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May 10, 2006 08:59 AM

A bunch of MSP questions

  • j

I'm trying to narrow down my way too long list of places to try during my trip from Boston on 6/22-26. I want to have a juicy lucy (The Nook?), hit some diners (Bandbox and/or Mickey's) and local dives (Highland Grill?), a swankier restaurant or two (112 Eatery? Solera? A Rebour). I see the donut conversation below (what about Lone Doughnut Cafe?) and also like upscale bakeries (Bakery on Grand?, Day by Day?).

I read Punch Pizza is as good as New Haven za. Do they sell by the slice? Is it always crowded? Is the food at Hell's Kitchen as good as it looks (lemon ricotta pancakes and sausage bread sound great). Should I get Bahn mi at Que Nha and Nepalese at Everest? Definitely concentrating on lots of small bites at casual places and one or two nicer dinners w/ new American or northern Italian (altho there's plenty of both in Boston). What's a nicer place with a good bar area for solo dining (or does anyone else want to go out?). Are people still allowed to smoke at restaurants in MSP?

I'll be staying downtown 4 nites and while I'll walk and take public transportation to various parts of town (and like to discover sections of town off the beaten track), would like to keep things fairly convenient. Is there anything that's a total MSP experience? Where should I get walleye? Thanks for reading all this, looking forward to it.

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  1. Tavern on Grand for walleye. 112 Eatery was fabulous when we were there in April. Although Hell's Kitchen has its detractors, we've had nothing but great food and service there. Banh mi at Jasmine Deli are a cut above. Try to get a cocktail and pierogies at Nye's Polanaise.

    1. You might want to clarify which downtown you're staying in - Minneapolis or St. Paul.

      Also, I don't know that I'd consider the Highland Grill to be a dive. It is really much more of an upscale diner.

      If you want a true dive with great food, check out the Triple Rock Social Club. They're a punk bar with a full kitchen. Pretty much everything on the menu has a vegetarian and/or vegan counterpart. (I don't know of another place serving vegan chili cheese fries) On Saturdays and Sundays, they serve breakfast from 10AM until either 3 or 4 PM. During the week, they serve dinner from 4PM - 1AM.

      If you want a true unique Minneapolis experience, check out Nye's Polanaise Room, home of the Worlds Most Dangerous Polka Band:

      Also, Punch does not sell pizza by the slice, and there is no smoking in any bars or restaurants. (But, many places have opened patios for outdoor dining - you are allowed to smoke outside.)

      1. So many restaurants, so little time! I think you might have to eat six meals a day.

        For a true Twin Cities experience, I highly recommend Al's Breakfast. It's so famous that it's listed in Wikipedia! And it's perfect for the solo traveler - it's easier for one person to get seated, and you're sure to make friends with the people near you. Or at least be highly entertained by the cook and waitstaff. Plus, the food is really good (I love the hash browns and anything benedict).

        Al's is reachable by bus - If you're staying in downtown Minneapolis, take a #6 bus going towards the U of M (Mpls campus). Get out at 14th Ave, and walk a block and a half to the heart of Dinkytown. If it's a nice day, you could walk back downtown across the Stone Arch bridge (SE of Hennepin Ave).

        Enjoy your stay!



        1 Reply
        1. re: AnneInMpls

          And, given that I just noticed your mention of a local dive, note that Al's is more "dive-y" than most other places. That is, it has never been painted or redecorated, and the walls have a wonderful patina from decades of breakfasts - along with money from all over the world, postcards from devoted customers, and who knows what else.

          Mickey's is also a dive, but the Highland Grill is an anti-dive: yuppie and cheerful and kinda gourmet. And kinda expensive for what it is. HG has good food, but I'd vote hands-down for Al's.


        2. Try a Jucy Lucy. But please, try it at Matt's, the place where it was invented (I know the debate, so 58 Clubbers settle down). If you can put together Nye's (try to get there when Sweet Lou is at the helm), Al's Breakfast (great recommendation and particularly fabulous if you can catch Grina at the griddle) and Matt's, you will have achieved a Chowhound trifecta.

          On a fine dining note, for a good taste of the local scene try either Heartland, Restaurant Alma or Auriga. If you want reservations at 112...get'em now.


          10 Replies
          1. re: Dragon

            Thanks for everyone's answers. I'll clarify and ask more if I could. I'm staying on 7th St. in Mpls and have my list split into St. Paul and Mpls, so I'm all set with what's where. I had Al's on the list already, are they only open til 1PM? How long to walk to Al's via the Stone Arch Bridge? Can you walk to St. Paul (this from someone who walks everywhere, esp. on vacation)?

            When I say "dive", I mean a place serving alcohol which I assume Al's does not. Maybe I confused Groveland Tap with Highland Grill? Is the former more divey? Or maybe it was St. Clair Broiler?

            Mari Q suggested Alma, Auriga, La Belle Vie, etc. over 112 Eatery, why are they more Minnesotan (is that a word)? Looking at the menus, they all look "new American"/French/Med to me and since I can see a picture of what 112 looks like (pretty inviting), it seems like a good choice. Do Alma and Auriga have bars? La Belle Vie looks very fancy from the little picture on their site. Is it hard to get a bar seat at 112? Would a late dinner work or does the bar get full of people just hanging out?

            I know about Triple Rock, am hoping a good show is going on while I'm there. Usually keep my rock bars and food separate but we'll see. I don't picture going to Nye's by myself, altho I love a good pierogie. Also had Tavern on the list, will add Jasmine and check on Bakery on Grand (sounded great). Do people like Band Box Diner? I like "real" diners and want to visit at least one. Do people agree that Matt's is better than The Nook? Is there a good place to visit my Swedish heritage?

            Wow, way too many questions but thanks again.

            1. re: Joanie

              Holy cow it's like the Chowhound SAT!

              1. Yes, Al's is only open until 1 p.m.

              2. You can walk there via the Stone Arch Bridge although you're talking about a solid 2+ miles each way from downtown. (Incidentally, you'll walk fairly close to Nye's and past Restaurant Alma so you could check those out).

              3. The walk from the center of downtown MPLS to the center of downtown St. Paul is roughly 10 miles. If you want any kind of scenery, up that to 12-14. (If you actually want to do this, walk to the West Bank of the U of M, south along the west side of the river to the Lake Street Bridge, cross over and go a little bit south along the River Road to Summit Avenue. Take a left and go down Summit to Lexington Ave. Turn right, then a quick left onto Grand -- you'll pass a whole lot of great shops (and Tavern on Grand), then the Cathedral in St. Paul and down the hill into St. Paul.)

              4. Al's would be considered a dive (as you can see from the photos). Groveland Tap isn't really "dive-y", just a smallish neighborhood bar. It's nothing special although they have very good burgers. Highland Grill is more funky/upscale -- they also do one of the best burgers in town (the "Elvis" Burger). They have wine and bottled beer available. St. Clair Broiler's atmosphere is a little bit family restaurant and a little bit east coast dinerish. I wouldn't go out of my way for the food -- you can do better elsewhere.

              Along those lines, I'll skip ahead:

              5. Matt's Bar is another unremarkable city neighborhood corner bar except that they're the pioneer of the Jucy Lucy (including its odd spelling). The Nook has a little bit more interest -- it's across the street from a significant-by-MN-standards-but-not-anywhere-else private school which, among other things has turned out a couple NFL and MLB players (and a few of my circle of friends). It's like a tiny neighborhood sports bar/gathering place paying photographic homage to those local sports "heroes" -- people all seem to know each other, etc.

              Now...when you factor in exactly what a Jucy Lucy is -- a cheeseburger with the cheese on the inside -- to me, the ultimate measure of a quality Jucy Lucy is the ability to make it with a crispy outside but not drying the rest of the meat to a crisp while achieving the molten lava-like cheese consistency.

              The ones at Matt's are crispy with dried out meat and scalding hot cheese goo. The Nook seems to be able to execute them without the dried out meat, but not much crispyness on the outside.

              At this point, you may be thinking the Jucy Lucy sounds like some kind of overhyped phenomenon and at this point I would be agreeing with you. The difference is, at the Nook, there are several other really, really good burgers available while at Matt's you're pretty much there for the JL and only the JL. If you HAVE to have a Jucy Lucy, go to the Nook.

              I'm sure I'll get flamed for that so why not add in my other flame-worthy comment: skip walleye. Walleye is to freshwater fish as tilapia is to saltwater fish. There are far more interesting fish in the world, including Minnesota. I'm saying this knowing full well I'll be pulling walleye out of the water this weekend for the fishing opener. My dirty little secret is that I'm really there for the panfish (much tastier and satisfying than walleye, though much fussier) and the northerns which are superb when pickled.

              Flame on MSP hounds!

              Back to your questions:

              6. There are few foods unique to this part of the country, but what makes Alma and Heartland significant to MN "regional cuisine" is that they not only use locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, they also actively participate in and lead efforts to promote and expand sustainable natural agriculture, organic foods, local farming and conservation. Lucia's is another place like this, in a neat part of town, that you should consider. They capitalize on our proximity to the origin of foods. When you eat there, they can tell you how the food was raised, the names of the farmers and probably even the names of the animals on your plate (if you're so inclined and it wouldn't revive childhood 4H memories when you had to auction off "Millie" your favorite prize-winning lamb to a gyro restaurant supplier at the State Fair). So while the cuisine isn't unique by Thomas Keller/Grant Achatz standards, it's significant here in MSP.

              Auriga follows those same lines although less out in front. They and La Belle Vie are the MSP restaurants with the most consistently excellent execution.

              As for 112 Eatery, I'm among their fans. But they offer unique items, a variety from fine foods to those of the common man, and in a relaxed urban bar/bistro setting. No nonsense -- just expertly prepared, interesting food.

              7. Auriga and Alma have bars. 112 can be pretty crowded around the bar, Alma a little less so. Although I haven't been solo to any of them, I wouldn't expect much difficulty getting a single seat at a bar here in town. My impression is that people don't "hang out" at the bar at 112 -- they're there for the food. Either eating or waiting for a seat. If you've been to Al's Breakfast already in your trip, you may even be comfortable with Al's standard practice of making everyone constantly change stools to accommodate new parties.

              Also, La Belle Vie has a lounge/lounge menu but I believe you can order anything from the standard dinner menu in the lounge. Someone correct me if I'm wrong on that.

              7b. Also, someone posted that everywhere is casual here in MSP. Although I'm youngish, I'm a little old fashioned and would dress a little less casual at Auriga and Alma, and would certainly dress more formal at La Belle Vie. You could definitely go casual to 112.

              8. I wouldn't sway you from places like the Band Box Diner, but just know that our definition of "diner" is a loooong way from the diners of, say, northern New Jersey. Diner here just means breakfast spot. Mickey's is simply a grease pit. Not that I don't dine there on occasion, but it's just greasy breakfast food in a cool landmark environment (the downtown St. Paul one, not the W. 7th Street one).

              9. Check out the link below. Note the monthly smorgasbords -- they have one on June 4.

              Hopefully that hit most of your questions. Good luck and enjoy your time here!


              1. re: MSPD

                Not to be pedantic (ok, I am pedantic, sue me), tilapia is a freshwater fish.

                1. re: martin

                  Gah! Too much typing, not enough thinking. Thank you for setting me straight.

                  In light of that, screw the comparison -- in my opinion, walleye is uninteresting in flavor and texture.

              2. re: Joanie

                Hi Joanie,

                I agree that in general it's a good idea to keep rock clubs and food separate... except in the case of Triple Rock. I was actually really impressed with their food, especially their vegan options.

                I agree with the previous comments about avoiding Italian food and diners. There are many amazing food options in the Twin Cities, but if you are coming from Boston, you will probably be disappointed with the Italian and diner offerings (again, with the exception of Punch).

                One of my favorite places in the cities is JP American Bistro, near Lyndale/Lake (close to Uptown). We have been there about 5 times now, and have had consistently excellent dinners there. I'm not a huge fan of the ambience in the main room, but you can sit in the bar and order off the main menu. Make sure to go on a night when JP is cooking.

                I would recommend not making a special trip for Bakery on Grand, since it has recently been sold and is in the process of re-opening. Thus, any previous reviews for it probably do not apply to the new incarnation. Although it used to be one of our favorite places before it closed.

                One of the aspects of the food scene in Minnesota which I have come to really appreciate is the quality of local, independent cafes. Birchwood Cafe, Zumbro's, Lucia's Bakery & Cafe, Turtle Bread, 128 Cafe, Cafe Barbette... probably others that I am forgetting. Most, if not all, use local organic ingredients.

                For a truly eclectic and unique experience, you should hit the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown. This has been featured on FoodTV. I have been there a few times, and actually don't recall too much about the food itself -- but it is defintely a one-of-a-kind place. And only one block from Al's.

                WMBR? Seriously? Wow... that's my college station! Small world.

                1. re: Chris Mitra

                  Ha ha, I was probably doing radio when you were there, have been at MBR a long time. In any case, thanks for those pointers and to everyone else. Will see about Triple Rock (don't care about vegan food), had JP Amer. Bistro on the list. I see it's on Lyndale Ave. South which seems to have lots of restaurants. I take it that's a "happening" part of town? How far from downtown? Too bad I'm missing the festival on Grand Ave. by a couple weeks.

                  Danny mentioned ice cream but you forget, I'm from Boston which claims to have the highest % of ice cream eaters. Or at least New England does. I had Izzy's and Cafe Crema on the list already. Also thanks to MSPD for those details on the jucy lucy and other things. Guess I won't be walking to St. Paul (silly me thought it was just across a bridge).

                  Will wing it for the nicer dinner. But who'll need dinner after all those breakfasts, bakeries, burgers, bahn mi's and fried walleye sandwiches? Maybe I should walk to St. Paul to keep off the pounds. Thanks again.

                  1. re: Joanie

                    OK, I'm exceeding my permissable amount of replies to this thread. I'll shut up after this one! You weren't incorrect -- St. Paul and MPLS are simply across a bridge. Heck, in some parts, no bridge is necessary. But the downtown centers, and the restaurants/attractions mentioned are about 10 miles apart. Oh...yes, the Lyndale Ave. and Lake St. intersection ("LynLake") is kind of a happening area. The entire stretch of Lake St. from there east quite a ways is being "revitalized". Lots of stuff happening.

                    1. re: MSPD

                      I'll make you answer just one more (pretty please). Is Lynlake easy to walk/get to from Downtown? Guess I'll dedicate one day to St. Paul, the rest to various sections of Mpls including the Walker. Should I bother with the mall?

                      I really appreciate all the reponses but if you want to email directly with more info, feel free.

                      1. re: Joanie

                        walking from downtown Mpls to Lyn Lake: around 23 blocks (from 7th street to 30th, also known as Lake)...
                        You mean the mall of america? i would not bother, unless you need clothes wiyhout taxes
                        The places i mentioned that are a little more "Minnesotan" are because they use local produce, only what is fresh at the time. Hope that helps.

                    2. re: Joanie

                      On the topic of ice cream in MSP vs. Boston:
                      My wife and I are pretty addicted to the various local ice creameries (Izzy's and Pumphouse being our two favorites), but whenever we go back to Boston we still immediately head for Toscanini's. I do think that Tosci's edges out both Izzy's and Pumphouse, although I think the overall quality of local ice cream in the Twin Cities is higher, on a whole.

                      Oh, and Lyn/Lake is not very walkable from downtown, but it is walkable from Uptown.

              3. Put in a call to Bakery on Grand to be sure they're open before you trek over there. They've changed hands recently and may still be in the middle of "restructuring."

                Otherwise try Franklin Bakery in Mpls or Patrick's Bakery on the South Mpls/Richfield line.

                Since you're interested in public transport & walking, the following places are in Saint Paul: The Nook, Mickey's, Highland Grill, A Rebours, Day by Day, original Punch Pizza location, Everest, best location for walleye (Tavern on Grand). Of those, the following are in downtown proper: Mickey's, A Rebours, Day by Day.

                I forget which side of the river hosts Que Na, but the rest are in Minneapolis. These are in downtown proper: Lone Doughnut, Bandbox, 112 Eatery, Solera, Hell's Kitchen.