Appetites: A foodie's 40 best local eats

Turtle Cake
A slice of Cafe Latte's turtle cake Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. It's on food writer Rachel Hutton's list of Minnesota favorites.
Jennifer Simonson / MPR News

How much do you think you know about Minnesota food? Rachel Hutton, editor of Minnesota Monthly magazine, asked herself that question recently.

In response, she created a "culinary canon" of essential local eats. This checklist, the Foodie 40, is the cover story for the magazine's March issue.

She spoke to Tom Crann, host of All Things Considered on MPR News, about the list. Here's their conversation:

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What was your process for creating the list?

I've been covering the food scene for more than a decade as a restaurant critic and food editor, so I looked back and brainstormed a big list of my most important eating experiences that have helped make our local dining scene distinct. I wanted a mix of old and new, highbrow and lowbrow, restaurant meals and grocery items that could collectively define Minnesota's contemporary food culture.

The Foodie 40 includes the all-you-can-drink milk at the State Fair, the tasting menu at Travail, and the Honeycrisp apple: What do they possibly have in common?

To make the list, the item had to be both excellent and distinctive, a Minnesota specialty that I'm excited to introduce to people.

I decided to embrace the fact that this was an inherently subjective judgment call and made the list even more personal by including memories associated with foods. For example, my mom making me SPAM for breakfast when I was a kid, my husband bicycling from Minneapolis to St. Paul to bring me a Cafe Latte turtle cake for my birthday, or the time I was reporting a story about Galactic Pizza and they let me ride along and deliver pizzas with a superhero while wearing a pink spandex costume.

If I've never tried anything on the list, where should I start?

Obama eats a jucy lucy at Matt's
President Obama greets well-wishers outside Matt's Bar on June 26, 2014, in Minneapolis.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images 2014

I'd send you to Matt's Bar for the Jucy Lucy. Besides hot dish and Jell-O salad, the molten-cheese-stuffed hamburger is our best-known culinary creation and it's hard to find outside the state.

One of my favorite things about Matt's is that the place has hardly changed since it opened in the 1950s, aside from the new photo of President Obama from his recent visit. The bar's founding namesake passed away last year, and it's a testament to the strength of his legacy that the place still feels the same.

What Foodie 40 item do you suspect most people likely haven't experienced?

I'd guess it might be the Hmongtown Marketplace in St. Paul, which has an amazing food court offering all sorts of Asian soups, meats and desserts that are hard to find elsewhere in the Twin Cities. While the market is very popular with the local Hmong community, I don't know that it's widely visited by the general public.

What's the most difficult item to check off the list?

I'd say the drunk line at the downtown Pizza Luce, because you have to stay awake until bar close — but maybe that's just me getting old.

Weigh in

Let us know what you think about the list in the comments. Which items have you checked off? And what items would be on your Foodie 40 list?