Memorial Day weekend marks the start of road trip season. You're going to need some fuel for your journey-but don't be tempted the gas station's rations of Cheetos and Mountain Dew.
Rachel Hutton, editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine, recommends a variety of regional specialties, from smoked fish to pie, that are worthy of a foodie pilgrimage or two. She spoke with MPR News' All Things Considered; click the audio player above to hear the conversation and read her thoughts below.
What we do best: fish
Lake Superior smoked fish is Minnesota's quintessential road food. Lake trout, whitefish, herring all have a wonderful rich texture that marries well with the savory smoke flavor. One of my favorite places to buy smoked fish on the North Shore, Russ Kendall's Smokehouse, was recently devastated by a fire so it's not in business at the moment. But fortunately there's Lou's Fish House in Two Harbors, Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth, or the Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais. Lou's is a grab-and-go, hole-in-the-wall type place, while the other two are a little fancier and serve their smoked fish in salads, wraps, and other dishes.
Walleye, our delicate, flaky state fish is another terrific destination road food. The ironic thing about walleye is that it can't be fished commercially in Minnesota, due to state laws to protect fish populations. So generally, unless you caught the fish yourself, you're eating Canadian walleye. The exception to that rule is walleye that comes from the Akina Red Lake Fishery, which is operated by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, as it inhabits its own sovereign nation. The Thunderbird Lodge on Rainy Lake, on the Canadian border, sells Red Lake walleye as does Signatures in Winona.
SPAM is probably the most surprising or unusual road food you can find in the state. I always thought the blue cans were something you kept in the back of your pantry, but, turns out there are several restaurants in Austin, Minnesota, that serve the town's signature meat. B&J Bar and Grill serves SPAM burgers; Steve's serves it on pizza, Hawaiian-style with pineapple, even the local Culver's franchise has four SPAM-based items.
Local meat markets
Throughout the state, there's an abundance of small-town meat markets and I love to stop for car snacks or to pick up some grillables if I'm headed to a cabin. Many of the meat markets offer deer processing for hunters, do their own butchering of cattle and hogs, and make their own sausage and jerky. A few I like are Greg's in Hampton if you're headed southeast, or Thielen's in Pierz if you're headed north.
Head north for pie
A stop for homemade pie is a longstanding Midwestern tradition. Along the Great River Road, there's the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop in Maiden Rock or the Stockholm Pie Company. If you're biking the Root River Trail down south, you should pedal to the Aroma Pie Shop in Whalan for a pit stop.
But Highway 61 along the North Shore has the highest pie-per-mile ratio. There's the New Scenic Café outside of Duluth, the Lemon Wolf in Beaver Bay, the Rustic Inn in Castle Danger, and the Pie Place Café in Grand Marais.
They all offer great berry pies, the Rustic Inn's raspberry cream with a meringue crust is particularly unique and delicious. And if you're headed up north from the Twin Cities and can't hold out that long, you can always stop in Braham, just off I-35, at the Park Café. The town holds an annual Pie Day festival, which takes place Aug. 1 this year.
Map: Where to get the best eats on the road