By Adam Estrem
I can feel it. The days are getting shorter, there seems to be a crispness in the air. I see school buses and kids waiting for them on my way to get a morning cup of coffee — their anticipation and eagerness all over their faces.
The state fair has ended, and so has summer. Though it may not officially be fall yet, I know it is right around the corner. The season is about to change — and I can’t wait for it to happen. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the festivities of the fall — the harvest festivals, pumpkins, squash, corn, and of course meats, only makes my love of this season grow.
To me, the fall is like Christmas. Farmers are sharing the wealth of a crop, butchers are carving the finest meats and stuffing sausages, and the smell of wood-fired spits is about to surround us.
Being a born-and-raised Minnesotan makes me two things. First, I love the outdoors and second I love all things eastern European/German/Norwegian. Nothing says that it is fall in Minnesota more than pierogis, cabbage rolls or sausages sizzling away, the smell filling the kitchen and spilling outside into the cool night air.
Luckily for us here in the Twin Cities, there is but one festival that celebrates and revels in all things eastern European. They serve potato and cheese pierogis, stuffed cabbage rolls with a tomato cream sauce, deserts and oh yes, sausages. The Kramarczuk’s Kielbasa Fest continues Sunday, after two days of an amazing time. I had the great opportunity to talk with Nick Kramarczuk about the festival right as they were preparing to open the doors to hundreds of drooling customers.
Nick is a quiet, unassuming guy, younger than I expected, yet confident in everything he says.
“We did October fest for a few years,” he said. “We were just talking one day, and we thought, why don’t we do our own festival? And then it just kind of went from there, like where are we going to have it, are we going to hire somebody to do it, what are we going to call it, what are we going to celebrate. So, we decided, since we are kind of like the Eastern European destination in the Twin Cities, why don’t we celebrate eastern European heritage?”
And a party it was. All sorts of different sausages and ethnic dishes filled my nose walking blocks to get to the parking lot next to Kramarczuk’s store.
“We’ve got the Kielbasa, the original, that’s garlic and pepper sausage, real traditional,” Kramarczuk said. “We have the Moroccan Lamb that’s a sweeter sausage made with lamb and currents and the new one this year is a bratwurst with a local Gouda cheese and apples in it. Andouille Cajun sausage, chicken apple sausage, the contest winner this year, the bacon jalapeno cream cheese sausage, and then the beef hot dog.”
As Kramarczuk explains all the sausages to me, I can feel my mouth salivating, trying to hold back a stream of drool and keeping my mouth shut to be polite. But I can’t help myself when it comes to meats over a fire.
Walking into the Kielbasa Fest is like walking into what the rest of the country dreams of when thinking about Minnesota. Polka music playing, hundreds of people sitting around community tables, enjoying the food and company. Random people striking up conversations with each other, all speaking a common language.
I got to try two of the sausages, the contest winner, a bacon jalapeno cream cheese sausage and the Moroccan Lamb sausage. The Contest winner had great flavor when it wasn’t smothered with sauerkraut. I could really taste the flavor of the jalapeños, but without the heat. This is Minnesota after all, and to many, ketchup is spicy.
There was a slight saltiness and smoky flavor from the little bacon chunks hiding inside and a garlic kick that hits you after you swallow. The Moroccan lamb was by far my favorite. It has an interesting combination of flavors that reminded me of a Greek gyro. It was served on a grilled pita with tomatoes, lettuce, and what I think was a tzatziki-style or cucumber cream sauce. The currents in the sausage provided the mild sweetness and the lamb was a dense flaky texture that left you wanting seconds.
Sitting and eating with the Northeast Minneapolis locals made me feel part of the community. Little kids playing next to me, while mom and dad and extended families gathered like a holiday.
I am not sure if it was the goal of the Kramarczuk family to provide such a nostalgic event, but if you don’t have a family, attending this event made you feel like you were apart of the Kramarczuk family.
Adam Estrem is a writer, photographer, foodie and cook. After traveling the world and tasting the cuisines and wines of Mexico, Spain, France and much of Europe and the middle east, he has gone local and focused on restaurants and food producers of Minnesota. When he isn’t working you can find him in his kitchen, creating recipes and entertaining friends. You can follow him on Twitter (@mspfoodie) or email him (firstname.lastname@example.org).