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Asian Fusion Redux

Three Minnesota food sensations prove that Asian fusion is a trend whose time has come—again



Asian fusion was an all-American cuisine. It gave shape and meaning to our melting-pot cooking culture, especially in the 1980s when a great new influx of Asian immigrants met a great new boom in serious American cooking. Two of its most important practitioners were Wolfgang Puck, whose California restaurant, Chinois, defined a style of using French techniques to unite small-farm ingredients with Asian flavors, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the Alsace-born, New York City–defining chef whose restaurant, Vong, brought Thai flavors into the vanguard. Once California and New York were well saturated with fusion restaurants, the chefs came here, in the way that established brands seeking new markets do, specifically as Puck’s 20.21 at the Walker Art Center and Vongerichten’s Chambers Kitchen. Of course, they were run out of town on a rail, with Chambers and Jean-Georges parting ways in 2009 and 20.21 closing last winter. Despite those restaurants’ failures, however, it’s evident that Minnesotans have developed a fascination with Asian fusion of the homegrown variety. There’s an Asian fusion trend taking shape in the Twin Cities right now, and it’s as homegrown as wild rice.
 

Green Spoon: Speaking of wild rice, how would you like to try a sushi roll in which lefse is rolled around wild rice? That’s chef John Robinson’s Minnesota Roll, available select Thursday nights at Green Spoon, a new café between Prospect Park and the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Green Spoon is a counter-service restaurant in the spirit of French Meadow, Café Latté, and the Birchwood, serving chef-quality food from dawn till late. Robinson conveys a spirit of amused adventure as a chef, as seen in dishes like the Minnesota Roll and a “Garbage Plate,” in which grilled hamburger patties are coated with a hot sauce made of meat (no, seriously, a hot sauce made of meat) and served on a bed made half of pasta salad, half of deep-fried hash browns. Robinson says the garbage plate is a late-night special of Rochester, New York, his hometown. I tried it and can report that it’s sort of good in a way—the way in which you wish you were drunk and 21 and playing video games at four in the morning with your best friends. If you lack those circumstances, it’s probably a dish best skipped in favor of Green Spoon’s other strong suits, featuring elevated farm-driven fare and Korean-touched American grub. The farm-driven fare dates to Robinson’s time as a cook at the Westin’s B.A.N.K., where he developed a taste for such top-shelf ingredients as the Wild Acres chicken which fills his classically French and uncommonly good chicken potpie, along with a buttery velouté and vegetables from white-tablecloth restaurant staple Dragsmith Farms. More Dragsmith veggies were to be found in a terribly pretty salad simply called “The Local Salad,” with watermelon radishes like little slices of sunshine and golden tomatoes.

As good as the simpler things here are, I expect the restaurant to make its name on the more craveable Korean-accented comforts, such as the kimchi-topped pulled pork and Korean-spiced Philly cheese-steak sandwiches. The pulled pork is brilliant: a soft sweet roll piled high with lush pork barbecue, the whole thing layered with zingy, spicy, pickled-cabbage kimchi. Kimchi, of course, is the Korean way of preserving vegetables through fermentation; the light cabbage kimchi used for this sandwich acts like the coleslaw atop a traditional Memphis-style barbecue sandwich, but with a little kick. The Korean Philly cheese steak is Green Spoon’s other standout: grilled Korean-soy-and-spice-marinated sirloin combined with peppers, onions, and plenty of gooey cheese. It more than hits that magic cheese-steak trifecta of melty, meaty, and craveable. Robinson told me he came up with the Korean-inflected dishes when the owner and general manager, both from Seoul, brought in their own food to share. “I’d be eating the kimchi and think, ‘This is crazy good, we have to use it,’” Robinson says.

Despite its proximity to the U, the restaurant is probably a few too many steps off campus to attract students. But once the residents of leafy Prospect Park realize that Green Spoon delivers, that kimchi-topped pulled pork is going to be a
Friday night staple.
 

Pizzeria Lola: Speaking of kimchi, have you tried the kimchi-topped pizza at this year’s locavore pizza sensation Pizzeria Lola? I did, and it’s astonishing, the biscuity, bready dough serving as a perfect foil to the electric zing of the cabbage pickles and the sticky hot glaze of Korean gochujang chili sauce. “I actually made the Korean pizza because I was being a bit of a wild scientist in the kitchen,” Lola’s owner, Ann Kim, told me. “I put it on the menu as a special, then took it off. But people were asking for it every day, so I ended up putting it on the menu permanently, and it’s taken on a life of its own. People who’ve never had kimchi in their entire lives now know it only from pizza, and order it again and again.” Once you taste this pie, called the Lady ZaZa and made with Kim’s mom’s kimchi recipe, the counterintuitive-sounding pizza actually starts to feel intuitively logical, even intuitively necessary. After all, Southern Italy is known for its use of chili peppers and its tangy vegetable antipasti like caponata and pickled peppers: is a kimchi pizza really so different? Okay, yes it is, but in a town with a history of sauerkraut pizzas, this bit of Italian-Korean fusion fits right in.
 

Vellee Deli: The last new and notable use of kimchi in Minnesota’s selection of Asian fusion cuisine is made on the Vellee Deli food truck, a truck which, if it were a brick-and-mortar joint, would be in the running for best cheap restaurant of the year. Yes, the food’s that good. Like all food trucks, the Vellee Deli is best tracked through the Internet on Facebook and Twitter. And track it you should, mostly for options like the Korean barbecue burrito: savory, salty, falling-off-the-bone short ribs combined with cabbage kimchi, rice, romaine, and smoky Mexican salsa roja. Each bite is beefy, zesty, herbal, robustly spiced, and shows off what a good chef can do when she chooses to walk on that fine tightrope separating too, too much and unforgettable oomph.

In this case, that chef is Joyce Truong, whose family hails from Vietnam. Truong opened the truck with her boyfriend, Will Xiong, whose family is of Hmong descent, and who has some relatives living in France and others running a Thai restaurant. Truong marshals all those influences into a menu of craveable delights, including a few truly stellar sandwiches. I’m torn between which is the better sandwich, the Hmong-influenced “Mojo,” a banh mi-style creation made with lemongrass sausage, perky pico de gallo, lots of cilantro, and a tart fresh papaya salad—all of which come together in a beautiful interplay of fresh and powerfully savory—or the more traditional Vietnamese barbecue banh mi, with a beautifully creamy and garlic-laced paté uniting fresh pickled vegetables and tender, caramelized pork. Both of these join Twin Cities hall-of-famer sandwiches like Clancey’s subs, French Meadow’s grilled beauties, and Maverick’s roast beef. Be sure to get to Vellee Deli soon—Xiong tells me they plan to shut down once the snow flies. Yes, we must all plan for snow. It’s awful. But on the other hand, the change of seasons will no doubt bring something as wonderful and unexpected as this sudden Asian fusion renaissance. Kimchi Christmas cookies anyone?

Green Spoon: 2600 University Ave. SE, Mpls., 612-208-0529, greenspooncafe.com. Pizzeria Lola: 5557 Xerxes Ave. S., Mpls., 612-424-8338, pizzerialola.com. Vellee Deli: velleedeli.com
 

The Perfect Dish

A watermelon-lime juice and a Mojo banh mi sandwich from Vellee Deli. This sandwich deserves national attention: the spicy, lemony, fragrant Hmong sausage; the tender, sweet, pillowy roll; the alternately lush and crunchy Vietnamese pickle and Mexican salsa toppings. All these wonderful things unite to deliver a knock-out punch of sweet, savory, spicy, crunchy, and chewy, everything you could want in one dish. That’s some sandwich.
 

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June 2015

Come to Big Sandy Lodge and Resort to get all the delicious pancakes you can eat for only $5.

Cost: $5

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
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Pride Parade Viewing Party UNION Rooftop – Downtown Minneapolis Start time: 9am (presale tickets) / 10am (day-of tickets) Live DJs: DJ Lindsay ‘Shiek’ Earney and DJ Lenka...

Cost: $10 (includes a free mimosas, glass of champagne or Absolute cocktail)

Where:
UNION Rooftop
731 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis , MN  55403
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Come join us at the Skyway Theatre as we take over the block for the Pride Parade!  Drinks and brunch starting at 9am and DJs at 12pm! Get the best seat for the best parade of the...

Cost: No Cover

Where:
Bar Fly & Maruso
715 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-333-6100
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Pride Parade Rooftop Viewing Party CRAVE Rooftop – Downtown Minneapolis Live DJ: DJ FANCY RESTAURANT Start time: 9am $5 from each ticket donated to OutFront Minnesota ...

Cost: $10 (includes free Absolute or Jameson cocktail)

Where:
CRAVE Rooftop
825 Hennepin Ave MN
Minneapolis , MN  55402
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YogaFit's Mind Body Fitness Conference is where students work towards a Yoga Alliance registry, earn continuing education credits, or simply deepen one's yoga practice and transform...

Cost: $329- $975

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis , MN   55403
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Show your Pride by taking part in the Twin Cities Pride Rainbow Run on Sunday, June 28th! Starting at Boom Island and ending near Loring Park, the route takes runners along Hennepin Avenue as...

Cost: $30

Where:
Boom Island Park
800 Sibley Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
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Join YogaLean's author Beth Shaw in this new 1 day YogaLean Transformational Workshop during the Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  Explore holistic modalities of weight loss,...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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The 2015 Twin Cities Pride Festival features over 400 exhibitors, 40 food and beverage booths, 20 sponsors, and 300,000+ visitors who participate in this free celebration of the GLBT...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loring Park
1382 Willow Street
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
Website »

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Join YogaLean's author Beth Shaw in this new 1 day YogaLean Transformational Workshop during the Minneapolis Mind Body Fitness Conference.  Explore holistic modalities of weight loss,...

Cost: $129.00

Where:
Hilton Minneapolis
1001 Marquette Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Website »

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The 2015 Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade will be held on Sunday, June 28, beginning at 11 a.m. along Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. The Parade route starts at 3rd and Hennepin and ends at...

Cost: Free or $40 Grandstand tickets

Where:
Hennepin Ave in Downtown Minneapolis
Hennepin & 3rd to Hennepin & Spruce
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Sponsor: Twin Cities Pride
Telephone: (612) 255-3260
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The Twin Cities Pride Entertainment Team is excited to bring you over 50 local acts during Pride Weekend. The schedule is below, but know that things are subject to change.  ...

Cost: Free. $10 General/$75 VIP for Pride in Concert 6/27 5pm at Loring Stage.

Where:
Loring Park
1382 Willow St
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-255-3260
Contact Name: Twin Cities Pride
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The celebration will be held in true Lurcat style, featuring music, dancing, festive food, cocktails and more! Café & Bar Lurcat is central to the Pride festival in Loring Park and found...

Cost: Free to enter

Where:
Cafe & Bar Lurcat
1624 Harmon Pl
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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What do you get when you explore the magical, yet tangled, intersection between the genius of art and the self-destruction of addiction; set it to catchy music against a backdrop of vivid visual...

Cost: $25.00

Where:
Minnetonka Theatre
18285 Highway 7
Minnetonka, MN  55345
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The Minnesota Boychoir, under the direction of Mark Johnson, will be concluding their 2015 East Coast Tour with a Welcome Home Concert this Sunday, June 28 at the Graebner Memorial Chapel on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Graebner Memorial Chapel
Saint Paul, MN

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Don’t miss one of Minnesota’s hippest and hoppiest events. This local craft beer tasting event includes live music and a ton of tasty appetizers paired with the best brews in the Twin...

Cost: $50

Where:
Nicollet Island Pavilion
40 Power St.
Minneapolis, MN  55401
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Sponsor: Canvas Health
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Open Window Theatre is making a children's event of fantastical proportions with their summer youth theater production of James and the Giant Peach.  Roald Dahl's imaginative adventure...

Cost: ADVANCE: $6/child (lap child free), $8/student, $12/adult

Where:
Open Window Theatre
Metropolis Minneapolis Building
1313 Chestnut Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55403
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Telephone: 612-615-1515
Contact Name: Jeremy Stanbary
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We know it's the height of summer, so we think it's the perfect time to get a SUP you'll love. Get your board now while there is still plenty of summer left. Some of our hottest selling...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
, MN


Sponsor: Silver Creek Paddle
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Join us for an afternoon of stories, music, and poetry that evoke and express a profound connection to place — places we’ve lived, struggled, thrived, seen changed or destroyed, or...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Ox Coffee Co
3740 Chicago Ave S
Minneapolis, MN  55407
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Sponsor: Kairos Earth
Telephone: 405-365-8796
Contact Name: Chelsea Scudder
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We know it's the height of summer, so we think it's the perfect time to get a SUP you'll love. Get your board now while there is still plenty of summer left. Some of our hottest selling...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
, MN


Sponsor: Silver Creek Paddle
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RN’s and LPN’s for Evenings, Nights & Weekends - $2,000 hiring bonus Trillium Woods, a brand new continuing care retirement community, is opening on July 6th and we are having an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Trillium Woods
14633 Country Road 4
Plymouth, MN  55446
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Cost: free

Where:
Online Trading Academy
7900 International Drive Suite 170
Bloomington, MN  55425
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Telephone: 952-814-4410
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Bring your lunch and learn more about the opportunities to live, learn, and work with a community overseas through Peace Corps service.   Peace Corps is a federal agency which provides...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Phalen Picnic Pavilion
1600 Phalen Dr
St. Paul, MN  55106
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Sponsor: Peace Corps
Telephone: 651.233.9605
Contact Name: Krista M. Mastel
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Bring your lunch and learn more about the opportunities to live, learn, and work with a community overseas through Peace Corps service. Peace Corps is a federal agency which provides U.S....

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Phalen Picnic Pavilion
1600 Phalen Drive
St. Paul, MN  55106
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Sponsor: Peace Corps
Telephone: 612.233.9605
Contact Name: Krista M. Mastel
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Enhanced and engaged learning, creating and sharing ideas, and forming partnerships are just a few benefits of collaborative classroom learning. Now, with tools like Office 365, OneNote for...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
162 South Ave
Bloomington, MN  55425
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 Join us for a 4th of July barbecue, yard games, and outdoor movie hosted by Mary Mother's Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together group. All are welcome! Bring a dish to share. This...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mary Mother of the Church in Burnsville
3333 E. Cliff Road
Burnsville, MN  55337
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Sponsor: Young Adult Catholics Hanging Together
Telephone: 952-890-0045
Contact Name: Kosi Onyeneho
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OneNote is a free cross-platform app that helps students and teachers save time, stay organized, and collaborate more effectively in and out of the classroom. Students can build portfolios of...

Cost: Free

Where:
, MN

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Summer is the sweetest time to savor the river, so sign up now for River City Revue! It's a delectable blend of live music, cool history, and hands-on art adventures, all happening at the Saint...

Cost: $10 - $15

Where:
St. Paul Yacht Club
375 W Water St
St. Paul, MN  55107
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Sponsor: Mississippi River Fund, Works Progress & the National Park Service
Telephone: 651-291-8164
Contact Name: Katie Nyberg
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Enter the halls of Casket Arts to encounter the work of 20+ artists working in paint, sculpture, light, fibers, and sound. A one night only event with several site specific...

Cost: Free

Where:
Casket Arts Carriage House
1707 Jefferson St Ne
Minneapolis, MN  55413
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The flipped classroom is an innovative method of teaching that allows for multimedia lessons and in-class exercises. Now you can “flip” your own classroom using familiar tools like...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
162 South Ave
Bloomington, MN
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The foundation of Jillian's country-esque, classically trained songwriter-style musicianship was built on northern Minnesta's Iron Range. Under the talented eye of Helina Pakola, who has...

Cost: 5

Where:
Mankato Brewery
1119 Center Street
, MN  56003
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Sponsor: Mankato Brewery
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One of the most highly sought-after skills in the workforce today is coding. In this workshop, we’ll show you how to create an app from a template, add content, and upload an app to the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Microsoft Store - Mall of America
Bloomington, MN

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Bryan Olds Band will be performing live at Big Sandy Lodge and Resort on Friday, July 3. The folk-rock blues band plays a variety of original songs, as well as covers, ranging from Pearl Jam to...

Cost: Check with venue for details.

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
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The 90’s alternative rock band – The Mallrats – will take the Amphitheater stage at Grand Casino Hinckley on Friday, July 3 at 8:30 p.m. Following the show will be a spectacular...

Cost: $10 general admission

Where:
Grand Casino Hinckley Amphitheater
777 Lady Luck Dr
Hinckley, MN  55037
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Bunker’s Music Bar & Grill Presents Award Winning Vocalist Patty Peterson & Friends with Special Guest Melanie Rosales Friday, July 3, 2015 - 9:30pm 761 Washington Avenue N,...

Cost: $10.00

Where:
Bunker's Music Bar and Grill
761 Washington Ave N
#325
Minneapolis, MN  55401
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Sponsor: Bunker's Music Bar and Grill
Telephone: 847-624-5087
Contact Name: Carrie Miller
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It’s almost that special time of year again, where you pull out your flag, grab your lawn chair, and put on that sunscreen…the 68th annual Saint Anthony Park 4th of July Parade and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Anthony Park/Langford Park
Saint Paul, MN  55108


Sponsor: 4th In The Park Committee & The Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation
Telephone: 651-343-7365
Contact Name: Josh Becerra, Jeanne Hansen, & Emma Seeley
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Mystic Lake’s Rock and Rockets Fourth of July Celebration returns this year with another spectacular fireworks display. The free, all-ages event will take place outside Mystic Lake beginning...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
2400 Mystic Lake Blvd.
Prior Lake, MN  55372
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Telephone: 952-496-7388
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Celebrate this Independence Day by watching fireworks light up the night sky over Big Sandy Lake. The event will take place at dusk, between Davis and Goff’s Bay, on the Fourth of July.

Cost: Free

Where:
Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
20534 487th Street
McGregor, MN  55760
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Sponsor: Big Sandy Lodge and Resort
Telephone: 218-426-5040
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