Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam are not from Minnesota. They are East Coasters, hailing from Pittsburgh (Rico) and Philadelphia (Brendan). They’ve visited the Twin Cities a handful of times. Brendan even lived in St. Paul for a few months, a few years ago. They know their way around the W.A. Frost and St. Paul Grill menus and have chatted with a couple chefs about the Twin Cities food scene for their show, American Public Media’s The Dinner Party Download, but that’s about where their expertise ends.
So it’s interesting that when asked to share their opinions about Minnesota—Do we fit the Fargo-fueled stereotypes? Do East and West Coasters just think of us as a forgettable flyover state?—both guys immediately jump to Minnesota’s defense.
“Minnesota doesn’t fit into the broad ‘Midwest’ category or any other label,” says Brendan, between bites of matzoh ball soup. “It stands on its own.”
We’re at Meritage, squeezing in a quick “lunch party” with The Dinner Party Download duo, peppering them with questions about beer vs. cocktails, restaurants vs. home cooking, L.A. vs. NYC, and, of course, their take on the whole Midwest vs. North stand-off.
It’s a debate we’ve been hearing about a lot lately—one that will continue in our upcoming June issue, fueled by contributing editor John Garland (pro-Midwest) and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (pro-North). And we wanted to get outsiders’ perspectives on the issue—specifically, the perspective of outsiders who are experts in the fields of food, drink, culture, and etiquette.
But when we pose the question to Rico and Brendan, they more or less shrug and say it’s a debate that can be put to rest: Minnesota doesn’t fit into either category. “When I think Minnesota, I don’t think Iowa or Ohio or Nebraska,” Rico says. “I think good food, good culture, good people, and an authenticity you don’t find everywhere.”
Brendan agrees. “When I first read about the North Coast vs. Midwest debate, my first thought was that I don’t think of Minnesota as either,” he says. “And it’s partially that I think of you more as the Twin Cities, not Minnesota. I have friends from Lawrence, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming, and when I think of them, I think of those places specifically. When I’m thinking culture, I’m not thinking regions.”
“There is a regard for the Twin Cities for being a place to know,” Rico continues. “When I say to people I’m coming here, they tell me, ‘Oh, you’ll love it!’ People genuinely like it here.”
“Yeah, it’s not like other cities where people are surprised that they had a good time there,” Brendan says, seamlessly picking up where Rico left off (as if they do this for a living or something). “They assume they’re going to have a good experience when they come here.”
“Plus,” Rico continues, “we grew up with Purple Rain. So you have that going for you.”
Coming from guys who live in L.A. and New York City, have traveled the world, and talk to celebrities weekly about emerging trends, this is high praise. Too high of praise: We’re Minnesotans, after all—graciously accepting compliments is not our forte. So we change the subject and refocus the spotlight on them, pressing Rico and Brendan to share their thoughts on two of our other favorite topics of debate: restaurants vs. home cooking, and cocktails vs. beer.