What first comes to your mind when you think of Minnesota? You betcha! Lots of Scandinavians, jello salads (ugh), blonds (ok), the Vikings (hmm) and lutefisk (OOH BOY!). But this state which houses the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis is a perfect example of various other worlds and cultures entering into the toe-headed majority and creating a fragrant new world of sounds, sights and flavors.

Since my daughter married into a Scandinavian family (named…WHAT ELSE! Johnson!) and moved there, we’ve had the opportunity to check out the local scene. I’m not listing these “must see/do” sights in order to boast or brag, but to inspire you to look for the little sub-units wherever you live and make them broaden your palate in terms of food, music and culture.

So, here are some of the reasons Minnesota is the new place to go:

  • 1) It’s the home of both Leif Erickson, Bob Dylan, Judy Garland and Charles Lindbergh. You can visit (almost) all of their home towns (Erickson was a conqueror/explorer) while doing a great Dylan impersonation while driving “along Highway sixty ooooonnnnnnne.”
  • 2) The North Shore of Lake Superior-one of the most beautiful bodies of water, and inspiration to the song “The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” There are cabins along the lake, and the whole area is a wonderful playground for fishing, canoeing, hiking, biking, and eating at Betty’s Pies. (ever eat a “saurkraut pie”? Shazam!
  • 3) Innova Records-one of the trendsetting jazz labels is located in the Twin Cities, and releases material both mainstream and outside.
  • 4) Dakota’s-Possibly THE most underrated jazz club in the US. This tiny joint is host to artists like Charles Lloyd, Chick Corea, Cecile McLoren Salvant and The Bad Plus. Not only that, but the food is great!
  • 5) Speaking of food, the Twin Cities is possibly the best kept secret for ethnic dining. You have wood burning stove pizza heaven, either traditionally or experimentally. Of the former, Punch Pizza is the closest I’ve ever tasted to true Neopolitan-tasting pizza. On the latter, Lola’s Pizza serves one with bacon and eggs, another with Kim Chee (yeah!) and one with Korean paste in the meat sauce. Total hint of heaven.
  • 6) Juicy Lucy’s! I live in the state where In ‘N Out Burgers seem to be the mecca of most Americans, but lemme tell you-the Minnesotan “juicy lucy” (spelled and named with variations due to legalities) SMASHES every challenger. The cheese within the meat is an epiphany, and the best places vying for #1 are a) Matt’s Bar (where there’s ALWAYS a line going outside by customers waiting to be served by what look like biker body guards, b) 5-8 club, which is the atmospheric antithesis, c) the Nook (classic sports bar) and d) The Blue Door Bar (which is a hipster hangout). There’s also a place in Grand Marais called My Sister’s Place which takes the Juicy Lucy to a higher plane by adding (brace yourselves) peanut butter and mayo. It’s other worldly!!!
  • 7) Other ethnic restaurants such as a) Casa Lupita which is the best Mexican joint within 5 states, b) Brasa, making great Caribbean/jerk meals and c) Smalley’s in Stillwater which makes the HOTTEST chicken wings in THE WORLD! No one can eat the entire basket. I’ve tried, and I thought I had a stomach for hot sauce. The flavor burned on my fingers for 2 days!!!
  • 8) You want Americana?!? Snuffy’s makes a chocolate malt that will make you think you’re in Mayberry. My daughter goes for the phosphates (grape), but the malt keeps calling me back.
  • 9) Coffee fan? Forget Starbucks! You got Limu, Caribou,  Dunn Bro’s, and about 50 little independent places that all beat the stuffing out of “Seattle’s Finest.”
  • 10) Want to got to a game? Minnesota has the BEST scalpers anywhere. I’ve never paid more than 75% of the ticket price and always get great seats. These guys are so good, they even each show you a map of the stadium to give you an idea of your seat location. One guy even gave me his business card. There is nothing as exhilarating as negotiating for hockey seats in a 20 degree snow storm. I’m in love!
  • 11) Holy Land Deli-Being Greek, I’m always on the search for Middle Eastern food. This place makes a Gyro the size of my granddaughter’s head! They have varieties of dates from Tunisia, Arabia, Egypt, Iraq and Israel, and their herb selection makes me fill up my suitcase every time I come to visit. Then, there’s this sauce they put on their French Fries-I’m going to take it to a chemist to figure out what is in it some day. “Heaven….I’m in Heaven….”
  • 12) Didn’t even mention the State Fair. You only need one sentence for it: Don’t eat for a month before going.

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