The dawn of July in Waconia sees the return of one of the state’s favorite food festivals, a celebration of fabulous fare, exciting entertainment and a sparkling array of fireworks on July 2–5.
Linda Maddox, A Taste of Minnesota’s general manager, says Waconia’s warm welcome in 2014, when flooding on Harriet Island in St. Paul required the organizers to quickly move the venue of the event (which was just returning from a three-year hiatus), played a role in the decision to come back to the southwest metro in 2015. “After carefully evaluating St. Paul and other options … we decided to return,” she says, noting the layout of Carver County Fairgrounds and Waconia’s proximity to the Twin Cities were also factors.
This year’s main stage entertainment includes local music from Jenn Bostic, Mark Andrews, Kat Perkins, The Suburbs, Gear Daddies, along with Foghat, Fuel, P.O.D., Phil Vassar and others; tickets will be $10 after 3 p.m. each day. Fireworks cap each night, with the exception of Sunday when the festival ends at 8 p.m.
Maddox expects around 30 restaurants and food trucks at this year’s event, including the following local establishments, who serve up our favorite fare year round. “Of course, there will be festival foods also,” Maddox says of the event, historically held over the Fourth of July weekend and a great kickoff to fair season. After all, “we can’t have a festival without cheese curds, hotdogs, burgers and mini donuts,” she says.
The Ground Round
520 Cherry Drive, Waconia; 952.442.1985; groundround.com
Ribeye sandwiches from Ground Round are a bite-sized spin on the restaurant’s 10 oz. specialty, a perfectly grilled hand-cut steak with a house blend of seasonings garnished with light, crispy onion rings. When coupled with a delicious butter-crusted bun, they’re a great start to A Taste of Minnesota’s veritable smorgasbord.
Franchise owner Matt Woelfel has a lot of pride in his hometown of Waconia, which is why he brought the restaurant here two and a half years ago. Known for flavorful appetizers and a creative full bar pouring classics and creative drinks alike, summer at Ground Round offers options that bring the heat to your taste buds, too. Must-trys include tender, crispy Boom Boom Shrimp served over an Asian coleslaw, and the triple fajitas—strips of seasoned steak, chicken or Cajun shrimp with all the fixings; pair either with any one of nine flavors of margaritas.
Hoppers Bar and Grill
119 S. Olive St., Waconia; 952.442.1149; hoppersbar.com
Hoppers’ Cowboy baked beans are a catering favorite for the local restaurant, so it makes sense they’ll be packing a flavorful punch at Taste of Minnesota this year. Couple the side with the boneless seasoned pork loin chops, made with a secret combination of spices.
Aside from the festival, Hoppers is known equally for its range of nightly entertainment as it is for its full-service menu and bar—think: Steve’s Super Bloodies (made with a line of pickled veggies, cheese, meats and other accoutrements three times the diameter of the 16 oz. pint glass) and nightly specials including Monday burgers ($5), Tuesday tacos ($1.99 each) and Thursday wings ($4.95/lb.).
318 E. Lake St., Waconia; 952.442.4954; lolaslakehouse.com
Lola’s Lakehouse historically brings fresh fish to the table—and to this festival. Last year the Lola’s team served up refreshing and zingy fish tacos, and they’re planning on a similar menu this year.
Even if you can’t stop by the Lola’s truck at A Taste of Minnesota, do your best to visit the restaurant this summer. Chef Chris Oxley makes a mean lobster roll ($20), but any of the savory seafood offerings combine the sweetness of delicately balanced house-made sauces with the brine of the sea.
Lola’s walleye ($30) is a Minnesota must in July, when the fish is at its freshest, and peel-and-eat shrimp on Lola’s waterfront deck are a summer tradition.
A Taste of Minnesota
Carver County Fairgrounds, 501 W. Third St., Waconia
Fireworks nightly at 10:15 p.m.
Free street parking and shuttle service throughout town.