Jun 19, 2009


St. Anthony, MN

I found out Smashburger was coming to town and looked into it some to find out that a location in St. Anthony was already open. It's a short drive from work so I decided to try it out for lunch.

Smashburger is a Denver based fast food chain that has some ambitious plans to expand into Minnesota. They plan to open 30-35 stores over the next 4-6 years, including 4-6 new locations by the end of the year. It's a slightly more upscale fast food joint, akin to something like Chipotle. The burgers are of higher quality and, thus, a slightly higher price than regular fast food places. The name Smashburger comes from the practice of smashing the burger on the grill. Apparently they take a ball of hamburger and press it onto the flattop and they claim that makes a juicier burger. They also claim they have "the best-tasting burgers anywhere", which is a bold claim to make while trying to enter into Minnesota's burger culture. I mean... Ju(i)cy Lucy... 'nuff said.

I decided to get a one-third pound (you have the choice of 1/3 or 1/2 pound) Classic Smashburger. I thought that would be a good place to start and if I liked it I could expand to something else next time. I also ordered the Smashfries, which are tossed in olive oil, garlic, and rosemary. I ordered it to go so I didn't buy a drink, sticking with water at my desk, but I was kind of impressed at the beer selection they had. They had bottles of Grain Belt Premium, Leinenkugel's HoneyWeiss, and Summit EPA along with Miller Lite and High Life. That's more than what I'd expect from a fast food joint.

The takeout packaging was a little confounding to me. They start by wrapping your burger and fries in paper, ok I get that. Then they put it in a cardboard box that is about the perfect size for a burger and some fries. "That's kind of neat," I thought to myself. Then they stick it in this giant plastic bag and throw napkins and ketchup in. The thoughts I had about that included, "What's the point of that?" and "What a waste." Plus, now I get to feel all weird about carrying around a giant bag that says Smashburger on the side in huge type when all I have is a third pound burger and fries. Skip to the end of my meal and I'm left with a giant plastic bag, which thankfully is recyclable, and a cardboard box that normally would be recyclable but is covered in food grease, condiment drippings, and rosemary, rendering it unrecyclable. I think next time I will dine-in.

Anyway... my burger was loaded with veggies; leafy lettuce, tomatoes, thick-cut pickles, and red onions. It also had melted American cheese, ketchup, and their Smash sauce. I actually really enjoyed the freshness and crunch of all the veggies. The Smash sauce didn't have much of a presence on the burger. I knew it was there, but I didn't really notice it. The burger itself was pretty good. It was very juicy and seemed very fresh, it was cooked somewhere between medium and medium-well, I don't know if that is standard or just the way mine turned out, and it was a complete mess. My hands were covered in condiment, veggie, and burger juices and it seemed like I was constantly on the verge of burger catastrophe. The bun did hold up pretty well considering the circumstances.

The Smashfries were also good. If you've never had any kind of garlic, rosemary fries, then you are missing out. These were seasoned pretty well, but I felt they required the slight application of ketchup. I've had better seasoned fries, but I'll save that for my next post.

Overall, it certainly blasts anything McDonald's does out of the water, but it's not going to be "The Best Burger You Ever Tasted". It's still rather good. The $7.25 I spent seems like a decent price for the offering. I definitely say give it a try if you're curious.

Jun 15, 2009

Beer and Ice Cream - Summit tour and Izzy's

Summit Kegs

On Saturday we went on the Summit Brewery tour in the afternoon. The tour itself was ok. The brewery is small, so the tour was short. Our tour guide didn't know a whole lot about brewing. She was trying to give the tour off of her note cards. I don't know how long she's been doing this, so hopefully she is still getting the hang of it. The other half of the people there got a tour guide who was actually one of the brewers. That may have gone better.

The best part of most brewery tours is the free beer at the end. We were each given 3 wooden tokens good for free beer. Since my wife only had 2, that left 4 for me. She started with the HefeWeizen, which I got a sip or 2 of. She didn't really care for that beer, although she liked it enough to finish it. She thought it was too bitter, I'm not sure that it was bitter but I knew what she was talking about and couldn't put my finger on it. Maybe it's a little dry on the finish? It seemed pretty typical of other hefes I've had (which isn't a lot). Anyway... she then went on to the Scandia Ale, which is a Belgian style ale. I, again, had a sip. We both agreed that one was very good. It would be a great beer for hot summer afternoons.

I started with the Great Northern Porter. It had kind of a light body for a porter, which was refreshing, and it was bitter on the finish like porters are. I don't drink a lot of porters, but I wouldn't hesitate to grab one of these when I'm in the mood for a dark beer.

Next I got an Oatmeal Stout. I really liked this one. The color of it was gorgeous, it was slightly sweet with flavors of chocolate, coffee, and caramel, and it was very smooth. This one is not available in bottles and is only distributed in kegs, so you'll have to find a place that has it on tap to get some.

Summit Oatmeal Stout Summit ESB

Next up was the Extra Special Bitters. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this one. I didn't know if it would be along the lines of an India pale ale or an extra pale ale. According to the website it has the same bittering units as the Porter, but it certainly didn't taste like it. The ESB was very well balanced and I enjoyed it quite a bit. There is also something very appealing about it's dark amber color.

I finished off our tokens with the Pilsener. The Pilsener was fine... not the best I've had, but certainly not the worst. Waaaaaay better than the "Great Pilsner taste of Miller Lite". It would probably also be very refreshing on a hot day. This day was not. It was like 52° and raining.

So... we decided to go to Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe in St. Paul after we were done drinking free beer. And what says ice cream more than 52° and raining? Frankly, nothing. We are such Minnesotans that any weather is perfect weather for ice cream. That's why people in Moorhead stand in line in the snow on March 1st for the walk-up Dairy Queen to open... every year.

We each got a waffle single (one scoop in a waffle cone). They make the waffle cones themselves. They are more substantial than your standard waffle cones, but are light enough not to make that a problem. They were pretty good cones. They plug the bottom of the cones with a malted milk ball, which is pretty neat but I'd rather eat a milk ball before ice cream than after it. The scoops are pretty big. A single may sound small, but it's probably enough for most people. I was wanting something chocolatey so I got the Chocolate Almond. That was always my favorite flavor from the Schwan's man growing up. My wife got the Irish Moxie, which I believe was an Irish whiskey flavored ice cream. It also had a coffee flavor to it. I don't like most things coffee. Izzy's also gives you a small scoop of something on top, which they call an Izzy Scoop. We both got Salted Caramel for our Izzys.

The Chocolate Almond was certainly delicious, simple but tasty. The Salted Caramel was awesome. It was very creamy, sweet from the caramel, and the hint of salty makes it very balanced. Very nice. We ended up taking a pint home.

Jun 9, 2009

Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers

Minneapolis, MN

I've been about a week behind on these things so I will try to catch up.

On the last day of May, the wife and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and do some outdoor activities at The U. We needed to get some lunch first. My wife wanted to go to Raising Cane's. She had been there before. I had not.

There are 3 locations in the Twin Cities area. This one is right on Washington Avenue on the campus of the University of Minnesota. They essentially have 4 items on the menu, which are basically 3, 4, and 6 finger meals and a chicken finger sandwich meal. It's just chicken fingers, fries, coleslaw, and toast. The chicken fingers are made fresh when you order them and come out to you extremely hot. We both ordered The Box, which is 4 fingers, fries, coleslaw, Texas toast, and a thing of Cane's sauce. We were informed that we could substitute items so we both got another thing of sauce instead of the coleslaw.

It only took a few minutes before our food was ready. The first thing we did was try to tear open the fingers so they could cool faster, but that was hard enough to do because of how hot they were. Eventually they cooled down to a tolerable level. The chicken fingers were very moist, not dried out in the least, and the breading (or batter... probably) was very light yet crispy and very good. These chicken fingers weren't overwhelmed with a thick, hard breading. I don't think I could name any better chicken fingers that I've had. The fries were your standard crinkle cut fries. The Cane's sauce is also tasty. Although, I liked it better on the fries than on the chicken. The chicken was so good that it would be a shame to use too much sauce on them, so I would lightly dip them. It goes really well on fries. The Texas toast is pretty awesome too; buttery and clearly toasted on a flattop. I recommend this place for any chicken finger cravings... or Texas toast cravings.

The story behind the place is pretty neat. The founder submitted the business plan for a chicken finger restaurant for a class assignment in college and got a bad grade on it. His professor didn't think it would work and the banks weren't too thrilled about it either. He then worked as a boilermaker in L.A. and a salmon fisherman in Alaska after that to raise the money for it. He opened his first place at LSU and it was an instant success.

Jun 3, 2009

Pizza Ranch

Perham, MN

We were up at my parents' place for Memorial Day weekend, which isn't in Perham. There is a little knitting store in Perham that my wife likes and they were having a sale that weekend, so she really wanted to go. We decided to go Saturday afternoon. It wasn't going to be a problem because my dad and brothers were going to be in the field all day and mom was busy making cakes and going to graduation parties.

I just have to show off this cake she made.

Camo Cake

Frosted Deer

Anyway, we were off to the yarn store, but first thing's first. We needed to get some lunch. We had been planning on going to this barbeque place we had heard about in Hawley, but we weren't sure if it was open or even still there. I consulted with the Google but it didn't have much information. We went anyway and, sure enough, it had moved to Fargo. That's another 40 minutes in the opposite direction of the yarn store. Instead, we headed towards Perham knowing we had other options. We also searched the Garmin to see if there were other options we didn't know about. It had a listing for Dee's Ribs in Detroit Lakes and we were both skeptical about whether that was there either. We juggled 3 options; try Dee's, go to Zorbaz in DL (which is pretty good and the DL one has a pretty good draught beer selection), or Pizza Ranch in Perham. After much hemming and hawing the decision was made to see if Dee's existed then go on to Pizza Ranch if it didn't. Well... unless there was a rib joint inside the clinic, then it wasn't there. Pizza Ranch it was.

Pizza Ranch is an upper midwest chain with restaurants in mostly smaller cities and towns in 9 states. Eating at Pizza Ranch brings back memories of college. There's a Pizza Ranch in Morris, where we went to school, so I have some previous experience with the place. Some of that experience is selling a lot of it at the concession stand as a fundraiser for the baseball team when UMM hosted high school basketball tournaments. The free slices here and there were always nice.

We got to the one in Perham for the lunch buffet. You gotta love a pizza buffet. I know I do. I had some of the cheesy Ranch stix as well as pepperoni, sausage, buffalo chicken, chicken broccoli alfredo, bronco pizzas, and cactus bread. It was all very delicious. The buffalo chicken pizza is particularly good with a little bit of ranch dressing to dip in or drizzle over. It's got some kick but certainly isn't too hot (well it might be too hot for the typical Minnesota taste buds).

Alfredo pizzas can often be not very exciting, but the chicken broccoli alfredo was very tasty. This was the only thin crust pizza on the buffet and I think the thin crust goes well with this particular pizza. Their thin crust is very thin and very crispy. It's rather cracker like, but in a good way. Their original crust keeps the same crispiness on the outer crust and is soft and not too chewy on the inside. The rest of the crust holds up very well. They also have a "skillet crust", but I don't think I've ever had that.

The Bronco pizza is their "all meat" pizza with beef, Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and bacon pieces. It's hard to make something like that not taste good. The cheesy Ranch stix are basically like a breadstick pizza topped with lots of cheese and then cut into sticks. Again, very tasty.

Finally, the cactus bread. Cactus bread is a can't miss item. It's their version of a streusely dessert pizza. I was somehow able to limit myself to only two pieces of cactus bread. Yum.

May 26, 2009

Plaza Moreno - Owatonna

Owatonna, MN

My wife and I and friend were in Owatonna last weekend (the one before Memorial Day weekend) and needed to find a place to eat. We decided to take a chance on Plaza Moreno for some Mexican food. The service was good, everything else... meh. It was Mexican food for the meat & potatoes Minnesota palate.

They immediately had chips and salsa at our table to start, naturally. The chips were fine. The salsa was super mild, bland, and very thin and runny. I kept fishing for some chunks of tomato... or anything. Then came time to order dinner. My wife wasn't very hungry so she just ordered a couple tacos. I ordered the pork tamales and our friend ordered the chicken tamales. It was three tamales served with rice and beans, again, naturally. The tamales were ok. The pork had some flavor, but the tamales had zero spice. The rice looked like Spanish rice, but had almost no flavor, and the beans, sadly, were as spicy as the rest of the food. The sour cream on the side seemed very unnecessary. Was that there in case I accidentally found some spice in my food? I did find the spice, though. It was all in a bottle at the end of the table. The hot sauce improved both the tamales and the rice.

My wife said the tacos were ok, but also on the bland side.

On what sometimes is a plus side, the portions were huge. When I was finished it looked like I barely made a dent eventhough I almost finished the tamales and ate over half of the rice. It reminded me of the PJ Bland's commercial.
How is everything?

Average, but there's a lot of it.

May 21, 2009

Scoops Ice Cream

Bloomington, MN

Since it hit 97° here on Tuesday, ugh, we found ourselves at an ice cream shop. We are both born and bred Minnesotans so we don't need an excuse, like it being incredibly hot in May, just to get ice cream. We'll eat ice cream in any weather. You'd be amazed at how many times we eat ice cream on -20° days. That's just how Minnesotans work. But, since the temperature reached god-awful, ice cream was required.

We played a round on mini-golf at Dred Scott and then went to Scoops, which is just across the street. It's in a strip mall at the corner of Old Shakopee Rd. and Bloomington Ferry Rd. They have a selection of about 15 to 20 different flavors as well as soft serve and shakes. Some of the ice cream is Kemps (I think it was Kemps) and they have a few from Sebastian Joe's, which is a very popular ice cream shop in Minneapolis, and the rest must be their own. If you ask the owner of Scoops (who was in the shop when we were there) a question about the ice cream, it's clear he really has a passion for it.

I had the Pavarotti, which is a Sebatian Joe's flavor. It's banana, caramel, and chocolate. It was really good, but it's rather banana-y so be warned. My wife had the birthday cake ice cream. I don't remember the name. It was a Kemps flavor and it had cake flavored ice cream with chunks of yellow cake and sprinkles mixed in. That was very tasty as well.

Scoops is a fun little shop to visit any time in the Summer (it's closed in the winter) but especially when it's stupidly hot out.

May 14, 2009

Punch Neapolitan Pizza

Eden Prairie, MN

I took my parents out to Punch Pizza on Mothers Day. I decided on Punch because plans for this weekend were a bit up in the air until the last minute on account of the weather, my dad is a farmer, so I couldn't really make reservations for some Mothers Day brunch. And, I didn't want to wait some place for 45 minutes to an hour and fight crowds and noise for some food where the quality had more than likely been sacrificed in order to feed a giant number of people on account of the holiday. I knew with Punch it may still be busy, but the wait wouldn't be long and the pizza would still be good and, above all, mom would like it.

Punch is authentic Neapolitan style pizza. In fact, they are one of only about 25 U.S. members of Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which is an international trade association that seeks to “promote the culinary tradition of the Neapolitan pizza”. They have strict rules for members ensuring the authenticity of the pizza, which include wood-burning domed ovens and dough that is made from only flour, yeast, water, and salt. Punch actually flies in some of their toppings from Italy each week.

We arrived there with my parents at 11:35. I remember this exactly because I was going to meet my parents at their hotel at 11:15 in order to be at the restaurant at 11:30 and I would have been perfectly on time had I not nearly forgotten mom's card and had to turn around to get it and waste 5 minutes in the process. My brother and his fiance were meeting us there and beat us by a few minutes. The place was still pretty quiet at this point with maybe not even half of the cozy dining room filled. We spent a few minutes going over the menu and my wife and I tried to answer any questions the best we could but neither of us have done the "craft your own" option, so we weren't exactly sure on all the details. I was willing to spend as much time as needed on the menu because I had some concerns about bringing this group here. My mom, my wife, and I will eat pretty much anything. My brother's fiance is a really picky eater. She does a good job of making it her problem and not everybody else's, but I really don't know the things she likes and doesn't. My dad is Norwegian and most of my siblings display this trait when it comes to food. I seem to have overcome this affliction.

My brother and his fiance ordered and grabbed a table while we spent another minute on the menu. My wife ordered her favorite, the Siciliana (proscuitto, artichoke, picholine olive, basil), and then I ordered my favorite, the Visuvio (spiced salami, saracene olive, cracked red pepper, pepperoncini, basil). Mom order the Palermo (spiced salami, sun-dried tomato, saracene olive, oregano) and then told the girl at the register that "you're going to have to help him" and pointed to dad. Dad then explained to her that "I'm Norwegian". He ended up ordering a Napoli (sauce, oregano, mozzarella) with ham, sausage, onion, and garlic. My brother had also ordered the Palermo and his fiance got the same thing dad did but without the sausage.

We couldn't have been sitting at our table for more than five minutes before our pizzas came, which is about par for the course. It only takes 90 seconds to bake a pizza in their 800° oven (there is video of this on their website). If you aren't familiar with their pizzas, they are individual sized and are very thin crust. The outer crust rises in the oven and the middle stays thin and doesn't get crispy. You will need to be prepared to use your utensils or carefully dive in with both hands. It can be a messy experience between that and the wonderful charred spots on the crust that can leave your fingers and lips black.

I just love Punch and everybody in our group seemed to really like it too. The ingredients at Punch are very flavorful and I love the spiciness of the Visuvio. The only blemish was that my brother must have missed that the Palermo has olives on it and, after eating a couple, he picked the rest off. I'm not a fan of olives myself, but I do kind of like the saracene olives that are on my Vesuvio.

Punch has 6 Twin Cities metro locations.

Here is that video I mentioned, courtesy of Punch Pizza.

They also have a Flickr page where you can check out some photos like this one.

The Siciliana.