Whether your guests are born-and-bred Minnesotans or strangers to the land of 10,000 lakes, our state’s comfort food is an enduring crowd pleaser at mealtimes. There’s our state fish, the ever-popular walleye, prepared in myriad ways: beer-battered, simmered into fish chowder or folded into a cake and fried. Hearty steaks, wild rice meatloaf and pierogi (an adopted native dish thanks to the Eastern European influence that has held strong for more than a century in Minneapolis’ Northeast neighborhoods) are other comfort food staples that satisfy the meat-and-potatoes appetite, while offering a glimpse into the state’s culinary traditions. Even the legendary hot dish, a folksy favorite with a rich history at small town church hall gatherings, can be pulled off with a modern twist that makes it party-presentable and impossible not to love. Here’s a roundup of restaurants that feature our favorite Minnesota-inspired plates.
Chef-partner Landon Schoenefeld’s cheeky interpretations of homey Midwestern dishes really got people talking when he opened HauteDish in 2010. The tater tot "hautedish" is far and away the favorite, made with braised short ribs in place of the traditional ground beef, a porcini béchamel sauce, crispy baked potato croquettes and lightly sauteed green beans. "All the elements [of the classic Minnesota hot dish] are there," says partner David Walters, "but we’re still reinventing it in a way that someone who wasn’t an adventurous eater can be opened up to a whole new world."
The mac and cheese is runner-up in popularity, made with taleggio cheese fondue that comes off like an Alfredo, king crab, truffle oil and toasted spiced breadcrumbs. Anything from the regular menu is available for private bookings, but the chef also creates custom party menus. The historic turn-of-the-century building has stunning finishes- such as a 30-foot mahogany bar and an original tin ceiling- with semiprivate options, plus a back room with visibility to the open kitchen. HauteDish’s location is a bonus, offering easy access to Twins games, concerts, theater and two craft cocktail lounges (Marvel Bar and Parlour) within walking distance.
Event Space: Total capacity is 100 for a plated meal and 165 reception-style. Parties larger than 40 require a buyout of the restaurant. Private and semiprivate options are available.
Grand View Lodge
Approach the grounds of the Grand View Lodge- covered with white pines, squirrels scurrying about and 2,500 feet of sandy beach along Gull Lake- and you’ll be ready to make a weekend of it. Extended celebrations, from golf tournaments to mountain biking adventures to wine tastings, can be graced by Minnesota-inspired dishes in any of the seven dining venues, featuring a deconstructed tater tot hot dish from the Cru Bistro & Wine Bar or venison wild rice meatloaf in the Main Lodge dining room. Many items are sourced locally, like walleye from Red Lake, hens from Wild Acres and vegetables and herbs from The Farms on St. Mathias in Brainerd, along with various local brews. Accommodations run the gamut from three-level homes with eight bedrooms to a cozy North Woods cabin for two.
Event Space: Twenty total indoor meeting and event rooms with banquet seating up to 500.
Twin City Grill
For groups that want to capture that supper club experience without driving to the edge of town, the Twin City Grill, located on the first level of the Mall of America, has accessibility in its favor. The Minnesota fare options at this American-style restaurant are expansive, and special events manager Debbie Patnode recommends serving the food family-style for a wider sampling of tastes and better conversation. In the style of a good old-fashioned fish fry, walleye can be ordered Summit Grand Pilsner-battered and served with salt and vinegar fries and homemade tartar sauce. The bacon-wrapped sirloin and Iron Range chicken are other comfort food staples. Most of the group dining is semiprivate, in dining rooms adorned with photos of Minnesota landmarks, but the Lake of the Isles Room in the back works well for larger parties of up to 70.
Event Space: Lake of the Isles Room accommodates up to 70 for private dining. Semiprivate options are also available.
Tavern on Grand
It doesn’t get more Minnesotan than Tavern on Grand, where three-quarters of the food sales stem from walleye. Options are as far-fetched and fanciful as a Minnesota spring roll with long grain wild rice and walleye, or walleye ceviche, but there are also the classics: a walleye sandwich, walleye baskets and several walleye dinners to choose from. The location near Dale and Grand makes it ideal for walking in the summer, with bars, galleries and boutiques in the immediate area. The North Woods-themed interior includes a private dining room that holds up to 50 guests. However, the room is only available Sunday through Thursday.
Event Space: Private party room seats up to 50 guests.
Not a day goes by that events coordinator Michelle Ramsey doesn’t hear about the national exposure Nye’s Polonaise has enjoyed, from being voted best bar in America in Esquire magazine to its recent appearance on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. But even if it weren’t for all of the publicity, Nye’s would still be considered a must-see for Minneapolis groups, with décor that hasn’t changed in decades, a nightly piano player and a polka band on weekends. All of the fare falls into the classic Minnesota comfort food category, including pierogi, cabbage rolls and Polish sausage, steaks and chops, and don’t forget to start things off with a classic martini. Book the Pulaski Room if your party size is 50 or less, as it retains the traditional Nye’s feel. The lower level banquet room seats 80 to 100, but it’s removed from the lively action upstairs.
Event Space: Lower level banquet room seats 80 to 100. Pulaski Room seats 50. Each room is equipped with its own bar.