Reporting Sara Pelissero
The premise seems simple enough — one man, in a new city, has 24 hours to eat his way through breakfast, lunch and dinner — with a budget of $24.
But when Food Network Star, and resident Sandwich King, Jeff Mauro got to Minneapolis — he admits, it was tough to narrow down the choices.
“What a great town, so focused on food,” Mauro, of Chicago, said. “I think the Midwest gets a bad rap in general, you know, we’re all corn-fed, simple meat and potatoes, Midwestern salt of the Earth humans, but I think we’re so much more than that. And that’s very indicative in Minneapolis, where there’s some great surprises.”
Mauro’s Minneapolis episode of “$24 in 24″ will air on Monday but before we watch the action live, we wanted to get a sneak peek into where he dined.
Kicking things off, Mauro went to Maria’s Cafe for breakfast — one of the metro’s best destinations for a first meal. Here, breakfast is served all day and with full meals under $5, it’s the perfect place for Mauro’s budget.
In a smart move, Mauro then took his crew to Midtown Global Market — the mecca of good food at great prices — where they hit up Sonora Grill for a few surprises.
“Midtown Global Market is a phenomenal location. I mean, you can get lost in there for days,” Mauro said.
For lunch, he sunk his teeth into a Sonoran-style hot dog, with a Mexican twist.
“I think that place was the most surprising because you’re like, ‘Hey, I didn’t expect to get a Mexican-style hot dog, in this market, at a Sonoran-style Mexican place for so little money with so much love put into it,’” he said. “What I loved about Minneapolis is how you can tell how much care they put into the food.”
Mauro headed for a classic east coast dish for dinner at The Anchor Fish and Chips. After trying his hand at frying gigantic cod filets, Mauro said he was seriously impressed.
“That place is great — it’s legitimate. The owner is Irish — she’s from Ireland,” he said. “You’d think you’d find the best fish and chips in Boston or New York, but the best I’ve had has been in Minneapolis.”
Beyond eating $24 worth of food in the span of a full day, Mauro’s other job is taking inspiration from restaurant kitchens and bringing it home to create a slammin’ sandwich.
Mauro’s new season of Sandwich King began in September and so far, it’s off to a scrumptious start.
“We’re branching out a little bit, first time ever, leaving the city of Chicago and going to our great neighbors in sunny Wisconsin,” he said. “So three episodes will be stationed there, where we go to a restaurant, get inspiration and take it back into my kitchen.”
Mauro said they visited Milwaukee, Madison and Kenosha during their Wisconsin trip, ensuring that the heart of the show — the good ol Midwest — remains at the center of everything they do. Mauro even hinted another visit to Minnesota could be in the not-too-distant future.
“Minneapolis is on our radar for Sandwich King,” he said.
It’s all quite a change from his life B.F.N. (Before Food Network).
After winning season seven of the Next Food Network Star, Mauro said his work life has changed immensely.
“I’m really crazy busy, running around, flying everywhere, plane after plane, airport after airport,” he said. “But then I’m home. And when I’m home, I’m writing recipes or whatever, but I’m home. I wake up, I work out and then I just lay on my butt. In front of a couch or a bed. I spend an immense amount of time with my family. As long as I keep that, I think I’ll be truly happy.”
Being known as the hero of the hoagies, Mauro’s certainly had his share of delicious bread-and-meat concoctions. And as much as it pains him to say it, he’s got a clear standout. The best sandwich Mauro’s ever had came from Langer’s Delicatessen in Los Angeles — the hand-cut pastrami on rye.
So what about the worst?
“Oh my god, there’s so many bad sandwiches out there. Go to any airport grab-and-go kiosk and you’re bound to find the worst sandwich on the planet,” he said. “We’ve all been guilty of it. I still do it. Sometimes there’s no choice and I gotta eat that or eat a fast food burger and fries.”
To Mauro, a bad sandwich is a far worse crime than a bad pizza.
“Bad pizza you can motor through three slices. Bad sandwiches can be so bad – you’re dealing with so many textures, stale bread, slimy meat, dry, ugh,” he said. “That’s why I’m in this – I think we’re beyond that now. Great sandwiches are really easy.”
Every great sandwich starts with stellar ingredients, Mauro said.
“I think starting with good bread, obviously. But treat it right – you can have the best bread in the world, slap some meat and cheese on it and something’s still missing. What’s usually missing is how you treat the bread and that’s usually oiled and griddled, get a nice black pan and medium heat – a little bit of butter, a little bit of oil and get that golden crispness on the interior of the bread,” he said.
Also important — proper ratios. Though Mauro makes an exception for his pastrami or corn beef sandwiches (in which case, pile on the meat).
Whether it’s sandwiches or Sonoran-style hot dogs, wherever Mauro’s adventure takes him, it’s sure to be a tasty trip. For now, we’ll enjoy his Minneapolis shout-out and extend an open invitation for the Sandwich King to make a return trip.
“$24 in 24,” the Minneapolis episode, airs on Monday, Oct. 8 at 9:30 p.m. on The Food Network. For more about his show, click here.