What if you were banished from civilization and had to choose just 10 local dishes to remember Minnesota by? Heavy Table’s Desert Island Top 10 asks local personalities about the dishes they can’t quit, the soulful stuff they crave and come back to.
We’ve been fortunate enough to share the airwaves now and again with Sean McPherson on 89.3 The Current, and when it comes to local food, Sean is no mere bystander: The dude has opinions.
So when we saw Sean post his desert island top 10 picks for metro-area food on Facebook, we knew we had to get his well-researched and utterly unpretentious thoughts onto Heavy Table.
THE PERSON: Sean McPherson plays bass for Heiruspecs, Dessa, and his solo project, the Twinkie Jiggles Broken Orchestra. He is the co-founder of Trivia Mafia and the host of Radio Free Current on The Current from 7-10 p.m. on Saturdays.
If you are attempting to engage him in conversation, bring up salad bars, obscure hip-hop, or facts related to the U.S. interstate system. Coffee order: Light roast, two creams, nine Splendas. Drink: two whiskeys on the rocks, and keep ’em coming, garçon.
THE DESERT ISLAND TOP 10 LIST:
Yum Yum Rice Bowl with Crispy Tofu at World Street Kitchen
It is hard for me to explain why I love this dish so much. It is honestly not the most appetizing bowl to look at, and on paper it’s hard for me to explain the appeal. But the fact that the crispy tofu is milky on the inside somehow locks so perfectly with the crunchy, ground-up peanuts with the shiitake mushrooms. Once I found out that you could get it with double the tofu, I promptly forgot you couldn’t. I also always add some of the hot sauce they keep by the water that isn’t sriracha.
Fish Curry at Ruam Mit Thai
Fish curry is not the first thing I ever ordered at Ruam Mit, but it’s all I’ve gotten ever since I tried it. The curry fills up a medium-sized cereal bowl, with a bit of Thai basil hanging on the top. The flaky bits of fish are spectacular, but the win is the sauce, which is like nothing I’ve ever tasted. With a chicken curry, it always feel like it’s sauce poured on a protein. In the fish curry, it’s one amazing blend. You can taste the fish flavor even in the bites without fish chunks.
Veggie Reuben with Potato Salad at Cecil’s Deli
There are a lot of candidates for the best Reuben in town, but as far as the veggie Reuben experience, nobody is touching Cecil’s. Like most great vegetarian dishes, this bad boy is not trying to rip off the taste or texture of meat. It’s just onions, tomatoes, green peppers, sauerkraut, and Swiss duking it between two slices of super-dark rye. Before you bite in, just press your thumb down a bit on the bread, and then lick your thumb while your date looks away. That reuben sauce is gonna sweat through the bread, and it’s gonna be amazing. Get the potato salad and douse it with the spicy-ass mustard. Don’t tell ’em I sent you ’cause I used to tip very badly there when I was in high school.
Brocchi Italian Fries at Italian Pie Shoppe
The Italian Fries at Italian Pie Shoppe are not potato-based fries that got a bit of oregano tossed on ’em. These Brocchi fries are mozzarella cheese, cheddar cheese, and broccoli folded between pizza dough and sliced into “fries.” Does that sound like the most decadent food you could ever eat? Maybe, but add ranch and it’s a guarantee.
Pan Bagnat at Meritage
I heard on Splendid Table that in France people prepare these delicious tuna olive sandwiches by having their kids sit on a big loaf of them on the way to the beach, which is both gross and endearing. But, I believe at Meritage they grill tuna rare and add the most amazing olive tapenade and green beans, no posteriors used. The warm sandwich, even without the butt-panini treatment, is absolutely amazing thanks largely to there being cold and hot elements living in harmony. Though the fries are worth having once, it’s nice to order the salad, as the sandwich is very filling.
Cachapas Venezolanas with Cotija Cheese at Maria’s
There is nothing like the corn pancakes at Maria’s. These sweet pancakes have visible kernels of corn and burst with so much fresh corn flavor that they seem a distant cry from some cornmeal flapjack you might’ve had before. I’m always looking for the world’s perfect bite, and the closest I’ve gotten in the breakfast realm is a syrupy forkful of corn pancake that is balancing cotija cheese on all sides.
Bruschetta with Soft Egg and Lobster at Bar La Grassa
It’s a good rule to get what the server recommends, and on my first visit to Bar La Grassa I was pointed towards the Bruschetta with Soft Egg and Lobster. It was so good that my wife and I started fighting over who gets the last bite during our second bite. I’ve never tasted something so buttery that was still complex and satisfying, not just decadent.
Honey Walnut Shrimp at Hong Kong Noodle
I’m a shrimp lover, which means you embrace disappointment. I imagine about 33 percent of shrimp must come from the terrible part of the ocean, but that’s not the case with the good people at Hong Kong Noodle. These big shrimps are always crispy and they are covered in a heavenly sauce full of sweetness that is balanced by the crunch of the also-sweet candied walnuts. It’s not often that any type of meat pops in your mouth, but this absolutely does.
Veggie Sampler at Fasika
The veggie sampler at Fasika is a marathon, but I sprint through this damn plate every time. You get about eight scoops of different delicious bean-and-vegetable entrees served on excellent injera bread. (One might think that all injera tastes the same, but that would mean you never had the recycled newspaper they used to call injera at the Blue Nile, R.I.P.) Fasika injera has a sourdough note and wraps perfectly around these delicious Ethiopian treats.
This is a good dish to share, and often your dining partner will not like the red stuff in the middle. Good for him / her, but that is the best one. It tastes like alcohol and beef, two ingredients I don’t believe it has, but it is just the best.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina at Louis Ristorante & Bar
I’ve eaten at a lot of the baller-ass steak places in the Twin Cities but for the straight up taste of the steak, I really go for this one. Beyond the wonderfully prepared, buttery meat, it comes with a great presentation — a small pile of fried potatoes and a plentiful bunch of sauteed spinach. It’s easy to leave a steak house feeling like you got ripped off, but I honestly think this one is worth the price.