This story kicks off Heavy Table’s 2011 Pie Week – five straight days of pie-related stories. Stay tuned in particular for Wednesday’s edition, wherein we exhaustively taste-test 14 local pies.
When a restaurant changes its name, logo, and decor to reflect a signature item on its menu, you better hope that dish is extraordinary. For the Atsidakos family, that dish is the Minneapple Pie, a deep-fried, individual apple pie that inspired their Rogers restaurant to shift from the Cottage Grill to Minne’s Diner this spring.
“We never thought the Minneapple Pie would do so well we’d change the name of the restaurant,” laughs George Atsidakos (below left), who runs the diner along with his mother Libby (below right), father Andy, and sister Joanne.
But in the two years since the pie first appeared at the Steele County Free Fair in Owatonna, it has been almost a full-time job for George. It turns out that Minnesotans couldn’t resist the flaky, non-greasy crust filled with savory apples and cinnamon and topped with vanilla and cinnamon ice cream as it made a circuit through regional fairs and festivals throughout the state in the summers of 2009 and 2010. Now Minneapple Pie fans can get their fix during Twins games as well — the State Fair Classics booth at Target Field features hot, freshly fried pies at every home game.
The hospitality business has been the Atsidakos family’s ticket to success since Andy arrived from Greece in 1966 and began his 40+ restaurant career as a baker. After opening and running several area restaurants, including the Crystal Steakhouse and the Foolish Steer in Spring Lake Park, he retired in 2003, and George focused his efforts on the Steak Knife in Dinkytown. But Libby became restless and persuaded her husband to take over a former Embers location off I-94 in Rogers, and a new family business was born. At the same time, George started dreaming about adapting his dad’s much-loved apple pie recipe to fit the fair format.
“My dad and I would always watch the news when they’d talk about the new foods at the Minnesota State Fair, and he would say, ‘I wish we could do baked apple pies there.’ But the [full-size] pies take five hours to make,” George says. “So I had this idea to make individual pies and deep-fry them.”
“I said it was impossible,” interrupts Libby.
“But my sister and I decided to experiment anyway. She tweaked some things and it worked,” George says.
Though it took nine months of trial and error to perfect the recipe, Libby and Andy got on board with the idea and supported George as he pursued opportunities to sell the Minneapple Pie outside the restaurant. After the Steele County Fair debut, word quickly spread and the number of events featuring Minneapple Pie grew from three in 2009 to 15 in 2010. And last November, George and Joanne made their second pitch to Delaware North, which manages the concessions at Target Field, and found themselves at the stadium on opening day with their pies. Initial sales have exceeded their expectations, with about 100 pies being gobbled up by hungry Twins fans each game.
“If they’re winning, people eat and drink more,” George notes. “I think it’s going to get better and better.”
The Atsidakos family will take the pies on the road again this summer, closing Minne’s Dinner at 3pm every Monday through Wednesday so they can churn out up to 1,000 pies to fry up on site later that week. Though George’s ultimate goal is to bring the Minneapple Pie to the Great Minnesota Get-Together, he admits that he has “a better chance of winning the lottery than getting into the fair.” But for now, he’s happy with any opportunity he has to showcase Minneapple Pie in its hearty, homey galore.
“Pie like that, everybody should try,” Libby says. “You get the colors and flavor and quality.”
Editor’s note: The Atsidakos family was notified June 23, 2011, that the Minneapple Pie has been accepted as a new vendor at the Minnesota State Fair. Perhaps George should start playing the lottery, too.
The Minneapple Pie sells for $4 each or $20 for a to-go pack of six at Minne’s Diner, 13105 Main St in Rogers.