There are times when it’s hard to forget that working at a magazine is a lot more fun than working at, say, a window factory. This month was one of those times. In putting together our cover story, our staff faced the not-so-dreadful task of finding the best restaurants all over the state, from Grand Marais to Winona to Marshall (yes, you read that right, Marshall). For weeks, we drove, we scouted, we taste-tested. We spilled ketchup and gravy and god-knows-what else all over ourselves. We ate elk and halibut and sauerkraut (sometimes in the same day). We encountered something called schweinshaxe, which—though it sounds like a weapon one might encounter in a brawl with a Danish street gang—turns out to be quite tasty. We were called “honey” so often by waitresses that some staffers started signing their expense reports that way.
One of our goals in assembling the package—an effort spearheaded by our tireless associate editor, Rachel Hutton—was to seek out restaurants serving interesting, ambitious, and creative dishes in different corners of the state, places worth the time, money, and energy to get there. Given the price of driving these days, those are not insubstantial considerations. Yet fine dining can come in many forms, and in many settings, often at places where you’re more likely to have a meal served on wax paper than on a white tablecloth. That’s why we also searched for the best of the state’s iconic summer foods—the stuff that defines the season, from brats to burgers to ice cream—that you might want to sample along the way. Eating all those goodies isn’t exactly akin to working at the salt mines. But, thank God, somebody has to do it.
One of the things I love about Minnesota is how so many people here love to brag about how nobody here likes to brag. We can, in fact, be pretty obnoxious about how well-mannered we are. Not surprisingly, one thing few people do take any pride in—not even in a perverse sort of way—is the state’s remarkable track record when it comes to producing wildly entertaining weirdos: Tammy Faye Bakker, Michele Bachmann, the Jolly Green Giant. Just look at our most famous native sons: Prince and Bob Dylan, two men who have produced some of the greatest popular music ever recorded, and two people who are—the science backs me up on this—epic oddballs.
Thankfully, contributors Tim Brady and Burl Gilyard have set out to partially remedy this lack of appreciation for our innate bizarreness. In “The 10 Most Unwanted,” the two describe the worst scoundrels in Minnesota history, a rogues’ gallery of those people (weirdos all) who took advantage of the fine folks who call this place home. It’s also a tip of the hat to the chutzpah that allowed these rascals, at least in some cases, to pull off their schemes. Over the years, it seems, we’ve been duped, scammed, swindled, and conned by some diabolically clever people. (And we’re not even talking about anybody who’s worked in the Vikings’ front office.)
That mix of gall and gullibility says something fascinating about the state, and not all of it bad. I’ll let you decide for yourself what it means. For now, I’m calling it schweinshaxe.