5 Things I Learned at MNMO GrillFest 2024

New Tequila, Great Burgers and the story behind a chicken

It’s been amazing to watch the growth of GrillFest over the last decade plus. What started as a small little festival has grown into one of the most fun parties of the year. After my stroll around CHS field on Sunday, I wanted to share some of my takeaways—5 things I didn’t really know before I went to GrillFest. And we hope you’ll come next summer! Or come to the Fine Spirits Classic on June 28!

I had never heard of Mijenta Tequila before walking around CHS Field, and what a discovery. New to Minnesota thanks to New France Wine Company, a local distributor, Mijenta is fully carbon neutral and the only tequila producer to earn B Corp certification. The master tequilera is a legend in Mexico for her palate, a former sommelier, Ana María Romero. And the packaging is so cool: The label is created from agave waste (looks like paper but isn’t), the boxes are from 100% post-consumer recycled paper, the bottles are from recycled glass, and the ink is made from food coloring. AND, it tastes amazing. The AÑEJO retails around $200, and it’s worth it. Eighteen months in American white oak, French oak, acacia, and cherry: complex, balanced, a gorgeous sipper. I loved the blanco, too, closer to $40-$50, bright fruit on the nose, the sweetness of honey and cinnamon, so much more going on than a typical blanco. No additives as well.

BELL AND EVANS CHICKEN: I see Bell & Evans in my Maple Grove Lunds & Byerlys all the time, but it’s so fun having the team here from Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania. We buy this stuff, so I’ve seen the label talking about it being “100% Air Chilled,” but it was fun to talk to the team and learn how the goal is to sear in the natural juices, tenderize the meat, and creates a more chicken-y chicken, without the chilled chlorinated water that pumps up most producers’ chicken.

PILLBOX TAVERN: I have been sleeping on Pillbox Tavern in downtown St. Paul in the Tria Center (where the Wild practice). The team there made a fabulous red cabernet patty melt, which they offer at the restaurant. Marble rye bread with a Tillamook and yellow cheddar blend, topped with yellow onions reduced in a cabernet red wine. A little sweetness, elegance, it’s a great burger. It won our Burger Battle vote from the crowd, for good reason!

EARL GILES CAN COOK: Earl Giles already has one of the best pizzas in the Twin Cities, but they can throw down in the burger war, too. The Burger Battle burger is going on the menu soon as a smashburger—65% brisket/35% chuck grind, habanero cheese, sweet pickled peppers, and smoked aioli. Get it. They’ve got a couple burgers on their menu during Happy Hour, including a solid double-smashed burger with American cheese, shredded lettuce, onion, pickles, and special sauce for $15.

MINNESOTA SALMON GUY: A guy from Bloomington made GrillFest his last stop before leaving for Alaska for the summer to fish. John Each’s Sockeyed Seafood has absolutely beautiful fish, he catches it in Bristol Bay and sells it via monthly subscription or 5- to 10-pound shares online and at farmers markets. They call it “sustainably fought”—an effort to promote the enjoyment of wild fish. While John’s in Alaska, say hi to his wife Eva who runs his booth at the Linden Hills Market every Sunday