Minnesota Comfort Foods, Reinvented

By James Norton

When you think of Minnesota food, you might think of a few classic staples: nutty wild rice, flaky walleye, and stick-to-your-guts hot dish. Change, of course, has arrived with a vengeance as a food revolution has swept the state, and tradition is increasingly seen as a platform for invention. Chefs around the state revel in adapting and sometimes completely transforming hidebound dishes, creating menus that riff playfully on familiar flavors and foods.

Haute Dish hot dish
Haute Dish / Photo by Becca Dilley

Haute Dish, Minneapolis

The very name of Landon Schoenefeld's restaurant tells you that he's going to upend traditional expectations. The restaurant's signature Tater Tot Hautedish is the logical place to start: It evokes Minnesota's classic comfort food casseroles, but the use of short rib and a luxurious porcini mushroom béchamel sauce elevates it to an entirely new realm.

Grand View Lodge Dining Room, Nisswa

Plunge into a venison wild rice meatloaf at the Grand View Lodge Dining Room if you'd like to experience an elevated take on a Midwestern classic. The venison and wild rice take you to the arboreal wilds, and the presentation and technique bring you back into the comfort of civilization.

Piggy Blue's Bar-B-Que, Austin

SPAM takes center stage in Austin, Minnesota, home of the famous canned ham that fueled American troops through multiple wars (and became an intrinsic part of Hawaiian and Korean cultures in the process.) Stop by Piggy Blue's Bar-B-Que for a Spam Town Po' Boy or Spam Burger.

Fitger's Brewhouse, Duluth

Fitger's is a food, drink and music hub of Duluth's social scene, so it's no surprise that they've got some inventive takes on local flavor. The brewpub's smoked fish salad uses smoked trout from local smokehouse Northern Waters, wild rice and smoked dressing, and it brings a hearty does of flavor to the table.

If you're up for something a bit more edgy, try the Northern Waters Smokehaus Whitefish Burger, where the locally caught fish is seasoned with breadcrumbs, eggs, mustard and spice, served on a ciabatta roll and finished with wasabi mayonnaise.

Blue Door Pub burger
Photo courtesy of The Blue Door Pub

The Blue Door Pub, St. Paul & Minneapolis

The humble cheese-stuffed hamburger known as the Jucy Lucy got its start in South Minneapolis taverns like Matt's, Adrian's and the 5-8 Club. But it has been taken to inventive heights by the team behind The Blue Door Pub in St. Paul, with a new location in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood.

The Blue Door's menu swims with creative versions of the stuffed favorite, but the one that caught our eye was the Bangkok Blucy, stuffed with coconut milk-soaked mozzarella and topped with pickled carrots, cucumbers, red onion, and ginger with a side of curry for dunking.


The Boathouse, Ely

Craft beer has come to Minnesota's vacation country in force, as evidenced by frontier brewpubs like the newly founded Boathouse in Ely. The Boathouse's beer-battered walleye uses house-made craft beer and thereby managed to capture a good percentage of a successful fishing trip in each bite taken.

Alternately, take your walleye to Mexico via India with the brewpub's fish taco, which features breaded strips of fish on naan bread with shredded cheddar and a side of broccoli slaw.