a city and its food: minneapolis

I spent the weekend in Minneapolis, conveniently avoiding the snowstorm in Boston and inconveniently avoiding my homework. Being from the Southwest, and not being a WASP, I’ve always assumed the Midwest doesn’t have much to offer. Even when people I really respect told me how much I would love going to school in Madison, I chose Simmons instead. Even when I did a summer program at Northwestern in high school, I decided Chicago wasn’t as cool as New York. I’m a West Coast girl with family ties to the East Coast, so I write off the Midwest.

I was mistaken. St. Paul is adorable, and downtown Minneapolis, where I spent Thursday to Sunday, is manageable and city-like, while also really clean, like Disneyland. I was a little ashamed of my initial assumed dislike of the area, and I was really surprised by the awesome restaurants I found. Now I get why shows like The Next Great American Restaurant say that Minneapolis is a food city. Also, it’s really friendly to the dietarily challenged, so if you have food allergies, you won’t be unhappy here. Certainly it’s a very white bread city, racially and culturally, and it’s dead after 8pm, and there’s a lot of bison and cheese, but I was generally satisfied and intrigued by the food I got to eat.

Some general observations. Is it just that I’m not used to eating out lately, or is Minneapolis aioli land? Also, I had no idea that bison burgers were a real thing. That’s awesome but also a little unnerving. I declined to taste bison, since earlier this week I already stretched myself by eating octopus at a tapas restaurant. Also, the surprise of all surprises: I saw Jarritos for sale in more than one place. Finally, I was shocked to find out that Minnesotans are not allergic to spicy food. What’s more, their spicy food is innovative. Finally, it’s a pricey place. But then again, everywhere that’s not Tucson is.

Thursday for lunch I had Au Bon Pain, so nothing special there. Average salad, pretty awesome artichoke aioli as dressing. Dinner was at Hell’s Kitchen, which has an awesome atmosphere–it’s like what the Hard Rock Cafe tries to be, except not overly trendy and with live fiddling and bass violin playing. Also, a very clear menu with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options laid out. I had a chicken breast with portabellas and fries, and while their housemade ketchup (which includes pears, among other ingredients) was not something I wanted more than a couple tastes of, their chipotle mayonnaise was the most fabulous dipping sauce I have ever tasted. It is definitely something I want to make on my own. Hell’s Kitchen also has breakfast for dinner (and for breakfast, and for lunch), so I wish I had had the time and money to go back for another meal. After that, I met up with a good friend from high school and had a delicious margarita with cava (! my favorite wine ever) in it at Barrio, where all the brown people in Minneapolis work.

Friday: Free, made-to-order breakfast at the hotel. And then food truck lunch! This was so exciting and amazing, because I see food trucks on television shows, but aside from taco stands that proliferate through Tucson, that’s something that I didn’t grow up with. But Marquette Avenue was full of food trucks, and they had really awesome menu items, like innovative tacos and Mexican grilled corn. This wasn’t actually the best choice for me as far as going gluten and dairy free, but I really appreciated the fact that at one stand, when I finally figured out something I thought I could have, the guy was nice enough to suggest that I not buy anything from him because he couldn’t guarantee the gluten free-liness. I ended up getting “Mexican-style” tacos from the Get Sauced truck, which you actually have to qualify at food trucks, since tacos, in food truck culture, are essentially just containers to hold a variety of food combinations from all cultures. It had “Oaxacan style” salsa, and then they had a hotter version in a squeeze bottle, which I heartily added. Not having been to Oaxaca, I can’t say how authentic it was, but it was amazing regardless. It was like salsa puree, and I think there was some avocado in it to make it creamy, like salsa aioli mayonnaise. Whatever. But yum.

On Friday night, my cousin and her daughters picked me up and we went to Pizza Luce, which has my undying love because not only do they have gluten free pizza, but you can also get it with one of two varieties of vegan cheese, or with goat cheese. And you can do custom pizza or order one of their specialty ones, which they clearly mark with vegan-ability and gluten free-ability. Sooooooo nice of them. I ended up with a gluten free, vegan soy-free cheese pizza with spinach and mushrooms, just because that’s my go-to veggie choice when I’m overwhelmed by options. It’s amazing that I’ve only been gf for nine or so months, and I’m already used to not having much choice on menus. It’s almost unnerving to have options again, but I so appreciated this place for offering them. They also had non-pizza options that fit a lot of dietary restriction bills as well.

Saturday I was really excited to go to La Belle Crepe on Nicollet, because it advertised galettes, not just crepes. Galettes are traditionally made with buckwheat, which means they’re gluten free. But La Belle Crepe’s galettes are not traditional, they’re just whole wheat instead of bleached. So, fail. But if you don’t have to be gluten free, my roommate, who ate both a savory and sweet one, said they were amazing. I ended up with a salad from Panera, and I was not excited about it because it had both pears and dried cherries in it (some of my least favorite fruits, and also, I don’t like fruit in my salad unless it’s fruit that’s essentially vegetable, like avocado). But it was surprisingly spectacular, especially the cherry balsamic vinaigrette.

Dinner was at Nicollet Island, and it was various buffets for the conference closing ceremony. Nothing special there–I ate off of the vegetarian table, which had various vegetables with balsamic vinegar and rosemary on them.

So. Midwest, I’m sorry I underestimated you. And Minneapolis, thanks for the spicy inspiration. There are a lot of things I now want to try.

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in the kitchen: baked vegetable pakoras

After going to the Copley Farmers’ Market on Friday, I was really excited to do something with this:

I mean, look at it. And actually, that’s not a photo of mine, because I’m bad at photos (so this one is from Woophy.com). Mine is an even softer orange, and they called it “cheddar cheese cauliflower.” I had to have it. And since I also had some other vegetables in my fridge that needed to be eaten (why do carrots and celery lose their crunchiness so quickly here compared to Arizona?), I decided I should try to make pakoras. Pakoras are great because they’re a side dish that can easily be a main dish just with a larger portion. You can use just about any vegetable (I used carrot, cauliflower, and asparagus, but zucchini, onion, and broccoli are also good), and the batter is easy. It’s essentially deep fried veggies, but instead of deep frying, they’re baked, and they use garbanzo flour, so they’re gluten free. They really taste like junk and yet they’re not so bad for you. I think it’s the curry powder and the fact that it’s not regular old flour that makes you think you’re eating actual deep fried things, even though you’re not.

I had a recipe, but as I went about doing it, I realized that it must have been more of a pakora pancake kind of recipe, and the time I ate pakoras at a restaurant, it was more like deep fried individual veggie pieces. So, even though I followed the recipe’s proportions as far as baking powder:flour:curry:salt, I decided to try and make them resemble what I’ve had before (though I had them in the Czech Republic, so that’s not the biggest indication that I was doing it right). So that’s it–an egg, some oil, garbanzo flour, baking powder, salt, and curry. Toss the veggies in it, bake it for 20 minutes, and done! Since lately I can’t eat anything without hot sauce, I decided to throw some sriracha on them. If you can have dairy, they’re traditionally served with raita sauce. Hummus would probably be good, too. And now I’m enjoying some cool mango sorbet.