The tale of the ugly dumpling is a sad one. Too often dry, starchy wrappers and bland, unidentified filling are plated with a too-sweet or too-salty sauce and whisked off to meet disappointed diners under the guise of the best appeteasers in town.
In reality, a dumpling should entail a savory morsel of juicy filling with complementary notes of heat, acidity and fat concealed in a doughy jacket.
A&E has scouted the best bites around to save you the horror and dismay of the ever-present ugly dumpling.
For the cheese-loving Wisconsinite:
Moscow on the Hill
371 Selby Ave., St. Paul
When ingesting large amounts of strong liquor, it’s vital that hearty eats also grace the menu. This Russian vodka lounge supplies diners with the strong libations they love and the stomach-settling food they need to keep the drinks down.
Nothing takes the burn off quite like a steaming plate of this spot’s “Peasant Pelmeni.” Delicate layers of tender dough encase a salty nugget of a beef and pork mixture. A creamy mushroom sauce seeps in between every crevice of the dumplings, softly balancing the sharp kick of salt with the mellow, earthy flavor of fresh mushrooms. The crowning glory of this plate is a thick blanket of broiled, squeaky cheese that emerges as long strings with every pull of the fork.
Paired with one of the bar’s alcohol-heavy signature martinis, this dish is a favorite for the booze-guzzling, cheese-head Wisconsinite.
For the adventurous carnivore:
23 Fourth St. NE, Minneapolis
Anthony Bourdain consistently devours strange animal meat as if it’s his average, middle-of-the-road side dish.
If you’re unwilling to spring for cross-continental airfare for an exotic feast, consider Gorkha Palace’s “Yak Momo.” These steamed treats confine a small ball of succulent, peppery yak meat, enhanced by a heavy dose of ginger and garlic, to a paper-thin dough wrapper. Each plate of dumplings is accompanied by a small dish of tomato chutney, which is equally intense in flavor.
Gorkha is well-known for its Tibetan, Nepali and Indian flavors. They somehow manage to recreate the dishes of far-off places with mostly local ingredients. The yak used in the momo is raised in Cold Spring, Minn.
For the potato purist:
Kramarczuk’s Sausage Company
215 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
The lunchroom-style dining at Kramarczuk’s may generate terrible middle school flashbacks, but fear not — the food here is anything but the generously flung slop of those hallowed halls.
Although Kramarczuk’s is a famous sausage emporium, one of its best dishes is meat free entirely. The Ukrainian Varenyky here are silky pasta envelopes filled with an uncomplicated potato and cheese mixture. With a touch of salt and pepper, these dumplings are boiled and served with a side of horseradish cream sauce: subtle, simple and superb.
For on-the-go gourmet:
Keefer Court Bakery
326 S. Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
In the super-sized American food-scape, it’s tricky to find a meal that’s filling enough to qualify as more than a snack and small enough to carry in the palm of a hand. Nowadays, burritos are as big as newborns, and subs are literally a foot long. Where to turn for a dish that satisfies a growing student’s appetite and constantly mobile schedule? Keefer Court Bakery.
This Cedar-Riverside hang is only a hop, skip and jump away from campus and boasts some of the best Chinese delicacies in the Twin Cities.
For a quick lunch, a sure bet is a steamed barbecue pork bun. This pillow-soft roll is crammed with sweet bits of shredded pork that have been drenched in a tangy sauce. At $1.50 a piece, two or three of these portable dumplings make a deliciously cheap meal and leave plenty of leftover cash for one of the bakery’s tempting sugary pastries.
The ugly dumplings of the Twin Cities will never transform into beautiful and graceful starter courses, and with the vast array of delicious dumplings to choose from, they are easily avoided.