Andrew Zimmern's Guide to Minnesota's Twin Cities
Here are Andrew's 10 favorite restaurants, fairs, farmers markets and must-do activities in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, where he lives.
As the first Twin Cities restaurant to take home a coveted James Beard Award, La Belle Vie (and chef Tim McKee) holds a special place in the hearts of Minnesota food lovers. The dining room is a fantastic spot for a special occasion meal, but for something more casual and lively, check out the lounge. Order the 4-course tasting menu, or opt for a superbly prepared lamb burger with mint yogurt, paired with curry bearnaise fries. Be sure to try one of Johnny Michaels’ legendary cocktails — he’s the best barkeep in town.
Doug Flicker is one of the most underrated chefs in the country, and I wish I could dine at Piccolo weekly. Doug operates with a “less is more” mentality. That means a small dining space (I think it has fewer than 30 seats) and a menu boasting only 3- to 5-bite servings. It sounds as though it wouldn’t be enough, but the small portions keep things exciting and void of any unnecessary filler. I’ve never left hungry, and I’m a big guy. Order a bunch of things and create your own pseudo-tasting menu. I routinely order 2 servings of his pickled pig feet with truffles and scrambled egg. It’s that good.
There are plenty of great pizza places in the Twin Cities, but this will always be my favorite. Though there are quite a few branches around the cities, I fell in love with the only sit-down location in Highland Park. Their Neapolitan-style pizzas are topped with San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and more fantastic ingredients, and then fired in a wood-burning oven at a blistering 800 degrees for 90 to 120 seconds. These are 10-inch pizzas, so go with friends and order a few to share. I love all the pizzas, but on my last visit, I had the Toto (arugula, prosciutto, goat cheese, cracked red pepper and garlic), the Salame e Funghi and half of my kid’s Bambini. For a real treat, order your pie uncut and Doppio-style, meaning it comes with extra San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil and loads of mozzarella di bufala.
From a long list of homemade sausages to the double-cut Berkshire pork chop, the meat-centric menu keeps B&B overflowing with happy customers. Reservations should be made well in advance, so if you slacked off, wait for your table in the beer garden. This German-inspired playground for adults is open year-round (it’s enclosed and heated in the winter, perfect for those who can’t deal with the subzero temps), and serves amazing foot-long hot dogs, as well as cocktails and brewskis.
Even if it’s 20 below zero, I still crave Jeff Sommers’ amazing frozen treats. In the summer, I can’t get enough of the cantaloupe flavor. And since I am a coffee freak, I rarely pass up an opportunity to try one of the coffee flavors. The options are on an insane rotation; the website is updated every 3 minutes to keep patrons informed on what’s currently available — a nice feature if you have your eye on one of 20 chocolate varieties. Curious about a flavor but don’t want to commit? Simply pick 1 option as your main scoop, and then select something a little more out there as your Izzy — an additional little 3/4-ounce scoop that tops your cup or cone, gratis.
Some might call my obsession with the Minnesota State Fair an illness, but I just can’t help it. What could be better than eating every food imaginable on a stick, flying down the giant slide, critiquing seed art, people-watching (where do some of these folks come from?!), downing an ice-cold lemonade, dangling over loads of tractors and trucks on the Sky Glider, making out with my wife in Ye Olde Mill, and devouring a tower of Sweet Martha’s cookies (washed down with a big gulp of milk) … for 12 days in a row? Absolutely nothing.
Minnesotans have been clamoring for outdoor baseball for decades, and now we finally have it. Target Field is one of the most beautiful ballparks to take in a game. I’m biased, but every fan at the game should check out my very own AZ Canteen, which serves up amazing Canteen burgers (a blend of goat and lamb) with roasted tomatoes and charred onions. My season seats are along the third-base line with a stunning view of downtown Minneapolis. My son and I grab a Kramarczuk's sausage and a Killebrew root beer between innings whenever we go.
Fun fact: The Walker Art Center ranks among the 5 most-visited modern- and contemporary-art museums in the United States. It has film, photography, sculpture, performing arts and more, all housed in 1 beautiful space. On a nice day, a stroll through the adjacent sculpture garden is a must. You also need to get an obligatory photo next to Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry, which symbolizes Minneapolis pop culture about as much as Prince and Mary Tyler Moore.
Few things excite me as much as farmers markets. I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend morning than hanging with the wife and kid at the one in St. Paul’s Lowertown. I live for cruising the pastries, cheese, buffalo, venison, maple syrup, eggs, bagel sandwiches, honey, plants, produce, flowers and more. And because we Minnesotans are so hard-core, this market functions year-round. We’re a hardy bunch like that.
Here’s the Twin Cities’ best-kept culinary secret: This unassuming market in St. Paul is the next best thing to hopping a flight to Southeast Asia. In warmer months, you’ll find people selling plants and produce outdoors, but the main building offers stalls stuffed with crazy kids' toys, weird DVDs, clothing and music. I typically go straight to the food court in back. Head to Hmong Express Cuisine and queue up for made-to-order papaya salad. They take their spice seriously, and no one will give you an award for ordering a mouth-burning 5 out of 5 stars — so choose wisely. Check out other stands for awesome sausages, soups, fried pork belly and more.
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