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Oct 16, 2007 11:35 AM

to those who have moved from east to midwest [moved from the Midwest board]

Remember having a nice kaiser roll, maybe with sesame seeds or poppy seeds, with butter for breakfast or a snack with coffee? Or a nice chewy bagel ( don't tell me einstien's bagels are just as good). Could it be the water? Is it the air? Is that why we can't get a decent cheesesteak in MPLS? Will some on explain to me why everything is artisian or white bread?

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  1. I guess I qualify to post although it's now 17 years since I moved out here.

    I think it's a number of things and I could probably opine on the topic for hours verbally. Some day, if I had the time, it would be fun to try and hone down my feelings into some kind of concise, logical written article. Really, I don't believe there is any one magic reason why we can't, and probably won't ever have some of the food items that exist in the larger cities and/or on the coasts. It's a confluence of dozens of little things.

    A big culprit is that we just don't have the population and lifestyle to support certain products in the way they need to be supported to work. Take myself as an example. For the last four years, I was living in Burnsville and commuting to Eagan -- 10 minutes of interstate driving. I could get up at 7:00, shower, dress, prepare and eat a full, hot meal and eat it, brew coffee, make espresso and easily get to work by 8:00 even on the snowiest days.

    Now, I commute to Golden Valley. On a morning like today (50 degrees and rain), it took me a good hour and 15 minutes to get to work because I packed a lunch and left just after 7:00. Since I started this place a few weeks ago, I find myself getting up earlier and getting out the door ASAP (ideally 6:45). My longer commute means less time to mess around in the kitchen in the morning. Quite a few times, I've even skipped prepping my own lunch -- I just want to get on the road before traffic hits. The average commute time in MSP is much, much shorter than the average commute time in many of the 12 larger U.S. metropolitan areas.

    Every two minutes on every street corner in Manhattan, a bus or subway train dumps hundreds of time-crunched commuters like me out onto the street. This creates a huge market for things like a good bagel, pretzel or hot dog cart, etc. It also creates enough volume that a bagel shop has to keep churning out FRESH stuff (a volume which exists in few places up here). The density of population and the lifestyle is a huge advantage in selling these products.

    Along the same lines, the high volume and density creates a highly competitive landscape among vendors. This necessitates a HIGH-QUALITY product for items like bagels, donuts, breads and the like. Not only can you get the freshness but you have vendors that truly give a damn about their product (unlike, say, the person that made my pastrami on rye at Fishman's the other day).

    Consider too the real estate space constraints of NY residents. A lot of these people don't have functional kitchens, or at least ones that they enjoy cooking in. It's also more challenging to shop for the full range of groceries you can get at a Byerly's here. At the same time, the wealth of available restaurant/delivery options doesn't compel those people to learn to love their kitchen or feel the joy of cooking. Why would you when you take the economic advantage out of the equation? Not to mention the thousands and thousands of business travelers and tourists visiting those cities daily who have no access to cooking facilities (back to the volume/demand point).

    Yet another factor to consider is that the purveyors of the coasts have the advantage of time-tested, legendary products. You can make a cheesesteak here with ingredients identical or superior to those of the legendary Philly places, but you won't achieve the same "product". There is value and mystique to the environment in which you purchase and consume these products. Hand me a Pat's cheesesteak or a Kossar's bialy with sable from Russ & Daughters down the street on Hennepin Avenue and although I'd enjoy the hell out of them, they just wouldn't be quite the same.

    Finally, you have to remember that while MSP and the Midwest has become more "worldly", there are a lot more people here who grew up here, whose parents grew up here and whose grandparents grew up here. Add to that our proximity to rural areas where those growing up have limited access to extraordinary and unusual foods/restaurants. If and when those people move into the city, their access is easiest to that which is familiar (chains and ordinary food). When I lived out east, on a summer evening, I could stand in my driveway and SMELL Korean food, the neighbor's tandoor across the street and food from the Mexican home next to them. Many of my first exposures to interesting and/or ethnic foods were at those neighbors' homes.

    It might be a while before there is a critical mass of demand for a great bagel, cheesesteak or pastrami sandwich (not to mention authentic ethnic cuisines) simply because 3/4 of the people living in this area have never actually experienced a great bagel, cheesesteak or pastrami sandwich (or authentic ethnic cuisines).

    That's not to say you can't get some of those foods here and I try really hard to contribute to people finding them on this board. I agree that Common Roots in S. Mpls is close to a good bagel, there are some good bakeries around town, Uncle Franky's does a superb Chicago beef, and there are some fine pizzas (not in every genre) to be eaten that would compare favorably to the big cities'. For the Milwaukee readers, I'll continue to trumpet my love of Jake's corned beef sandwiches. One of the few things I like about the global population explosion (besides long-term real estate investment) is the notion that we just may be able to get more of these foods more easily in MSP.

    Those are just some of my random thoughts.

    3 Replies
    1. re: MSPD

      MSPD, I really like you and respect your opinions, but I grew up in Hamilton Sq. NJ, outside of Trenton. Not a big place, but they had restaurants that had buttered rolls, for heavens sake. and the cheesesteaks there were served on great rolls, not to mention the pork roll! I'm telling you, it's the water! oh yeah, and thanks for the Uncle Franky's heads up!

      1. re: buenosds

        Yes, there are plenty that believe the water plays into the quality of baked products (including pizzas) in certain parts of the country, as well as other environmental factors (altitude, relative humidity, etc.) There's probably some degree of merit to that. It's a little beyond my realm of expertise.

        As for the other stuff, it doesn't matter that you lived in a small town, what matters is that you lived in a town that KNOWS a proper roll for a cheesesteak, and had awareness of the other stuff you mention. People offer what customers want. Like I said (somewhere amid my billion word stream of thought) you need to build a population of diners with familiarity of and demand for these foods before you can expect purveyors to start offering them.

        I bet there are 100x the number of people in Hamilton Sq., NJ that know and crave a good cheesesteak roll than there are in all of Minnesota. That's why you and I can't and won't find a good one here any time soon. Can you imagine what would happen if a guy tried to sell hot pretzels at a stoplight here in Minneapolis?!?

        Another thought crossed my mind while typing all of this -- about six years ago Brueggers started offering bialys and they were actually pretty darned good ones! To my recollection, they only lasted a couple of months, not because they weren't a great product but because they simply weren't in enough people's frame of experience.

        I'm totally with you buenosds -- I often think "why does it have to be this hard..these foods aren't rocket science". I've also been busting my hump to find ANY soul food or southern cooking in this state much less good stuff. It is what it is.

      2. re: MSPD

        Guess I'd agree, having spent time in both East and Midwest, on the competition point as paramount. Eastern cities are denser and have good public transportation--a diner has quite a range of choices within a reasonable distance for many cuisines. Where that competition exists elsewhere, you can eat very well. I live in metro Detroit, and I've found New Yorkers are genuinely impressed by the Middle Eastern food around here--there are enough restaurants, and enough Arabs, that the cooks have to get it right or the place is sunk. It's not magic (though I do love NYC water); it's just that captive markets are the enemy of good food.

      3. The very simple answer is that is that if we had those things, we wouldn't be able to envy you so much.

        Would you really want your food experiences to be the same no matter where you were in the world? I would find it odd to find a terrific cheesesteak, a regional foodstuff, anywhere but Philly or the surrounding area. If I did find it here, it would make the real thing that much less special. I moved here from Texas and I promise you'll never hear me complain about the lack of good beef barbeque up here, it gives me something to look forward to when I visit Texas.

        Is In & Out Burger really that good? No, not really, but the fact that it can only be had in a certain area of the country, makes those that live elsewhere seek it out. A Krispy Kreme tastes the same everywhere as far as I can tell, but as soon as you could get one anywhere it lost it's worth.

        So I guess I can't answer your question. Is it the water, the air, the churn, the wheat, the bakers...I don't know. I just know there is probably a Minnesotan in NYC right now wondering where they can get a deep fried cheese curd when they should just be eating a bagel.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Foureyes137

          Exactly. Can you get good square cut pizza in New York, just like Dulono's? Probably not. Can you get perfect cheese curds? Do the church functions have hotdish like it should be?

          This comes up all the time in different boards. If you expect New York, or Jersey or whatever, live there. But if you choose to live here, embrace it. We have great Vietnamese food. We have great pizza, it is just our style, not yours. We are developing a great Mexican/Latino food scene. Embrace what we have and quit complaining. Us midwesterners are sick of it.

        2. Hmmm - not exactly sure how to answer this, but I think that everyone seems to have one good point. I definitely miss certain aspects of NYC....its an incredible city that deserves the accolades. Being a former cook in NYC I can definitely say that they have some amazing spots.....but you can get some awful food in NY too. I'll definitely agree that MPLS lacks the shear population & lifestyle to sustain some businesses that you would find in NYC. I miss the little things like walking into a corner store and picking up a beer & sea beans as I strolled over to a street vendor to get a kabab. But since moving here 3 years ago I have managed to find a number of places that give me the same amount of pleasure that I got in NYC. But I will admit that I do miss the bodegas on every corner and the street vendors. A single hot dog vendor on Nicollet Mall just doesn't do it for me.......MPLS will never compete with NYC, but it is a beautiful city with its own stunning sites, award-winning restaurants, and top-notch just have to look a little harder.

          1. I completely agree with the thrust of the thread -- the street food of NYC is the thing most conspicuously absent around here. Gyros particularly, for some reason, although you can get adequate ones if you look around. Vendor culture adds so much vitality to any given city... not to mention sometimes fantastic cheap meals that are an alternative to cooking, fast food or upscale dining. And totally unpretentious, to boot.

            That said, one of the things I missed most immediately about living out East (Boston and then Brooklyn) was small, sophisticated, inexpensive bistros. Having now discovered Barbette, Cafe Maude and Blackbird, I'm a lot more content to be here. And speaking as a dude who bagel-hunted across Manhattan and Brooklyn (finding lots of good bagels and a number of world-champions) I'm a constant champion of Common Roots -- they're less consistent than I'd like, and they don't match up with something like Tal or H&H or Terrace (my favorite) -- but they're real bagels. That's progress.

            And, yeah, while you're here, savor the bratwurst and cheese curds and sweet corn and caramel apples and Vietnamese and South Minneapolis Mexican food. It's good. Different. But good. And re: artisan or white bread... try the fry bread at Picosa. Particularly the fry bread taco at lunch -- really good, and not like anything else I've ever had.

            5 Replies
            1. re: jrnorton23

              ok, I hear ya! but where do you get the best cheese curd in mpls? The only place I know is Culvers and their's honestly aren't that good. I've had great curds in Lacrosse WI, there was a place in the MOA when I visited there long ago, but that's gone now. And Churchka, again with the hotdish? believe it or not, anybody can make a hotdish anywhere, even in NYC. I am trying to embrace it here, it's just hard to embrace your ugly fat teacher when you were embracing a cute thin girl type a couple o years ago.

              1. re: buenosds

                Sorry buenosds, but I guess I miss my ugly fat teacher. I agree with the foureyes1737 re: regional food is REGIONAL and you can't expect to find it everywhere.

                I'm from Iowa, I live in Portland Oregon. Yes, I love the fish, the mushrooms, and the berries here. BUT nothing will compare to the sweetcorn, tomatoes (millions upon millions), and beef that I grew up with.

                And mpls can't suck that much or they wouldn't be getting the press they've been getting the last few years in the national (NYC-centric) cooking mags.

                1. re: buenosds

                  hmm. i like the food just fine. i don't eat at culvers or MOA though. i don't think that's a very good sample of "midwestern" food-- that's more mass-market commodity driven corporate crap as far as i'm concerned. maybe check out the real grub first before coming with the oh so tired ol' saw. . .

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    Whoa whoa whoa. I'll agree on the MOA tip, but would be the In & Out of the midwest if anyone ever came here. That fresh patty with the char crunch on the outside, the ripe tomatoes on the deluxe, the tang on the cheese, the fresh buttery bun...all it's missing is the "spread".

                    Now, all they need to work on is getting double-fried fries.

                    Also, I'll take a chubby pretty midwestern girl over an anorexic, acned, snobby bikepunx from Williamsburg anyday. YUCK!

                    1. re: Foureyes137

                      ha! i've eaten at culver's one time only and i guess it shows. very well, i'll take the correction. still think the op should realize there is regional food to be explored around here, rather than trying to transplant that favorite kaiser roll from nyc-- as others have said, it wouldn't be the same, even if you could.

              2. I think the simple answer is because we don't have a "national" cuisine. Other than chain restaurants, you can't get anything one place that is just like it some other place. Due to the differences in population, culture, city layout, ethnic makeup of the town, EVERY PLACE is different than the NY/NJ area. There's also no place else to get really good authentic TX or Carolina bbq unless you're in TX or the Carolinas, a begniet like you can get in NOLA, fish tacos like I can only get when I'm in Malibu, old world sausages like we make them here in Cleveland, etc.

                8 Replies
                1. re: rockandroller1

                  And even nations with a "national" cuisine don't really have a national cuisine. A friend of mine from Hong Kong thinks Szechuan food is too hot, and thinks you can't really taste the ingredients like you can with Cantonese food. Another friend of mine from Saigon doesn't get food from Hue. And don't even get started on the different regions of Mexico, or what you'll find in a hawker centre in Singapore. So what is "national" cuisine anyway?

                  1. re: Loren3

                    I guess my question is, why would you want a Philly cheesesteak in Minnesota? Because of a craving or because it's something you like to eat? It's like eating strawberries in February. Some things are best in their native habitats, or in areas where there is a population to support them, or in season.

                    As for bagels, you shouldn't expect any national chain to replicate your neighborhood bagel store. Those are lowest-common-denom bagels. Ask around (or on these boards.) Given the upscale, intellectual population of your area, there must be a good local bagel store. Or, in a pinch, place an order with H&H online and keep them in the freezer.

                    I'm not buying "why does everything have to be artisan or white bread." You need to get out and explore. I'm in Ann Arbor and we have at least a dozen little bakeries whose goods are sold in the various local markets. You might not find them at Kroger, but you might at a smaller place. I'm sure MSP is the same way.

                    1. re: brendastarlet

                      Just based on the original post (and not the ensuing expansion into "gee...all midwest food is inferior):

                      The analogy with strawberries and asparagus is a bit flawed. Those things have obvious environmental issues which prevent their growth/harvesting in certain places and seasons.

                      Aside from the theory on water quality and humidity, buenosds touched on something that I've wondered myself: why is something not subject to seasons and rare ingredients/techniques and that are seemingly easy to make so unavailable in a major metropolitan area? My theories were as posted above.

                      Nobody can make a strawberry grow in two feet of snow but, in theory, anyone with the right equipment and knowledge can make a bagel (or bialy or cheesesteak roll) anywhere in the world.

                      On one hand I agree with you, and also mentioned earlier, that some things are best in their native environments. But what we are wishing for/craving, and the least we can hope for is a reasonable facsimile.

                      That said, I'm a little bit put off by the "just ask around" suggestion. It's not that simple. I've spent the better part of 17 years searching high and low across Minnesota and surrounding environs for a good, fresh, reasonable facsimile bagel and some of these other foods.

                      And I can't speak for others but I HAVE ordered H&H here. I think frozen bagels suck. The point is getting a nice, hot, freshly made bagel of good quality. That doesn't exist here except maybe at one place in Roseville (St. Paul Bagelry which is way out of my way) and one in south Minneapolis (Common Roots which has limited options and nothing great to put on them).

                      I don't know for sure, but I read the OP's stuff as a momentary lashing out in frustration not an overall disappointment in the food/bread/etc. here. There are foods that touch me personally on a nostalgic basis and I often really, really miss them (as well as my grandmother with whom I associate so many of these foods). Now that I no longer have relatives living in NYC, sometimes I wonder if I'll EVER get back to enjoy these foods that mean so much to me. That's when I get to thinking about why I can't find them here. It sometimes makes me lash out in frustration too.

                      In the end, I obviously love MSP, Minnesota and the midwest and, despite limited time and resources, try to champion as much of the great food here that I can.

                      1. re: MSPD

                        What is there to put on a good bagel other then a) butter or b) plain cream cheese (and if you're feeling brunchy lox, capers, red onion, etc)?

                        My grandparents live in Union City, and if I put anything but one of those two on a fresh bagel, I'd get smacked (I usually get smacked anyway, my grandmother is mean).

                        1. re: Foureyes137

                          I like to choose from sable (surprise), salty lox (not found here), whitefish spread (rare) and/or smoked whitefish, butterfish and sturgeon. If it's a good homemade brunch, I'll even throw on some matzo brye scramble (no idea on the spelling -- basically scrambled eggs, matzo, lox, and onions).

                          I also love a great bagel with just butter and whipped cream cheese. Bialys with just butter (personal quirk...I don't know why).

                          1. re: MSPD

                            If you like sable, salty lox and whitefish spread (never had whitefish spread, but I think I can imaige its constitution), my favorite midwest-centric topping is trout spread. I don't put it on a good bagel, but I put it on toast and Lenders. Different than salmon spread, more delicate in my opinion, great stuff.

                            We may not be able to get a decent bagel around here, but as I am sure you know, we are lucky in the land of 10K Lakes when it comes to salted and smoked fish.

                        2. re: MSPD

                          well, bless you MSPD, you've at least understood my original post. I really believe it's the water around here. It can't be because midwesterners don't like rolls and butter with their coffee, or good bagels. And ps, I'm still frustrated. But in a I can live with it way.

                        3. re: brendastarlet

                          I live here. And I like a good cheesesteak. That's why I'd like to eat one in Minnesota. I've tried rolls here that look similar to Kaiser/Vienna rolls, but they sure aren't the same as those I ate growing up in Pennsylvania. Not that that surprised me, particularly. Not because the Midwest is inferior; just because cheesesteaks and Kaiser rolls aren't part of our culinary lexicon. I think MSPD hit it right on the nose twice, with his critical demand theory and his take on the original poster as just being momentarily frustrated.