Sunday, May 29 2011
It was Memorial Day weekend and we were planning to spend the day enjoying the water parks at the Wisconsin Dells. Unfortunately it was rainy and stormy, so we rolled into the twin cities a day early. I always imagined that Minneapolis and St. Paul would be good looking cities and indeed they are.
Our first stop in St. Paul was at the Dari-ette for an Italiano Sandwich which is basically an Italian sausage sandwich with red sauce and melted cheese on sliced bread. The service was fast.
After getting settled into a motel room by the airport, we headed out for a beer at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. The place was packed, every seat filled. We didn’t have to wait too long for a table. We ordered beer and an order of nachos. The service was bad and the food was even worse. I’ve had better nachos at a gas station. They were so dry I asked for extra salsa, and was charged 75 cents for a little one ounce cup. I think they may have the distinction for being the only place in the country that charged us for salsa (which wasn’t very good either).
Our trip to the twin cities got off to an inauspicious start, but there were still plenty of good places to come.
Memorial Day. We drove up into town and decided to have hot dogs for breakfast at the Wienery. We didn’t get to meet the owner from the show, but the cook, Noah, was real friendly and did a good job for us. We ordered up a trio of dogs: a straight chili dog, a chili dog with slaw, and a plain dog with cheese and onions. This place reminds us of why the show is called Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. This place is a dive. We weren’t there for the dining room, we were there for the dogs. But, it was a pretty sorry assortment of tables and what remained of some chairs cobbled together into a dining room.
The dogs were good, but I was expecting great. The buns seemed dry to me which is a pet peeve of mine. They didn’t seem to be grilled or steamed, and they weren’t wrapped either, so they were just dry. They made their chili from scratch too, which was good (but I was expecting great). We were looking forward to meeting the owner, and had he been there, then most likely the food would have come out better. People often say that the little hole in the wall places have the best food, which I agree with. But on this day, sadly, The Wienery was not one of those places (although it qualifies as a hole in the wall).
We spent the bulk of our day at the Mall of America. Between the amusement park, the Lego sculptures, the stores and the people, there were lots of things to do and see. We didn’t buy much of anything, but we had fun looking around, and worked up an appetite. As a novelty, we bought something called an Aerobie-Pro which is roughly a rubber coated throwing ring (which is thrown similar to a Frisbee). What’s novel about it is that you can easily throw it for hundreds of feet (which makes it a lot of fun to play catch with). Anna and I love it and we throw it almost every day (weather permitting).
We drove back into town and stopped for a beer and a bite at The Blue Door Pub. Anna ordered some wine, I had a beer and we decided to share an order of the Spam Bites which we saw made on the show. They were golden, brown and delicious. Little nuggets filled with Spam, peppers and cream cheese. The atmosphere was great, casual, and the service was good too. A great spot for happy hour.
We saved our appetite for dinner and rolled over to Casper’s and Runyon’s Nook (the small place with big burgers). They had recently reopened from the devastating fire. The place looked great. The two owners (and best buddies) Ted & Mike, were right there working at the grill, which is open at the back. We settled into a booth and had a look at the menu. I knew I was getting a double cheeseburger (which is why I had to save my appetite), but the big question was what was Anna going to order. Turns out that they have nachos on the menu and after the previous night’s fiasco, it sounded good (and they were good). As for the menu, if there’s anything in this world better than a Juicy Nookie, it just might be the Nookie Supreme Burger. I wonder if Ted & Mike are aware that in some parts of the country Nookie is a slang term for, well, never mind. Burgers should be juicy, so maybe it’s just a delicious coincidence. Be sure to read my Hamburger Don’ts.
The burger was a masterpiece. Super fresh, super tasty, and cooked to perfection. The picture, which is probably the best picture of a cheeseburger that I have ever taken, doesn’t even do the burger justice. Ted and Mike have really set the bar high. Here’s the feeling I take away from the experience. I think Ted and Mike love making burgers and they make and serve every single burger like their reputation is hanging in the balance. It’s as if they want to watch you eat it, just to make sure that you absolutely love it. They’re doing everything right and it’s the epitome of hand-crafted burgers.
It’s because of the Nook that I am spoiled and know what it’s like to have the best. It’s obvious that most other people who sling burgers without the love and attention that Ted & Mike put into their burgers, just can’t make great burgers. That’s why I am so easily (and so often) disappointed. When I want a burger that good, I have to make it myself. If you live in the twin cities, and love hamburgers as much as I do, go see Ted & Mike today. The Nook is easily in my Top Ten for burgers, and I can’t wait to go back for more. The nachos were delicious too, and the service was excellent. It’s because of special people like Ted & Mike that we’re such big fans of the show, and love getting out to meet them in person and have the great food.
I just checked their menu and it turns out that if you can eat two of the Nookie Supreme Burgers and all the fries, they will give you a free tee shirt. I bet I could do it and I’d be willing to give it a shot. Even if I don’t finish all the food, I still win.
On our next morning, we ventured back into town and waited in line to belly up to the bar at Al’s Breakfast. We had a little bit of experience coming from Frank’s Diner. The line went fast and I enjoyed watching all the action. We finally got two bar stools and ordered our breakfast. Anna ordered a blueberry pancake and I ordered bacon and eggs with toast and hash browns.
The owner and cook from the show, Doug, was there and entertained the crowd. He cooked our breakfast to perfection, and I enjoyed every bite. It would have been a great experience, except the service was bad. The other staff was rude and surly; and didn’t seem to care for first-timers. It was very off-putting to both of us, which is a shame because the food was so good. I’ve not won any James Beard Awards like Al’s Breakfast has, but I must admit that I am not a big fan of the little plates. It has an a la cart feel to it, and I like to have a little extra real estate on my plate for working egg yolks, and so on. The counters aren’t clean enough to set your food on, because people are always moving up and down or shifting left and right. So, it was a little unnerving that if you had to shift right or left that you would have three plates to move instead of one. I’m glad I had the experience, and the food was excellent, but I’d rather have a table or booth for breakfast. I’m a big guy and I like to have my elbow room.
We made the short drive over to Hennepin and parked our car at Kramarczuk’s Deli and Sausage Company. We toured the neighborhood and checked out the galleries and shops. We picked up an irresistible looking brownie (to go) at Surdyk’s and made our way back to Kramarczuk’s.
It looks like Guy had a great time checking everything out at Kramarczuk’s, and when you see the place it’s easy to see why. It’s huge. On the right they have the deli with an unbelievable selection of meats and other goodies. On the left is the cafeteria which was nicely decorated, inviting and spotlessly clean.
Kramarczuk’s was established in 1954 and is now run by the second and third generation, Orest Kramarczuk and his two children Nick and Katie. Katie was not there but we got to meet Nick. I asked him about the Krakowska sausage which they made on the show (and I couldn’t remember the name of). It’s a smoked sausage made with pork loin and beef sirloin, and it makes killer sandwiches. I just watched the segment to refresh my memory and I’d like to order a whole roll of that sausage and have it shipped. Nick was very friendly and we also talked to him about getting sausages to go to bring home for our friends. I asked Nick about the taping with Guy, and he said it was a lot of fun. If I understood him correctly, he said that people are encouraged by the producers to give Guy a hard time. He likes to be kept on his toes. I can relate.
They were starting to get busy for lunch and we toured the rest of the deli and store. All of the sudden Orest Kramarczuk came out, introduced himself, and insisted that we have a big lunch and that it would be their treat! Orest was friendly and gracious while we explained how much we enjoyed watching their segment. He walked us over to the cafeteria and told everyone to treat us like royalty (I forget his exact words), and I was hoping the woman tending the cash register didn’t hear him say that it was going to be their treat. I told Orest we really wanted to pay for our lunch, but he was adamant.
We went through the line and ordered everything from the show. We got the Krakowska Sandwich on house made rye with Havarti cheese. See picture. We got the stuffed cabbage roll (aka Polish Burrito), and a small order of Varenyky, which are dough dumplings stuffed with meat, cheese & potato, sauerkraut, or cheese and served with a horseradish cream sauce.
When we got to the cash register at the end of the line, the woman stepped back and then backed away as far as she could go. She got the word that our money was no good there. We found a nice table and lined out a big photo shoot. We dug into the food and enjoyed every morsel. We shared everything and I started on the sandwich first. It was even better than it looks in the picture. I love cabbage and the cabbage roll (Holubets) was very tasty, especially with the tomato cream sauce. It was also very filling. The Varenyky were just as good as everything else. We were having a ball, but knew we were going to have a hard time finishing all the food. We were rapidly getting full. Anna and I joked that it was a good thing we didn’t get dessert.
Orest appeared out of nowhere and served us a big slice of Chocolate Torte and said that it would be the best we ever had. A bold claim to say the least. We’d just see about that. I’m happy to report that he was 100% correct. It was the best Chocolate Torte we’ve ever had. I can still remember how rich it was, yet light and delicate. A perfect balance of flavor and textures, not too sweet, yet deeply satisfying. You wouldn’t expect a deli and sausage company to make world-class desserts, but it just shows how good the food and the service is at Kramarczuk’s. It gets our highest recommendation. I can’t wait to go back and sample more of their authentic European classics (and another slice of that scrumptious Chocolate Torte).
Anna and I were still in shock over being treated to lunch when we also got treated to Tee-shirts. We were informed that Katie was expected to be back in town the next day and that we could come back tomorrow if we wanted to meet her. We told them we would try. We walked out of there, totally stuffed, and proceeded to head for the nearest bridge over the mighty Mississippi river. It was weird seeing the river that I usually associate with the South, being that far north. But it was there all right, and it was just as muddy there as it is everywhere else.
We were wanting to walk the rest of the afternoon and so we walked through downtown all the way to Loring Park, where we crossed over the freeway and strolled through the sculpture garden. We walked back though downtown and checked out the two-story flagship store for Target. We checked out a few other shops and buildings as well. We asked if it was the first Target store and they said it wasn’t; then told us where the first store was at (which I think was over by Roseville). T-1 We went to it later. We like shopping at Target and thought it would be neat to see the original store.
By the end of the afternoon we were pooped. It was a bit longer of a walk than what I was expecting. It’s hard to imagine that we could get hungry again, but we did, and drove over to Saint Paul to have dinner at Donatelli’s.
Donatelli’s is a big Italian restaurant with a beautiful dining room, friendly staff and great food. The atmosphere was casual, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Our server, Linda, gave us some of the best service we had on the whole trip. She was great. We ordered a big combo pizza (“Heartburn Pizza”). Linda brought us out an order of garlic cheese bread and marinara sauce. It was hearty and flavorful. Linda appreciated that we are foodies and that I love to cook Italian at home; and she insisted that we sample the meatballs too (which were fabulous).
The pizza came out and it really hit the spot. The melted cheese on top covered the ingredients, but they were there, pepperoni and sausage and more. We couldn’t finish it of course, but we ate till we were full and took the rest to go. I love pizza so much that it’s hard to stop eating at full without pushing on to stuffed. The little square slices didn’t help matters, but we’d been eating so much food lately that it was easy to pace myself and stop at full. We both loved the pizza and it makes my Top Ten. Linda is still there. Ask for her section and tell her we said hello.
Before we had a chance to leave, another server came by our table with an unbelievable looking dessert. It really caught my eye. I think the dessert was called “Death by Chocolate”. What a way to go. Anna thought I’d lost my mind, but I said I’d rather sample the dessert than wonder for the rest of my life if I missed something spectacular. We ordered it and it was crazy good. It’s basically a chocolate cake, topped with chocolate ice cream, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and chips and sauces. It was as decadent as it looks in the picture and it was enormous too. We waddled out of there with some big smiles on our faces. Two big desserts in the same day, and we still had the brownie in the car to take back to the motel room. I guess we ate that the next morning, and it had the most unbelievable texture. It was nearly three inches thick, and super moist. The chef told us that the only way it can hold together is to let it set-up overnight. It’s that delicate.
The next morning was going to be our last day in the twin cities. We started off with a breakfast sandwich at the Colossal Café. Those were some of the lightest and fluffiest scrambled eggs I’d ever seen. The sandwich, with the sausage and pepper jack cheese on a homemade biscuit really hit the spot. Perfect. The service was great too. I wish we could have had a bigger breakfast, but we had to save room for lunch.
From there it was a fairly short drive over to Minnehaha Falls Park. The park was nice and peaceful and the falls were spectacular. We strolled around them for over an hour checking them out from all the different vantage points. Sorry for all the pictures of the same purse. We decided it would be good to have extra room to haul things in, and over the shoulder security. In addition to her own stuff, she hauls what she calls the “Ken Kit.” All I have to do is whine or whimper, and she breaks out toothpicks, hand wipes, gum, reading glasses, or a notebook and pen. So, if you see her on the street with her DDD purse and you need a toothpick, she can hook you up.
We next headed over to Victor’s 1959 Café to sample a little Cuban food. Sadly, the owner, Niki, was not there. I was hoping to meet her. The café looks to be a converted house, and even though it was small, it was nicely decorated and comfortable. We ordered the Cubano sandwich, which was hot and tasty. We didn’t hit it off with our server, and she hadn’t seen the show… could care less either. I would like to go back and sample the other dishes Niki made on the show (Picadillo and Ropa Vieja). I’ve still never had the fried plantains either, so I’ve been missing out.
After lunch we drove back over to Kramarczuk’s to meet Katie (who we loved from watching the show). She was there and we told her how much we enjoyed watching her make all that food, and working with Guy. She took some photos with us, and told us about her music projects. Turns out that she is an artist, and so she is multi-talented as well as beautiful (not to mention hard-working). You can follow her on Facebook. It’s easy to see that Orest has every reason in the world to be super proud of his children.
Anna and I had been joking between us about the VIP treatment and being treated to lunch the day before. The joke was, “We said we saw you on the Food Network, not that we’re from the Food Network.” Orest wasn’t there and so I confided to Nick and said please be sure to thank his dad for taking such good care of us and treating us to a great meal. And then Nick said something that blew me away. He said, “Our dad treats everyone like that who comes in because they saw us on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” I couldn’t believe it. Speechless. To say the least, we were moved. How amazing is that? The Kramarczuk family represents everything that’s great about America. Family business, serving their community, hard work, and doing everything right, with pride and integrity. Did I mention hard work? The quality is so unbelievably high, I’d be honored if they let me sweep the floors. I can’t wait to go back for more of their hospitality and great food. If you see them before we do, please say hello for us.
We had hoped to make a side trip up to Q-Fantastic BBQ & Grill, but we ran out of time. Looks like we missed out on some great Q.
Our last stop in Minneapolis was Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge. I saved it for last thinking that it was going to be our favorite place. It started out good, but didn’t finish up so well. They had moved to a new location which is huge and very nicely decorated. They also have a very large patio with tables along the river, which we tried to sit at. We got a server and ordered our waters. After a few minutes it became clear that it was just going to be too cold to sit outside. We moved inside, but then was assigned a different server. It seems we ruffled a bunch of feathers over the table switch (which I didn’t appreciate). The owner, Leslie Bock, wasn’t there. We ordered the little chicken Mini-Mex Rolls, and the Suzi Burger looked too good to pass up with caramelized onions, red pepper mayo, provolone cheese, spices and butter. I forgot that I wanted to try the cheese curds (and still haven’t yet). I should mention that the recipe for the chicken rolls looked so good on the show that I made them myself at home. They turned out great and I filed that recipe away in my bag of tricks.
While we were waiting for our food, some people were seated at the table next to ours and to put it as politely as I can, it ended up being annoying.
Our food came out and my first reaction was how small the burger was. It tasted fine, but I was expecting a much bigger burger (to go along with the price). The chicken rolls were overpowered by the jalapenos, which were so hot we could hardly eat them (and I love hot food). We couldn’t taste any chicken at all, and wonder if it didn’t make it into our batch. I was very disappointed. The owner wasn’t there, and our server didn’t seem to care, so we just finished the food and left. I would go back and give them another try, but only if Leslie is there. It sure looked like a great place to hang out and have fun.
Overall, we really enjoyed our visit to the twin cities. We got to see some landmarks, meet some really nice people and have some Ken’s Top Tens worthy food. I would go back just for the food. But DDD has been back through since we were there and now there are a bunch of new places to try as well, which is all the more reason to go. I was also hoping to make it to that dueling piano bar downtown. I hope to make it back someday.
Next DDD Destination: Denver (DDD Count 130)