Tag Archives: minnesota

Love Letter to the Twin Cities

Red Amaryllis, Como Park Conservatory, Sunken Garden

The Mall of America is not the alpha and the omega of the Twin Cities. Besides the “royalty” of the State Fair carved into butter busts, the TC has some spectacular art. Who would know that these Midwestern cities offer shelter to some world-class sights? And some pretty good food. I thought that I might take you on an artsy, foodie field trip! It’s my wistful little love letter to the Twin Cities, now that I’m on the West Coast. Join me!

Detail of “The Algerian,” by Cordier

Cherry Spoonbridge, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Sights

Whether you find yourself in Minneapolis on a sunny day, or a snowy day, you will enjoy Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Walk beyond the tall, evergreen borders to become surrounded by art work and restful, peaceful plantings. It’s an oasis that seems beautifully matched to city life. When I visited it for the first time, I didn’t know anything about it. I won’t tell you anything more so that you can have that sense of discovery for yourself. Once there, you might as well walk across the street and enjoy the Walker Art Center’s free admission on Thursday evenings if you are a fan of contemporary art.

To see what people are creating and buying at this very moment, visiting galleries/stores in Uptown is a good bet. The tiny yet potent Moxie is a hair salon during the day, becoming a gallery at night. It’s actually rather striking to see paintings alongside huge mirrors, swivel chairs, and shampoo bottles. Across the street, Soo Vac acts as a community incubator for local artists. Next door, the very tiny Robot Love is perfect for a dose of pop design sensibility. Back across town, in downtown Minneapolis, the Rosalux gallery exhibits local art in the very lovely brick building of the Loft.

Despite my preference for modern art, my favorite museum in the Twin Cities, hands down, is the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Matchless, utterly matchless. (And admission is free, everyday!) It is world-class. It is large, occupying an entire city block. But there is no “fat” in it. It is no mere warehouse. Somehow, the curators are telling the story of humanity, binding each of us with each piece, each room, and every wall. And of course, the works are simply gorgeous!!! The Algerian, a detail of which is shown immediately above, belongs to its ancient art collection.

Also linking us to the past (albeit, less distant – the 1900s) in downtown Saint Paul is the Cathedral of Saint Paul. One of my friends told me that she did not need to take a photograph of the interior of the cathedral because it would be an image that would stay with her. I agree – there is no picture that could capture even the slightest semblance to the experience of walking within it. The stained glass, sculptures, and other aspects of the interior conspire to give you a sense of awe. I’ve included an image of the exterior, taken through a friend’s car window on a snowy day to give you a glimpse that Saint Paulites enjoy everyday. (An observant reader notes that this is a photo of…the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis!!! I’ve never been inside, but, I’m sure it’s potentially fabulous!!! And I’m working on finding a photo of the cathedral itself.) Update: 06.22.08 – someone has been kind enough to let me use his nighttime photo of the cathedral. Enjoy!

Basilica of Saint Mary’s, Minneapolis

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Saint Paul

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Saint Paul

North of downtown Saint Paul lies the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in Como Park, to the side of the immensely serene Como Lake. It is entirely charming to walk through the conservatory’s various chambers to view tropical plants or perhaps flowering bulbs, when the snow remains packed tightly on the land outside. People picnic within the conservatory, taking advantage of its beauty, definitely enhancing their meals. I took the picture of the red amaryllis at the very beginning of this post in the Sunken Garden, (shown immediately below) sometime last spring.

Sunken Garden in the Como Park Conservatory

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Food

Usually, I try to focus my posts on recipes and making food myself, in order to learn about cooking as well as attempting to cultivate the frugality habit. But sometimes it is quite nice to go someplace, eat, and not have to wash dishes afterwards! These are some of the places I shared meals with friends.

Takeout box from Pizza Luce

Punch Salad, of Punch Pizza (including prosciutto and walnuts)

Toscano Pizza, at Punch Pizza

Firstly, it’s difficult to survive modern life without pizza. Give into it!!! One of my west coast friends was shocked when she tried a slice of the Garlic Mashed Potato pizza at Pizza Luce in Uptown – like nothing she had ever had, and it was so very good. Amazing texture. Bright, tart feta with tender…potatoes? Potatoes that contribute an earthiness that rounds off the brightness of the feta and the fresh, chopped tomatoes. Simply amazing. I succumbed to the temptation of their free delivery policy many times. Their pizzas are unconventional, and so delicious. Should you happen to be around Xerxes and 50th, very west of downtown Minneapolis, Michaelangelo’s Masterpizza’s is a lovely, lovely, teeny and tiny place to eat with friends. The pizza sauce is unapologetically thick, laden with good, mellow cheeses, on an exquisitely textured dough. It is one of those neighborhood joints that deserves to become a destination. The much-praised Punch Pizza earns its accolades by being the absolute, unequivocal best.

Al’s Breakfast of Minneapolis

Sausage Patty, Eggs, Light Rye Toast, homemade strawberry rhubarb jam, at Highland Park Cafe & Bakery

I love love love breakfast. I’ve expressed my passion for breakfast in previous posts regarding Minnesotan breakfast eateries: Jay’s Cafe, in the Saint Anthony neighborhood of Saint Paul, South Asian Foods in Fridley; my beloved Highland Park Cafe and Bakery in the Highland Park neighborhood of Saint Paul, and Al’s Breakfast, in Minneapolis’s Dinkytown (James Beard awardee). Besides breakfast, I found a few other places I enjoyed. Cecil’s Deli, in the heart of Highland Park, is quite the institution. I love their Reubens. They also make a lovely, lovely hammentashen in the bakery. One day a friend and I were trying to decide between two flavors of the hammentashen – we just ended up getting both. They were large, and simply fabulous. Kramarczuk’s, a Minneapolis landmark, serves a brilliant holubet. I always appreciated the curries at Chiang Mai Thai, nestled in the heart of Minneapolis’s Uptown. All of the food looked really good, but, I stuck to ordering curry because it was relatively inexpensive, and because, well, I LOVE curry!!! In Saint Paul’s Frogtown, Saigon Cafe serves a mean, mean banh mi (ranging from the budget-friendly $2.50 to $3.50). They make their own mayonnaise, pate, and and bake their own excellent bread for this amazing sandwich. And when I asked for extra pickled carrots and daikon – why, by golly, they gave it to me!!!

Reuben on Dark Rye, Cecil’s Delicatessen, Highland Park, Saint Paul

Parking Lot of Kramarczuk’s Delicatessen, in Minneapolis

Miscellaneously Fabulous:

Next to the Mississippi, the Riverview Theatre is a lovely place to see a movie (for only $3.00!!) in a gorgeous, gorgeous 1950’s setting. They also have the best, best popcorn and thoughtfully provide Cheddar powder to enhance it! The Willey House, in Minneapolis, is a teensy Frank Lloyd Wright example. The official website lets you tour virtually, as does a fan site.

Lobby of the Riverview Theatre, Minneapolis

Hot Buttered Popcorn, in the Riverview Theatre

Well, I hope you have enjoyed this mini-tour of the Twin Cities. I shall be going on blog-cation for a few weeks, but will try to stay on top of any comments and emails you might send my way. (You must know bloggers LIVE for comment luv.) I always thought the 46th Light Rail Station in Minneapolis was really pretty, and made commuting such a pleasure. And so I’ll close this post with that. Thanks for coming along!!!

46th Street Light Rail Station, Minneapolis

*********************** Rolling Credits ***********************

Here are the fellow flickr-ites who kindly permitted my use of their works:

All others – Red Amaryllis at the Como Conservatory (first photo), the Pizza Luce takeout box, Punch Salad at Punch Pizza,Toscano Pizza at Punch Pizza, Reuben on Dark Rye from Cecil’s Deli, Fountain at the Como Conservatory, the Saint Paul Cathedral, and the 46th Avenue Light Rail Station in Minneapolis – by yours truly!

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Highland Cafe & Bakery (blissful altar of breakfast post #4)

Fish and Chips

From the outside, it just looks like a normal restaurant. You expect (and you get) meatloaf, bacon and eggs, walleye, etc., your classic Midwestern Americana. And it’s good, solid stuff. It’s CONSISTENTLY good. The owner earned his chops at the behemoth of Twin Cities breakfasting, Keys Cafe. Oh, but it’s better than Keys.*

I love it. One by one, my friends succumb to my indoctrinations about the greatness of the Highland Park Cafe and Bakery. They also fall in love. We are usually ordering around dinnertime, but, I order “breakfast” dishes on countless occasions. And I become addicted to their homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. Oh yeah, it’s GOOD. I see a glimmer of brilliance. Hm…

Sausage, Egg, Toast Breakfast with homemade strawberry rhubarb jam

But wait a second…the soup is to die for. Should you ever get your hands on the clam chowder, well…your life will never be the same. No really, it won’t. It is absolutely MAGICAL. I grew up in a beach town, a FISHING town, with access to clam chowder of every kind – every child should know that there are “red” and “white” chowders by the age of 8. No, none, none of them could hold a candle to this unexpected jewel. How can seafood be better so far from the oceans!?!?! A mystery.

The clam chowder sells out so quickly, my friend tells me that I should call the place to make sure there are two bowls of it left. And yeah…I actually DO IT! My impulses have have been PTSD-related. You see, after one evening there because…well…there was only ONE bowl left. My memory is fuzzy, but, I like to think I was the bigger person and went without clam chowder that evening, so that my friend could partake.

And then, one day, visiting the restaurant, I see words like “kofte” and “lassi” stuck in the middle of a menu. My eye stops! What’s going on? Apparently, HPC&B serves some Nepalese dishes. I have tried the momos (both vegetarian and meat versions) and the curry – they are all DELICIOUS!!!

Chicken Curry

Momos, with spicy tomato dipping sauce

Dessert. Very very important. I’ve had chocolate cake of various sorts there. Berry pies. They are good. But one day, I try the bread pudding. Oh, it’s so good. The “secret” is simple: they use their own caramel rolls as the “bread” for the pudding. These caramel rolls. Oh, they are absolute genius. One of my indoctrinated friends used to buy rolls to take home to eat on the weekends for breakfast!!! They are DIVINE. Truly.

Bread pudding, with apples, ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel sauce

So, if you are ever in the Highland Park neighborhood of Saint Paul and want to be delighted, try it. You might just love it.

Highland Park Cafe & Bakery
1931 Ford Pky
St Paul, MN 55116
(651) 698-3400

(testimonials from chowhound)

* The caramel rolls, everything, even the liver and onions is better at HPC&B.

Part 4 in a series of my posts about establishments serving breakfast:

  1. Jay’s Café of St. Paul, MN (blissful altar of breakfast #1)
  2. Al’s Breakfast of Minneapolis, Minnesota: prosaic American breakfast as an art form (blissful altar of breakfast post #2)
  3. South Asian Foods, giving you halwa puri, yes, in Fridley, MN (blissful altar of breakfast post #3)

You might also enjoy reading about poaching eggs: Luxurious, Lazy and Thrifty – Poached Eggs

South Asian Foods, giving you halwa puri, yes, in Fridley, MN (blissful altar of breakfast post #3)

south asian foods, in fridley, mn

south asian foods, in fridley, mn

Somewhere, off of Highway 694 I believe, you can find a grocery catering to the South Asian palate. That’s right, in the middle of nowheresville, a.k.a., Fridley, Minnesota, you can find a tiny, teeny shop selling toor dal, sambal and the like. Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, and other people patronize the store.

I took a special field trip there with one of my friends, an Indian national, pining for some tolerably authentic food for breakfast. He said it was OK that it was Pakistani. On Saturday mornings you can buy an inexpensive breakfast (somewhere under $6.00 I think) – halwa puri – including rice, dal, halwa, puri, and other nice things. It takes a LOT to get me up on a Saturday morning, but my friend threatened me by saying that if we did not get there by 9:30 a.m., none would be left. So, I went. I saw. I ate. It was SO good. Smells great when you go in, too.

If you find yourself pining for a good breakfast on a Saturday morning to remind you of the old country, look no further than South Asian Foods!

(post #3 in a series of posts about BREAKFAST!)

South Asian Foods
765 53rd Ave. NE
Fridley, MN 55421
(763) 586-9800

Al’s Breakfast of Minneapolis, Minnesota: prosaic American breakfast as an art form (blissful altar of breakfast post #2)

Al’s is an institution. A good one. Of course, I didn’t know that the first time I moseyed there. It is not much bigger than a postage stamp. The Wikipedia entry says it seats fourteen people. Apparently its diminutive nature didn’t stop it from winning a James Beard award.

People wait in line for seats to open up. It’s worth it. Just try to avoid going between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. – or just be very very patient.

You can get a fancy flourish or two. Yeah, a little tomato, basil, or this or that might show up. But Al’s treats honest, prosaic American breakfast as an art form. In my last visit, I ordered some toast, eggs, and sausage. The manager gave me two lovely eggs the cook fried gently in butter to a perfect “over medium.” Eggs can get too dry. Or burnt. Or whatever. Or just boring, which is probably the worst outcome. With Al’s eggs, I could enjoy everything: the sweetness of the butter playing against the yolk and white; the tenderness of the “medium” I’d requested; and happily pairing the egg with toast or sausage in alternating bites. Oh, and the pancakes. Maybe that was a different visit. The blueberry pancakes were spectacular. The tartness of the berries accentuated the tender texture of the pancakes. A little butter and syrup heightened the superb pancake experience into true love. Al’s is to the breakfast grill what Rudy Galindo is to the ice rink: a world-class champion. Work it, Al’s!

Sure, you could certainly visit it for its quirky ambience. It’s stuck in a converted alleyway in the middle of Dinkytown, shouting distance from the University of Minnesota. You could be sitting next to some New Yorkers experiencing Al’s for the first time, or a ex-Minneapolite carrying a torch for Al’s all the way from who knows where. Listening to the staff communicate with each other and the customers makes for great people-watching. But make no mistake, this place has got the absolute chops DOWN. Al’s got its reputation the old-fashioned way: by earning it!

...not much wider than a bicycle is long

(post #2 in a series about BREAKFAST!)

Al’s Breakfast
413 14th Ave. S.E.
Minneapolis, MN 55414
612-331-9991
PHOTO CREDITS:
  • first photo showing much of the restaurant above appears by kind permission of m.papaya;
  • second photo by Megan Mayer of mnartists.org; and
  • the third photo appears by kind permission of sidesalad.

Jay’s Café of St. Paul, MN (blissful altar of breakfast #1)

jays cafe business card

jay's cafe business card

I happen to adore breakfast. There are several places in the U.S. that deserve identification as blissful altars of breakfast. And Jay’s Cafe is one of them. Yes, they serve lunch and dinner, and I’m sure they are fabulous, but, breakfast is a special treat. This restaurant, situated on a street distinguished by a low-rent liquor store on the corner (and thriving in the shadow of the Twin Cities breakfast behemoth, Keys), is a suprising gem.

It’s a teeny, tiny and pretty restaurant. The proprietors hang art on the walls. Reddish wood provides sweet color up to the chair rail height, setting off the green paint that goes to the ceiling. Oh, but you are not there to stare and twiddle your thumbs. Everytime I go there, I am struck by how well these people understand their ingredients. If you get home-fried potatoes, they are perfectly spiced. If you get eggs, they are perfectly tender. What else can you ask for?

This is definitely the breakfast for the educated tongue. Elements such as sofrito, ciabatta, artichoke, and gruyere pepper the brief menu. I usually get the Surfer Burrito, packed with egg, chorizo, potatoes, avocado, tomato, veggies, and garnished with their very own salsa. Oh, see, they could be totally cavalier with the salsa, but they are NOT. This is the type of obsession I condone wholeheartedly!

(part 1 of a series of posts about breakfast joints.)

Jay’s Café
791 Raymond Ave.
St. Paul, Minnesota 55114
Phone: (651) 641-1446

stuffed cabbage / holubet @ Kramarczuk’s

Imagine: tender cabbage leaves surrounding seasoned meat and rice, with a little bed of assertive – but not overly tart- sauerkraut, laced with tiny crumbs of sausage, and dressed with tomato cream sauce. That is the delight of holubet, a Ukranian rendition of stuffed cabbage. This was my lunch the other day for $5.99. My friend had a pastrami sandwich, which he found “OK.”

Now, I chose from the side of the menu labeled “Ethnic,” while he didn’t. I don’t understand his choice of lunch. He told me that the place was quite the institution, and that it was Eastern European. We could have very well landed in either the pizza place or the sandwich place across the street. The sandwich was a copout. People, honor thy culinary artists, and take a risk! Order that dish you do not understand – and for the love of all comestibles, do not order a sandwich just because you are afraid of what’s behind door #2.

P.S. Check out Deep End Dining to read about risk taking when dining out!

photo credit: moncrief speaks took this fine picture.