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Jul 9, 2013 10:03 PM

Heartland or Bachelor Farmer?

I will be in the area for just one night (staying on campus of Macalaster in fact). Two restaurants caught my fancy. Heartland and Bachelor Farmer. Which do you think is better? I am looking for something that is unique to Minnesota and delicious, of course. Opinions?

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  1. I'd go to Bachelor Farmer.

    1. Where are you coming from and what do you like? These would be my last two recommendations when discussing the top 10 - 20 restaurants in the area. I would direct you to either more interesting concepts (Saffron, Victory 44, Travail, Haute Dish) or some sterling examples of the local ethnic food, like a Vietnamese restaurant.

      Depending on when you visit, you might have to book Bachelor Farmer as far out as 6 weeks for a primetime weekend table.

      5 Replies
      1. re: american_idle

        I am coming from San Francisco, where we are very spoiled for ethnic restaurants (especially Asian). I am looking for something we can't get in SF - Midwestern food!

        1. re: mrsflynn

          Since you're coming from SF, if you had longer than a day, I'd send you to a Hmong market, Somali restaurant, or Karen market, all of which the Twin Cities does better than SF. Also, I'd venture to guess that our best Thai restaurant right now would probably edge out SF's best Thai restaurant right now.

          Also, I'd send you to Fika (Cafe) in the American Swedish Institute for small plates lunch.

          Pick up some Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls in the airport or wherever you can find them. They are made right here in St. Paul and I have sort of a nostalgia fondness for them. In the past, they've been hard to find on the West Coast. (They have newish owners, so maybe that's changed in the past 2-3 years?)

          I can't really offer an opinion on either Heartland or BF because I'm not doing much fine dining these days, but if any kind of lake fish is on the menu of whichever place you end up at, I'd order it. Same with Minnesota hand-harvested, hand parched wild rice. I know lots of wild rice is cultivated in CA, but it's nowhere near as good as the truly wild, lake-grown stuff.

          If you see Walleye on the menu, it's likely from Canada, unless it's from Red Lake. Minnesotans love their walleye, but mostly if they catch it themselves from one of the 10,000.

          I'd never had deep fried cheese curds until I moved to MN. If you see those on a bar menu, order them for a lark. They might be good, they might be awful, but hopefully the former if they are super fresh (day old is pretty much the only acceptable age of a cheese curd, maybe 2-days) and they are fried properly.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Note: we've split a discussion about Karen markets to a new thread here:

            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              Good recs. Some papaya salad from either of the Hmong markets is one of the best lunches around.

              I'd also throw Red Stag into the mix as they have several Minnesotan things on the menu like smelt fries and a fish fry special.

            2. re: mrsflynn

              Neither restaurant serves midwestern food. They take (some) local ingredients and dress them up.

          2. Heartland or Victory 44.

            1. I'm going to do the rare thing here and answer the question you asked. I'd choose Bachelor Farmer.

              If both are booked, consider Restaurant Alma which is in a similar vein.

              Enjoy your trip.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Db Cooper

                "I'm going to do the rare thing here and answer the question you asked."

                Ha! And I'd agree, though I'd put Alma over the other two.

                1. re: BigE

                  Big E: You and I seem to have similar tastes and I would do the same which is why I mentioned it. But since the OP asked for a rec between the two, I thought it only right to answer their question.

                  1. re: Db Cooper

                    Now, see, I wouldn't hurry to send a person from SF to Alma. Nice place and all, but there are so many places in the Bay Area that do that better. Though, the good news is, the OP didn't ask about Alma...


                    1. re: Db Cooper

                      Thank you for this, Db. It's part of the reason I have slowly been abandoning Chowhound. I also started typing a reply to this but deleted it because it was beating the same stupid drum I've been beating on here for too many years.

                      But....for what it's worth mrsflynn, I was going to say it's a toss-up. Both are about the same distance (time-wise) from Macalester. Neither of these restaurants excites me.

                      I was also going to point out that there really is no such thing as "Midwestern Cuisine", nor anything truly "unique to Minnesota" (with some very limited exceptions, none of which I really find worthy of sending a visitor on a long journey to experience).

                      While neither of these places even blipped on my radar when considering where my wife and I would go for our anniversary tomorrow, of the two, I guess I would have chosen Bachelor Farmer simply because I know my wife likes their wine "chalkboard". Patrons are welcome to order half-bottles of wine and the rest of the bottle gets put up on a chalkboard from which other diners can order by the glass.

                      That's not to say you won't have a good meal at either; I have. But neither are really eye-opening, uniquely delicious, or surprising in any way.

                      Hope that helps.

                      1. re: MSPD

                        ^ This.

                        Between the two, BF if you can get in.

                        1. re: MSPD

                          I'd go out of my way for fish from Lake Superior. Sometimes, I go all the way to the North Shore for it, as, I suspect many who post on this board do. If it's on the menu at whereever the OP ends up, whether that's Heartland or BF, I think it's worth investigating. I feel the same way about hand-harvested, hand-parched wild rice. It's difficult to get in a restaurant setting elsewhere and I think it's worth ordering.

                          I also think that if you have some time to kill in the airport (as I suspect the OP might have), it's worth picking up a couple salted nutrolls. Even though she didn't specifically ask about candy, as a person who was in her shoes not long ago, I thought it was worth offering my opinion on.

                          To each his or her own, but the OP did say, "I am looking for something that is unique to Minnesota and delicious, of course. Opinions?" and I offered mine. If these things are available whereever she happens end up during her visit, it might be worth her time to investigate. In my opinion.


                  2. Bachelor Farmer serves cuisine that is fancier versions of what the first settlers of Minnesota were used to. Personally, I think they do it rather well. We can be pretty provincial here, so BF is quite popular.

                    Heartland uses only locally-sourced ingredients. Fish is going to be freshwater species only. The simpler dishes tend to be better, although I do like the envelope-pushing that can happen with desserts.

                    If you are focused more on a Minnesota experience, I would go with Heartland.

                    But a dish that is more unique to this area than eve freshwater fish is the juicy lucy, a hamburger with cheese (and sometimes more) cooked in the center. Maybe there's a place in SF that does one, but I'd guess not. Not far from Macalaster is The Nook, which some people feel makes the best version.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Brad Ballinger

                      Wow. Thanks Minneapolis Chowhounds. Your passion for food bodes well for city's cuisine. I will most definitely seek out the nut rolls. Please keep any and all suggestions coming! I appreciate your help in making my short stay as culinarily rewarding as possible.

                      1. re: mrsflynn

                        Salted Nut Rolls are also often in vending machines (though they can sometimes be hard and stale if the machine has low turnover), grocery stores, and gas station convenience stores.

                        If you've got time in the airport, Surdyk's might be a good stop for sandwiches: Also, apparently Lenny Russo, the chef behind Heartland, consulted on Mill City Tavern at the airport for a year.

                        Chowhounds perspective:

                        If you chose to eat at Bachelor Farmer for your one dinner, maybe you can check out MCT at the airport as a compromise. (P.S. if you do go to Heartland, try to find time to look around their market/deli. I love that place, even if I don't buy anything. I also like watching Heartland's butchers through the window. It's a huge complex.)

                        P.S. I'm glad you took our passion in good stride. I think the heat is getting to us--just scroll on down, folks. However, I am scratching my head at my cheese curds suggestion. I don't think you'll encounter fried cheese curds on the menus of either of the places you're considering. HA! But, I throw these kinds of things out as suggestions because you just really know what's going to come up when you're traveling. Delays, change of plans, etc. Whenever I travel, I find things almost never go as planned. Better to be armed with more info, rather than less, in case you need to make a last minute adjustment.

                        Have a nice visit, wherever you choose to go!


                      2. re: Brad Ballinger

                        Heartland does NOT use only "locally" sourced ingredients. First, they use all kinds of things out of season that aren't available "locally". They also expanded their idea of "local" to include most of Canada and as far west as Oregon. Most, if not all of the other top end places are just as "local", if not more, than Heartland without tooting their own horns about it.

                        1. re: american_idle

                          I was going to ask about this. Perusing the menu last week I saw upon it "Icelandic lamb chops." For a restaurant that had hitherto proclaimed not to use olive oil due to its non-production in the Midwest, I thought this odd.
                          Was this a recent choice of change by chef Russo, does anyone know?