Mall of America Food Tour – Seriously? Seriously!
There aren’t many things that I hate more than malls and hotel food. Just the thought of walking through the claustrophobic, shiny corridors makes me clam up. And then there’s the lights and signage and digging through store racks for something that might look good on me. No thanks. I’ll do my shopping with StitchFix.
And hotel food? Seriously? Why eat in your hotel when there’s an entire city to explore? Why travel at all if that’s your attitude? Once again, a giant no thanks.
How then, did I end up on a Mall of America Food Tour visiting various hotel restaurants? I have my friend Vicki Winters from the Vicki Winters Show to thank.
Mall of America Food Tour
I was in Minneapolis for TBEX 2016, which was hosted by Mall of America. I arrived a couple of days early to do a little brewery exploring and to participate in a few TBEX pre-tours. As I was sitting in my hotel room catching up on some work before the opening party, I was relishing in the fact that I didn’t plan to step foot into the Mall of America during the conference. It was a Dr. Evil kind of moment.
But, I was bored with staring at my laptop, and the party didn’t start for another hour. So, I decided to head into the mall and take a photo for Instagram. I was brainstorming what sarcastic comment I wanted to post when I bumped into Vicki.
“Are you going to the food tour?” asked Vicki.
“I didn’t sign up for it,” I replied.
“You are now,” said Vicki, as she dragged me through the mall, with an enthusiasm that only Vicki for portray.
The Mall of America Food Tour had stops at three different hotel restaurants – JW Marriott’s Cedar + Stone, Hyatt Regency’s Urbana Craeft Kitchen + Market, and Hilton’s Blue Water Grill – and completely redefined who I now think of hotel restaurants. This was some legit feasting!
First Course – Appetizers at Cedar + Stone
This place was hip. Like, NYC restaurant of the moment kind of hip. Not at all something I would imagine wrapped up inside a hotel attached to one of the world’s largest malls. The farm-to-table restaurant is led by Chef Everton Clark, who’s love affair of working with local ingredients dates back to his childhood on a New England farm.
Our menu included Juicy Lucy sliders, toasted pita chips with an avocado relish, smoked gouda mac and cheese, and braised short rib on crispy corncakes. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I licked my plate clean for each of the dishes. As an added bonus, 612 Brew paired a beer with each of the four dishes we were about to sample.
I know what you’re thinking. You can’t claim you ate a Juicy Lucy in a posh dining room playing oomph-oomph music, and you’re correct. Cedar + Stone’s version was filled with cheesy gooeyness and finished with a fragrant roasted garlic aioli that added an extra layer of sophisticated flavor. Another favorite was the smoked gouda mac & cheese. As someone who lives in the South where mac & vheese is a side dish at almost every restaurant, I can tell you this ranked up towards the top. The texture was perfect, and there was just a touch of heat.
And let’s not forget about those braised short ribs on crispy corncakes. Absolutely divine and cooked perfects. Thank goodness we had those pita chips and avocado relish to help balance out all this rich food.
Second Course – Dinner at Urbana Craeft Kitchen + Market
I didn’t think I could possibly fit any more food or beer in my stomach as we left Cedar + Stone. But, I was willing to put on my big boy pants for Urbana Craeft’s oatmeal stout braised buffalo served with a root vegetable mash, spring beets, and ramps. The dish was as rich, hearty, and earthy as it sounds, and a perfect example of Urbana Craeft’s local and sustainably sourced kitchen, which changes menus six times a year. Award winning Chef Paul Lynch is doing something right here.
The buffalo was paired with Surly Brewing’s Bender, an oatmeal brown ale. I like that Chef Lynch didn’t make the common mistake of pairing a dish with the style of beer used in the dish. An oatmeal stout would have been washed over by the hearty gravy and slight gaminess of the meat. The lighter malt structure of the brown ale with the lightly hopped finished ended each bite perfectly.
The dining room brought the same level of warmth that was on my plate – a completely different but equally comparable dining experience as Cedar + Stone. And, for those who enjoy al fresco dining, Urbana Craeft is the only restaurant in Bloomington with parkside dining on their patio.
Dessert at Blue Water Grill
I don’t think that our dessert at Blue Water Grill was a good example of a true dining experience at the restaurant. We didn’t actually eat in the restaurant, but in one of the Hilton’s hospitality suites. Also, I’m more of an after-dinner drink for dessert kind of guy. With that said, the macarons were incredible. I may have stashed a few in my pockets for later…
While we were on a Mall of America Food Tour, it was not an arranged food tour open to the public. However, you can follow a similar path by staging your own progressive dinner night in the Mall of America. All three of the restaurants change how I view hotel restaurants.
Which of these restaurants do you most want to eat at? Leave a comment below!