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Jul 19, 2006 04:47 PM

Phoenix Hound travelling to Minneapolis


I have provided many recommendations for visitors to the Phoenix area on where to go for authentic Southwest cuisine. Now I am travelling to the Twin Cities and would like some good recommendations on places that will give me a real taste of the Minneapolis St. Paul regional cuisine. I don't mind high end places, but I also enjoy well executed family run businesses as well. I tend to shy away from chains, but if there was a regional one I shouldn't miss, great. As far as types of cuisine, I love them all. Looking forward to your suggestions.

Billy Bob

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  1. When will you be arriving and for how long will you be here?

    1. I will be flying in this Sunday night and leaving Thursday night.

      1. Tavern on Grand in St. Paul is good for Walleye. That's very regional. Lots of threads are here about all the great southeast Asian food and other ethnic food available as well. I know I've posted this before, but Nye's Polonaise can't be beat for a cocktail and an order of pierogis. It's an institution.

        1 Reply
        1. re: zataar


          Thanks for the recs. I don't think I have had Walleye before, I'll check into that. I have had pierogis, but probably not good authentic ones.

          Billy Bob

        2. Welcome! You’ll have many options, but here are some of my favorites. They tend to be pretty St. Paul biased and, except for the first two, pretty blue collarish...

          Heartland Café St. Paul is a higher end restaurant specializing in local ingredients. They offer 2 prix fixe menus in the restaurant, including one vegetarian (flora). You can also order a la carte in the restaurant as well as in the adjoining wine bar.

          Heartland 1806 St. Clair Ave. St. Paul 651-699-3536

          You’ll want reservations for the main dining room, I think, and I know the restaurant was/is temporarily closed while Lenny was working on getting Cue up and running (see below) –confirm before you count on it.

          The chef of Heartland, Lenny Russo, opened a new restaurant, Cue, and a related “café” called Level 5 in the new Guthrie theater. It’s brand new. I haven’t tried it, but I went by there this past weekend and it looks terrific. The setting is certainly fabulous. It looks like Cue has a bar, too. I didn’t ask, but it looks like it might be set up for solo diners.

          Also, the Mill City Museum (next to the Guthrie) is the ruin of an old flour mill that has been turned into a museum showcasing Minneapolis’s history as “flour capital of the world.” It’s a wonderful museum and certainly appropriate for any chowhound if you have time. Don’t forget to swing by the Betty Crocker kitchen to try the samples they bake from recipes in their old cookbooks. It's air conditioned, in case you're looking to escape the heat.

          While you’re in the Twin Cities, make sure to have some walleye and some wild rice. Both are very regional. I recommend the “Loon omelet” at Key’s Café for breakfast—it has wild rice in it. Multiple locations, but the address for my favorite one is in my profile. Make sure you order the hot caramel rolls at Key’s—most breakfast joints consider the caramel roll a standard menu item. People eat them hot, with a pat of butter on top.

          Dairy-ette drive in for the old timey drive-in experience (summer only). 1440 Minnehaha Ave E, St. Paul. I like the pizza burger and the hot Italian sandwich, though, the best hot Italian sandwich in St. Paul in my opinion is at DeGidio’s on West 7th Street (the place is a dark and a little worn.)

          Conny's Creamy Cone (1197 Dale Street N (at Maryland), St. Paul, 651-778-8164) for soft serve ice cream they mix in a rainbow’s array of flavors on the premises (summer only).

          For a jucy lucy (cheese stuffed burger), which was invented in Minneapolis (a couple of restaurants claim it), The Nook at Hamline and Randolph, in St. Paul.

          Recently renovated former Sears building, now the Midtown Global Market (Mpls--Lake St. @ Chicago) for a multi-cultural bazaar type experience.

          Twin Cities gas station convenience stores everywhere: Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls, which are made in St. Paul.

          Smoked lake (superior) trout, if you can find it. There was a vendor at the Minneapolis farmer’s market (between the Guthrie and Mill City Museum) on Saturday that was selling it, though, it was technically from Wisconsin.

          I mention “The Little Oven” in my profile—it’s a trippy place, where they serve all you can eat pasta. Pretty divy, but an authentic Minnesota "red sauce" experience, I think.


          7 Replies
          1. re: The Dairy Queen


            Thanks for all of the great ideas. So many to choose from. The Heartland/Cue/Level 5 trifecta caught my eye as well as Key's and The Little Oven. Thanks again for taking the time to share you local knowledge with me.

            Billy Bob

            1. re: Billy Bob

              The neighborhood The Little Oven is in used to be the Italian neighborhood in St. Paul. It's undergone a huge amount of transition in the last couple of decades, but a few remnants of the old neighborhood remain. The chow isn't exceptional at The Little Oven, but it's a good example of a red sauce restaurant. The portions are enormous, and just when you think you can't eat any more, they ask if you'd like more.

              Often at Key's, they will bring out homemade rhubarb jelly for your toast. Rhubarb only grows where the ground freezes, so you probably don't get it in Phoenix.

              Anne mentions Al's for breakfast in her post--it's a winner of the James Beard "American Classics" award.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                TDQ...just a quick note for the historical archive...I'm not sure the neighborhood around the Little Oven used to be the Italian neighborhood in St. Paul, unless you stretch the neighborhood all the way down 7th Street to Swede Hollow. I grew up about a half mile from there (on Flandrau, to throw down my East Side cred :) and I knew it in pre-Little Oven days, variously as Ron and Ally's or Ronally' was a pizza joint (my brother used to make pizza there).

                As for Italian neighborhoods, I think there was pretty much the Levee and Swede Hollow, although I think the Levee had a more cohesive Italian community which moved up the hill (both my grandparents and mother lived in the levee up until the '40's) into the 7th Street area (witness Mancini's). And for chowish remnants of those times, the Swede Hollow Italians have given us Yarusso's (which, IMHO, has the best red sauce in town) and the Levee gave us Cossetta's.

                1. re: Dragon

                  Thank you, Dragon, for filling in with more detail there. It's good to have clarification from someone who has actually lived in the neighborhood. You're right, I was probably (inadvertantly) stretching the definition a bit more than I realized I should. Where I'm from, there are very clear boundaries where one neighborhood ends and another begins--one side of the street the signs are in Italian and the other side they're in another language, it's not quite as clear to me here. I do have a friend, who is quite Italian, from that area and so I assumed that the "Italian" neighborhood extended that far.

                  Yarusso's has the best red sauce, eh? I will have to add that to my list of places to try. I like the little shop at Cossetta's.


              2. re: Billy Bob

                Hey there, I read in another thread yesterday that Lenny Russo, the chef at Heartland, won't be cooking there anymore, that his wife will be there in his stead. Apparently he'll be too busy focusing on Cue. Hopefully, the quality at Heartland will remain the same, but I thought I would mention this, in case it made a difference to you.

                Also, The Little Oven gets really crowded sometimes, expect to wait. And it (and the Dairyette) are in the Eastern part of St. Paul, not centrally located. A little bit of a drive.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  What you read in yesterday's thread has been corrected in that thread.

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Actually, it seems the former sous chef at Heartland will be stepping up, not Mr. Russo's wife. I think one of us will have to beat a path over there and get the real story.



              3. First, MSP doesn't have a single cuisine/style which provides its identity. We do have a solid organic, local source consciousness but my advice is to set your target on getting the best food. Almost nothing here is unique/indigenous to this area.

                That said, in the high end category, La Belle Vie is not to be missed. This is the finest restaurant MSP has to offer. If you're alone and don't feel comfortable in a formal dining room setting, they have a beautiful, comfortable lounge.

                510 Groveland Ave

                112 Eatery is less formal but superb food. You'll find plenty of mentions on here and other boards.

                112 North 3rd St

                For a small, neighborhood breakfast look in this thread. Many of our best breakfast/bakery places are mentioned. We have great bakeries here, Rustica being my favorite (attached to a passable coffee place):


                It's not Pizzeria Bianco, but a good chow excursion across the border into St. Paul would be neapolitan pizza at Punch, swing up a mile to Legacy Chocolates and a few doors further east to Izzy's.

                Punch Pizza
                704 Cleveland Ave S
                St. Paul

                2034 Marshall Ave
                St. Paul

                Legacy Chocolates
                2042 Marshall Ave
                St. Paul

                If you just want to venture out in search of unplanned chow, head south out of MPLS on Hennepin Avenue all the way to Lake Street. Otherwise, go south on Nicollet Avenue ("Eat Street") and you'll see lots of places from roughly 20th south to Lake Street. In St. Paul, Grand Avenue from Fairview east to Lexington is good. So is Cleveland Avenue from Ford Parkway up to Marshall (aforementioned Punch, along with Highland Grill, Ristorante Luci, Luci Ancora, 128 Cafe, Trotter's Cafe...all are very good).

                That'll get you started. Good luck.

                3 Replies
                1. re: MSPD

                  MSPD, if you wouldn't mind, could you kindly please elaborate on 128 Cafe and Trotter's Cafe a bit? I've been curious about the latter and haven't heard of the former... Thank you!


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Sure...let's see...first the web sites. That's better information than I can type up:


                    128 is a neighborhood restaurant tucked in the lower level of a 1960ish college campus apartment building. The space used to be a Chinese restaurant, then a wing joint catering to the students from across the street. For several years, they've quietly turned out consistently good food. Their ribs get raves but inexplicably, I've never had them there. The place flies under the radar but has a loyal following.

                    Trotters is an eclectic cafe, breakfast and lunch spot emphasizing wholesome, made-to-order items from locally/regionally produced ingredients. The words "organic", "natural" and "from scratch" pepper their menu and website. It's a great place for a sandwich and cookie, maple cornmeal pancakes or granola. Trotter's, Highland Grill and Coffee News Cafe would compete for my breakfast dollars if I still lived in my old house (walking distance from all three). They're all great spots.

                  2. re: MSPD


                    Thanks for your recs. I looked at the websites for both La Belle Vie and 112 Eatery and both of their menus look very tempting. I am going to a conference there, so if I hook up with some other people, I like your tip on Nicollet Ave. Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

                    Billy Bob