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Where to take a picky out-of-towner (Minneapolis)

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Hi all,

One of my closest friends will be heading up to the Cities from Chicago Dec. 1-3. My boyfriend and I would like to take her out to eat for a lunch/early dinner on that Saturday.

The problem is, well, she's picky. Not really a chowhound. So that means nothing Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern... you get the idea.

She's a big Italian fan (pasta, pizza) and anything American, really. But she eats that stuff all the time in Chi-town. We're looking to show her some Minneapolis flare.

So my question to you is - where to take her? Nothing too formal or expensive but we're not necessarily looking to go fast food style, either.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. Alma, on University Ave. SE. It can be spendy, but not necessarily so , and it features good ingredients handled (IMO) perfectly. Nothing scary for the picky eaters, for the most part, and nice meat for someone from Chicago, land of big steaks. The atmosphere is cozy and friendly, the local reviews are glowing (mention it to your friend!), and you will show your guest some of the best, versus some of the flashiest, that MSP has to offer.

    1. 2nd the alma - excellent food - great service - its eally my fave place for the past year....

      I think the tasting menu is 42 or 45 per head which is for 3 courses. when you add in wine, desert, tax, tip - it does add up faster than you realize.

      3 Replies
      1. re: St Paul Susie

        Maybe instead of the tasting menu, lunch would be the better option, dollar-wise. Does Alma serve lunch? Have never been except for dinner.

        1. re: cayjohan

          alma - no lunch

          tasting menu is the way to go - sorry. if you just get one thing or one or 2 things its still going to be pricy - I checked their www a few weeks ago and they still had a very old menu - but the same price points.

          Erte is a good choice - fun, good chow, reasonable (compared to 112 and alma) and there are some traditional faves your friend my really enjoy.

          Sample room pops into my head as well - I think it might be in the link to a prior thread posted below. Might be better able to control costs but still have good chow.

          1. re: St Paul Susie

            Bummer on the no-lunch-at-Alma; I was getting my hopes up.

            I agree on the Sample Room, especially if you have a party of different tastes, plus, it's a relaxed atmosphere.

            Not so sure on Erte - I've liked my meals there, but always bridle about having to order my sides separately (and pay for them). Haven't been for 2 years - do they still just give you, say, a steak on your plate, and if you want someting else you have to order it? The prices are nice, but not so nice that you couldn't expect a little on the side.

      2. Alma's good. Did you try 112 Eatery? "Late lunch/early dinner" may land you a surprisingly available reservation.

        1. Maggie, I think I read on another of your posts that you are around/involved with the Univ. of Minn. Another option, since your friend is not necesarily a chowhound, is the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown. A lot of the food is surprisingly good, affordable, and served in an atmosphere that would leave your friend feeling wowed. Whenever our Chicago friends come to visit, they beg for a dinner and drinks at Loring just to soak in the feel of the place. Another option that is not so spendy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: cayjohan

            I actually had this on my short list of ideas! It's true that I used to live in the Dinkytown neighborhood but have since relocated to South Minneapolis (right near the Chatterbox Pub).

            Thanks for the ideas, guys!

          2. It should be noted that 112 opens at 5:00. It is a surprisingly available reservation, but also a good time to be a walk-in. They leave tables open for walk-ins, so if you're waiting outside the door at 4:50, a table very well could be yours will little or no wait.

            I've brought quite a few "picky eaters" there, and all were very happy. The biggest barrier was "menu intimidation" - they didn't know what some things were, and were afraid to ask. If you can guide them through an interaction with the server, they'll find a lot of familiar choices - prepared way better than anything they've probably had before.

            1. 112? Are you guys serious? "Not too formal or expensive"?

              It's like you guys read "suggestion" and talk up 112 before reading any further. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure 112 has deserved its reviews and awards, but it's far from what this gal is looking for.

              7 Replies
              1. re: ike.

                Ditto with Alma. It's REALLY expensive. And fancy.

                I got some good suggestions from my recent American food thread - I was asking with some very picky, non-chowhound relatives in mind. Most of the recommendations were for pricy, upscale places, but there are a few more moderate choices. Although neither is cheap, Modern Cafe and Erté seem like good, safe choices. (Jax is great, too, but is much more expensive.)

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/331241

                Oh, and another U of M area place that goes over well with picky eaters is the Caspian Bistro. There's always meat and rice for the non-adventurous, but the menu is interesting enough for foodies, too.

                See the Dinkytown/Seward thread for more information on the Caspian and other nearby places:
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/339508

                Anne

                1. re: AnneInMpls

                  Thanks Anne. I had a pretty good feeling some of the top recommendations would be Alma and 112 Eatery. I haven't been to either, mostly due to budgeting constraints. My SO and I frequent places more like Holy Land and the MGM! However, my "picky friend" likely wouldn't salivate for days over the notion of gyros and hummus like we do :)

                  I've been curious about Caspian for a long time. Good suggestion! I've got that on my list, now, along with The Loring :)

                  1. re: MaggieB

                    Thank you, Anne, for mentioning Caspian (again :) ). My favorite thing about Caspian Bistro, actually, is the adjoining shop that offers all kinds of authentic grocery items. I love wandering that shop after my meal.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: MaggieB

                      Ah, so you noticed that I keep recommending the same restaurants! :-) I don't get out much, and I have my little group of favorites that I post about, over and over and over again. (I should just put them in my profile, but it's too hard to choose just five.)

                      Yes, the Caspian shop is a great place! It's a fabulous resource for ingredients, not to mention the pre-made frozen Lahmajun that is my lunchtime staple.

                      Anne

                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                        Oh, no complaints from me about your recommendations or approach to posting! You've served up many gems! I just wanted to highlight the fact that you'd brought it up elsewhere in case Maggie or others wanted to search for more info.

                        I haven't tried the frozen Lahmajun at Caspian Bistro's grocery, but I shall be on the lookout for it!

                        ~TDQ

                  2. re: ike.

                    Ike, I should ask you the same thing (re: Are you serious?). Have you ever been to 112? It's neither formal nor necessarily expensive. Take a look at the decor and prices on their web site: www.112eatery.com

                    Here's a copy of selected items:

                    country style pork ribs w/ salsa piccante $5 each
                    bacon egg & harrisa sandwich $7
                    112 cheese burger $9
                    fried bread w/ proscuitto $8
                    chinese fried eggs $5
                    gougère & fried mortadella sandwich $8
                    tagliarini w/ blue prawns & vin santo small $10
                    stringozzi w/ lamb sugo small $8 large $16
                    tagliatelle w/ foie gras meatballs small $9

                    Even choosing from their "expensive" items, where else can you get a steak of their quality or wonderful braised short ribs for under $20?

                    In addition to being innovative and excellently executed cuisine, 112 Eatery is accessible to the common diner or those looking for less fuss than Vincent, La Belle Vie and the like. You can wear jeans, sweater, whatever.

                    I hope I've established myself on this board as more thoughtful than spouting out the "hot" places without regard for the specifics of the request. I've posted just as many "112 is not right for you" as I have recommendations. In this case, I was responding to "Minnesota flare" (or flair), not too expensive or formal, and nothing weird (what's weird about pasta w/prawns or a cheeseburger?) with the bonus that the "real" Chowhounds taking this person would also have a special experience. To me, that still is a perfect recommendation and certainly more interesting than a $12-19 pasta or chicken/salmon/whatever at Loring Pasta Bar (albeit without live music).

                    1. re: MSPD

                      $15.50 for a cheeseburger and fries is hardly inexpensive. And $5 a rib? Once again, are you kidding me?

                      Maybe I must have the same kinds of qualifications that Maggie must have. I guess my idea of inexpensive non-fast-food Minneapolis flare would be along the lines of a Jucy Lucy from Matt's or the 5-8. $10 for a Minneapolis-born burger, fries and a beer? Yes please.

                      And I'm willing to bet Maggie would agree.

                  3. Damn. I hate that I spelled flair wrong.

                    At any rate, MSPD, I've read quite a bit of your postings and would agree you tend to make good suggestions and thoughtful commentary.

                    I guess I'm just feeling a bit jaded (perhaps like Ike) about all the laud and praise about 112 Eatery. And maybe it's not right for me to feel jaded about somewhere I haven't ever been but, really, these boards have a serious love affair with the place. I fully expected several recommendations to mention 112 Eatery.

                    So it's not really a comment on your thoughtfulness or character but more so to how these boards tend to think about dining out. I think I'm a little on my own about my dining preferences; I get more satisfaction out of a $10 Indian Buffet than $10 for a small plate of blue prawns and vin santo. And some could argue this does not make me a Chowhound, then.

                    I do appreciate your input, is what I'm getting at.

                    Back to the topic at hand! FLARE away :)

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: MaggieB

                      Maggie, I appreciate the comments. I know exactly what you're saying. I admit to having a violent hatred for Trader Joe's...and I've never been there! But I refuse to go based solely on the gazillion "Oh...Trader Joes is the Greatest!!!" threads we have to endure on here. I hate hype.

                      That said, 112 Eatery is one of the few places nationwide that I believe warrants all the praise it receives. They innovate but with down-to-earth meals, turn out wonderful food and have remarkable consistency. Yet when compared to menus of similar quality and dishes, the pricing is a great value. And, it's a casual, comfortable, welcoming restaurant. It's the kind of place I look for in every city I go when I'm not searching for rib joints or mobile taquerias.

                      Sorry if I misinterpreted what you were looking for. I admit to being a bit surprised at the Alma recommendations even though I seconded it, but genuinely consider 112 to be "not too expensive or formal". If you meant burger and beer joints, that's a different ball game (and The Nook over in St. Paul despite its...gulp...hype...would be my recommendation).

                      p.s. (gratuitous compliment alert) -- we just named our baby girl Maggie. Great name.

                      1. re: MSPD

                        Not to mention that the servers at 112 wear jeans. I'd say that's well into the "not too formal" arena. As for the $5 ribs, they're closer to pork chops than ribs.

                        TCL and I will go there and get 2 small plates/small pastas and a side dish. The biggest chuckle has been when our side of squash was the most expensive item we ordered. (But that gorgonzola and maple syrup made it worth the 10 bucks)

                        If two people can have an absolutely outstanding meal for under $30 before tax and tip, I'd say thats inexpensive.

                        My favorite cheap eats are Bahn Mi from Saigon - but that's probably not a good bet for your picky friend.

                        1. re: Danny

                          I should get some ordering help from y'all, Danny & MSPD! When I went to 112, dinner for two was well over $75. Clearly, you're better at not ordering tons of food than I am. And I'm betting that you're not wine drinkers...

                          Anne

                          1. re: Danny

                            I agree that 112 Eatery can be astonishingly inexpensive, if you choose carefully, and that the food is exceptional, regardless of price.

                            Maggie, regardless of where you end up taking your friend, since you are someone who loves great food, I do recommend checking out 112 Eatery, in spite of the buzz. I am a person who eschews hyped-up upscale'ish places (on the other hand, I'm like a moth to the flame when it comes to checking out hyped-up casual places... Maybe I'm just cheap.) Try it on a Sunday night--it's easy to get a reservation, and meters/street parking are free--and you may find yourself in love, too. :) The only reason I don't go there more often is that I can't be bothered to cross the river.

                            As far as whether to take your non-Chowhoundish out of friend there: you can get out of 112 Eatery for about $30, like Danny and the Chowish Lurker if you want, or you can spend a more (like Anne), if you want. It just all depends on how you choose. But, the best way to get out of there inexpensively, in my opinion, is to share dishes (the kitchen will gladly split them if you ask).

                            And I have seen people at 112 Eatery in their post-Vikings-game attire just having burgers. Seriously, there is no taboo there against ordering just the least expensive items from the menu. That stringozzi w/ lamb sugo calls to me. You could easily order that and the bacon egg and harissa sandwich OR the burger, and a vegetable dish (like the cauliflower--amazing!, or, if they have it, the beets), split them all, and have a fabulous, reasonably inexpensive, meal.

                            On the topic of how much it costs to eat out in the Twin Cities (unless you're at a hole in the wall ethnic place): I continue to be amazed how even casual dining can cost these days. We have a couple of neighborhood haunts in St. Paul that we frequent for burgers and fries, like the Nook (for the Jucy Lucy or the Lodge Burger) and the Groveland Tap (for the Cajun Lucy and the Portabella Mushroom sandwich) and I continue to be appalled every time we pay the bill, which is often in the $40-$50 range for two people. These are not fancy, upscale places, just neighborhood bars. And, of course, that includes tip and tax and probably 2 drinks each, but, still, it boggles my mind.

                            P.S., MSPD, congrats to you and Mrs MSPD on the new baby Maggie!

                            ~TDQ

                      2. Maggie, I'm the same as you! Frankly, I prefer places like Holy Land, Puerta Azul, Jasmine Deli, Krua Thai, and La Hacienda over those popular gourmet restaurants. Who says that chowhounds eat only fancy food?

                        It's not that I avoid Alma's, Vincent, or 112 because of price (although that's part of it). Mostly, I've learned that my mouth is just as happy eating at Jasmine Deli or Midori's.

                        Granted, it is much easier to find good, cheap ethnic food - American food seems to be either bad, expensive, or heart-stoppingly greasy. But that doesn't mean we're doomed to burgers and beer, even when accompanied by picky American-food-only friends. It's just more of a challenge to find a mutually acceptable place.

                        Here are a few more ideas:

                        Pop, way up in NE Mpls. They're in the same price range as the Caspian - perhaps a bit more (a lot more if you order wine, which the Caspian doesn't have).

                        http://www.poprestaurant.com/home.php

                        Kramarczyk's food is cheap, filling, and usually not too threatening for picky eaters. But a Chicagoan wouldn't be impressed - Chicago has much better Polish food.

                        http://www.kramarczuk.com/Contact.html

                        The Highland Grill / Longfellow Grill / Edina Grill restaurants are pretty good, if a bit high on the grease factor. I've only ever had their burgers and breakfasts, but they do offer dinner food, too. The Longfellow Grill is right on West River Road at Lake Street, which would let you show your friend one of the prettiest features of the Twin Cities. (The Lake Street Bridge has my favorite view of the Mississippi.

                        )

                        http://www.longfellowgrill.com/

                        If you were taking your friend out for breakfast, I'd say that Al's is a must for the true Twin Cities experience. Maybe you can send her there on her own - it's almost more fun as a solo visitor, anyway.

                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al's...

                        Anne

                        1. Did anyone say Punch? That might be a good bet for a picky, Italian-food loving person.

                          1. Let's face it. If you think you can impress a Chicagoan with any food knowledge with a Minneapolis/St. Paul restaurant you have an uphill climb. I've eaten in too many places in Chicago to think otherwise. The way you describe this person it may be wasted if pizza, pasta and American are her preferences.

                            So if you want to give her something to remember the Twin Cities by, think simple, and take her to Tavern on Grand for a walleye sandwich or to the Nook or Matt's Bar for a Jucy Lucy burger. If she likes simple maybe she will appreciate that. Chicago would have a tough time competing with those two items.

                            Pizza would be tough. Chicagoans think theirs are the best and I think from my experience they have a justifiable argument.

                            1. Woo hoo! Baby Maggie! Congrats to you and your wife! I gotta say, I really do like my name. :)

                              Ok, no more horn tooting. I really ought to describe my friend a little more accurately. She's horribly picky. HORRIBLY. I've known her for 11 years (since high school) and she mostly sustained a diet consisting of McDonald's (no pickles, no onions, no mustard), Pizza Rolls (cheese only), Taco Bell (no onions, no tomatoes), and something her mom calls "Meat and Peas." I'll leave that one up to your imagination.

                              She's been in Chicago about 2 years now and her palate has definitely widened; she even enjoys "cooking" something here and there. But, really, her palate is NOTHING like mine. I have yet to meet a cuisine I didn't like. She, on the other hand, won't touch Asian (doesn't like the smell), can't eat sushi (thinks she has a seafood allergy) and has a major texture issue (pretty much ruling out Indian and anything remotely similar).

                              She appreciates a good slice of pizza, pasta, steak and burgers. She'll do just about any meat - chicken, pork, beef... still, this doesn't mean I want to take her to Chili's and call it a night.

                              It's laughable, really, that we're trying SO HARD to impress someone who's mom still Fed Exes her instant mashed potatoes as part of a care package. But she recognizes how MUCH I love to try new food and has been trying to be adventurous when she's with me.

                              So I do appreciate your suggestions (112 or not!) and I hope we can find a happy medium.

                              Sidenote: I will get to 112 Eatery someday; I'm just not willing to "blow" the money on someone who'd rather be eating Pizza Rolls :) I'd rather go with my SO and FEAST, splitting plates and trying everything we can afford. Much more fun than watching my friend pick her plate apart which I can almost guarantee will happen.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: MaggieB

                                Sounds like my sister. I brought her to 112, and she really enjoyed the gnocci. But refused to go near the tres leches cake. (That's being nice about her reaction to seeing cake sitting in a pool of sweetened condensed milk.)

                                Given the food situation, I wonder if what we need is a place that leans more on atmosphere, and less on food. If you were doing this on a weeknight, I'd suggest the Triple Rock Social club. But, on the weekends, they only serve breakfast foods (although they do serve them until 3:00). It's a punk bar, but the food is cheap and very, very good. (If she's picky about her servers and others dining with her, she might not go for the tattoos and mohawks, but if TCL's 90 year old grandmother can approve, so can your friend.) ( http://www.triplerocksocialclub.com/f...

                                )

                                Another option is Nye's Polonaise. Equire Magazine named it "Best Bar in America." Evening is when things are really rolling, but I'm sure you'd find some decent food that way. ( http://www.nyespolonaise.com/

                                )

                                I've never been there (and maybe some other hound can provide more info) but I've heard decent things about Mayslack's - another old school Minneapolis bar. They're famous for their garlic roast beef sandwich. (Their motto is "Nobody Beats Mayslack's Meat") ( http://www.mayslacks.com

                                )

                                I'm sure others can give other suggestions for "decent food, classic Twin Cities atmosphere." We might have more luck there than trying to find something that breaks ground gastronomically while still being acceptable for your friend.

                                1. re: Danny

                                  For ideas of places with "decent food, classic Twin Cities atmosphere" I'd suggest thinking about some of the places in this post ("Twin Cities: Looking for real good American food"):

                                  http://www.chowhound.com/topics/331241

                                  Bob

                                  1. re: Danny

                                    Hounds might want to scout out Mayslack's on their own, to see if the legend is still current. When the place changed hands a few years ago, the roast beef recipe stayed with the original owner.

                                    Maggie, I'm thinking more and more that a member of the Highland/Longfellow/Edina Grill family might meet your needs. We've talked before about how these spots might not be chowhound hall of famers, but they could do very well for this scenario. Open in late afternoon, casual dining, neither the cheapest nor the priciest, interesting options for you and safe choices for your friend.

                                    1. re: KTFoley

                                      Even if Mayslack's garlic roast beef sandwich is still as good as when Stan Mayslack was serving them it still would not be the same. Nothing can replace the long wait in line and stepping up to Stan Mayslack and have him slap that sandwich on your plate. If you did not have both hands under the plate he would scowl and send you back to the end of the line. The sandwich back then was on an oversize bun that nearly filled a dinner plate.

                                      1. re: Davydd

                                        Thanks for that image! It's a good reminder to get myself into these classic places before they disappear.

                                        Davydd, were you at the Jun Bo chowdown? One idea for another event (or maybe just a thread) might be along the lines of "they don't make places like this anymore."

                                    2. re: Danny

                                      i agree about the 3rock, & she will certainly remember it. i personally think they have the best vegan sausage in town, but Maggies friend might think that vegan food is from outer space--

                                      Nyes is NOT CHEAP by any means--easily $50 a head, with cocktails, which would be better spent at the *cringing to mention again* 112, Alma, Lucias-- which we ruled out earlier; also as someone else mentioned, Chitown has awesome Polish food, the guest wouldnt be impressed, probably. . . (i think the food is quite mediocre, Jax or even Mancinis are better choices for ol school supper clubs)

                                    3. re: MaggieB

                                      Thank you. We were happy to finally get to use our girl name (after two boys)!

                                      I just had another thought -- maybe you want to ditch the restaurant idea and shift focus. I've been enjoying the heck out of Cupcake on University Ave and I'm ready to do some serious exploration of their expanding food menu. The sign on the door last week said "now serving brunch". Their soups, salads, sandwiches always seem intriguing but I'm usually in there getting dessert after a meal somewhere else. I'm under the impression everything (food as well as bakery) is made/baked fresh there. Their croissants are outstanding even after noon if they still have any. Anyway, if she thinks the food sucks, the desserts will save the day.

                                      That's my last ditch recommendation. I promise.

                                      I'm really curious to know how this turns out. Please send us a report!

                                      1. re: MSPD

                                        The soups at Cupcake are wonderful, especially the tomato-basil, the carrot, and the squash soup. The sandwiches are good, but they've dropped my all-time favorite from the menu (marinated carrots with goat cheese and green olives).

                                        Everything is made from scratch, from real ingredients, and is kinda upscale. It might scare a picky person, though (my in-laws, who are as picky as they come, are a bit iffy about this place.)

                                        And the ambiance is "coffee shop", not "restaurant", so I hesitate to recommend it in this case. But it's a great place, and should be on everyone's list to try!

                                        Anne

                                    4. I will most definitely post a report once we do go out! I only hope we don't drink too much the night before and wind up somewhere you all scoff at :)

                                      Kidding of course. Keep the recommendations coming!

                                      1. It's been such a busy week that I almost forgot to tie up loose ends in this thread!

                                        Well, my friend came and went and we had a great time. However, things didn't go according to plan and we never wound up taking her out to eat in the first place!

                                        You see, she was due to fly out of Chicago at 3:30 on Friday which was smack in the middle of the worst blizard the city has seen since 1978. She didn't make it to the Twin Cities until the next day at 1 p.m.

                                        My boyfriend had already prepared a huge pan of mostoccioli for us to eat on Friday night but, since she didn't make it in, we saved it to eat on Saturday night. Hence, no dining out experience!

                                        So there you have it. Not a very spectacular ending. We DID, however, go to Matt's Bar for Jucy Lucy's, fries and cokes on Sunday afternoon after a few too many frosty beverages on Saturday. So at least she got a little taste of the Twin Cities :)

                                        1. And by "blizard" I mean "blizzard." My copy editing skills are waning these days.

                                          1. I remember seeing the classified ad for Mayslack's when it sold (at least 10 years ago). It listed the price and added, "includes recipe."

                                            Like the sign that used to hang in there sez: "Nobody beats Mayslack's meat!"