Adventurous eating in the Twin Cities

MECCA BOS | Updated 7/12/2013

More unusual culinary experiences in the Twin Cities.

Yes, Andrew Zimmern has ingested everything from raw pig’s testicles to fried bees, with an enthusiasm most of us reserve for chocolate pudding. He might be known as the dude who eats bugs and balls on TV, but why is it that so few parts of animals are considered fit for our delicate American palates? Why are we so quick to toss the “nasty bits” into the trash heap? Consider also that the case for insects as food is being evaluated seriously by some governments facing demand for sustainable food sources.

Still don’t want to drop that turkey on rye and head out in search of a nice fat witchetty grub? You’re in luck. Bugs aren’t a big feature on Twin Cities menus — yet. But if you want to make like AZ and stretch your foodie limits, there are plenty of food adventures to be had in our own back yard.

‘Organ Recital’ at Black Forest

German culture is never one to shirk from meats — any meats — and the German kitchen at Black Forest Inn has been slinging meat parts a-plenty for almost five decades. Every Friday’s “Organ Recital” means rotating menu items of tongue, heart, sweetbreads and liver that will gross out some and delight others. (1 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-872-0812, www.blackforestinnmpls.com.)

Blood sausage

Why is it a bloody steak is a delicacy, but tack on the word “sausage” and all bets are off? I’ve found the stuff to be deep and meaty with bewitching umami. Both a butcher’s and chef’s darling, blood sausage can be found all over town, but try Kramarczuk’s handmade coils. (215 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-379-3018, www.kramarczuk.com.)

Bonito Fish Flakes

Also known as katsuobushi, bonito flakes are the painstakingly prepared (boiled, fermented, smoked, sun-dried and shaved) belly of slapjack tuna. Used as an ingredient in Japanese cuisine, it adds distinctive flavor. Bonus: Shaved over hot food, the flakes “dance” upon your ramen or pizza. Kinda creepy, actually. Find them at Moto-i. (2940 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-821-6262, www.moto-i.com.)

Exotic cheeses

When your palate gets weary, endless varietals of cheese are a reliable place to turn. Stinging nettles and fenugreek can both be found in the superior, Baldwin, Wis.-produced Holland’s Family Cheese goudas. Source them at Surdyk’s. (303 E. Hennepin, Mpls., 612-379-3232, www.surdyks.com or www.hollandsfamilycheese.com.)

Tiki drinks

If you prefer to adventure liquid-style, the Twin Cities’ continuously evolving cocktail culture will keep your thirst wetted. Consider the drink list for the upcoming tiki bar opening at Eat Street Social, where pondering such tinctures as Arrak, Averna, Orgeat, Pine Liqueur and Hibiscus Grenadine will make an elegant drinking game out of happy hour. (18 W. 26th St. Mpls., 612-767-6850, www.eatstreetsocial.com.)

Sushi With Side effects

Sushi extremists have an appetite for danger (see fugu) and exotica (urchin, roe). For the true adventurer, try Escolar — a fatty, buttery, decadent cut that has a reputation for Olestra-like effects. It carries a warning at Fuji-Ya. (600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-871-4055, www.fujiyasushi.com.)

Cuisine of Ecuador

While it’s a too-little-known fact that much of the Twin Cities’ Ecuadorean community is busy busting out plates and suds in high-end restaurants, it’s even less known that the food of their small South American country can be had at a handful of cafes near you. The varied cuisine is rich in both meat and seafood, served with a somewhat tropical slant (cassava, yucca and plantains play starring roles), yet it’s a thing unto itself. Try it at Chimborazo. (2851 Central Av. NE., Mpls., 612-788-1328, www.chimborazorestaurant.com.)

Ghost Peppers

As the hottest known chile, ghost peppers can be truly dangerous. It’s advisable to use an eyedropper to apply the stuff to recipes, but Marla’s Caribbean — whose namesake cooks probably the spiciest food in town anyway — is challenging spice-philes with Ghost Pepper Wings, a buffalo-style preparation drenched in blistering sauce. (3761 Bloomington Av. S., Mpls., 612-724-3088, www.marlascuisine.com.)

Sea Urchin Gonads

Foie gras of the sea, uni is the peanut butter-colored gonads of sea urchin that crown rice pads at better sushi bars. Sweetly creamy and oddly addictive, consider it instead of another rainbow-avocado-cucumber-mayonaise roll. Sakura does it nicely. (350 Saint Peter St., St. Paul, 651-224-0185, www.sakurastpaul.com.)

Horchata & huitlacoche

Besides being fun to say, horchata and huitlacoche can both be had at one-stop shop Los Ocampo. Probably the king of local Mexican fast food, the chain does not skimp on authenticity, and this is proof. Horchata: a traditional hangover cure in a chilled beverage of rice, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar served in a Styrofoam cup the size of your head. Huitlacoche: a fungus that grows on corn. Tastes like mushrooms. Put it on your gordita. Eat. (Various locations. www.taquerialosocampo.com.)

Brain of lamb

When he put the traditional Middle Eastern dish lamb brain on his menu, Saffron chef Sameh Wadi feared it wouldn’t penetrate the barrier of the sometimes sedate Midwestern palate. Now, it’s one of the most popular items on the menu. Lightly fried, they’re tender, mild and served with stewed tomatoes and olive oil. (123 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-746-5533, www.saffronmpls.com.)

The power of Lardo

Few things cut to the decadent chase like lardo — pure cured fatback that can be shaved over anything, rendering it, you know, way better than it was. Or, let it dissolve on your tongue unadulterated, with only dry white wine to chase. Source it from Heartland, where it comes from heritage Mangalitsa hogs, known for their superior fat content, natch. (289 E. 5th St., St Paul, 651-699-3536, www.heartlandrestaurant.com.)

Squid ink

Aside from molasses-colored black licorice, nature provides precious few black foodstuffs. One way to quickly add mystique to anything is to add squid ink, especially good in pasta and even bread. The flavor profile is briny and otherwise otherworldly. In a good way. Get it for a pittance at Coastal Seafoods. (2330 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., or 74 Grand Av., St. Paul, www.coastalseafoods.com.)

Head cheese & Pig’s feet

Cheese ain’t got nothing to do with it, and the misnomer does nothing to ameliorate the plight of this oft-maligned charcuterie item. Head cheese takes advantage of all of the stubborn and hard-to-reach but tender and tasty bits hiding within the crannies of a pig’s skull. Cook to release, season, press together with gelatin, and voilà. Waste not, want not. It rotates on charcuterie plates around town, but check it out at Butcher & the Boar. (1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. 612-238-8888, www.butcherandtheboar.com. Or, for an altogether other animal (part), order a Potted Trotter at Pig Ate My Pizza. Ask them what they’re doing with pig lungs, while you’re at it. (4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131 .)

Wild plants

Best known for its high-quality meats and fish, Clancey’s is also where the wild things are. Wild plants are known for their superior nutritional and flavor properties, and when morels, ramps, fiddleheads, purslane and the like are in season, consult this butcher case. (4307 Upton Av. S., Mpls., 612-926-0222, www.clanceysmeats.com.)

Get your Goat

As the most consumed meat in the world, goat is ubiquitous on Asian, Caribbean, African and South American menus. And yet around here the unctuous dark meat is almost an exotic. The culinary cool kids have gotten hold of it lately, and you can have it accompanied by things like sour cherry, nasturtium and pistachio at Victory 44 (2203 N 44th Av., Mpls., www.victory-44.com), and of course, at Andrew Zimmern’s own AZ Canteen food truck (mobile locations, www.azcanteen.com), in the form of a “cabrito butter burger” or “cabrito sausage grinder.”