When you consider the mainstays of the Twin Cities food scene, Tom’s Popcorn Shop, on Minneapolis’ South side, probably doesn’t come readily to mind. But this old-timey popcorn shop has been delighting customers with its light, crunchy, buttery, caramel-y, nutty, and even sometimes fruity, fire-popped corn since 1979, an eternity in confectionery years.
The shop is located a couple blocks north of Minnehaha Parkway on Cedar Avenue, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might miss it altogether. Tom’s Popcorn Shop’s slight, maize-yellow storefront, with jaunty retro signage, co-anchors one end of a shabby, inconspicuous mini strip mall with a generic quick stop convenience store.
What distinguishes Tom’s popcorn is the way it’s popped. Here, the large-kernel yellow corn is fire-popped in a contraption that uses variously sized wire mesh cages and open fire. Unlike movie theater popcorn or the stuff you make at home, fire-popped requires no oil, so each big piece pops drier, lighter, crunchier, and not at all greasy, qualities that are both pleasing to the bite and whatever junk food morality you abide by.
Once popped, these perfect, dime-sized blank canvases are transformed into tiny masterpieces of flavor and texture using only modest amounts of simple ingredients. Another benefit of fire-popped corn is that, from a popcorn maker’s perspective, this method allows each piece to accept flavor better than wet-popped popcorn, no small thing when your shop cycles through 50-plus flavors throughout the year.
From basic buttered and caramel to more arcane and experimental flavors like strawberry and M&M mint, there is something here for everyone — bags of flavored popcorn pretty much cover every flat surface in the shop. It’s kinda overwhelming, actually. But the flavors can be neatly organized into this taxonomy: buttered, caramel, krunch, and cheese. Buttered is what it sounds like, buttered popcorn. Caramel is the darker of the two types of caramel corn, thanks to the use of brown sugar. Krunch is its lighter, and subtler cousin, and uses white sugar instead of brown. And cheese is, well, cheese.
Both caramel and krunch are available with or without nuts — almonds, peanuts, cashews, and pecans. And krunch provides the foundation for some of the shop’s more outlandish flavors like piña colada, bubble gum, and Reese’s Pieces.
If you really can’t decide what to get, owner Tom Goetz himself (pictured) is more than happy to guide you through the decision-making process. He’s a real hoot, too, affable, garrulous, and witty. Exactly the guy you’d cast if the film you were making featured a popcorn shop such as this one. By the time you leave, you’ll feel like best friends.
One of the more interesting flavors that we tried was the Caramel Cheese Fusion, which is cheese corn wearing a caramel disguise. It did the whole sweet-savory thing in a very bewitching way, with one or the other profiles dominating each bite, depending on the amount of caramel that particular piece received. Sea salt double caramel did the same thing, albeit more predictably via the deft application of sea salt. The bright pink strawberry popcorn, however, was a bit saccharine and artificial, like Lucky Charm marshmallows. If you’ve got kids, they’ll love it. Our favorite, as boring as it sounds, was the peanut krunch. Classic caramel flavor, nutty, and just sweet enough, it recalled another Minnesota classic: the Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll.
The bagged popcorn is available in two sizes: small or large. If a large bag just isn’t enough, they also have 1-, 2-, 3 ½-, and 6 ½-gallon tins available, too.
One of the best things about Tom’s Popcorn Shop is that it’s open all year, every single day of the week. One of the bad things is that they don’t take credit cards, which is always a peeve. So bring cash. Also, unless you’re content to spoil your dinner, it’s a good idea to go when you’re full.
Tom’s Popcorn Shop
Popcorn shop in South Minneapolis
4708 Cedar Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55407