30 Must-Try Midwest Foods
Locals spar over whether Skyline or Gold Star makes the better version (and whether the secret ingredients should be cinnamon, cocoa or allspice). Whichever, chili in the Queen City translates as a mild, meaty sauce served over spaghetti noodles and topped with shredded cheese.
When Mennonites came to Kansas, they brought their German language, Turkey Red wheat and the recipe for this addictive sweet, soft dinner roll with a doughy topknot. The secret to its rich taste and moistness: potato water, sugar, butter and egg. Don't confuse it with the tooth-breaking cracker of the same name.
When miners carried these meat-and-veggie pies in their pockets in Michigan's UP, they counted on sturdy crusts. Our version is a little more tender and moist. But it still works great the traditional way--drenched in gravy or ketchup.
German-Russians settling the Dakotas put Red River Valley potatoes to good use in this creamy-rich potato-filled base with noodle dough cooked. It's white-on-white comfort food.
Gooey Butter Cake
A baker's honest mix-up (swapping the amounts of flour and sugar) led to the happy mistake of this beloved St. Louis dessert. It's always true to its sticky name, but now bakeries offer it in flavors such as chocolate, peanut butter and apple.
South Dakota Peach Kuchen
German settlers brought the recipe for this tender coffee cake to the northern plains. The industrious pioneers changed up the taste by folding local fruits into the batter: apple, gooseberry, plum and even no-fruit cottage cheese. Here's our biscuitlike version with summery peaches. Serve it warm for breakfast or with ice cream for dessert.
Missouri Toasted Ravioli
Like many good legends, this one has a murky origin. Stories say a cook in St. Louis' Italian Hill neighborhood dropped cooked raviolis into hot fat. The world has been enjoying dropping the crispy appetizer into tomato sauce ever since.
Kansas City barbecue
Everyone raves about KC's 'cue, but do they mean Gates? Arthur Bryant's? Jack Stack? Don't worry about it. Just get there and start eating. Especially the burnt ends. Or try our Kansas City-inspired recipes.
Indiana Sugar Cream Pie
Some say empty apple bins inspired Hoosier Quakers to create this single-crust dessert of sugar, cream and flour. The short ingredient list may make you think something's missing. But try it once, and you'll see why the humble phenom became Indiana's official pie in 2009.
You may not normally cross the street to eat boiled fish and potatoes. But set them atop a blaze on a Door County summer evening, and it's an unforgettable experience.
The thrill of a hunt in the spring woods is our favorite part—until you saute those 'shrooms in butter and dig in.
Beans and Ham Hocks
Thanks to the ham hocks, the only seasoning needed in these homey beans is a bit of salt.
Eat like a Norwegian! Lutheran church kitchens bustle at the holidays as parishioners mix potato, flour, butter and cream to create this Scandinavian tortilla. Eat it with a smear of butter and a sprinkle of sugar.
North Dakota chippers
Crisp Red River Valley potato chips dive into melted chocolate for a funky twist that nailed the sweet-salty taste long before it became a craze. Our recipe was inspired by chips from Widman's in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Wild rice pilaf
As served by the Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais, Minnesota, this dish is a timeless taste of the land, with hand-harvested local grain plus dried cherries and pecans. Here's our own version of a Minnesota wild rice pilaf; make with your choice of dried cherries, apricots or cranberries.
Impeccable Iowa shops such as Pella's Jaarsma Bakery serve delicious almond paste tucked into S-shape pastries. Some say the S stands for Sinterklaas, but sweet works for us.
Fresh cherries (and cherry pie)
Stop at a roadside farmstand for a basket or buy them in pie form. Tart, just-picked cherries are special within sight of the trees that nurtured them in Michigan's fruit-belt along Lake Michigan or in Door County, Wisconsin.
Despite a fine-dining rep, Maldaner's in Springfield, Illinois, shamelessly buries a meat sandwich under cheese sauce ooze and fries. It's their guilty pleasure--and ours.
A classic almond filling rolled up in flaky Danish-style pastry brings honor to Racine as Kringle Capital of the World. New fillings like cheesecake, chocolate and Key lime add zing to the choices at shops such as O&H Danish Bakery (left).
Wisconsin supper clubs
Cooler than a Rat Pack film, these old-school eateries know sensible steaks and relish trays never go out of style. Don't miss sipping a brandy old-fashioned.
Lambert's throwed rolls
Just a dinner roll? Not when it's one of 2.2 million that Lambert's Cafe chucks across the room each year to diners visiting their southern Missouri locations. The buttery-sweet taste adds to their appeal. While you'll need to go to Missouri for the real thing, our recipe was inspired by Lambert's.
Southern Indiana celebrates the puckery wild fruit in a puree baked into a cakey pudding.
Loose meat sandwich
Think sloppy joes minus tomato sauce. This Iowa tavern favorite (widely known as a Maid-Rite) makes the most of basics: ground meat, seasoning and white bun.
This pocket sandwich of spiced hamburger and cabbage is a love-hate thing. The lovers plan routes to hit one of the fast-food Runza restaurants while passing through Nebraska.
Legend says Norwegians created this lye-soaked fish to poison invaders. We say it has never really killed anybody--and you're not a real Minnesotan (or Midwesterner) without trying it at least once.
More foods to try
Chicago dog, at the Cubs: "Sport" peppers, mustard, absolutely no ketchup, all enjoyed in the sunny outfield of Wrigley Field. Baseball interest? Strictly optional.
Pitchfork fondue: Skewer a cut of beef on a long-handled fork and dip into boiling oil. That's the cowboy way at Great Plains cookouts from Kansas to North Dakota.
Cudighi: In the Michigan UP's eastern half, folks judge bars by how well they pull off this ground sausage sandwich topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce.