From corn dogs to key wot, here’s a rundown of our dining diaries’ greatest hits over the past seven days. What were your top eats of the week? Share the details in the comments section.
Corn dog at the Minnetonka Drive In
I go to the Minnesota State Fair three or four times each year. On one of those visits — never on the first day, when I taste my way through every new fair food that I can find — I allow myself what I consider to be a pinnacle deep-fried, on-a-stick experience, a corn dog. Just one, a rare display of dietary self-discipline on my part.
And it’s a corn dog, never a Pronto Pup. The Pronto Pup, the State Fair’s first on-a-stick delicacy, materialized 73 years ago. Yeah, I’m into history, but I’m bored by Pronto Pups, they’re basically a hot dog dipped in pancake batter and immersed in hot oil.
The beauty of the corn dog is the cornmeal, which gives its doughy wrapper a slightly crunchy texture, a slightly sweet flavor and a distinctive golden color. And because Minnesota is one of the country’s top-producing corn states (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we’re No. 4!), the corn dog feels like it’s a reflection of the state’s agricultural bounty. I know, that’s a stretch, but I’m sticking with it.
By the way, I realize that it’s defying some kind of unwritten state law when my corn dog garnish of choice is ketchup. If the mustard were a tangier Dijon, perhaps I’d make the switch, but it’s invariably that flat-tasting, fake-looking French’s Mustard (if Sherwin-Williams had a paint in this tint, they’d christen it “Screaming Yellow Zonkers”), and that insult to mustard is beneath the perfection that is the corn dog.
With no State Fair this year, I got to thinking about how I was probably going to have to forgo my annual corn dog indulgence. Then I pulled under the carport at this classic Lake Minnetonka summer destination and perused the menu. When I saw those two magical words, I know that I would have to save my go-to, the double-patty Minnetonka Twin burger, for another day.
“Everyone loves corn dogs, from children to old adults, and you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg,” said owner Dave Bennyhoff. He’s had plenty of first-hand market research to back up that belief, because he and his family have been serving corn dogs for 60 years.
There’s a secret behind the allure of the drive-in’s approach to the corn dog, which calls upon a beef-pork weiner ($3.25): Bennyhoff first plunges them into the pressure fryer that he reserves for his (excellent) fried chicken, then finishes them in an open fryer.
“The oil in the pressure fryer picks up a little bit of the flavor of the chicken,” he said.
Bennyhoff, who has devoted his career to running the restaurant that his parents started in 1961 as an A & W franchise, eats a corn dog at least once a week, usually on Thursday evenings, when he’s busy overseeing a parking lot overrun with classic hot rods. One night earlier this week he was working late, and grabbed a corn dog to eat on the run.
“It was heavenly,” he said. (Rick Nelson)
4658 Shoreline Dr., Spring Park, 952-471-9383. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Key wot and alecha wot at Agelgil Ethiopian Restaurant
My eyebrows were sweating but I kept going back for more of the key wot, a powerfully hot stew of cubed beef slow-cooked with onions, garlic, cardamom and berbere — Ethiopian chili powder. Balancing it out in the beef combo was another stew, alecha wot, which was as mild as the other was fiery.
Both were piled into two huge rounds of the Ethiopian flatbread injera, the perfect vehicle to scoop up those fragrant stews.
My takeout dinner earlier this week contained only two of the signature dishes from this way-south St. Paul Ethiopian restaurant. Co-owner Tsegereda Cherinat said the place is known for its agelgil, a basket containing several meat dishes, vegetables and cheese, from which the restaurant gets its name.
“When you bring the dish,” she said, “people feel they’re back home.”
Agelgil opened in a former coffee shop two years ago. Cherinat and her business partner Konjit Kidane worked for six months with no staff to save enough to buy the building and renovate the kitchen when they had the opportunity. They applied for business loans and were rejected repeatedly. Then they linked up with Community Reinvestment Fund, USA, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that addresses social and economic inequality, and has invested in 180 restaurants nationwide, many of which are owned by immigrants and people of color. Agelgil’s owners secured the small business loan through CRF, in partnership with RBC Global Asset Management.
“We didn’t give up,” said Cherinat, a longtime entrepreneur who hails from Ethiopia by way of South Africa. “I always believe if a thing is going to be for you, it will be, when the time comes.”
Open for takeout and indoor dining (although the coffee ceremony, which guests are meant to linger over, is not available during the pandemic). (Sharyn Jackson)
2585 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-340-3291. Open 9 a.m.-midnight daily.
Dill pickle hot sauce from Lunds & Byerlys
One of the best finds in my gift bag from the Taste 50 Birthday Feast, the star-studded dinner last fall celebrating 50 years of the Star Tribune’s Taste section, was this unassuming little bottle.
I have been singing its praises ever since to anyone who will listen. Dill pickle hot sauce, you say? Whatever do you use it for? To which I reply, Everything.
I put it on scrambled eggs. In turkey sandwiches. I dip quesadillas in it. I drizzle it on chili and lentil soup. Dunk potato chips in it. Douse a salad in it.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone how versatile this game-changing condiment is. It’s sour and just a bit spicy, and doesn’t most food need a little of both? Before you answer that: no, I haven’t put it on vanilla ice cream yet, but guess what I’m going to my freezer to do right after I finish writing this. (S.J.)
Cider Licks at Pine Tree Apple Orchard
I clearly have State Fair on the brain, because when the temperature climbed into the 90s on Thursday, my first thought was getting my hands on my favorite fairgrounds portable air conditioner, the frozen cider pops sold at the Pine Tree Apple Orchard booth in the Agriculture Horticulture building. Are they my favorite not on-a-stick State Fair treat? Possibly. They’re easily one of the fair’s top fat-free goodies.
They’re sold at the orchard in White Bear Lake, but another source, the Golden Fig, is much closer to my house. Owner Laurie Crowell, one of the Twin Cities’ most discerning and enthusiastic purveyors of locally produced foods, has been featuring them in her freezer case for years. Why?
“Because we love them,” she said. “The cider isn’t sweet-sweet, it’s got a hint of tartness, which makes it even more refreshing.”
“Refreshing” is a spot-on description for these icy, essence-of-apples treats, especially on a sweltering day. In a few weeks, Crowell will also start carrying the orchard’s (non-frozen) cider and its fantastic apple cider doughnuts.
Here’s a measure of the doughnuts’ appeal: “They once may or may not have gotten me out of a speeding ticket,” Crowell said with a laugh. While hauling 20 dozen of them from the orchard to her Grand Avenue shop, her fast-moving vehicle caught the attention of a squad car. “He asked me why I was speeding, and I told him I had to get these doughnuts to the store,” she said. Ever the marketer, she offered him a doughnut, and he replied by sharing a few words on the perils of speeding. Not a bad trade-off.
Back to the Cider Licks ($2 at the Golden Fig). With no fair this year, I plan to stock my freezer with them. They won’t last long. (R.N.)
Golden Fig, 794 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-602-0144, open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. Pine Tree Apple Orchard, 450 Apple Orchard Road, White Bear Lake, 651-429-7202, pinetreeappleorchard.com, call for hours.
BLT at Wise Acre Eatery
It’s August, which means it’s peak bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich season. Because BLTs are a relatively takeout-stable item, I’ve been ordering them with some frequency during the past few weeks.
So far, I’ve been happy at Heather’s, Sandcastle, Mill Valley Market, Dakota Junction and the Birchwood Cafe, along with this farm-to-table gem, which has a literal link to the land in that the restaurant operates its own farm in Plato, Minn., about 45 minutes west of the Twin Cities.
Naturally, the sandwich’s three key ingredients all hail from that busy operation, and that sourcing is everything.
The bacon — sonnets could be written in glorification of this bacon — is from pigs that have been bred over the years at the farm, a hybrid of prized Red Wattle, Duroc and Mangalitsa characteristics. The bacon is processed to the restaurant’s specifications at Taylor Meats in Watertown, Minn., and carefully fried, in all its fatty glory, on the kitchen’s flat top grill until each thick-cut slab achieves a delectable crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside quality.
The farm’s heirloom tomatoes, juicy and colorful, are first-rate, and the lettuce boasts a snappy crunch. The bread is a grilled sourdough, baked at nearby Turtle Bread Co.
“We felt like it delivers on crustiness and chewiness, and that it holds up to the inherent sloppiness of a really good BLT,” said Jimmy Red Layer, the restaurant’s general manager.
Chef Butch O’Brien’s secret ingredient in this otherwise uncomplicated formula replaces mayonnaise with an aioli crafted from some of that extraordinary bacon fat. What an inspired idea.
For those who prefer to prepare their BLTs at home, the Wise Acre makes it easy: the farm’s bacon, tomatoes and lettuce are for sale in the restaurant’s Farm Market & Deli.
The sandwich made its debut two weeks ago (takeout and patio dining only), and quickly became the menu’s No. 1 seller.
“I was thinking, the Wise Acre has the best bacon, why aren’t we doing a BLT?” said Layer. “It’s a bite of the farm, in a sandwich.” (R.N.)
5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577. Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sun.