Traditional Minnesota Food; Transformation!

When you think of Minnesota food, you might think of a few classic staples: nutty wild rice, flaky walleye, and stick-to-your-guts hot dish.

Change, of course, has arrived with a vengeance as a food revolution has swept the state, and tradition is increasingly seen as a platform for invention. Chefs around the state revel in adapting and sometimes completely transforming hidebound dishes, creating menus that riff playfully on familiar flavors and foods.



Diners know the Chicago Dog and the Coney Island Dog but how about the MPLS Dog? Stop into Uncle Franky’s to enjoy this new creation. The MPLS Dog is an all beef hot dog topped with hot dish, a drizzle of ketchup, Cheese-Whiz and crispy tater tots. You can find the MPLS Dog at Uncle Franky’s in Minneapolis, Fridley and Plymouth.


Plunge into a venison wild rice meatloaf at the Grand View Lodge Dining Room if you’d like to experience an elevated take on a Midwestern classic. The venison and wild rice take you to the arboreal wilds, and the presentation and technique bring you back into the comfort of civilization.


SPAM takes center stage in Austin, Minnesota, home of the famous canned ham that fueled American troops through multiple wars (and became an intrinsic part of Hawaiian and Korean cultures in the process.) Stop by Piggy Blue’s Bar-B-Que for a Spam Town Po’ Boy or Spam Burger.


Fitger’s is a food, drink and music hub of Duluth’s social scene, so it’s no surprise that they’ve got some inventive takes on local flavor. The brewpub’s smoked fish salad uses smoked trout from local smokehouse Northern Waters, wild rice and smoked dressing, and it brings a hearty does of flavor to the table.

If you’re up for something a bit more edgy, try the Northern Waters Smokehaus Whitefish Burger, where the locally caught fish is seasoned with breadcrumbs, eggs, mustard and spice, served on a ciabatta roll and finished with wasabi mayonnaise.

Blue Door Pub burger
Photo courtesy of The Blue Door Pub


The humble cheese-stuffed hamburger known as the Jucy Lucy got its start in South Minneapolis taverns like Matt’s, Adrian’s and the 5-8 Club. But it has been taken to inventive heights by the team behind The Blue Door Pub in St. Paul, with a new location in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood.

The Blue Door’s menu swims with creative versions of the stuffed favorite, but the one that caught our eye was the Bangkok Blucy, stuffed with coconut milk-soaked mozzarella and topped with pickled carrots, cucumbers, red onion, and ginger with a side of curry for dunking.


Craft beer has come to Minnesota’s vacation country in force, as evidenced by frontier brewpubs like the newly founded Boathouse in Ely. The Boathouse’s beer-battered walleye uses house-made craft beer and thereby managed to capture a good percentage of a successful fishing trip in each bite taken.

Alternately, take your walleye to Mexico via India with the brewpub’s fish taco, which features breaded strips of fish on naan bread with shredded cheddar and a side of broccoli slaw.

Minnesota birding report

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Tundra swans; photo by Jim Williams


This is your monthly Explore Minnesota Birding Update.  Happy birding!

November Nature Notes

Tundra swans are migrating in large numbers with thousands viewed from the Brownsville Overlook on Nov. 6. Anyone who admires the beauty of tundra swans will want to visit the Weaver Bottoms marshes and the Brownsville Overlook along the Mississippi River during the month of November. The spectacular sights and haunting sounds of huge concentrations of these birds is something everyone should experience. From 25- to 40-percent of the eastern population of tundra swans use the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge as a resting site prior to their long journey to wintering areas on the Atlantic Coast. Bird counts for various locations within the refuge can be found at the Upper Mississippi River Recent Bird Sightings web page.

Sandhill cranes continue to gather at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Zimmerman. Cranes from all over the state come to Sherburne, with numbers sometimes exceeding 10,000. In fact, as of Nov. 8, 11,286 sandhill cranes were at the refuge. Since cranes venture out to feed in area croplands during the day, morning and evening hours offer the most amazing views of vast numbers of birds. Stop by the headquarters for a map of the viewing sites, or print a crane viewing map ahead of time to help you plan your trip.

Did You Know?

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers a wonderful Winter Bird Feeding guide on what to feed winter birds and which feeders are best for your backyard. Some winter birds you may attract include American tree sparrows, pine grosbeaksevening grosbeakscommon redpollshoary redpollsred crossbillswhite-winged crossbills and purple finches.

You can help scientists track the movements of winter bird populations, as well as bird distribution and abundance by participating in Project Feeder Watch. All you need to do is gather and report data while enjoying the birds at your feeders. This year’s Project Feeder Watch begins Nov. 11. Join now!

Those who enjoy photographing birds will want to participate in the Bird Spotter Photo Contest. Submit your favorite birding stories and photos corresponding with a specific category every other week for a chance to win!

Upcoming Birding Events

Nov. 11, Winona
Swan Watch Bus Tour
This bus tour is open to the general public. Witness the spectacular tundra swan migration that takes place on the refuge. Bus tour, instruction and lunch included. Reservations are required. Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge. 507-454-7351

Nov. 11, Hastings
Minnesota Campus Bird Hike
Join bird expert Kevin Smith on a morning hike around the nature center. Field guides and binoculars are available or bring your own. Carpenter Nature Center. 651-437-4359

Nov. 18, Carlton
Winter Bird I.D. 
Ever wonder what kinds of birds are flocking to the bird feeders? Learn how to identify some common Minnesota winter birds, what their favorite foods are and make and take your own winter bird mobile. Binoculars are available to use. Pre-registration is required. Jay Cooke State Park. 218-673-7006

Nov. 18, Victoria
Bird Banding
See wild birds safely trapped, studied, and tagged with numbered rings. Lowry Nature Center at Carver Park Reserve. 763-694-7700763-694-7650

Nov. 19, Maple Grove
Raptors in the Yard
Meet captive raptors and learn about these amazing birds of prey. Cameras are welcome, and participants may drop in anytime. Eastman Nature Center at Elm Creek Park Reserve. 763-694-7894

Nov. 24, Hastings
Minnesota Campus Bird Banding
Bird banders welcome you to see birds up close and learn about the birds who share our ecosystem. Banding runs continuously for 3 ½ hours but visitors may come and go at any time. Please call ahead of time to say you are coming — donations of bird seed or suet are greatly appreciated. Carpenter Nature Center. 651-437-4359

Dec. 1, Marine on St. Croix
Rise & Shine Morning Bird Walk
Join Kyle TePoel on a special bird walk in the park. Kyle is a naturalist who has been guiding bird hikes since 2008. Bring a pair of binoculars or one will be provided for your use. Beginners and advanced birders are welcome. William O’Brien State Park. 651-433-0500

Dec. 2, Rochester
Zumbro Valley Audubon Society Bird Walk
Enjoy a casual walk through Quarry Hill Park to look for over-wintering and migrating birds. Bring binoculars if you have them or borrow a pair from the nature center. Quarry Hill Nature Center.

Dec. 2, Houston
Owl Prowl to Call in Wild Owls
Experience wild owls outdoors and learn how to identify owls by size, shape, silhouette and sound. Following an indoor portion of the program, participants will carpool to known owl territories in and around Houston to call for eastern screech-owlsbarred owls, and great horned owls. International Owl Center. 507-896-6957

Recent Bird Sightings

rough-legged hawk was seen on Nov. 8 in Scott County by David C. Keyes.

An American tree sparrow was discovered by Allan Meadows on Rainy Lake in Koochiching County on Nov. 8.

Sparky Stensaas found a short-eared owl hunting for voles in the Sax-Zim Bog in St. Louis County on Nov. 6.

Check the Duluth/North Shore Rare Bird Alert and the Northwestern Minnesota/Detroit Lakes Rare Bird Alert for other recent bird sightings. Recent sightings throughout the state can be found on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Unionwebsite. For additional information, consider joining the Minnesota Birding community on Facebook.


Tundra swans near Brownsville on the Mississippi River; photo by Wayne Bartz

Sandhill cranes at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge; photo by Jim Williams

Evening grosbeak in St. Louis County; photo by Jon Swanson

Purple finch; photo by David Brislance

Common redpoll in the Sax Zim Bog; photo by Mike Lentz

Red crossbill; photo by David Brislance

American tree sparrow in Koochiching County; photo by Allan Meadows

Short-eared owl in the Sax-Zim Bog in St. Louis County; photo by Sparky Stensaas

Rough-legged hawk in Scott County; photo by David C. Keyes

18-Free Things to do on Vacation in Minnesota

Going on vacation doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money. In Minnesota, there are plenty of attractions and activities that are completely free to visitors. Here are 18 of them:


munsinger gardenThis well-known, beautiful garden park is located along the Mississippi River in St. Cloud. The Munsinger portion of the gardens began in the 1880s. The gardens have experienced different stages of development, with many of the improvements coming as a result of work during the Great Depression through the WPA. The Clemens portion is dedicated to different varieties of roses. During the summer, there are free music concerts within the gardens.


Artspace has transformed the former Franklin Junior High School building into a multipurpose arts center, with 25 affordable live/work studios for individuals and families; 37,775 square feet for artist studios, arts organizations and arts-friendly businesses; and 36,247 square feet that are operated by the Brainerd School District as community programs space. You can visit and learn from local and resident artist and craftsmen. The facility is open to the public daily and also hosts special events the second Saturday of the month.


The new and improved Spam Museum opened in spring 2016, featuring interactive exhibits and galleries dedicated to the infamous canned ham’s history, popularity and place in modern life, as well as Spam-inspired artwork and a kids play area.


Experience the history of Marvin Windows and Doors in the Wm. S. Marvin Training and Visitor Center. The 6,000-square-foot museum and gift shop are open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 1-4 p.m. on weekends. Exhibits include a combination of artifacts and interactive presentations to create a memorable experience for visitors of all ages.


pipe statue

Located in the old Rock Island Depot in Pipestone, it is on the Historic Register and is one of a very few buildings made of yellow brick. It houses the Pipemakers gift shop, Indian art gallery and displays of Indian items. Open year-round.


Minnesota has around 200 disc golf courses, and most are free to play. For a complete listing of all disc golf courses in Minnesota, go to


Walk through one of Minnesota’s last covered bridges. Measuring nearly 120 feet long and 15 feet wide, it was built in 1869 and crosses the Zumbro River.


minneapolis skylineAs the only urban national scenic byway, Minneapolis’ Grand Rounds attests to the exceptional qualities of its host city. The byway is truly in the heart of Minneapolis, with many impressive views of the downtown skyline, yet is as green, lush and lined with waterways like most of our rural byways. Enjoy walking, running, biking or Rollerblading along the 50-mile route.


One of the country’s largest urban sculpture parks, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden features more than 40 works of art and the Cowles Conservatory. The garden will reopen this June after extensive renovations, bringing back the playful “Spoonbridge and Cherry” as well as 18 holes of artist-designed mini golf.


This cultural attraction is regularly ranked among the top 10 comprehensive U.S. art museums. Admission, as always, is free.


polar bearComo Zoo features indoor and outdoor exhibits, including large cats, primates, polar bears and aquatic animals. The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory has permanent tropical and changing seasonal plants and flowers, as well as the new Japanese garden. Donations are accepted.


Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, this is the most-visited marine museum on the Great Lakes. 1,000-foot freighters pass within 200 feet of the building. Open daily throughout shipping season.


The Superior Hiking Trail is a 300-mile hiking trail that follows the rocky ridge line above Lake Superior. Great for both day hikes and backpack camping.


The Gitchi-Gami State Trail connects Two Harbors to Grand Marais along the North Shore of Lake Superior. This 86-mile trail will eventually connect five state parks, several communities, four Scientific and Natural Areas and numerous historic sites, and provides vistas of Lake Superior.


sculpture garden

Open 365 days a year, this artists’ residency in the St. Croix River Valley features more than 100 large-scale sculptures scattered across 25 acres. Free guided tours are offered on Sundays in summer and fall.


This 45-foot-tall carillon tower in downtown New Ulm plays programmed music three times a day, when the clock’s animated figurines come to life. The characters are replaced by a nativity scene during the holiday season.


Located inside the flagship store in downtown Red Wing, the museum features the world’s largest boot, brand memorabilia, and a chance to dress like a iron worker and learn more about how the famous shoes are made.


paul and babeSnap a photo with folklore’s favorite lumberjack and his trusty steed, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. The pair can be found in Bemidji, but they also stand tall in Brainerd, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Akeley and elsewhere throughout the state.