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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.

          ~TDQ

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Note: we've split a discussion about Karen markets to a new thread here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/908926

            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...

                    ~TDQ

                    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.

                          ~TDQ

                  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: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/897029 Also, apparently Lenny Russo, the chef behind Heartland, consulted on Mill City Tavern at the airport for a year. http://www.minnesotamonthly.com/media...

                        Chowhounds perspective: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/846102

                        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!

                        ~TDQ

                      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?

                      3. I like them both and you can't go wrong with either. Both are very well-executed visions of what their chef/owners are going for and both are very enjoyable restaurant experiences.

                        As for the "Minnesota experience" ledger, points are certainly awarded to Heartland for the fact that Garrison Keillor was next table over last time I was there. On the BF side, I enjoy the overall experience more, including the bar(s) and the service. I think they do smoked fish/meats, their "toasts" course, and desserts exceptionally well. On average, entrees are typically better executed at Heartland.

                        1. To answer your question, I'd go with Heartland. Both are fine restos, so it is a matter of personal preference. I like the slightly larger portions and more creative preparations at Heartland.

                          I agree with the poster earlier though that neither serve Midwestern food. They serve dressed up, euro preparations of our local ingredients, mostly French in Heartlands case, and mostly Nordic in BF's case.

                          Of course, the Midwest doesn't really have a cuisine all its own. When I think of what I grew up eating in my home, or friend's homes in MN, I think of bbq chicken, hot dish (typically chicken with cream of mushroom or hamburger with macaroni), corn on the cob, pan fried sun fish, and roast pork with sauerkraut (central mn is very german). I can't think of a single restaurant that serves this food. Haute Dish probably comes closest to actually paying homage to midwestern cuisine, though its tater tot hot dish is nothing like the dish I remember, as their's is much more delicious.

                          1. I restricted my post to answering your question. But if you want information on food things worth doing in Minneapolis during your visit here goes:

                            1. Shish and Indochin are the best meals you can get walking 1-2 blocks from Mac. For dessert, Cow Bella for Gelato is right there too. The Thai at Pad Thai on Grand is not bad, but nothing to write home about. Much more interesting Thai up on University at On's or Bangkok Thai Deli or some of the others.

                            2. For a dinner at someplace other than Heartland or BF, I'd recommend (in no particular order): Alma, La Belle Vie, Tilia, Parka, Victory 44, Craftsman, Grand Cafe or Heidi's.

                            3. For an experience you're probably not going to find anywhere else in the USA, try the Hmong market in St. Paul at 1001 Johnson. Get whatever looks good. Try a made-to-order papaya salad.

                            4. Midtown Global Market, try Sonora Grill or Left Handed Cook or both.

                            1. You asked for "unique to Minnesota" but this seems to have been interpreted as "Midwestern cuisine" by many.

                              If you are looking for a cuisine that you are unlikely to find in SF, go with Bachelor Farmer. If you can't get a reservation, they do have some space for walk ups. And if Sunday brunch works for you, it's no reservations. Go early or late.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: ChillyDog

                                It's probably because shortly after her OP and "unique to Minnesota", she they clarified with "Midwestern food" (which I guess I changed to "cuisine").

                                From my experience and scanning their current menu, I don't get what about Bachelor Farmer you are "unlikely to find in SF". It's reminiscent of a dumbed down version of my meal a while back at Quince (which I would assume mrsflynn knows based on her other posts on CH).

                                Anyway...there's another MSPD post that adds little value to the original question at hand. Carry on.

                                1. re: MSPD

                                  To clarify: When I say "adds little value" I mean my post does little to help the OP find "unique to Minnesota".

                                  I think it's time to retire from CH. Happy eating all.

                                  1. re: MSPD

                                    Following your lead. Bookmark has been deleted. And I share the happy eating sentiment.

                              2. Heartland also has a wonderful marketplace. I've enjoyed some of their charcuterie.

                                1. I've been lectured by a New Yorker that you should look for lefse, lutefisk, hotdish and tater tots. I guess I don't know Minnesota. :)

                                  A Jucy Lucy is generally called a stuffed burger and can be found around the country. We just gave it a unique name here. However, The Nook is the neighborhood bar every neighborhood wished they had and that's where I would go for one.

                                  Oddly, though it is almost all Canadian walleye, the walleye sandwich is ubiquitous to Minnesota and is almost a bar/grill staple. It is rare anywhere else 'cept pockets of areas on the Great Lakes and no where near as universally offered.

                                  As for the question Bachelor Farmer or Heartland. I've been to BF but not HL. My feeling is BF is OK but eh, just trying too hard to be Minnesota. Not exciting. Not great. On the other hand Restaurant Alma mentioned by others can hold its own across the country.

                                  1. I have been to both, and I would go to Heartland. In my experience pheasant, roasts and lake fish (cisco for example) are done very well there. Their duck prosciutto is crazy expensive, but delicious. I have been there for several special occasions and felt it was worth it, and worth returning to.

                                    My visit to BF was before they hired their current pastry chef, (who seems to be doing very exciting work, btw) and I have to say I was underwhelmed by the whole experience. Brunch is pretty good though. The pastry cart is a lot of fun, but things do add up fast. The brunch at Heidi's or Haute Dish is a little bit better, and certainly a better value.

                                    I also like to look for restaurants that offer a unique sense of place when I travel, so I totally understand why these two places in particular caught your eye. However, I do think the best place for dinner in the TC is Restaurant Alma.