The Food-Lover’s Guide to the Twin Cities
The best specialty shopping for meat, cheese, sweets, and more
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Cookies, cakes, candies, and other treats
The 100-plus-year-old Pearson’s is Minnesota’s largest oldie-but-Nut-Goodie candy company, featuring its now-iconic Salted Nut Roll. The sponge candy from Groveland Confections resurrects another homey, old-fashioned confection: golden-sweet “fairy food,” some call it, drenched in dark chocolate. For another grandmotherly favorite made modern, try A Gourmet Thyme Too’s lemon-thyme shortbread: rich, buttery-sweet crumbles with a savory edge. Handmade marshmallows are hard to find, which makes the ones from Golden Fig even more special—especially the pink, heart-shaped version flavored with real strawberries. Wash it down with a strawberry-flavored Spring Grove Soda Pop, the state’s only soft drink maker, which uses cane sugar to sweeten its product and distributes it only within 100 miles or so of its factory. For party treats, pick up a box of Cocoa & Fig cupcakes (the secret’s the frosting: Italian meringue buttercream) or for your fanciest affairs, go with the jewel-like petits gateaux from Patisserie 46 (serve their macarons as post-dessert desserts known as mignardises). They look too good to eat, but once you put a fork through the glossy, yolk-yellow dome of a Goldilocks or chocolate-enrobed, gold-leaf-flecked Lucia, you won’t be able to stop yourself. When it comes to all things chocolate, B.T. McElrath’s Salty Dog bars spike a smooth, dark slab with toffee and salt crystals. There are nearly too many local truffle makers to count, but among the new standouts are those from 185 Chocolat (try the caramel-filled swirls) and Mademoiselle Miel’s bonbons, which marry bitter-black chocolate with honey from St. Paul rooftops. And Rustica’s bittersweet chocolate cookies are so essential to a chocophile’s existence that they’re suspected to be the very dark matter from which the universe was formed.
Cocoa & Fig
651 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-333-1485, cocoaandfig.com
790 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-602-0144, goldenfig.com
Grass Roots Gourmet
920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-871-6947, midtownglobalmarket.org
Heartland Farm Direct Market
289 E. Fifth St., St. Paul, 651-699-3536, heartlandrestaurant.com
208 N. First St., Mpls., 612-886-3047, localdlish.com
3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-822-1119, rusticabakery.com
Stock the larder with oils, honeys, pickles, preserves, and sauces
Cold-pressed Minnesota-grown seeds give Smude’s sunflower oil a nutty flavor that enhances salad dressings and distinguishes it from the bland supermarket stuff—and it’s also terrific on popcorn.
Ames Farm pioneered the single-source honey approach, giving us a rainbow of floral flavors, including dark amber-colored buckwheat honey with a molasses-y depth. Wolf Honey Farm’s extra-virgin honey has a spreadable, frosting-like consistency and a gorgeous glossy sheen. The “extra” extra-virgin version is studded with wax, propolis, and pollen, which add a chewy texture (and, some believe, health benefits).
Find old-time flavors in Minnestalgia lingonberry jam and chokecherry syrup, whose bright cherry flavor is a fun counterpoint to a classic maple syrup, such as those from the North Shore's Wild Country. Fruit acquires a feisty edge in Quince & Apple’s preserves (especially the bittersweet orange marmalade with lemons) and Lucille’s Kitchen Garden’s raspberry pepper jam, which zips up a cheese plate or sandwich with its spicy-sweet vinegar bite.
Longtime favorite Daddy Sam’s barbeque “sawce” skips the corn syrup that big brands often use in favor of a flavor profile that’s a blend of hearty smoke, ample garlic, and lingering burn. For spice lovers, Lucky’s hot sauce comes in a variety of flavors, such as the versatile garlicky, vinegar-kissed jalapeño blend. The birthplace of Chi-Chi’s is now home to all sorts of locally made salsas, including Minnesalsa, Curt’s, and Salsa Lisa. New favorites include Francisco’s Pico de Gallo, a bright, raw, fresh flavor made by Francisco Morales of Willmar, and Chip Magnet’s “Ghoulicious” spiked fiery ghost peppers (beware: Its heat is haunting).
If you can name it, you can find it pickled: sweet beets from Angelica’s Garden, giardiniera from Ing Canning, super-sweet candied jalapeños from Viola’s Vittles—certainly not what you’d expect the sweet granny on the label to drop on a hot dog.
Several local dairies and ice-cream shops sell their wares in grocery freezers. Since Castle Rock makes some of the region’s best milk, it’s no surprise that its ice cream is dreamy. Sweet Cream is its purest expression, but don’t miss out on the variety of fruit flavors, too. Pumphouse Creamery’s small retail line includes a classic chocolate and vanilla, as well as its addictive salty caramel. Izzy’s shops sell a whole line of beverage-inspired scoops, including Guatemalan Coffee, chai-like Blue Mountain Spice, and the local-beer-featuring Summit Oatmeal Stout. Sonny’s ice creams, featured at Crema Café, are joined by a line of sorbets, which includes a lovely, refreshing cantaloupe-lime blend.