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Bemidji's Taste of Northern Minnesota enjoys full house

Janna Rautio, left, of the Keg 'N' Cork prepares to serve some soup to Phyllis Wilcox Thursday evening at the 17th annual Taste of Northern Minnesota at the Hungry Bear Conference Center. Participants had the opportunity to sample food and beverages from 26 vendors. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper1 / 2
Robyn Johnson, left, representing Red Lake Nations Foods, prepares a jam sample for Peg Huotari of Deer River, right, Thursday evening at the 17th annual Taste of Northern Minnesota at the Hungry Bear Conference Center. Participants had the opportunity to try food and beverages from 26 vendors. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper2 / 2

If a food choice represented northern Minnesota, what would it be?

Those who were asked this question at the 17th annual Taste of Northern Minnesota Thursday night said fish, wild rice, potatoes, even bear meat.

But the vendors who attended the food tasting event had more to offer Northern Minnesota - a lot more. Except no bear meat.

This year 26 vendors, including restaurants, caterers, beverage distributors and more, presented their signature dishes and tasty selections for people to try.

The Taste of Northern Minnesota included two sessions, the first starting at 4:30 p.m., at the New City Ballroom in the Hungry Bear Conference Center, located behind Home Depot.

"These are from Red Lake," said Robyn Johnson of Red Lake Nation Foods. "They are our world-famous Red Lake walleye. They were just caught yesterday morning."

Red Lake Nation Foods also served smoked whitefish and several varieties of jams.

Last year the food tasting event was held at Beaux Arts Ballroom at Bemidji State University.

"We changed our vendor this year because last year parking was a little intimidating for people near campus," said Melissa Hoover, special events coordinator of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the Brrrrmidji Polar Daze event. "We also added a couple of new venders to the list."

This was Hoover's second year as coordinator of the event.

Dressed as twin Paul Bunyans, Carla Mandrell and owner Jeanette Proulx of Minnesota Nice Café served wild rice extraordinaire and Minnesota Nice 'Slaw, which included mixed vegetables, bacon and sunflower seeds.

"Getting into playing the part is what Minnesota Nice is all about," Proulx said, wearing red and black flannel and smiling through a black beard.

"It's not just a casserole, it's extraordinaire," Mandrell said.

Hoover estimated that about 270 people attended the first session, an increase from about 200 people who were counted at the first session a year ago.

For Chuck and Cindy Thomas of Blackduck, attending the Taste of Northern Minnesota was beneficial, since they have only lived in northern Minnesota for a few years. They moved to Blackduck from Zimmerman, Minn., located just northwest of the Twin Cities.

"This was our first year," Chuck Thomas said. "We'll be back again."

"It is a terrific idea," Cindy Thomas added.

Patty Jo Karels and Sue Caduff, both of Bemidji, agreed they enjoyed the roast duck that was catered by Red Cedar Grill in the Palace Hotel and Casino in Cass Lake.

Several people commented on the tasty lingonberry sauce served with the duck.

"It's wonderful. There were quite a variety of foods," said Tom Dvorak, of Bemidji, who came with his wife, Judy. "We always enjoy coming."

Other food items for sampling included French mushroom soup and sirloin tips with peppercorn sauce provided by the Ground Round.

"People really like mushroom dishes. A good creamy soup is comfort food," said Tracie Bird, a cook at Ground Round. "At our restaurant we add a dollop of sour cream. It really hits the spot."

Concordia Language Villages offered slices of pulla, a braided Finish sweet bread.

Harmony Foods had samples of locally brewed beers, made by the Boreal Brewers, which teaches people how to brew their own beer using Brewer's Best Beer Kits.

Chocolate wine served by Bernick's Beverages and Vending was also the topic of many conversations heard around the banquet hall.