Category: fried (Page 2 of 2)

Wedding Weekend: Heartland, Saint Paul Hotel, & Amsterdam Bar (again)

One week ago, on a sunny fall afternoon, Jake and I were married amongst the company of a small group of family and friends at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN.

Because we decided to get married with relative spontaneity, we kept the ceremony simple.  We look forward to hosting a wider reception in the spring so we can celebrate with many more of our family and friends.  We are humbled by the generosity and kindness of all who have assisted us and wished us well as we continue to share life together.

After the ceremony, we enjoyed dinner at Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul, MN.  The moment we arrived, I leaped out of my wedding dress.  It was beautiful and painstakingly altered.  And even with half the boning removed, it was still uncomfortable, so I changed into something that would allow me to enjoy dinner.

Photo by Pat Carney, The Carney Group, Minneapolis, MN

Upon arrival, I enjoyed sneaking bites of bread and cheeses and giggled as I watched some of the children discover their love for whole grain mustard and pickled watermelon rind. The chefs provided plump burgers for the children who preferred one.

Green salad with sweet vinaigrette, spiced nuts, and roasted cauliflower, crispy-skinned white fish with pickled onions on top of creamy beans, and apple tart with whipped cream and candied nuts.

As I said my goodbyes that evening, I used my fingers to swipe tastes of whipped cream and tender slices of fruit from my tart.  Then, we headed to the St. Paul Hotel for our one-day honeymoon where we were greeted by a man in a top hat.

This was our first stay at the Saint Paul Hotel and it felt like old-school luxury.  My favorite perks included access to the workout facility on the top floor and wi-fi for no additional fees. The service was polished and professional, though much involved tipping.  If you stay here, remember to keep some cash on hand. In the morning, we treated ourselves to a room service breakfast, a first for both of us.

Growing up, when we traveled as a family, we only stayed at hotels that included free breakfast. My parents outfitted us in fluorescent fanny packs in which we kept our lunches. I remember how we sat on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, and ate sandwiches and carrot sticks together.

We ordered a large pot of coffee and omelets filled with ham, green pepper, onion, and cheddar. Each came with hash browns and toast.  In addition, we ordered a fruit plate, having no idea each portion would be so large.

Although the price of this breakfast was astronomical (delivery fee & automatic gratuity, plus an extra tip because we weren’t sure if we were supposed to tip on an automatic gratuity?), the meal was made with care. The breakfast cart was covered in a white tablecloth. The omelet platters were not only huge, but satisfying. I was most impressed with the hashbrowns’ crispiness.  The fruit platter included yogurt and sweetbread and the assortment of fruit avoided being one of those crappy versions that mostly includes under-ripe melon.  We enjoyed choosing from the variety of condiments such as cream, butter, peanut butter, tiny jars of jam, ketchup, and Tabasco.

As critiques, the room did not include a coffee maker with complimentary coffee, although I may have been some in the lobby.  Our large pot of coffee, as overpriced as it was, tasted strong and freshly brewed.  Our room included a mini fridge, but it was only equipped to carry snacks for sale. We actually managed to eat most of our food, so I did not have to beg the hotel to ask the kitchen to store our leftovers, and we were full until the evening.

We spent the afternoon wandering around downtown St. Paul, stopping at Cossetta’s for a snack of small cannolis.  Then headed to the Amsterdam Bar And Hall for dinner.

The food was as good as it was when we dined there for my bachelorette outing.  We decompressed over drinks.  Jake was enjoyed ordering Trappist ale on tap and I sipped a tart cocktail made with lemon and apricot brandy.

We dipped the crisp fries in mustard and curry mayo and shared small boodje sandwiches on toasted buns.  I returned for the spicy calamari and shrimp salad while Jake chose smoked pork and spicy shrimp.  Surprisingly, our favorite sandwich was the most simple.  It was made with warm, herby cheese and a meaty tomato slice that tasted marinaded or roasted.

I’m not sure how I felt about the Dutch gin sampler.  It’s not that the sampler was bad, but more that I’m not sure I enjoy sipping straight gin.  Spicy curry + gin = burning.

We ordered creme brulee for dessert and ate it in bed.  I bypassed the room service delivery charge by ordering it from the Saint Paul Grill’s bartender.  Somehow, the kitchen managed to pack a creme brulee into a take-out container, crispy sugar crust and all.

Wedding, over.  Fall break, over.  It’s back to the grind.  Salad lab ends, baking lab begins and my five a.m. wake-up call resumes. . .

Special thanks to our family and friends, Central Lutheran Church, Heartland Restaurant, The Carney Group, and Elsa at The Wedding Shoppe on Grand Ave. 

A Mall Date & "Bachelorette" Party: Tucci Benucch & Amstardam Bar

Jake and I are getting married.

Not too long ago, we spontaneously picked a date and made it official.

In less than a week, we’re going to have a small ceremony with just our immediate family, with a reception later the spring.  What was supposed to be bare bones has become more complicated and large source of stress.  I can’t remember the last time I spent a whole weekend at our home in Fargo.  My weekends are spent driving to and from the Twin Cities after busy weeks of school, work, and writing.

Despite my most earnest intentions, I am wearing something white, shiny, and uncomfortable. I made the seamstress loosen my dress, twice, before I deemed it tolerable.  She commented, “But it’s your wedding. You won’t feel like eating much anyway, right?”  I wanted to punch her.

This weekend, I cracked into tears as we exited the car after our three and a half hour drive following a hectic workweek.  I felt dangerously close to a Jungian mental break.  Should this occur within the next six days, I hope I’ll at least have a Red Book to show.

Saturday afternoon, Jake and I grabbed some alone time.  The rare kind where we weren’t driving somewhere or watching 30 Rock on our couch.  Some may call this a date.  We completed errands at the Mall of America and had lunch at Tucci Benucch before our respective bachelor and bachelorette parties.  Before we moved to Fargo, we lived near to the Mall of America and occasionally went on mall dates.  We ate at Tucci Benucch a couple of times before they hired Asher Miller as their new Executive Chef (I’m not sure if he is still in this position).

Knowing that I did not plan to drink much that evening, I started with a mimosa, $6.99 while Jake ordered coffee which arrived freshly brewed, $2.99.

Our server brought us warm bread and garlic-flecked olive oil.

We ordered a starter of calamari, $9 to share.  For an entree, I ordered a half serving of Scottish salmon with lemon risotto and arugula salad, $13, while Jake ordered a half serving of spaghetti carbonara, $9. 

Upon delivery, the calamari smelled strongly of seafood but tasted fresh.
The texture of the calamari was very tender and was salted to the point of being almost too salty.  The breading remained on the seafood, though it seemed to have absorbed a little more oil than I would have found ideal.  Overall, we enjoyed nibbling at the calamari, but left some on the plate when the combination of the seafood and the aoli felt too oily.  

The half portion entrees were more than enough for lunch.  
The lemon risotto was, thankfully, subtly lemon-scented.  It was creamy and rich, though, it, like the calamari, bordered on almost too salty.  Since the small fillet was skinless, some of the salmon flesh was a little crispy-chewy where it was seared but the inside was moist.  The salmon, like the calamari, tasted fresh.  The arugula salad provided a needed bite and acidity.  I doused the dish with more lemon juice since the richness and saltiness of the risotto was making me dive for my mimosa. 
Jake’s carbonara was not what I had envisioned.  He said he enjoyed the dish. Even the runny egg yolk, which he has typically been wary of.  I liked the flavor of the rendered bacon chunks. While I didn’t feel the sauce tasted bad, I thought the dish was over-sauced and wondered what made it brown.  
Overall, we had decent meal, though the combination of the calamari and our entree selections were very rich.  Our server seemed overwhelmed with tables but was very pleasant.  
In the evening, the boys hit The Strip Club Meat & Fish while the girls met at Amsterdam Bar & Hall.

Jake raved about the meal and limoncello he shared at The Strip Club. 

We shared orders of Amsterdam Frites and dipped them in herb garlic mayo and curry ketchup. 
The skin-on fries were crispy and salted just right.  We enjoyed both dipping sauces, though the curry ketchup was my favorite.  I also enjoyed that the fries were topped with raw onion.  The others left most of the onions behind, while I awkwardly clamped bits of onion onto each bite of fry. 
I also ordered a small house salad with croutons, shaved Gouda, and house vinaigrette, $4, plus a petite dutch sandwich (broodje) with curried calamari and shrimp, $5.

All of the salad greens were pristine, the homemade croutons were full of umami, and the vinaigrette was lovely.  Tart in a well-balanced way, and flavorful.

The curried seafood sandwich was truly one of the best things I’ve eaten for a while.  It induced a moment where I just paused and reflect on how good it tasted. The bun was toasted and buttered. The calamari was tender, the shrimp were firm, and both tasted fresh. The creamy curry sauce was surprisingly spicy enough to induce a a sweat.  I couldn’t tell you what type of curry I tasted, my only clue being that the sauce was rosy-hued.  I used the bun to scrape every bit of sauce from the flimsy cardboard boat and am plotting a way. . . any way. . .to return for another sandwich, soon.

The rest of the evening matched my introverted style. Chill and conversation-centric.  In search of evening dessert, we bypassed Meritage’s hour long wait for Kincaid’s where a table of women applauded my bachelorette party hat.  I can’t describe the hat further than mentioning that the girls made me remove it when we inquired about tables at Meritage.  The evening ended over leftover smears of a fried waffle sundae and bread pudding with pear soaked in bourbon sauce.

Despite the stress, I remind myself as often as I can that our family and friends are doing everything they can to make this experience special.  It’s also hard to think my mom won’t be here, as she passed away in 2008.  For now, I’ll take one day at a time and enjoy the well wishes from friends and family.  

Minnesota State Fair Visit 2012: Great Balls Of Fire!

I look forward to going to the Minnesota State Fair like I look forward to Christmas.  Possibly more.

Like many other Minnesotans, I grew up making my annual pilgrimage to this Great Minnesota Get-Together.

The fair reminds me of an old high school romance who took me to ride the Sky Ride cable and read me a poem asking me to be his girlfriend.  It rhymed and was illustrated with stick-figures that depicted us holding hands.  The fair brings to mind my first taste of cheese curds.  And it makes me think of my mom’s last visit to the fair, during her last summer on earth.  She managed to rally for an hour, so we could push her around in a wheelchair and collect some of her favorite foods. These usually included a cream puff, skin-on french fries, a pronto pup, and cheese curds, of course.

For years, my running favorite treat were Australian Battered Potatoes doused in both ranch and cheese sauces.  One year, my mom and I ended a fair outing with these potato planks which inundated us with enough grease to result in horrible stomach aches.  I remember curling up in bed and praying for daylight.  And thus, I never ate Australian Battered Potatoes again.

As an adult, my visits to the fair are brief, but no less anticipated.  The crowds and the heat drive me batty.  Now that we live out of town, a weeknight jaunt was no longer an option so we gritted our teeth and visited on the last Saturday of this year’s run.  The day hot and the sun relentlessly beat down on us as we ran between un-air conditioned buildings and scouted for spots of sidewalk shade.  We bumped into the people who randomly stopped mid-step, avoided collisions with massive strollers, and waited in lines for bathrooms.

During our 2012 State Fair visit, we shared a couple of old favorites and a few new foods, referencing Heavy Table’s definitive 2012 MN State Fair Food Tour.

By 10 a.m. we had already laid a base of coffee within our stomachs and added $5 cheese curds from the Mouth Trap in the food building.

I’ve had the curds from the Mouth Trap and I’ve had curds from the stand on Dan Patch.  Personally, I choose to just go to the Mouth Trap.  There’s nothing significant that I can add to the MN State Fair cheese curd conversation so I will end by saying I like these.  I always like these, and I don’t visit the state fair without these.

Next, we stopped at My Sausage Sister & Me, a vendor also located in the food building.  I have never visited them before, but read many positive reviews of their Great Balls Of Fire, $5.50, a new offering.

These meatballs were by and far, the best thing we tasted at the 2012 fair, if not at any fair.  They were notably juicy and compellingly spiced.  Not quite like traditional sausage, not quite like jerk, and pleasantly spicy.  They brought to mind Spoonriver’s flavorful lamb burger.  My Sausage Sister & Me offers a variety of squirt bottles of sauces.  We chose the creamy cucumber sauce which jived well with the strong flavors.

We tried another frequently mentioned new food, Famous Dave’s Ragin’ Ankles, $6.

The pork was tender and moist, and cleanly fell off the bone.  They were fatty in a pleasant way and we enjoyed the sauce which was slightly spicy and sweet without being too sweet.  Overall, we enjoyed the BBQ ankles, but thought the meatballs were better.  I wished the ankles had a little crust or crunchiness.

Saturday’s beverage breaks included Lift Bridge’s Hop Dish, $4.50, from the Ballpark Cafe.  Jake thought Hop Dish tasted a lot like Bell’s elusive Hopslam, his favorite beer, adding that it had a “similar start with a smoother finish.”  He enjoyed it so much that he tried to find it in the stores that evening only to learn it’s not available, yet, in bottles.

We shared a refreshingly cold Black Cherry Soda, $3, from the Spring Grove Soda Pop stand.  We both thought it was pretty tasty with no complaints.  I was satisfied with a few sips since it was so sweet my lips were sticky.

The third new food we tried was a cannoli from Ole’s Cannoli.  Cannoli’s happen to be one of Jake’s favorite desserts.

Jake ordered a plain cannoli with its ends dipped in chocolate chips, $4.50.  The cannoli was generously sized.  Its shell was crispy and the filling was thick and slightly tart, reminding me of cheesecake.  Jake had no complaints.  As an individual who doesn’t routinely seek out desserts, I found two bites enough.  I have a low threshold for desserts that are rich and sweet.

My last bite at the fair was a fried onion blossom.  Ever since Fargo’s Ribfest debacle in June, I’ve had a hankering for an onion blossom.  I forked over $8 for this large monstrosity.

The batter was crispy in a mouth-puncturing way and tasted like it was seasoned with nothing in particular.  The ranch dip tasted cheap and at least one, heaping tablespoon of grease pooled on the bottom of the plate.  The only redeeming qualities of this onion blossom were that it was fried, the onion was tender and sweet, and it wasn’t the $1 shrimp cocktail.

And with this terrible onion, our brief 2012 Minnesota State Fair visit came to a close with little nausea, stomach discomfort, or ailment that couldn’t be cured with a good nap.

Our closing words of wisdom are to go for the balls, my friends.  Go for the balls.

A Romp Through The Red River Valley Fair & A Gyro Rant

This past weekend, Jake headed North to Grand Forks while I drove east.

On the way to the Twin Cities, I stopped at the Red River Valley Fair in search of lunch.  At 11 a.m., the temperature had already crept well into the 90’s and the fairgrounds were mostly deserted.  I parked in a dusty gravel lot and wandered through the unattended gate.  Some of the animal exhibits appeared to be open while the midway was closed until noon.

I wondered if I would only be in the company of fair employees, until I encountered a handful of adults trying to pacify bored children with fruity drinks.  Obviously, the party wasn’t in full swing yet.  The midway was expansive and rows of food stalls advertised guilty pleasures of the fried kind.  I imagined what I’d miss.  It was unfortunate Jake and I couldn’t attend together.

I meandered through the food stalls searching for a vendor who was ready for business.  Santa Lucia’s booth had food on the griddle so I stopped for a gyro (Santa Lucia is a small local chain with a full-service restaurant serving Greek and Italian food and smaller locations offering take and bake pizza).

When it comes to gyros, bigger is just not better.  I want my gyros constructed with intention and functionality by the foil cone.  Iceberg lettuce is bad, as its rendered slimy and stinky when placed on hot foods.  Onion is not optional since it cuts the richness of the meat and yogurt.  I’m down with cones of processed gyro meat as long as its shaves are thin and crispy around the edges.  Griddling the meat can be good enough.

The last gyros I bought from Aladdin’s in Fargo cured my cyclical gyro craving, but the second one kind of sucked.  Although the fries were freshly fried, they were covered in a seasoning salt that reeked of what tasted like citric acid.  While I waited, I definitely heard the ping of a microwave.  I assume it was related to my gyro because I was the only customer in the store.  I microwave food in the privacy of my own home, but I’ll be damned if I pay something else to.  On a positive note, the employee waived the charge for a side of hot sauce, which was nice.

At the Red River Valley Fair, the man from Santa Lucia’s warmed the pita bread on the griddle, gently filled it with meat, grilled vegetables, yogurt sauce, and fresh salad, and formed it into the iconic foil cone. I was surprised that the meat wasn’t shaved from a cone.  Instead, I noticed thin, rectangular meat slices like those found in frozen gyro kits.  The bland meat was saved by its garnishes.  Solid yogurt sauce, caramelized vegetables, and salad made from crisp romaine and fresh parsley.

I cringed when my gyro and lemonade tallied $12, but such is the price I’ll pay in hope of street meat that just. . . doesn’t suck.

Actually, Gyros might be in the category where the bad ones are still good.  Just less good.  Kind of like pizza.

It was an odd experience eating a gyro while sitting, alone, in an empty carnival.  I savored my meal while I listened to the songs of food stand employees and returned the blank stares of ride operators.

On the way to my car, I bought a small mound of cheese curds, $6.  They were offered in about four flavors and I was kind of horrified that they were sold by buckets of increasing sizes.  Although they didn’t seem to be freshly battered, the crunchy coating was light and squeaked between my teeth.  Plus, they were as grease-less as cheese curds could possibly manage.

A step above the variety shellacked in that course, breadcrummy coating.

My short stay in Minneapolis was its own type of comfort food.  Nurtured by family and reunited with friends.  Cruising up and down 35W and parallel parking.  I nailed it twice on the first try.  Maybe it’s like riding a bike.

I tried to stave off home sickness when I joined a partly drunk/partly sober group of college Alma maters for a walk.  We wandered past the glowing Institute of Arts, to Eat Street where we stopped at A Slice of New York for late night pizza by the slice.  The staff patiently warmed our giant slices and tucked them into paper bags as we told stories.  Some raved about their slices of tomato and feta, while I managed to polish off a plank topped with bell peppers and gyro meat.  As if a gyro nearly 12 hours ago wasn’t enough. . .

On the way back to the Twin Cities, I briefly explored a couple of the towns I had been admiring along I-94, though I was to harried to sit down for a meal.  And as is probably typical outside of larger cities, the shops along the main streets were closed on Sunday afternoon.  I noticed The Albany Restaurant located along main street.  Its windows were adorned with handwritten pieces of paper advertising an eclectic mix of chow mein, fried catfish, and spaghetti.  I made a mental note to return.

This beautiful steeple is visible from the interstate and belongs to a Catholic church in Albany, MN.

Tomorrow evening, we’re going to explore Fargo’s Downtown Street Fair.  Then, we’re heading to Remer, MN for an epic, lake cabin adventure with Jake’s siblings and cousins.  I’m leaving the laptop at home, but will update early next week.  In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter.

What’s a Labby’s?: Fried Pickles, Asian Bombs for an Asian Bomb, & CherryBerry

Labby’s Bar & Grill
1100 19th Avenue N
Fargo, ND 58102

One evening, Jake brought home the remnants of a happy hour’s past.  I tasted a few bites of fried pickles.  These weren’t the more common version of soggy fried pickles chips that are either too greasy or dropping their batter, but tart pickle spears and cheese wrapped in an eggroll wrapper.  Even though the leftovers were aged an unknown number of hours, I enjoyed the tart pickle spear and the crispy eggroll wrapper that kept everything snug.

Jake also bought me a small salad, which I decided to pack for lunch the next morning.

As I was whirling in my usual tornado the next morning, I grabbed a small takeout box from the fridge.  When I arrived at work, I noticed a strong smell, and felt glop pooled in the bottom of my bag.  I had grabbed the box of appetizers instead of the salad, and the uncovered cups of side sauces had tipped, creating a fragrant mess.

To replace our Friday evening snacks, we placed a takeout order at Labby’s for fried pickles, $7.99 and “Asian Bombs,” $9.99.

What’s a Labby?

Our journey to Fargo has included many “What’s a _____?” questions.  Jake had asked “What’s a Hornbachers?” on our first day in Fargo.  Hence, it has become a sort of inside joke, for better or for worse (i.e. “What’s a Taco Shop?”).  

*For my Twin Cities readers, Hornbachers is Fargo-Moorhead’s major grocery store chain, comparable to Cub Foods.  We chuckled at the major grocery chain’s name of Hornbachers, but realized that the name Kowalski’s wasn’t, particularly, more user friendly .  
Labby’s is down the street from our residence and I have often wondered “What’s a Labby’s?”  Is it Labby’s, as in Abby’s?  What sort of mysterious bar-slash-family restaurant hybrid lurks within our walking distance strip mall and what exactly is a Labby?
On closer examination, I noticed the windows were decorated with dogs.  But, of course. I should have known.  My favorite kind of labby.  
The interior screamed sports bar, was surprisingly spacious, and bustled with customers.  It was one of those surreal experiences where the outsides do not match one’s visual expectations for the insides.  Kind of like The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but not quite as cool.  And lacking fauns. 
Again, I enjoyed Labby’s version of a fried pickle, which I have not seen in the Twin Cities.  The pickle spear was perfectly tart and sour, which offset the richness of the cheese, crispy wrapper, and creamy ranch.  As much as I like this fried pickle concept, it left me fantasizing about a version made with cream cheese.  
An even better than the questions, “What’s a Hornbachers?” “What’s a Taco Shop?” and “What’s a Labby’s?” is, “What’s an Asian Bomb?”
Labby’s Asian Bomb tasted like a wonton wrapper filled with a moist chicken mixture, seasoned with sweet chili sauce, and hot pepper.  I don’t know what kind of pepper it was, but it appeared to be of a green variety.  

The Asian Bombs were fine and I enjoyed the small kick, but felt the flavor of the sweet chili sauce in the filling, combined with the accompanying dipping sauce was redundant.

Not bad, not something I’d crave enough to pay $9.99 for again, but they tasted fine and were fried well. Both items were fried well, as they were crispy and lacked greasiness.  Fried goodies worth considering for a conveniently located happy hour and pleasant atmosphere.  

What’s a CherryBerry?
110 19th Ave N.
Fargo, ND 58102

On the way home, we stopped inside Labby’s adjacent CherryBerry neighbor.  If I am not mistaken, CherryBerry is located at the Mall of America.

A fan of occasionally indulging in tart, Korean-style frozen yogurt, I nearly wet my pants when I took in the self-serve set-up in all it’s glory.  Jake and I parted ways to adorn our own yogurt creations.  Who needs the Rorschach or TEMAS when there’s CherryBerry?

Jake took one look at my CherryBerry and guffawed.  Before this half-eaten photo was taken, his CherryBerry was deliberately constructed according to an elaborate strawberry/chocolate scheme with flavor, color, and architectural sub-schemes.  And it was delicious.

My CherryBerry was much less organized.  There was no construction plan and my inner dialogue was more like “Ooo, tangerine!  Those are pretty.  I like fruit.  Shiny mango orbs!”  I strongly preferred the plain, tart yogurt over the puckery pomegranate variety and the fluorescent tangerine, which tasted like the smell of a Lipsmacker.  

The orbs of mango and strawberry gel provided tasty splashage, but more is not always better.  Next time, I will stick to my tried and true combination of one or two fresh fruits and chocolate chips (and mochi, if they had it).

At least I am now aware of our dangerously, easy access to Korean-style frozen yogurt and fried pickles.

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