Friday, November 3, 2017

Minneapolis: Top Ten World City?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal ranked Minneapolis among the top ten travel destinations in the world. Amazing. We were planning a trip to the Greek islands, but decided to stay home and save the money.

Readers in the Twin Cities immediately made light of a Top Ten list that included not only Minneapolis but also Kuelap, Peru, and the Faroe Islands, which have no trees and specialize in whale blubber. But we ought to keep in mind that people in Kuelap are saying the same thing in reverse: "So what if we appear in a list that also includes ... Minneapolis? Where is that, anyway?" 

The article focuses on Minneapolis's trendy food scene, of which I have no knowledge. I used to work in the warehouse district on the north loop, where many new restaurants have sprung up amid the condo conversions and new construction, but in those days fine dining options were limited to Cuzzy's and Archie's Bunker.

The Journal made a point of excluding St. Paul from its litany of praises. That's stupid. Minneapolis and St. Paul are parts of a single conurbation consisting of a conglomeration of neighborhoods widely differing in atmosphere.

(Click map for a larger view)
In the interests of promoting world brotherhood, sisterhood, and general fellow-feeling,  I thought it might be useful to mention a few affordable neighborhood spots that Hilary and I visited this year, in case visitors from Madagascar and Dundee grow tired of the obligatory valet parking at the flashy new dining hotspots downtown and decide to venture out into the workaday parts of the city.

The focus here is on lunch, Happy Hour, easy parking, outdoor seating, and general ambiance. Food? Yes, the food tends to be good.


1) Draft Horse: The building is located in a vacant lot, and was formerly a stable for Grain Belt Brewery. It has a nice terrace, and you can often park right across the street. It sits next door to the Food Building, home to Red Table Meat Co. and Baker's Field Flour & Bread. Hence the charcuterie platter is pretty good, though I'm also a fan of the root vegetable salad. And the house-made chips.

Charcuterie board at Draft Horse
2) Café Alma: The word Yuppie comes to mind when you enter this lively café, which has lots of light and a long exposed brick wall. I can recall a whitefish tartine with fried egg that's no longer on the menu. I ought to try to lamb burger.

3) Hazel's: The perfect breakfast café, way up on 26th and Johnson, family-run Hazel's moved into the neighborhood after several decades way out in Alexandria.

4) Ginger Hop: A Thai place with an paneled, English-pub style bar on one side, a calm, spacious restaurant space on the other, and a more-than-decent Happy Hour.

5) Eli's: A triangular bar/cafe at the bend in East Hennepin Avenue with a black-and-white linoleum floor and an excellent menu.


6) Ward 6: It sits on a rise overlooking St. Paul, but looking out from the terrace you could easily be in Milwaukee or Detroit. It might be the best neighborhood place in the Cities, but it's a long ways from my neighborhood, and  I've only been there twice, so it's hard to say.

7) Delicata: A small but stylish service-counter place in a residential neighborhood between Como Park and the fairgrounds with distinctive pizzas and snacks.

8) St. Paul Grill: I revived my long-dormant hovering skills at the bar of this downtown institution and snagged a table for four during the MPR 50th Anniversary block party. The $14 martini knocked me for a loop, but the tremendous burger returned me to fine form for the Dessa concert going on outside.

9) Finnish Bistro: Lying in the heart of the St. Anthony Park neighborhood, it's the perfect place for a robust sandwich or some flaky pastry at a sidewalk table on a sunny Sunday morning. Ask anyone.

Sandcastle, on Lake Nokomis

11) Sand Castle: A picturesque café by the beach, featuring tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, and hot dogs garnished with tiny sweet/hot peppers. Enjoy your lunch while watching people trying to enjoy themselves on rented paddleboards out on the lake.

10) Soberfish: This Thai-sushi place on East Franklin has nice interior spaces, an interesting clientele, and a good Happy Hour—the ideal stop before a recital at nearby Ferguson Hall on the West Bank.

12) Fika: Herring and beets and gravlax and pickled onions and dill and all things Scandinavian, prepared with skill and presented with elán in the lobby of the American Swedish Institute.

13) It's Greek to Me: Here the outdoor garden patio is the thing, with gurgling fountains drowning out the traffic noise from Lyndale Avenue, just beyond the wrought iron grate.


14) Irving and Lake: A relaxing, unpretentious restaurant/bar in an increasingly hoity-toity part of town, it's a good place to enjoy a Happy Hour before attending a reading at nearby Magers & Quinn.

The lamb hash at Harriet Brasserie
15) Harriet Brasserie: Located in a former firehouse tucked on a side-street in the Upton neighborhood, this very small restaurant must rely on neighborhood walk-ins, since there's little on-street parking nearby. The lamb hash, with soft-poached egg, carrots, celery, sweet potatoes, corn, onions, mint dressing, and hollandaise sauce, is memorable. 

The wood-fired pizza at Sparks
 16) Sparks: Sequestered in the mysterious Bryn Mawr neighborhood, this mellow café devoted to wood oven cooking is on the way to nowhere, but the Happy Hour pizzas have an interesting cornmeal-tinged crust. 

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