50 tasty reasons to love Minnesota food

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Walleye, Surly, Honeycrisp ... and we're just getting started
When Anthony Bourdain last year told his TV audience on No Reservations that his experience at Doug Flicker's south Minneapolis restaurant Piccolo was "far and away the best and most inspired and inspiring meal of my trip across America," he was confirming what Twin Cities diners have known for years: Minnesota's food scene is worthy of national attention.

The Twin Cities' recent domination of the James Beard Awards for Best Midwest Chef is only one sign that our state is now a fixture on America's food map. The explosive growth of Minnesota dining culture can be seen in the burgeoning farm-to-table ethic and growth of farmers markets; in Lenny Russo's grand, experimental food campus at Heartland; in the artisan meats of Green Ox; and in the designer cocktails at Bradstreet Craftshouse, La Belle Vie, and others. Esquire magazine even singled out Al's Breakfast as serving the "Best Pancakes in America."

Minnesota has long been a food-conscious state, from our Mill City beginnings to Betty Crocker to our invention of the Honeycrisp apple, but nothing has rivaled today's diverse restaurant and food scene. Eating in Minnesota has become a spectacular adventure of tastes and experiences.

Here is our list of the 50 best reasons to eat in Minnesota:

The Minnesota Food 50

50. Decadent dairy: Rich, sweet, small-batch butters from places like Hope Creamery and Rochedale Farms. Plus goat cheeses from Donnay, cave-aged blues from Faribault, milk and cream from Cedar Summit, and so many more.

49. Red Lake walleye: The country's only hook-and-line-caught commercial fishery is open once again, providing the only source of United States walleye.

48. Affordable fine dining: At many fine-dining gems, entrée prices hover around $20. Plus, you'll find gourmet chefs cooking everyday fare at places like Be'Wiched Deli and Sonora Grill.

47. Booyah feed season.

46. Rural food festivals: Barnesville has Potato Days, Montgomery has Kolache Days, and Brahm has Pie Day, among others.

45. Design: From the historic, gothic digs at the Strip Club to the too-cool-for-school Brooklyn-esque Tilia, to the serene loft of Tanpopo noodle shop, to the theatrical set-like Heidi's, local restaurateurs consider aesthetics a meaningful part of the dining experience.

44. We're the home of public radio's The Splendid Table.

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Photo: Compart Family Farms
Compart Farms' dry-aged pork could make you forget steak
43. Compart Family Farms pioneers dry-aged pork: Pork that eats like a steak? Beef had better watch out!

42. Austin-based Hormel invented the world's most popular tinned-meat-cum-pop-culture meme, SPAM.

41. Long Cheng livestock market allows visitors to select their own animal for on-site slaughter, just a few miles from downtown St. Paul

40. After a successful pilot program in Minneapolis, citywide curbside-collected composting is closer to becoming a reality.

39. D'Amico vs. international cheflebrities: This family-run Italian restaurant chain has so far succeeded in ousting two international cheflebrities from splashy venues, the Chambers Hotel and Walker Art Center.

38. Steve Schussler, inventor of the international theme-restaurant chain Rainforest Café, calls the Twin Cities home, and his fantastical Golden Valley workshop is incubating even more "eatertainment" concepts.

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Photo: Rachel Hutton
Galactic's pizza-delivering superheroes: Fighting the never-ending battle against munchies
37. Pizza-delivering superheroes: At Galactic Pizza, spandex-clad superheroes deliver pies via electric cars.

36. Pizza perfectionists: From our longtime Neapolitan faves Punch and Nea, to newcomers like Black Sheep, Pizzeria Lola, and Mozza Mia, obsessive attention to detail makes these pies competitive with any on the East Coast ... or even Italy.

35. Airport eats: Recent remodeling added more local flavor, with MSP branches of local favorites like French Meadow, Surdyk's, and Ike's. A new project in the works will bring even more notable chefs--Russell Klein and Lenny Russo among them--into the mix so travelers don't have to settle for generic fast-food chains.

34. Park concessions: The Twin Cities have one of the country's best urban park systems, and they've been made even better by the addition of savvy food vendors: Tin Fish, Sea Salt, and the new, ultra-green Bread and Pickle.

33. Target Field concessions include lots of local food makers, from Kramarczuk's sausages to Murray's steak sandwiches.

32. Gastro Non Grata: These frequent events exploit our local musician-chef overlap by combining concerts and food. Indie bands perform as listeners sample snacks, brewers make beer, and one lucky meat raffle winner goes home with a carnivorous feast.

31. Charcuterie: We have more pigs than people in these parts, and lots of local restaurants making their own charcuterie. Mike Phillips and Kieran Folliard hope to turn their new retail company, Green Ox, into the Midwest's regional preserved meat maker.

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