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Cuisine of the Midwestern United States

Midwestern cuisine is a regional cuisine of the American Midwest. It draws its culinary roots most significantly from the cuisines of Central, Northern and Eastern Europe.

Everyday Midwestern home cooking generally showcases simple and hearty dishes that make use of the abundance of locally grown foods. Its culinary profiles may seem synonymous with "American food." Quoted in a 2007 interview with the Daily Herald, Chef Stephen Langlois, a pioneer in the Midwestern local food movement, described it: "Think of Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey and cranberry sauce and wild rice and apple pie."

In its urban centers, however, the Midwest's restaurants offer a diverse mix of ethnic cuisines as well as sophisticated, contemporary techniques

Characteristics

Sometimes called "the breadbasket of America," the Midwest serves as a center for grain production, particularly wheat, corn and soybeans. Midwestern states also produce most of the country's wild rice.

Beef and pork processing always have been important Midwestern industries, with a strong role in regional diets. Chicago and Kansas City were historically stockyard and processing centers of the beef trade, while Iowa remains the center of pork production in the U.S.

Far from the oceans, Midwesterners traditionally ate little seafood,[citation needed] relying on local freshwater fish, such as perch and trout, supplemented by canned tuna and canned or cured salmon and herring, although modern air shipping of ocean seafood has been increasing Midwesterners' taste for ocean fish.

Dairy products, especially cheese, form an important group of regional ingredients, with Wisconsin known as "America's Dairyland," although other Midwest states make cheese as well.

The upper Midwest, a prime fruit-growing region, sees the extensive use of apples, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, peaches and other cold-climate fruit in its cuisine.

As with many American regional cuisines, Midwestern cooking has been heavily influenced by immigrant groups. Throughout the northern Midwest, northern European immigrant groups predominated, so Swedish pancakes and Polish pierogi are common. Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, Ohio and Illinois were destinations for many ethnic German immigrants, so pork sausages and potatoes are prevalent.

In the Rust Belt, many Greeks became restaurateurs, imparting a Mediterranean influence. Native American influences show up in the uses of corn and wild rice.

Traditionally, Midwestern cooks used a light hand with seasonings, preferring sage, dill, caraway, mustard and parsley to hot, bold and spicy flavors. However, with new waves of immigrants from Latin America and Asia moving into the region, these tastes are changing.

This section of the country is also headquarters for several seminal hamburger chains, including McDonald's in Oak Brook, Illinois (founded in California, but turned into the iconic franchise by Ray Kroc beginning with a still-standing store in Des Plaines, Illinois). The Midwest is also home to Culver's in Sauk City, Wisconsin; Steak n Shake, founded in Normal, Illinois, and now based in Indianapolis; Wendy's in Dublin, Ohio; and White Castle founded in Wichita, Kansas, and now based in Columbus, Ohio. Diner chain Big Boy, known for burgers, is headquartered in Warren, Michigan.

Urban centers

Major urban areas in the Midwest feature distinctive cuisines very different from those of the region's rural areas, and some larger cities have world-class restaurants.

Barberton, Ohio
Part of the greater Akron area, this small industrial city with a strong Central and Eastern European heritage has a culinary contribution called Barberton Chicken, created by Serbian immigrants, deep fried in lard, and usually accompanied by a hot rice dish, vinegar cole slaw and french fries.

Chicago
The ethnic mix of the people of Chicago has led to a distinctive cuisine of restaurant foods exclusive to the area, such as Italian beef, the Maxwell Street Polish, the Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago-style pizza, chicken Vesuvio and the jibarito, as well as a large number of steakhouses.

Chicago also boasts many gourmet restaurants, as well as a wide variety of ethnic food stores and eateries, most notably Mexican, Polish, Italian, Greek, Indian/Pakistani and Asian, often clustered in ethnic neighborhoods. Many of these cuisines have evolved significantly in Chicago. For example, the Greek cheese dish saganaki was first flambéed at the table in Greektown.

The Midwest is sometimes thought to be behind the coasts in culinary trends, yet, perhaps ironically, Chicago is the country's leading center of cutting-edge molecular gastronomy, likely due to the influence of Grant Achatz.

As a major rail hub, Chicago historically had access to a broad range of the country's foodstuffs, so even in the 19th century, Chicagoans could easily buy items like live oysters[5] and reasonably fresh shrimp. Chicago's oldest signature dish, shrimp de Jonghe, was invented around the turn of the 20th century. Today, flights into O'Hare Airport bring Chicago fresh food from all over the world.

Cincinnati
The Queen City is known for its namesake, Greek-influenced "Cincinnati chili". Unlike other forms of chili, Cincinnati-style chili is almost never consumed by itself and is a staple of "three-way" spaghetti, cheese coneys, and various dips. Goetta, a sausage made from pork and oats, often eaten at breakfast, and opera cream chocolates are less-famous local specialties. The city also has a strong German heritage and a variety of German-oriented restaurants can be found in the area.

Cleveland
Cleveland's many immigrant groups and heavily blue-collar demographic have long played an important role in defining the area's cuisine. Ethnically, Italian foods as well as several Eastern European cuisines, particularly those of Poland and Hungary, have become gastronomical staples in the Greater Cleveland area. Prominent examples of these include rigatoni, pizza, Chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage, pierogi, and kielbasa all of which are widely popular in and around the city.

Local specialties, such as the pork-based dish City Chicken and the Polish Boy (a loaded sausage sandwich native to Cleveland), are dishes definitive of a cuisine that is based on hearty, inexpensive fare. Commercially, Hector Boiardi (aka Chef Boyardee) started his business in Cleveland's Little Italy, and Mr. Hero, a regional sandwich shop franchise is based in the area.

Columbus
The Columbus, Ohio, area is the home and birthplace of many well-known fast food chains, especially those known for hamburgers. Wendy's opened its first store in Columbus in 1969, and is now headquartered in nearby Dublin. America's oldest hamburger chain, White Castle, is based there. Besides burgers, Columbus is noted for the German Village, a neighborhood south of downtown where German cuisine such as sausages and kuchen are served.

Detroit
Detroit specialties include the chili dogs called Coney Island hot dogs, found at hundreds of unaffiliated "Coney Island" restaurants. Famous examples include Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, which stand next to each other, serving Coneys all night in downtown Detroit.

Detroit also has its own style of pizza, a thick-crusted, Sicilian cuisine-influenced, rectangular type called square pizza. Other Detroit foods include zip sauce, served on steaks; the triple-decker Dinty Moore sandwich, corned beef layered with lettuce, tomato and Russian dressing; and a Chinese-American dish called warr shu gai or almond boneless chicken.

The Detroit area has many large groups of immigrants. A large Arabic-speaking population reside in and around the suburb of Dearborn, home to many Lebanese storefronts. Detroit also has a substantial number of Greek restaurateurs. Thus, numerous Mediterranean restaurants dot the region and typical foods such as gyros, hummus and falafel can be found in many run-of-the-mill grocery stores and restaurants.

Polish food is also prominent in the region, including popular dishes such as pierogi, borscht, and pączki. Bakeries concentrated in the Polish enclave of Hamtramck, Michigan, a suburb within the city, are celebrated for their pączki, especially on Fat Tuesday.

Indianapolis
Indianapolis was settled predominately by Americans of British descent and Irish and German immigrants, so much of the city's food draws upon these influences. Much of the food is considered to be "Classic American Cuisine". Later immigrants included many Jews, Poles, Eastern Europeans and Italians, all of whom influenced local food. Two of the city's most distinct dishes are the pork tenderloin sandwich and strawberry shortcake.

A fast-growing immigrant population from places such as Mexico and India is also beginning to influence the local food. The area offers many diverse, locally owned ethnic restaurants, as well as nationally and internationally renowned restaurants. Indy is also home to many local pubs.

Kansas City
Kansas City is an important barbecue and meat-processing center with a distinctive barbecue style. The Kansas City metropolitan area has more than 100 barbecue restaurants[citation needed] and proclaims itself to be the "world's barbecue capital." The Kansas City Barbeque Society spreads its influence across the nation through its barbecue-contest standards. The oldest continuously-operating barbecue restaurant is Arthur Bryant's near downtown Kansas City. Another popular barbecue restaurants is Gates Bar-B-Q. Both Arthur Bryant's and Gates Bar-B-Q sell bottled versions of their barbecue sauces in restaurants and specialty stores in the surrounding areas.

Milwaukee
German immigrants settled Milwaukee. Sauerkraut, bratwurst, and beer as well as other traditional German favorites continue to be popular in homes as well as at Milwaukee's famous German restaurants. Milwaukee also offers a diverse selection of other ethnic restaurants.

Served under various names, a favorite sandwich for Milwaukeeans and Wisconsinites consists of a brat (often butterflied to lay flat) on top of a hamburger in a Kaiser roll.
Frozen custard is a local favorite in the Cream City, with many competing stands throughout the area.

Cheese curds are another local favorite, and Wisconsinites also enjoy them fried.

Also known as Brew City, Milwaukee is home to many breweries and the traditional and nominal headquarters for national beer brands.]

Minneapolis and Saint Paul
Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer a diverse array of cuisines influenced by their many immigrant groups, as well as those restaurant chefs who follow the trends of larger cities. While at-home fare varies broadly within various ethnic groups and their culture, historically, the overall majority of Minnesotans were of white, European ancestry, many with farming backgrounds and many home cooked meals still reflect this, with comfort food items such as hotdish, hearty soups and stews and meat and potatoes commonly being served. Many Minnesotans claim some Scandinavian heritage, and while iconic dishes such as lefse and lutefisk are quite commonly served at home as well as church potlucks and community get-togethers, few restaurants serve these items.

Another popular item in Minnesota is wild rice which has been gathered in area lakes by Native Americans for centuries. In the fall, the Twin Cities share along with Green Bay, Wisconsin, the tradition of the neighborhood booyah, a cuisine and cultural event featuring a hodge-podge of ingredients in stews. One item of note, Minneapolis and Saint Paul pioneered the Jucy Lucy (or "Juicy Lucy"), a hamburger with a core of melted cheese.

American restaurants in the Twin Cities supply a wide spectrum of choices and styles that range from small diners offering simple short order grill fare and the typical sports bars and decades old supper clubs to high-end steakhouses and eateries that serve new American cuisine using locally grown ingredients. Most types of American regional cuisine can be found at restaurants in the Twin Cities. Barbecue restaurants in the area tend to feature a combination of the various regional styles of this type of cooking.

Germans composed the majority of the states ethnic heritage and one can find authentic German cuisine at the Glockenspiel in Saint Paul, the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter in nearby Stillwater, and at the Black Forest Inn and the Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit both found in Minneapolis. The latter restaurant is in Minneapolis' Northeast community which is also home to thriving Czech, Polish, Ukranian and other Eastern European restaurants such as Jax Café, Kramarczuk's, Mayslack's and Nye's Polonaise lending this area an old world character and charm. The Twin Cities can also boast of authentic French, Irish, Italian and Russian restaurants. Spanish tapas restaurants exist, but are more trendy than homage. In the Twin Cities, pizzerias tend to be American rather than rustic Italian (although they too exist and offer inventive recipes.)

Authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants are quite popular in the Twin Cities, as there are Hispanic neighborhoods in both Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Many entrepreneurs have taken authentic Mexican cuisine into the suburbs as well. Latin American purveyors are also pioneering their home cuisines from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru and the West Indies offering authentic churrasco and ceviche among their dining options.

Asian cuisine was initially dominated by Chinese Cantonese immigrants that served Americanized offerings. Authentic offerings began at Minneapolis' first Chinese restaurant, Nankin which opened in 1919, and many new Chinese immigrants soon took this cuisine throughout the Twin Cities and to the suburbs. Authentic Chinese cuisine from the provinces of Hunan and Szechaun and from Beijing, Shanghai and Taiwan are relatively new.

The cuisine of Japan has been present since the opening of the areas very first Japanese restaurant, Fuji Ya in 1959. Since then, sushi and teppanyaki restaurants have also become increasingly more common. In the 1970s the Twin Cities saw a large influx of Southeast Asian immigrants from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The urban areas are now proliferated by Vietnamese phở noodle shops and Thai curry restaurants. Cambodian cuisine has also flourished given the large Hmong population familiar with it. Korean restaurants are few, as possibly their dining style and flavors have not been as adopted into the American mainstream.

In the Twin Cities suburbs, Oriental buffets are popular for offering different Asian cuisines together. Restaurants offering other cuisines of Asia including those from Afghanistan, India, Nepal and the Philippines are also fairly recent additions to the Twin Cities dining scene and have been well received. Local ingredients are often integrated into Asian offerings, for example Chinese steamed walleye and Nepalese curried bison.

The Twin Cities are home to many restaurants that serve the cuisines of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. There are numerous Greek restaurants that range from fine dining to casual fast food shops that specialize in gyros. In both Minneapolis and Saint Paul, there exist long established Jewish cafes and delicatessens. Lebanese restaurants have also had a long time presence in both cities.

Authentic offerings of Arab cuisine from throughout the Arab world, including Egyptian, Iranian(Persian), Kurdish, and Turkish restaurants can be found throughout the Twin Cities.

Various African cuisines are increasingly being found throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area. While restaurants that serve Ethiopian cuisine have been in the Twin Cities for decades, more recent immigrants from Somalia have also opened a number of restaurants in Minnesota.[10] Somali cuisine consists of an exotic mixture of native Somali, Ethiopian, Indian, Italian, Persian, Turkish, and Yemeni culinary influences.]

West African immigrants have also introduced their own unique cuisine in recent years. There is also a presence of Afro-Caribbean restaurants.

The University of Minnesota has been a center for food research with inventions such as the Honeycrisp apple. The Minnesota State Fair offers a sampling of many cuisines each year and Twin Citians claim that the all-American Corn Dog and Pronto Pup made their very first appearances there. Additionally, many important agricultural conglomerates, including Cargill, General Mills/Pillsbury, and International Multifoods make their home in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. The Betty Crocker food brand (named after a non-existent housewife) was born there. Several national restaurant chains, such as Buca di Beppo, Famous Dave's and the now defunct Chi-Chi's started in the Twin Cities. Buffalo Wild Wings, Dairy Queen, KarmelKorn Shoppes, Old Country Buffet, Orange Julius and T.G.I. Friday's (a division of Carlson Companies) are also well known chains headquartered in the Twin Cities.

Omaha
Omaha has some unusual steakhouses, several of which are Sicilian in origin or adjacent to the Omaha Stockyards. Central European and Southern influences can be seen in the local popularity of carp and South 24th Street contains a multitude of Mexican restaurants. North Omaha also has its own barbecue style.

Omaha is one of the places claiming to have invented the reuben sandwich, supposedly named for Reuben Kulakofsky, a grocer from the Dundee neighborhood.

Bronco's, Godfather's Pizza, and the Garden Cafe are among the chain restaurants that originated in Omaha.

St. Louis
The large number of Irish and German immigrants who came to St. Louis beginning in the early nineteenth century contributed significantly to the shaping of local cuisine as confirmed by a variety of uses of beef, pork and chicken, often roasted or grilled, as well as a variety of desserts including rich cakes, stollens, fruit pies, doughnuts and cookies. Even a local form of fresh stick pretzel, called Gus's Pretzels, has been sold singly or by the bag full by street corner vendors.

Mayfair salad dressing was invented at a St. Louis hotel of the same name, and is richer than Caesar salad dressing. St. Louis is also known for popularizing the ice cream cone and for gooey butter cake (a rich, soft-centered coffee cake) and frozen custard. Iced tea is also rumored to have been invented at the World's Fair, as well as the hot dog.
St. Louis-style barbecue uses pork steaks or St. Louis-style pork ribs and a unique type of barbecue sauce and beer and bratwursts remain a standby at family barbecues, baseball games and street festivals.

Restaurants on The Hill reflect the lasting influence of the early twentieth century Milanese and Sicilian immigrant community. Two unique Italian-American style dishes include "toasted" ravioli, which is breaded and fried, and St. Louis-style pizza, which has a crispy thin crust and is usually made with Provel cheese instead of traditional mozzarella cheese.
A Poor boy sandwich is the traditional name in St. Louis for a submarine sandwich. A St. Paul sandwich is a unique St. Louis treat available in Chinese-American restaurants. A Slinger is a diner and late night specialty consisting of a plate smothered with breakfast staples and chili, cheese and onion.

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