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Rack of pork ribs at Animales Barbeque Co.

We are a family of four distinctive eaters. There's my 7-year-old, who has a specific list of four foods she'll consider, but what those are varies day to day. There's the young teenager, who is open to pretty much everything as long as parental embarrassments are kept to a minimum (they rarely are), and my husband, who is mostly just happy to be included. And then there's me, who has opinions. One of the few dinners we can all agree on is ribs. Tender, smoky, rich and wonderful, they are the holy grail of happy family meal time. The only problem is that I absolutely stink at making them.

This is where Animales Barbeque Co. comes in. The glorious food that pours forth from chef Jon Wipfli's massive smoker feeds the family snob (me) and the rest of us all with spicy splendor. He recently invited a few friends and media types to try his new lineup at Bauhaus Brew Labs, and the result was divine.

Tender ribs are simply seasoned with a peppery blend and then lightly brushed with a jalapeño syrup. They aren't sweet, but instead take on a grassy, fruity flavor with just a hint of spice. It's a wondrous rendering of a familiar dish that eats like a special occasion picnic. Plus, in addition to the summer-weather friendly beer at Bauhaus (like Short Pants Shandy), there's also a pineapple tapache lemonade for the non-beer drinkers among us.

Sitting outside watching the trains roll by, petting all the sweet dogs and reclining on a picnic bench is a little slice of barbecue heaven in Northeast. (Joy Summers)

1315 NE. Tyler St., Mpls., animalesbarbeque.com; $33 a rack, but subject to change

Cardigan Donuts’ new skyway location offers ice cream, including these stroopwafel ice cream sandwiches.
Cardigan Donuts’ new skyway location offers ice cream, including these stroopwafel ice cream sandwiches.

David Joles, Star Tribune

Stroopwafel ice cream sandwich from Cardigan Donuts

For Cardigan Donuts' second Minneapolis skyway location, a kitchen outfitted with Italian gelato machines meant only one thing to general manager Justin Bedford. Ice cream.

Sure, there's doughnuts, too — all the varieties that have made Cardigan a Twin Cities fried dough favorite, including its one-of-a-kind, Greek yogurt-enriched Old Fashioned. But ice cream is new to the Cardigan menu, and this gleaming spot in the IDS Center, which opened this week, celebrates ice cold creaminess a few different ways.

The skyway is low on ice cream options, and Bedford wanted to offer easy ways to eat cold treats on the go. Grab a scoop of light and fluffy chocolate or ultrarich vanilla ice cream on a sugar cone. (A specialty flavor of the month will join the lineup soon.) Or go all out and get that ice cream blended into a shake with any doughnut from the case. Another ingenious option? Pick a doughnut to be sliced in half and filled with a frozen ring of ice cream.

I was smitten with the stroopwafel ice cream sandwich ($7.95). The chewy and maple syrup-sweetened, Dutch-style waffle cookie is folded around ice cream and slathered in any number of toppings. My pick: that super creamy vanilla all the way. (Sharyn Jackson)

80 S. 8th St., Mpls., cardigandonuts.com

Chicken pot pie is a Minnesota classic at Mason Jar Kitchen & Bar in Eagan.
Chicken pot pie is a Minnesota classic at Mason Jar Kitchen & Bar in Eagan.

Nicole Hvidsten, Star Tribune

10,000 Lakes Chicken Pot Pie from Mason Jar Kitchen & Bar

Cravings pay no attention to the weather. Just as you might long for an ice cream sundae in subzero temperatures, the need for comfort food can hit in the middle of summer. And if it's comfort food you want, Mason Jar Kitchen & Bar in Eagan has you covered.

The breakfast-lunch-dinner spot has an eclectic and extensive menu. At dinner that ranges from salads and sandwiches to pastas and wood-fired pizza. But the section dubbed Minnesota Classics, where Tater Tot hot dish, chili mac, mac and cheese and pot roast all have a home, piqued my interest. Particularly the pot pie ($15), which garnered a "whoa" before we even took a bite.

A mountain of flaky housemade puff pastry tops a small skillet of roasted chicken, wild rice, red potatoes, fresh mushrooms, carrots, onion, celery and corn in a rich and creamy (and slightly cheesy) sauce. Delicious. The crust was every bit as buttery and light as it looks, which also makes eating it less daunting than it looks. But if there's a culinary mountain to climb, it may as well be one made of puff pastry.

Comfort is an underlying theme at Mason Jar. It has a bright, cozy atmosphere with homey decor (featuring Mason jars, naturally), a creative bar program and a busy patio. Sister restaurant Cupcake Bakery is under the same roof, churning out macarons and several styles of cupcakes, including vegan and gluten-free. Be sure to order some for dessert or to go. I'm partial to the Pride cupcake ($3.50); $1 for every one sold this month goes to a local PFLAG chapter. (Nicole Hvidsten)

1565 Cliff Road, Eagan, masonjar.kitchen and cup-cake.com

Crispy fried and ready when you arrive, Official Fried Chicken is now open.
Crispy fried and ready when you arrive, Official Fried Chicken is now open.

Joy Summers, Star Tribune

Fried chicken and fries from Official Fried Chicken

While there were plenty of drawbacks over the past couple of years, there also have been a few benefits: It's now easier to get food from the outside world into your hands with considerably less human contact, and there are a heck of a lot of local fried chicken options. Which prompts the question, do we need one more place claiming to make the best in town? The answer is available in automat form at Official Fried Chicken.

This chicken isn't just fried, it's Broasted, a term likely familiar to those who have retrieved chicken from small-town establishments. It's a trademarked method of pressure cooking chicken, rendering the breading crusty and the interior moist.

Official Fried Chicken's menu is short: fried chicken (albeit three kinds) and French fries. The original seasoning is salty, peppery and has a faint garlicky kick that coats every crispy bit of the exterior shell. While tearing into each piece, the seasoning finds its way into every bite.

Ordering and pickup involves zero people: order online and scan a QR code to access an automat-style pickup. (This is a dream for introverts.) It's easy to order a bunch of chicken and meet up with friends for a picnic at a nearby park or dashboard eating on your way out of town — there's no dining in. Available in four, eight, 12 and 16 pieces for $8.99-$29.99; fries are extra. (J.S.)

4010 E. 46th St., Mpls., officialfriedchicken.com

The rum cake at Milton’s is inspired by the Jamaican treat.
The rum cake at Milton’s is inspired by the Jamaican treat.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Rum cake from Milton's Vittles, Vino, and Beer

I wound up with a slice of rum cake by accident, and it was a happy one.

A snafu with my takeout order at this neighborhood restaurant in Crystal, on the cusp of Golden Valley, had me waiting on the leather sofa in the charming dining room a little longer than anyone expected. To smooth things over, a server packed a slice of Bundt cake into the bag with my order.

In all honesty, I forgot about it until later that night. The cake is so unassuming (and my photo does it no favors, sorry). But what looks like a bake sale sponge cake turned out to be so much more.

Owner Francine Weber, whose family often vacations in Jamaica, brought a few island influences to the menu of the nearly 10-year-old Milton's. The jerk chicken is a house specialty. And the rum cake ($5.75), inspired by those boxed cakes sold at duty-free airport shops, fit right in.

"When we opened the restaurant, we based it on my kids' favorites," Weber said. "The rum cake was one of the family favorites that I'd make around Christmastime, and it was one of those cakes that was always on the counter. When my youngest was tall enough to get her hands in it, you'd see big chunks gone."

Rum is both made into a glaze and baked right into the cake, and Weber occasionally uses different flavors to spice things up. Also: "There's a lot of butter," she said. Weber uses vintage Bundt pans people have given her, each of which offers something unique to the ever-evolving cake. What doesn't change? A heavenly cloudlike crumb, moist to the max, with a smooth hint of rum and a tinge of the tropics that feels and tastes endearingly homemade. (S.J.)

3545 Douglas Drive N., Crystal, miltonsvvb.com