of fried cheese curds. Unfortunately they were already putting away the toppings bar, but was advised that I can request what I want IE Sauerkraut, Mustard and they will bring it over.
The Double Brat arrives- A rugged roll holding two brats with a taught snappy texture on the outside and a mellow taste on the inside. Nothing like the "rubber" brat previously served to me in Anaheim 3 months earlier. The Cheese Curds on the other hand- not what I remembered, I requested ranch dressing, and they came with raw veggies too. The curds tasted like they sat around for a while- in fact they probably did, and they were definetely too salty. After dinner I drove to my hotel, the Sheraton and checked in for the night. I didn't sleep well, I kept waking up half the night chugging down cold icewater due to the salty curds.
an undressed Double Brat
a dressed double Brat
salty cheese curds Thursday August 31
I woke up early so I can make the 12:15PM Twins game in Minneapolis
I drove to the Norske Nook
in Osseo. I was there about 8 years ago and really enjoyed their Sour Cream Raisin Pie. The waitresses dress up in "Scandinavian Attire" which I thought was interesting. I ordered the Sour Cream Lingonberry Pie with a side of two eggs and sausage. The Eggs and Sausage were nothing special, however the Creamy-Tart taste of the Pie woke me up even if the coffee didn't. I didn't think much of the pie crust and questioned if it was even home made, but the filling made up for it ten fold. The waitress saw me snap some photos of the Pie, I explained the photos were for a website review, she offered to introduce me to the manager, I declined, I was hungry and in a hurry. When I left I told the cashier I'm from the Northeast and that I love the accents, she replied "Yah?"
Sour Cream Lingonberry Pie
I arrived in Minneapolis at around 11:40 am. Enough time to check into my hotel, the Hotel Millenium and then walk to the ballpark, I mean Dome. What a dissapointment, the Metrodome
actually made Dolphin Stadium
in Miami look good
. I was thinking that turning the Mall of America into a ballpark would have probably been an improvement. Anyway, the Twins offense was a little off that day, but they still beat the Royals 3-1. I ate nothing at the ballpark but did enjoy a Lieny's Sunset Wheat.
After the ball game I walked back to my hotel and inquired if there was a bus that would take me to the State Fair (I didnt feel like driving) as it turns out there was and the bus stopped right in front of the hotel entrance. I arrived at the Fair and marveled at the exhibits. I saw a sign for Cheese Curds. I wanted vindication after my experience the night before. I cannot leave the Northern Midwest without a decent curd experience. These curds were hot, crisp, fresh, cheesy, and squeaky, just the way curds are meant to be. Now that I got my curd fix, I noticed the Hotdish on a stick booth. I ordered one and was not impressed. I thought that the fried corn batter that enveloped the tater tot/meatball innercore was too overwhelming and detracted from the taste of the interior ingredients, however it did peak my curiousity to try a real hotdish, which sadly I didn't get to do on this trip.
I continued to walk, around and even went into some of the mini museums. I noticed smoked turkey legs for sale, but the prices varied from $4.50 to $7.50. I decided to get a small one which was certainly meaty enough to enjoy. Finally I saw the fresh stalks of sweet corn. I thought this will be the last item since I want to be able to enjoy dinner that night. The corn was dipped in butter and then delivered to me right in it's stalk, I added just a little bit of salt. This was probably some of the best and freshest corn I ever tasted. After 2 1/2 hours at the fair, I took the bus back to my hotel. Unfortunately I did not bring my camera to the fair, so no photos.
I waited a few hours before I drove to Tavern on Grand
in St Paul. A couple of characters were standing outside and "posed" while I was taking exterior shots of the restaurant. I approached them and explained that I was on a baseball trip and was combining the trip with regional food experiences, they told me that I've come to the right place. This was my second visit to Tavern on Grand the first in 1999. I sat down and started out with the Wild Rice Turkey Soup. The grainy texture of the wild rice intertwined with the creamy soup and chunks of Turkey in perfect harmony. The Walleye Sandwich only made the experience even better, I regret not ordering the platter so I could experience the protein without carbs.
Tavern on Grand
Turkey Wild Rice Soup
After dinner, I went back to the hotel and called it a night. Friday, September 1
After a refreshing good night's sleep. I walked to Hells Kitchen
I did not bring my digital, mostly because photos have already been posted here already. I ordered a bowl of the Mahnomin Porridge. The nuts/grains and fruit served with warm cream and slightly sweetened with maple syrup was truly robust in it's own right, however I also ordered buffalo sausage on the side. These patties were encrusted with a peppery-garlic flavor that made me crave more. Truly one of the best meals of the trip.
I decided to start my driving tour of "rural" Minnesota a little after noon. I drove north and arrived in rural Stacy MN, about 40 minutes north of downtown Minneapolis at the Stacy Country Cafe
located in a non descript strip of stores. I walked inside, the place wasn't very crowded and tried to come off as homey with little farm "knick knacks" such as miniature tractors and silos. I ordered the Swedish Meatballs which included a trip to the very lame Salad Bar. If I were to base this place on it's location and the Salad Bar alone then I wasn't impressed. The main meal arrived. The Meatballs were spiced with Cardamon and the homemade Skin on Mashed Potatoes and Cream Gravy generously poured on top of it immediately diluded my first impressions of the place. The Rice Pudding was a perfect ending, spiced again with a Scandinavian touch.
After lunch, I drove to Stillwater, the place has become "yuppified" since I last visited in 1999 as I noticed some of the new condo developments close to downtown. After perusing some of the shops and galleries, I continued to drive the rural biways of Minnesota, I approached what once was Crabtrees Kitchen, and sadly lamented the sign "Crabtree's Country Store" as I passed. I arrived in Red Wing a little after 4pm and walked around the quaint downtown. There was a Scandinavian Shop that I thoroughly enjoyed browsing in. After checking out the shops I arrived at Bev's Cafe
a little before 6pm. The crowd was definetely of the "blue haired" variety and the place was packed. I found one small table and was dissapointed to find out that Beer Cheese Soup was not listed on the Friday Night Specials list as advertised on their website, they offered Clam Chowder and Chicken Dumpling instead. I was interested in neither. I did have the Hot Pork Sandwich. The meal arrived piping hot with a big mound of Homemade Mashed Potatos and Brown Gravy. True Comfort food. The only other dissapointment was that they did not have Rhubarb Pie for dessert that evening. I don't remember what they had but it didn't interest me.
Bev's Cafe Menu
Hot Pork Sandwich
After the meal I took the just over an hour drive back to Minneapolis and called it a night. I had a big drive to look forward to the next day. Saturday September 2
I woke up early as I had a 700 mile drive ahead of me today. I wanted to check out a local coffee house before I left the Twin Cities called the Calhoun Coffee Cafe. I called and confirmed they were open. I knew they were in the uptown area and they were off of Lake Street near Lake Calhoun, unfortunately I didn't get very good directions and could not find the street they were on. Before I got too lost, I noticed a Dunn Brothers Coffee House
which is a regional chain. I decided to stop there. Usually I don't go detail into Coffee Houses, unless I'm out west, however when I walked in, I noticed the Wild Rice Cakes in the display area. These "cakes" were actually muffins. They had a hearty, moist, molasses taste and went well with the better than average dark roast. No photos since I just expected to have the obligatory muffin.
After driving through farmland in Southern Minnesota and Iowa, I arrived at Smitty's Tenderloin Shop
in Des Moines. I don't know why but whenever I go through Des Moines, I always expect to see Swines running down the street, with Farmers in overalls chasing after them. I know that's highly unlikely, but that's just the New Yorker in me. I arrived at Smitty's relatively early, around 11am and the place had a decent sized lunch crowd already. I ordered the King Tenderloin with Pickles, Onions, Mustard and Ketchup. As I sat down, there was an older couple sitting at a table to the left of me, the guy apparently had no problem letting out at least 3 belches after he finished his meal, thankfully they left before my meal arrived. The Sandwich was huge, I should have gotten the smaller one. The Tenderloin, was wide, but very, very flat. It was a definite improvement over the one I had 3 years earlier at Mug N Bun in Indianapolis, however I wasn't overally enthralled it had a nice, crunchy texture with enough "oink" but I thought that the Tenderloin was simply too flat (sorry Davydd)I think I might prefer a thicker one however that won't stop me from trying another one when I have a chance to try one in the Hoosier state as the photos on Davydd's thread look more promising.
Smitty's Tenderloin Shop
Smitty's Tenderloin- note the pickles, onions, mustard and ketchup are on the bottom half of the bun
I left Smitty's on the full side, after a three hour drive, I arrived in Kansas City and hoped I had an appetite left over for Winsteads
. I went to the original location near Country Club Plaza. I ordered a double loaded with grilled onions and no mustard with a half fries/half rings combo. the burger arrived, but they forgot the grilled onions!!
The burger was of the "slider" variety but was obviously made from good quality midwestern beef, a commodity you can rarely find here in the Northeast. I wasn't impressed with fries or rings, they weren't bad, they were just OK.
I'm sure some of you want to know why I didn't try any "Q" well I didn't have a large enough appetite, and I intend to revisit Kansas City for a slighly longer stay next summer.
A classic midwestern burger joint
A double and a 50/50
I knew there was going to be a Cardinals game in St Louis Saturday night, however there was no way I was going to make that one. After arriving in St Louis just before 7pm, I decided to drive straight to Cunetto's House of Pasta
in the Italian Hill Neighborhood. The place was packed, however I found a seat at the bar, ordered a really bad beer and an order of Toasted Raviolis. These are the Toasted Raviolis I remembered, not the stale, cold ones I had at Rigazzi's three years earlier. These were hot, fresh, toasty, meat filled and served with a zesty red sauce.
A Gem on the Hill
Cunetto's Toasted Ravioli
After dinner, I had enough left in me for Ted Drewes
. I ordered my usual, a Banana Chip Concrete. Although I ordered a medium it came in a large cup but was about 2/3's full. It was a little sweeter than I remember it but was just as thick and creamy as ever.
The true Concrete King
A medium Banana Chip Concrete in a large cup
After "dessert" I drove downtown to my hotel, the Raddison. The ball game hadn't let out yet, when it did, I was amazed at the glut of traffic trying to get out of the city, I was also amazed at how many people actually stayed at one of the many downtown hotels for the night. And I thought Red Sox fans were dedicated? I decided to walk to the ballpark and then walked around the Peripherery. The talk on the new park is that it's a strip down version of the original design. The brand new brick red ballpark did not look stripped down to me, at least from the exterior. After walking around the entire peripherary, I headed to Lacledes landing, an area of converted warehouses which now house Bars and Restaurants. There were two blues bands playing outside, a predominantly White Blues Band and a Predominantly Black Blues band. Guess which one was better?
After enjoying the music of the latter, I returned to my hotel for some shut eye. Sunday September 2nd
I drove to the suburb of Clayton to go to Kaldi's Coffee House
for breakfast, their website promised Gooey Butter Cake, well, when I got there, there wasn't any to be found. Probably a good thing, knowing me I probably would have thought it was too sweet. I settled for a muffin, I don't even remember what kind, however I was quite impressed with the dark roast, it was just about on par with some of the West Coast Coffee Houses. After breakfast I drove back downtown and took a walk over to the Arch.
I decided to have an early lunch so I can return to my hotel and check out before heading to the Cardinals Game. I ended up going to Mai Lee
a mid scale Vietnamese Restaurant in University City. They were just opening as I arrived. I ordered the Saint Paul Special. The sandwich arrived and it was a huge sandwich of Egg Foo Young with Pork, Shrimp, Chicken served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and may on white bread. I ended up putting some hot Sauce on it for some Pizzazz. It was actually pretty good but I don't know if I would go out of my way to order one again.
Saint Paul Sandwich
After lunch, I drove back to the hotel, checked out and walked to the new Ballpark on the way I passed Charlie Gitto's, I didn't know they had a location downtown. I was definetely impressed with the new park, however didn't think it was an extaordinary improvement over old Busch Stadium. I didn't eat anything at the Park but was hoping to find a decent beer- I didn't- all Anheuser Busch Products. I was glad I got tickets in advance- the game was sold out- standing room only. I was amazed at the sea of red. Every fan was wearing a Cardinals Jersey. They played Pittsburgh that afternoon. I rooted for them since I spent five years living there. At the end of the 7th inning I left to avoid the traffic and head back to Chicago. The score was 5 zip, St Louis.
I stopped in Springfield Illinois for dinner and the town was closed! The Cozy Drive Inn
- Closed, I knew Darcy's Pint
was closed on Sundays in advance so I had planned on going to Fitz's
instead, they were closed too! I drove around a bit, I did not want to drive all the way to Chicago without dinner and I wanted a Horseshoe before I left. I saw a sign- Horseshoes- Springfield Family Restaurant
so I went in. Apparently it's Greek owned- (There are Greeks in Springfield??) sorry, that's the New Yorker coming out in me again. I ordered the Ham Horseshoe. The Horseshoe arrived, basically it was a plate of fries and cheese sauce on top of ham and white bread. It was ok, nothing to write home about. The fries were not fresh cut, and the cheese sauce was bordering on the taste and consistency of nacho cheese sauce.I was picturing a sauce with a similar taste and consistency to Kentucky Hot Brown Cheese Sauce and at least some Fresh Cut Fries. I'm sure I didn't go to the best place- allegedly Darcy's Pint and Fitz's are known for their Horseshoes. I did not get any photos of the last meal, I forgot to bring my camera into the restaurant.
I drove to Chicago, actually Elmhurst and stayed at the extended stay suites. I passed a Portillo's Hot Dog place on the way, but was too full to eat anything. I flew home the next morning.