Schumacher's (Minnesota State Fair)
When we go to the State Fair, more often than not, we eat our meals at Schumacher's. The food is uniformly interesting and good, head and shoulders above the usual State Fair faire. The lines are rarely long, and there is covered seating inside.
Our favorite menu item is the stuffed cabbage rolls. You get one to an order: a flavorful chopped meat mixture cooked in a large cabbage leaf, with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. This is Eastern European comfort food at its finest: flavorful, filling, and made with simple ingredients. Bruce's mother used to make stuffed cabbage when he was growing up in New York, and these are just as good.
There are two different sausages on the menu, both tasty. The Czech sausage is a pork sausage. It's not as heavily spices as you might find in the Czech Republic, but it's certainly along those same lines. The Polish sausage is a venison sausage that has been soaked in beer and then cooked. It's even tastier.
Schumacher's also serves an elk Salisbury steak. This is a chopped patty of elk meat cooked with mushrooms, onions, and spices and served with a rich meat sauce. Excellent stuff.
All of these entrees are either available as stand-alone items or "feasts." The stuffed cabbage is simply a piece of stuffed cabbage, and the other three items are served on a dark-bread roll. We wish the bread were tastier, but it's about as good as you can expect given the volume they have to deal with.
Feasts are the way to go. A feast comes with the entrée, a helping of sauerkraut, and a dumpling with gravy. The sauerkraut is good Eastern European kraut: rich and sour, with a lot of fennel. The dumplings are delicious, and perfect with the gravy or the stuffed-cabbage sauce.
Also on the menu is a Rueben sandwich: corned beef, Swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, and sauerkraut on pumpernickel bread. It's okay; the other items on the menu are much better, but we'd order one of these Ruebens before going across the street and buying a Pronto Pup.
Standard dessert is your choice of kolaches. One is included with your feast, or you can buy one separately. These are sweet buns, filled with prune, apricot, or poppyseed. Bruce likes the prune best, and Karen prefers poppyseed.
Schumacher's also serves breakfast. We generally order the pork chop and eggs. The pork chop tastes a lot like a nicely flavored ham, and the eggs are decent. Add coffee and a glass of orange juice, and you're good for the morning.
This is all State Fair eating, so don't expect much in the way of, well, anything. To order, walk up to the counter and tell the nice person what you want. Pay, take your food, and then go find a table. Sometimes there are lines outside, but there are two places to order inside the building that always seem to be empty.
Food comes in either paper or Styrofoam containers. The forks and knives are plastic, and are barely up to the job of cutting pieces of cabbage or slices of sausage. But the seating area is actually pleasant. It's clean and bright, nicely painted and lit. It can actually be quiet and calming while the maddening crowds are thronging outside. Employees roam the dining room bussing and cleaning tables, and everybody seems to be friendly. Occasionally you'll find chef John Schumacher in the kitchen, or his wife Kathleen supervising the front of the house.
Schumacher's is a hotel and restaurant in New Prague, MN, about an hour's drive South of the Twin Cities. The restaurant specializes in Eastern European wild game cooking, and is worth the journey. This is real Eastern European stuff, flavorful and delicious. We spent a night there last year, and had ourselves a romantic little mini vacation.
For a quarter century, Schumacher's State Fair restaurant is a little bit of their hotel's restaurant at the fair. It's not the same as visiting them on their home turf, but it's a pleasant meal all the same. We wonder why more people don't duck into Schumacher's to take a break from the State Fair bustle.